Return to Kirkuk
BY Karzan Sherabayani and Claudio von Planta
June 27, 2005
Interview With Karzan Sherabayani
Karzan Sherabayani talks about the betrayal that put him on Saddam Hussein's black list and about why Kirkuk is so important to the Kurds.
Filmmaker Interview: Behind the Lens
Veteran Swiss cameraman Claudio von Planta talks to FRONTLINE/World
interactive producer Jackie Bennion about his 20-year career shooting documentary features and about what drew him to Karzan's story.
Claudio von Planta, the cameraman and director of "Return to Kirkuk," has recently produced documentary films on AIDS in Zambia, underage prostitution in India, and refugees from the troubled Darfur region of Sudan. His work has aired on Channel 4 in the U.K., BBC News and CNN. He lives in London.
Karzan Sherabayani is a Kurdish exile living in Britain, an activist and an actor. Twenty-five years ago, when he was 19, Sherabayani escaped from Iraq, where he had been imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein's secret police. In January 2005, he returned to his hometown, Kirkuk, to vote in the first national elections since the overthrow of Saddam's regime. Swiss producer Claudio von Planta went with him to film the story for the BBC. His 16-minute film, "Return to Kirkuk," has never been shown in the United States.
With this story of a personal journey home, FRONTLINE/World launches "Rough Cut," our series of weekly videos on the Web. Though "Return to Kirkuk" is a polished piece, it is part of a work in progress, an hour-long documentary about Karzan and his homeland, raising the question: should Iraqi Kurdistan remain part of Iraq or become an independent nation?
The "Kurdish issue" -- after the Iraqi insurgency itself -- is the most volatile political situation facing Iraq's fledgling government. Many Kurds would like oil-rich Kurdistan in northern Iraq to become independent. That is certainly Karzan Sherabayani's hope as he sets out on his trip, intent on conducting his own poll. The future of the Kurds in Iraq is a subject we first explored in a FRONTLINE/World story, "The Road to Kirkuk," broadcast in May 2003. After Saddam's terror -- including his use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish population -- we wondered whether Kurds, Arabs, Turkomen and other minorities could ever find a way to live together peacefully in Iraq.
Since then the Kurds have asserted themselves politically. In the January 30, 2005 election that von Planta covers, Kurds -- who represent 15 to 20 percent of Iraq's population -- won more than a quarter of the seats in the 275-member National Assembly. In March, that assembly named Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani president of Iraq -- the first Kurd to serve as president of an Arab-majority country.
Though he is a passionate Kurdish nationalist, Karzan decides by the end of his emotional journey home to give a final chance to the newly elected Iraqi federal government with the hope that Kurds and Arabs can co-exist in the same country.
i write this comment for those who hates kurd i gonna just say we are on our way to make kurdistan free and it is the fact viva kurdistan
MIZANILA n - SYDNEY AUSTRALIA!, NSW
KIRKUK BELONGS TO THE TUKMENS!
sabah hussein - Columbia, sc
I want to thank Mr. Shyrbayany for this great presentation about the truth and showing to all the world that Kirkuk belong to Kurdistan, and also Kurd deserve to lead that city because simply they believe in human rights and share the freedom with the rest of ethnics in that city.
Everyone tries to deny the truth about Kurdish history.I studied history and I know Kurds are great people and lived in north mesopotamia for over 3000 years. And now they deserve to have their own state that includes northern Iraq, south east Turkey, north east Syria and north west Iran. Yes for a united, independent Kurdistan.
I live in the United States and I am happy here. I am from Turkey and I am a Kurd. My mother does not know how to speak Turkish. However, I have a hard time writing and reading Kurdish. They don't teach it in Turkey. It is pretty hard to be a Kurd in Turkey; it's almost a felony or a crime. There is so much I want to write, but I am kind of scared to write and I even live in the United States. I am a citizen of Turkey and that does not allow me to say freely that I am Kurdish. One funny thing, when I came to America, I saw Mexicans speaking Spanish out loud and I thought, "They are free to speak another language than English. Wow, that is cool!" I was shocked because I still can't freely speak Kurdish on the streets of Turkey.
Masud Barzani is a disgrace to Kurdistan.
Star - Nashville, Tennesse
Northern Iraq doesn't belong to the Kurds, but the majority of people there are Kurds. It's called Kurdistan for a reason and we've been there since day one. Kurdish people live in that place and own that place. We have a Kurdish leader. I don't see anyone else helping out the Kurdish people. We help ourselves out. I believe that everyone has different views on things. The Kurdish people have wanted their own country for along time. We even feel now that we are a country but we actually are not. I'm sure every Kurdish person out there would love Kurdistan to be one country divided by itself. These days in order to get into Kurdistan from another country you have to have a reason for being in Kurdistan and know a Kurdish person. I believe one day we will get there; inshallah (with God's blessing) Kurds will rise up!
Sarah - Chicago, Illinois
Northern Iraq does NOT belong to the Kurds. It belongs to the indigenous people of Iraq who are known as the Assyrians. They are a Christian minority so it's very unfortunate for them for they have no representation whatsoever and they are the ones that deserve one and a safe haven as well.
