Frontline World

About the Series

From the producers of FRONTLINE, a series of stories

from a new generation of video journalists.


Stories From a Small Planet

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE/WORLD, three stories from a small planet.

First, Iraq. In Kirkuk, tensions between Kurds and Arabs threaten to tear the city apart.

SAM KILEY, Reporter: Do you understand why the Kurdish people want their land back?

ARAB MAN: It is not their land, it is our land.

ANNOUNCER: Reporter Sam Kiley follows American soldiers as they attempt to keep the peace.

U.S. SOLDIER: Tell her I’m not a cop, I’m a soldier.

ANNOUNCER: Next, a Vietnamese-American takes a revealing trip home.

NGUYEN QUI DUC, Reporter: What do you know about the war in Vietnam?

SCHOOLGIRL: The war? The war in Vietnam.

ANNOUNCER: And finally, in France. Of all the gin joints in all the world, we walked into this one and found Maurice el Medioni.


Iraq: The road to Kirkuk

Reported by Sam Kiley


SAM KILEY, Reporter: [voice-over] I had come to Iraq in February to cover the war everyone knew was coming. We had decided to position ourselves on the northern front, in the part of Iraq that had been controlled by the Kurds since the first Gulf war. In the weeks I spent in Kurdistan, I would discover a land and a people haunted by Saddam Hussein.

Fifteen years ago, his regime began a campaign of ethnic cleansing and extermination against the Kurds. Saddam called it the "Anfal", Arabic for "the spoils of war." The spoils he was after were the oil fields near the Kurdish city of Kirkuk. In 1988, Saddam began to drive the Kurds out of the area. His war planes attacked Halabja and 50 other villages with chemical weapons, killing thousands. Now, 15 years later, I come across one of the survivors, a blind woman named Khadija.

KHADIJA: [through interpreter] I was in my village, Geza, when they used the chemical weapons. My eyes were burning, and I was scratching them. Meanwhile, the men who were clever threw themselves into the water, but I couldn’t do it since I was already blind. All this happened in an afternoon. And that is what happened to my eyes. I have lost four members of my family. Saddam used chemical weapons on us, and he left us blind to the world.

SAM KILEY: Saddam’s Anfal campaign went well beyond the use of gas. Between February and August, 1988, 120,000 Kurdish men, women and children were rounded up. Those who were not executed in public simply disappeared.

You could feel the lingering pain of Saddam’s brutal campaign everywhere in Kurdistan. In a refugee camp close to the front line, I run into another victim of Saddam’s ethnic cleansing. Her name is Nabath. Fifteen years ago, her village near Kirkuk was destroyed and she was arrested.

NABATH: [through interpreter] They beat us and they raped us. They took the children from me. I had seven children with me.

SAM KILEY: Nabath tells me her 3-year-old son, Diya, was killed when he fell from her arms when an Iraqi soldier hit her with a rifle butt.

[on camera] I’m very sorry to bring back these painful memories.

[voice-over] And then, she says, an Iraqi officer stole her 6-year-old daughter.

NABATH: [through interpreter] My daughter was gorgeous. Maybe they kept her for themselves.

SAM KILEY: [on camera] Did you know these men?

NABATH: [through interpreter] They mentioned a man called Idan. He was a top commander and he was responsible for the place. Idan was the one who took my child from me.

SAM KILEY: Are you going to try and find your missing children? Do you have any hope that they’re still alive?

NABATH: [through interpreter] Almost every night I dream of my daughter. She begs me, "Mom, please come and take me home."

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] As the war draws near, I move closer to the front and link up with a group of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. They’re part of the PUK, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

[on camera] Good evening, gentlemen.

[voice-over] Over a dinner of boiled porcupine, I listen to their story. Commander Rashid tells me all of the 50 or so men under his command once lived in Kirkuk or in villages nearby.

[on camera] Cap Rashid, have you got a lot of new recruits?

COMMANDER RASHID: [through interpreter] Yes.

SAM KILEY: Why is that?

COMMANDER RASHID: [through interpreter] Because we are a nation that has been massacred. Tonight we have counted 100 villages around here that have been destroyed. And for 15 years, we have been exiles from our own land.

[ Trace the Kurds’ history]

SAM KILEY: And did you lose members of your family?

COMMANDER RASHID: [through interpreter] Yes. Three brothers, six nephews, and two of my brothers’ wives disappeared.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] The Peshmerga are itching for battle, dreaming of their return to Kirkuk, where Saddam has resettled their city with Arabs from southern Iraq, who have taken over their homes. The Peshmerga believe if they can capture the city and its vital oil fields, they can fulfill their ancient dream of an independent Kurdish nation.

PESHMERGA: [subtitles] Onward to Kirkuk! Kirkuk!

SAM KILEY: In early April, three weeks into the war, the assault on Kirkuk finally begins. The Peshmerga, guided by U.S. special forces and supported by American air power, lead the charge.

[on camera] There’s just been a breakthrough on the Kirkuk front.

[voice-over] By now, U.S. forces had already taken Baghdad, and Iraqi resistance here on the northern front is crumbling. We spot a group of POWs being marched out of the trenches. In the previous few nights, we’d seen Iraqi soldiers being shot at by their own side.

[on camera] When we were watching your positions before, we saw Iraqis shooting at other Iraqis. What was happening?

IRAQI POW: [through interpreter] There was trouble between the soldiers and the officers who were fighting. We didn’t have any trust in them, but they wouldn’t let us leave.

SAM KILEY: So you were being bombed by the Americans and shot in the back by the Iraqis?

IRAQI POW: [through interpreter] Yes.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] The Peshmerga promised me that they would look after the Iraqi prisoners. But after I moved on towards Kirkuk, my translator, who was left behind, saw six POWs give themselves up and put their hands in the air. Kurdish fighters in an ambulance stopped, got out and shot four of the six dead. Two men survived by hiding in a culvert.

[on camera] We’ve just passed through Leylan. We now have what we think is a cement factory in front of us, which is a major target for the Peshmerga. Now there’s a bloody, bloody gathering.

[voice-over] Further up the highway, the advance has met unexpected resistance. Two Kurdish fighters have just been killed in an Iraqi ambush. Falling back, the special forces call in B-52 bombers and F-18 jets to clear the way.

[on camera] There is an air strike. It’s just coming in onto into Leylan, where we were ambushed about an hour ago. We think we’ve just been bombed by the Americans about 100 yards back. People are now scattering off. Omar? Where’s Omar?

NICK: Let’s get out of here?


NICK: In three minutes. Just stick it in the back.

SAM KILEY: Jesus [expletive deleted] Christ! We’d have got it if we’d still been up there!

NICK: Let’s go. Let’s go.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] Fortunately, no one was injured by the misguided American bomb, and the air strikes did their work. They broke the last of the Iraqi resistance.

[on camera] We are now racing towards Kirkuk-- a great, long column, including the Kurdish Toilers’ Party, the Socialist Party, the PUK and us.

[voice-over] Kirkuk’s Kurds, about 45 percent of the population, are delighted to see the Americans and the Peshmerga. But the city’s Arabs and the Turkish-speaking Turcomen are keeping a low profile.

GREEN BERET: George Bush. Very good!

SAM KILEY: During the first 24 hours of liberation, Kirkuk is in chaos. The Kurds vent their outrage over the atrocities committed against them by Saddam’s regime. Inside the former headquarters of the secret police, I find dozens of former Kurdish prisoners anxious to demonstrate how they were tortured.

BEARDED MAN: [subtitles] This was for electric shocks. It’s like a hook. They put it on my ears. I was tortured here for six months. They gave me electric shocks on my feet, my ears, my penis.

[ More on this conflict]

SAM KILEY: Saddam’s secret police kept meticulous records. Now they are scattered all over the floor and are being gathered up by Kurdish fighters.

[on camera] So you discovered your own brother’s file. And this is his death certificate, is that right?

PESHMERGA: [subtitles] Yes, it says Chatow Saleh Sayeed.

SAM KILEY: What’s this?

TRANSLATOR: These are the furnitures which were took by the Amin.

SAM KILEY: Oh, so they confiscated his house?


SAM KILEY: And then they executed him.

These people were meticulous to the point of obsession. They’ve carefully done an inventory of the possessions of a man that they’ve brought here, tortured and executed.

Documents and life histories of people and the histories of their deaths are now strewn all over the road, in this car park. A hundred and eighty-two thousand missing Kurds. Some of the answers as to what happened to them will be lying around the floor here.

[voice-over] There is gunfire all over the city as the Kurds take revenge against the Ba’athist regime, setting off a wave of chaos and looting that terrifies the Arabs and the Turcomen. I follow up reports that Arabs are being forced out of their homes in Divas, a middle-class neighborhood built by Saddam for his military elite.

[on camera] A lot of houses have been taken by the PUK and other Peshmerga that have been abandoned by their officer owners and marked. Each house has been marked, daubed in paint by one or another Kurdish group laying claim to them.

[voice-over] This house is tagged with Kurdish graffiti, and its owner, an Arab civilian, is outraged. He says the PUK has ordered him out of his home and he has no idea why.

ARAB: And he asked me to leave this house in 24 hours, otherwise he will shoot me. So what should I do?

SAM KILEY: [on camera] Do you understand why the Kurdish people want to have their land back?

ARAB: It’s not their land, it’s our land. I mean, their land and our land.

SAM KILEY: Well, you know that they were kicked--

Arab: We are living, sir, in brotherhood. And this house is my-- my own this house. I paid for this house.

SAM KILEY: When did you move here?

ARAB: In ‘91.

SAM KILEY: Did you ever know about the Anfal campaign?

ARAB: Yes, I know about it.

SAM KILEY: How did you find out about that? Because it wasn’t--

ARAB: I heard about it. I did not see it myself, but I heard about it.

SAM KILEY: I’m not saying this is an excuse, but the Kurdish lost their homes, and now they’re coming back and they’re saying, "I’m going to have this house because it’s owned by an Arab."

ARAB: Well, I did not take from him.


ARAB: I [unintelligible] from Saddam. I paid for that. They do not have the right to kick the Arabs outside. This is a [unintelligible] misunderstanding between them and us. So it is not his home.

SAM KILEY: I’m not saying-

ARAB: They are doing the same as Saddam did with them. And I think it is bad.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] We’d also been tipped off that on the outskirts of Kirkuk, more Arabs are being forced from their homes.

[on camera] We’re just coming to a village which was settled by people known as the Bidoon, stateless people trapped in 1991 on the wrong side of the border in the war between the allies and Iraq. They’re desert-dwelling Bedouin. They were given citizenship of Iraq and then pretty much dumped up here. Unbeknownst to them, they were put into the front line of an ethnic war between Saddam and the Kurds.

[voice-over] Saddam wanted to use this tribe, the al Shumaar, as a buffer against the Kurds. He gave them free homes, free land and newly irrigated fields. Marzouka is one of her husband’s three wives. There are 15 children in the family, and now they’ve all been forced out of their home.

MARZOUKA: [through interpreter] They kicked us out. They didn’t let us stay. They threatened us. We’ve lost everything.

SAM KILEY: [on camera] And what did these people say when they came to your home?

MARZOUKA: [through interpreter] They said we couldn’t stay there. This village is theirs, and you have to leave. Whoever refuses to leave will have their head chopped off. We tried to take our furniture, but they pointed their guns at us and kicked us out.

SAM KILEY: Were they in uniform?

MARZOUKA: [through interpreter] Yes, they were wearing Kurdish uniforms.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] The Peshmerga fighters who liberated Kirkuk had promised that there would be no revenge for the Anfal, only justice. But here, away from the city center, women and children are now being caught up in what looks like ethnic cleansing in reverse.

The leaders of the al Shumaar ask for our help in going to the Americans for protection. The U.S. Army has been slow to arrive in force and have not yet gained control of the city.

[on camera] Have you tried to go in yet?

BEDOUIN: [through interpreter] We tried to get in, but we were told that there was a meeting and that we would have to wait.

SAM KILEY: What are you actually going to ask for?

BEDOUIN: [through interpreter] We’re going to ask him about the displacing of Arabs from our village.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] Eventually, the tribal leaders get a piece of paper guaranteeing that they can stay in their village. But thousands of Arabs are asking the Americans for help. There are only about 50 Green Berets on the ground in a city of half a million. Kurds are coming home and finding Arabs in their houses. The Arabs look to the Americans for protection, and it’s a thankless task.

WOMAN: [subtitles] Welcome.

SAM KILEY: On this day, the Green Berets walk right into the middle of a classic ethnic dispute.

U.S. CAPTAIN: Who lived in this house before?

SAM KILEY: The Arab woman -- in black -- who occupies the building is going toe to toe with a Kurdish woman who also claims the house.

KURDISH WOMAN: [subtitles] If they give me my brother’s entitlement back, I will go.

SAM KILEY: [on camera] The lady in the purple dress says she was ethnically cleansed from this home about four months ago and became a refugee in nearby Chamchamal, a Kurdish-held town. But the Arabic lady’s saying she’s been here for years. The Arabic lady was told by the Kurdish lady’s husband that she would have to move out or she’d be killed. The U.S. special forces have found a lot of weaponry here, so it’s obviously owned by a Peshmerga, or at least now occupied by a Peshmerga.

U.S. SOLDIER: Hey, I got an RPG up here!

U.S. CAPTAIN: You got what?

U.S. SOLDIER: A box of grenades and RPG rounds.

U.S. CAPTAIN: How many?

U.S. SOLDIER: About a half a dozen RPG rounds with a launcher and about six hand grenades.

KURDISH WOMAN: [subtitles] How many times have you brought choppers and knives to this house? Look what you did to my brother! Look what you did to my door! Why? Why?

ARAB WOMAN: [subtitles] He attacked my daughter!

U.S. CAPTAIN: Hey! Hey, hey, hey! They cannot push people outside the houses.

KURDISH WOMAN: [subtitles] If you give me my money back! Give me my money back!

U.S. CAPTAIN: Tell her I am not a cop, I am a soldier. I enforce the rules that they tell me. She wants her money back, she goes to the police. The police are downtown.

SAM KILEY: The mood outside the house is also turning sour, as a crowd of Kurds gathers. The Green Berets try to calm things down.

U.S. CAPTAIN: Now, I understand, whether these people are good or bad, I don’t make that decision, OK? I’m sure they’ve done a lot of things that have not been nice. I’m sure a lot of Kurdish people have done stuff that is not nice to the Arab people. So we have to find a peaceful solution. It’s going to take time, but we have to keep the peace. We’re going to have Arabs living with Kurds and Turcomen. They will live together. Like in America, you have blacks, whites and Spanish.

SAM KILEY: In the days after the liberation of Kirkuk, ethnic tensions reach the breaking point. Of all the incidents we witnessed in the city, there was one that seemed to symbolize the treacherous future that Iraq is now facing. It involved a violent outbreak between Kurdish fighters and ethnic Turks, or Turcomen. The Turcomen make up a quarter of the population of Kirkuk, and they fear Kurdish domination. They reacted to freedom from Saddam by arming themselves, and they set up a new Turcoman Party headquarters in a house they confiscated from an Iraqi officer.

[on camera] This is the Iraqi Turcoman Party. They’ve now got a heavy presence outside their offices in Kirkuk because of an incident yesterday, a horrible incident in which an 8-year-old child was murdered, a Turcoman child allegedly killed by Kurds. They’ve now got American special forces, CIA types, heavily armed Turcomen all trying to keep a lid on what is the ethnic bomb of northern Iraq.

[voice-over] The headquarters, ironically, had been the home of the Iraqi pilot who bombed Halabja 15 years ago. The violence here had erupted over ownership of the building, claimed by both the Turks and the Peshmerga.

TURCOMAN: [through interpreter] Yesterday, at about 7:00 in the evening, there were a group of people here -- old and young -- happy that the center was here and that it was open, when a car came by and it sprayed the center with gunfire indiscriminately. There was a taxi outside with a driver and two children inside. The driver was injured, and one of the children was killed. Today we buried him.

SAM KILEY: The Turks say the killers were Kurdish fighters. Reveling in their righteous ethnic anger, they insist I cross the road to see where the boy of 8 was killed. They show me the bullet-riddled taxi with the blue Turcoman poster. They want me to see the full gore, blood all over the car.

[on camera] So here we have a group of grown men proudly showing off the brains of an 8-year-old child. He was murdered by a Kurdish group because he belonged to a Turkish group, because the Turkish group nicked a house off a Kurdish group, who nicked it off the man who bombed Halabja. And pathetic scenes like this are exactly the sort of thing that could ignite the bomb that Kirkuk is, the ethnic bomb.

[voice-over] Before I leave Iraq, I have a final promise to keep-- to help Nabath, the Kurdish woman whose daughter was stolen by the Iraqis, return to her home. Her village, outside Kirkuk, lay deep in fertile hills dusted with wildflowers. She takes us to cousins who live on a remote farm. They’re delighted to see her, and one agrees to come along as guide and bodyguard.

[on camera] Let me just have a look at your gun. That’s called a safety catch. Keep it on at all times.

[voice-over] But there is pitifully little for Nabath to come home to. Ninety families once lived here in a thriving community rich in livestock, orchards and vineyards.

[on camera] Is that good to eat?

[voice-over] Under Saddam, it was literally wiped off the map.

NABATH: [through interpreter] This is my house, up to this tree. There is my husband’s parents’ house, which is now destroyed. They had seven sons. They have all been killed.

SAM KILEY: [on camera] Do you think you can live alongside Arab people now?

NABATH: [through interpreter] With Arab people? No, never.

SAM KILEY: Not all Arabs are responsible for doing this.

NABATH: [through interpreter] They might not be responsible, but my heart would not allow it. It is better to live with our own people.

SAM KILEY: So you don’t want to live with Arabs at all now?

NABATH: [through interpreter] I don’t want to because those who guarded us in the Dibis camp were all Arabs. I am not saying they are all bad, but I prefer Kurdish people.

SAM KILEY: [voice-over] As it turned out, winning the war in Iraq was the easy part. Liberating the country from Saddam’s brutal legacy of ethnic hatred is something else. Of course, Saddam always claimed his way was the only way to hold Iraq together. That daunting task now belongs to the Bush administration, which is betting, against history, that it can find a way to heal this fractured land.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up later, Maurice El Medioni, an unlikely star on the world music scene.

But first, a native son returns to Vietnam.

Vietnam: Looking for Home

Reported by Nguyen Qui Duc


NGUYEN QUI DUC, Reporter: [voice-over] It’s been a long while. I’ve traveled half way around the world, from San Francisco to this old city of Hue. Relatives have all left, but still I come back, looking for home, for a bit of myself, for a country that exists always in my memory.

The new owner of this house has made some changes. When my grandfather built it, the gate was off to one side. The new owner has kept an altar for my grandparents for many years.

We Vietnamese always stay connected to the past-- customs, history, the dead. Just outside of town, I’ve found my grandparents’ graves. I’m not exactly a traditional man, but as you grow older, some things become important. I light the incense and bow, hoping they know I’m back, that I carry memories.

Thirty-five years ago, communist troops attacked the city during Tet, the lunar new year of 1968. South Vietnamese and American troops fought for a month to regain the town, house by house, street by street. Thousands of people were killed, scores of families destroyed. Hundreds went missing, my father amongst them. He had been a regional governor. The Viet Cong took him to the north and kept him as a political prisoner. I was 10 when he left, 26 when he finally was able to join me in the States.

It’s quiet in Hue now. I’ve adopted the owner of my grandparents’ house as an uncle. The old historian takes me to visit a royal tomb. I’m the tourist, he the guide. We couldn’t help talking about the war and where Vietnam is now.

UNCLE: [subtitles] I think the war with America was regrettable. We could have avoided war. We could have chosen another path in order to shake hands with America sooner than we did.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: I am amazed to hear these words from a man who once went north to join the revolution and fought as a Viet Cong soldier.

UNCLE: [subtitles] Today the books, the schools all teach one-sided history. They only teach that Vietnam was colonized by France and America and that the Vietnamese, led by the Communist Party, rose up to evict both of these enemies and build this independent nation. They never talk about the civil war, so young people end up with a distorted version of history.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: This is where my mother went to school. Some things haven’t changed. Her days, too, started with the same drumbeat.

Sixty percent of the population in Vietnam is under 30. That’s a whole lot of people who weren’t even born when the fighting happened.

This school has always emphasized tradition, but the principal is worried about the kids. The outside world is a few keystrokes away on the Internet.

PRINCIPAL: [subtitles] We are very concerned about that. When something new comes along, students may get access to something that is unexpected. They are under control at school, and outside there are law enforcement and state cultural agencies. But we are still concerned.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: The principal later asks me to be cautious with what gets aired. Our conversation reminds me of how I could never bear the conservative attitude here. And now there are always the watchful eyes of the local communist authorities.

Vietnam, one of the few communist dinosaurs left in the world, has begun to change. The Communist Party gave up on the Soviet-style economy more than a decade ago. A policy called "renovation" opened the door to capitalism.

Hue, though, hangs on to its old ways. Out on the river, musicians play ancient songs about the eternal beauty of Hue. I’m mesmerized by it, but I’m awkward. The whole experience makes me feel like a tourist.

[ Read interview with the reporter]

Leaving the slow pace of Hue, I go where the action is. This is real capitalism, life in the fast lane. It’s Saigon-- or, if you insist, Ho Chi Minh City. From retail to computer technology, you’re in the right place, eight million people jostling to carve out a living.

This town is always in a fever, and you will catch it, too. Among those caught in that fever are Vietnamese who left as refugees but now have returned after years of living abroad. Phuc Than, an old friend from high school, came back from the U.S. to run the Vietnam offices of software giant Intel.

PHUC THAN: I think I came back at the right time, and I think this is just the beginning of a journey that will take Vietnam into the next century. To me, I can’t wait. The faster the better.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: The faster, the better. But no fast food, please. This stuff is delicious.

PHUC: The key thing going to make Vietnam successful in the future is to open up itself more to the rest of the world.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [on camera] Isn’t that a danger to the party? Why would they want to open up to that degree?

PHUC THAN: I think if it wants to compete in a 21st century economy, it has no choice. Look at China. China’s opened up more.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [voice-over] In my unkind moments, I’ve thought of Saigon as an aging woman, a garish prostitute, a drug addict. When the communists first took over, they gave it a certain drab socialist atmosphere. But then it slowly got a new coat of paint, the neon signs came back on, and it got to be its old decadent self.

The old bars are back. A few months ago, this one had go-go girls dancing naked. That got shut down pretty quick. The government also cracked down on places where rich kids were passing out from ecstasy. A few hours here, and you start to smoke and drink like there’s no tomorrow.

But the trick with Saigon is to leave it before the devil eats you for a midnight snack. I escape the decadence to a small town where the heat isn’t so bad. But here, too, the fever is spreading. Since September 11th, Vietnam has claimed to be the safest place to travel in Asia. Tourists are everywhere, over 2.5 million of them last year.

TAILOR: Business is very good. More and more customer, more and more tourists come to Vietnam to visit.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [on camera] What about the government? Is the government helping you a lot?

TAILOR: In the past, not. But now they help very much. They leave more freedom, you know, so we can open the business. I can do what I like, but under the control of the government, you know? But in the past, cannot. If you do something, you should careful, should be carefully. Otherwise, you know, you have some problem with that.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: And so you can’t say things?

TAILOR: No. I hope in the future we will have more freedom, you know, but now we already have, but a tiny bit, not much.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [voice-over] It’s astonishing to see the hope in this country. This town will soon offer more resorts and a convention center right by the beach. The future is just around the corner, and you’d better keep piling it on. Brick by brick, this place is transforming itself.

For all the changes, a lot of Vietnam is still rice fields. Out in the countryside, transformation is slow. How fast can a buffalo go?

PEASANT: [subtitles] I hope that the harvest will be bigger next year and that all the planting will bring in bigger yields than last year. Each year I harvest two tons of rice.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [subtitles] How much can you sell the two tons for?"

PEASANT: [subtitles] About $130.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [voice-over] A hundred and thirty dollars a year. And she supports two sons with that.

It’s northward from here, to Hanoi for Tet, for a new year. Hanoi is irresistible. You simply fall in love with the yellowed walls, the quiet dignity of the people. There’s always the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum to quickly remind you this is still a communist capital. But the Ho Chi Minh portraits have all but disappeared from the walls. His busts stay wrapped on the shelves.

It’s cold. I think of my father inside a prison cell somewhere here 35 years ago. What I wouldn’t give to be able to walk these streets with him now, to share a Tet in our homeland at peace. Three years ago, he died in San Francisco, not having been back.

Tet has always been a drag for me. Our family stopped celebrating the new year after my father was captured. His absence loomed over the holidays. But here in Hanoi, I can’t help but get caught up with the frenzy. Everyone’s desperate for the last-minute gifts and a branch of peach blossom for the living room.

For my friend, Tran Thuy Duong, Tet is a celebration, a time for hope.

TRAN THUY DUONG: Every family should have at least one kumquat in the family. Have a look. It’s like golden coins. It will bring a lot of money and a lot of luck for you.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: Gold coins, a hope for prosperity in a city with so much history, so much suffering in the last 100 years. American planes dropped tons of bombs here. You wonder whether the survivors still have nightmares.

Today the past is taking a back seat. It’s all about getting ready for the new year. Time for renewal, for a new self.

Steady. Steady. Renewal for myself, for my father, for Tet.

I feel old next to these people. They’re looking forward to a bright future, where dreams aren’t shattered, like those of my father and his generation. This is Hanoi’s elite high school, where my friend teaches English. There was a time here when it was a crime to speak English.

[on camera] What do you know about what happened in 1968?

SCHOOLGIRL: In 1968? Another question, please.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: You don’t know?

SCHOOLGIRL: Yes because I’m not good at history.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: You’re not good at history? What have you been taught about the war in Vietnam?

SCHOOLGIRL: The war? The war in Vietnam?

TEACHER: They are teenagers. They were born long after the war ended. And that’s why even the parents don’t want to tell them much about the war because now we live in peace. We should forget about the past. We should know, we should learn, but we should forget.

NGUYEN QUI DUC: [voice-over] Go back a generation and you’d find someone in his family who fought against the Americans. No wonder some people here think the Americans won the war. But instead of democracy, they’ve only exported pop culture and the ability to forget the past. But maybe it’s just as well. Better they dance than fight.

This ancient art entertained villagers for thousands of years. The water puppets tell the stories of farmers, scholars and kings, history and memory, but only for foreigners now. Water. That’s the word we Vietnamese use for "nation."

Three hours’ drive east of Hanoi, I’ve reached Ha Long Bay. It’s easy to remember. Vietnam has a habit of adopting and resisting changes. The culture, the people will survive.

It is as though I’ve always known this woman. She knows me and my bad habits. My father never spoke with rancor. Life had not been fair to him, but bitterness can’t change anything.

That, too, is the history of this nation. Vietnam is a country that insists on staying hopeful.

It’s good to be home.


ANNOUNCER: Finally tonight, world music from Marseille.


France: Play it again, Maurice

Reported by Marco Werman


MARCO WERMAN, Public Radio’s The World: [voice-over] These are the faces of Marseille, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Immigrants have been coming here since Greek sailors landed 3,000 years ago. Over the last few centuries, this Mediterranean port has attracted Italians, Turks, Spanish, Corsicans, and most recently, many North Africans. These cultures brew in the streets of Marseilles, in the markets and in the music.

As a music reporter, I’m especially drawn to the city’s mix of Arab, African and European styles. Last year, a DJ in Marseille put out this track. It sampled the sounds of North Africa and became an underground hit. The piano player and the singer on this track is Algerian, and I wanted to meet him.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: I am Maurice El Medioni, pianiste orientale. My music is the heritage of my ancestors.

MARCO WERMAN: Maurice El Medioni’s ancestry is not what you’d expect from a resident of this densely Arab city. Maurice El Medioni is 75 years old and Jewish. He was raised in a Sephardic Jewish community in Algeria. Jews once thrived in North Africa, and Medioni’s musical heritage is a combination of his Jewish and Algerian roots.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: I born in Oran in Algeria, in 1928.

MARCO WERMAN: Medioni came from a musical family. He taught himself to play the piano at the age of 9. His father and his uncle ran a nightclub in the Jewish quarter, like Bogart’s Rick’s Cafe Americain in the movie Casablanca.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: They buy one big cafe in the Jewish quarter in Oran, Cafe Rife [sp?], Rue de la Revolution. And that was the big cabaret of Oran.

MARCO WERMAN: During World War II, American troops landed in Oran and liberated Algeria from German occupation. As a teenager, Medioni hustled tips from the U.S. troops, getting them black-market booze and showing off the local bars and clubs.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: And the boss, he say me to play. "Hey, you want to come tonight to play to the American soldiers?" "Yeah. Why not?" I come the first time, and I was playing there.

[singing] Oh, Yankee, Yankee Doodle Dandy--

Where they would drink beer, whisky, cognac. They were singing like crazies, all together! It was a wonderful time.

MARCO WERMAN: American GIs taught him the boogie woogie and the rumba. Years later, when Maurice went on to become a nightclub star in Paris, he drew crowds with his unique mix of styles.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: Rumba! This is simple. Then I make it in Orientale. You know, this is Arabic.

MARCO WERMAN: [on camera] Right.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: This is Arabic, and it is my-- it is my, my, my passion to play.

MARCO WERMAN: [voice-over] And this is what really distinguishes Maurice El Medioni’s music. It all started when three young Arab musicians found him in a bar playing jazz.

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: They were singing with Rai-- boom, boom, ta-taka, boom boom, ta-taka. Then I was playing, boom, ka-taka, boom, ka-taka, rumba. Heard them singing in Rai, and I was playing the rumba.

MARCO WERMAN: These days, Maurice El Medioni tours sporadically. But once a week, he hosts a program on a Jewish radio station in Marseille. He features North African music. Maurice El Medioni’s show is upbeat, but it plays against a backdrop of tension between Jews and Arabs in France. Recently, vandals sabotaged the radio station’s antenna.

[on camera] Have you noticed a rise in anti-Semitism in France since you’ve been here?

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: Yeah, yeah. Now, it’s big anti-Semitism now since two years, since intifada. Since the intifada, it’s very big anti-Semitism.

MARCO WERMAN: The most recent intifada that started in 2000?


MARCO WERMAN: [voice-over] The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has darkened the mood here between many Arabs and Jews. There are six million Muslims living in France, 10 times the Jewish population. There’s resentment. Poor North African immigrants scrape by, in stark contrast to the middle-class life that many of the Jewish minority have carved out for themselves.

Medioni says the hostility to Jews has made him feel closer to his people, but he’s still proud of his deep connection to the Arab music of Algeria. He says the Arab musicians treated him like a brother.

[on camera] Did you end up considering yourself part of the group of Rai musicians in Oran? Were you one of them?

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: Yeah, sure. I was the only Jewish of all the group. All Arabs, and I was the only Jewish. They say Maurice El Medioni is not like the other Jewish.

MARCO WERMAN: And why was that? Because--

MAURICE EL MEDIONI: Maurice El Medioni is our brother. He’s a good man. We like him because he have a good character, and he liked us. He liked the Arabs.

Yeah, I was a big friend for them, but only me, not the other Jews.


MAURICE EL MEDIONI Because I liked the music. I loved the music. I loved the music. I loved to play music. It’s my reason of life.

[ Listen to Jewish-Arabic music]

MARCO WERMAN: [voice-over] Maurice El Medioni’s piano orientale sounds like an Arabic Chebbi love song, the perfect soundtrack for immigrant Marseille. As you’re lost in the delightful confusion of whether this music is Arab or Jewish, you wonder why people with music and roots so similar are still searching for a way to talk to each other.




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"Creepy Feeling", performed by Jelly Roll Morton,

courtesy of Smithsonian Collection of Recordings


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(c) 2003


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FRONTLINE/World is a co-production of WGBH Boston and KQED San Francisco, which are solely responsible for its content.


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Next time on FRONTLINE/WORLD: In the Philippines--

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ANNOUNCER: Why are U.S. troops involved in this civil war?

And on the West Bank, journalists in the line of fire.

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