Ozzy - Baltimore, MD
I am confused. If the Kurds were there since ancient times and had an Empire or a nation, where is their capital, buildings, artifacts? Anyone can make a flag or a map. That area has continually changed hands between the Empires and they have left their mark - Greeks, Romans, Persians, Ottomans, Seljuks, even Armenians. So where is the Kurdish mark besides having had an exponential population explosion in the past century? Kurds were nothing more then migrant nomads, and they still are working across the Middle East. Shall we give Southern California to Mexicans since the ethnic landscape there has changed because of similar conditions as well? This program is either completely biased, or the producers are incredibly naive. Of course everyone feels bad for Kurds being hurt by Saddam, but creating history and redrawing maps to appease them is not the answer.
john potters - rhode island, united states
Kurds are one of the most ancient people in the history of the earth. I did intensive research, Kirkuk is a Kurdish city before invading powers took over the land. Kurds are different then Arabs, Persians and Turks. "Ethnically cleansed" Kurds live in Kirkuk under the names of "Iraqi's" same as the Turkmens who came from Mongolia. It's a shame that everyone turns a blind eye on the Kurds, with so much history and such a rich culture. It's a shame for everyone who doubt Kurds in any way. That is their land and their right to have a land...I bet Turkey wouldn't like to have their land being controlled by Iran or Syrian governments, telling them how to live their life and not to speak their mother tongue...I support Kurds in every way possible...Thanks a lot,John Potters from Rhode Island.
I think that this was a great piece. Since I am blind, I had to have someone read me the subtitles, but that was OK. It gave me a raw and immediate feel of the environment you were in - an environment where English is not the dominant language. It must have felt so strange but sad being back in familiar territory, but yet being away for so long must have also mad you feel alienated, no? Isn't it dangerous to be a journalist speaking English in Iraq? You will appear more noticeable that way, no? You will stand out.
Port Byron, IL
Why not create 3 regions who will have their independents but shall also have representatives in a whole Iraq? Divided but united in some causes. This may have a tendency to bring people together for the better good of all.
Kurdistan is only a province in western Iran -- that is kind of funny. And as for Hawler being the city of four gods, that's irrelevent to this discussion. Maybe in your schizophrenic mind, you feel the story is one sided because they didn't pity Persian people. Be realistic; Kurdistan exists. Changing the name of a region is very significant, and Kirkuk demographically belongs to the Kurds, just as Baghdad belongs to Arabs. But, hey, what do I know? I am only a Kurd from western Iran; you're the wise Persian guy.
Salam Kadirzada - Link�ping, Sweden
Without a Kurdish state, there will be no democracy, no peace, no justice, no development or progress in the Middle East.
David Wallace - Aberdeen, Scotland
Kirkuk belongs to the Kurds. I think the question of whether the Kurds should remain as part of Iraq or not is for the Kurdish people to decide in a free and fair vote.
There are 30 million Kurds in the region of the Prochet-Orient. They asolutely need their own country as others nations. Anyone is not on the right to say the Kurds have to live with Arabs, Turks and Acems. The Kurds would like to live with other Kurds in a unified country.
deyary rakhtawan - london, uk
Kirkuk the capital of Kurdistan should be incorporated into the boundaries of Kurdistan region of Iraq and administerd by Kurdistan regional government.
H�seyin �ift�i - konya, Turkey
I do not agree with the idea that the Kurds and Arabs live together in the same country. In history, after the movement of Arabs from Africa to the Middle East and movement of Turks from China to Anatolia created a harsh sociall and political environment for Kurds. Kurds suffered a lot from Turks, Arabs and Persians. Their most effective policy was: we are muslim, we are brothers and ethnic origin is not important. The Kurds used to have respect for this idea. Then the Kurds become to live under flag of Islam. Then that Islami c flag turned into an Arabic flag, Turkish flag and Persian flag. At the end Kurds lost their flag. Kurds come to live under the flag of these nations and more than 7 million Kurdish people have been murdered.Kurds are the oldest nation in the Middle East. There are more than 30 million Kurds living in this region. They have every right to set up their own state and live in peace. They have the right not to share their natural resources with Arabs, Turks, or Persians. Kurds have to get back their stolen land and natural resources. Turkmens were brought to Kurdish land by imperialist Ottomans. They are just occupiers. There is huge discrimination against the Kurds living in Turkey, and the Kurds are not feeling comfortable in their homeland. In the Turkish national assembly, the Kurds are not represented. Why?
I have never seen such a one-sided, historically tampered, out of reality program like this. It is like facist propaganda material in Nazi Germany and Itlay. I am very disapointed in Frontline to be used as a political tool and distort viewers that there are more than just Kurdish rights.
Sam Shalalo - Sydney, NSW
What nonsense! Southern, Eastern, Western Kurdistan. Tomorrow, I'm sure there will be Moon & Mars Kurdistan. Changing the name of a province, city or town does not and will never make it right. What is termed by Kurds as Kurdistan (South) has always been and will always remain "Assyria". What has been changed into 'Havliar' was always known as 'Arbil' or "Arba Ello" meaning 'Four Gods'. The only Kurdistan as such is in western Iran. It was never a part of Mesopotamia. Be realistic and true to yourselves and to humanity and don't just change history to suit yourselves.
Sam Shalalo - Sydney, NSW
A most disturbing video about a land which definitely does not belong to the Kurds, and never has been or will ever be. Changing names of provinces, cities and towns does not make it right. Assyria has always been that and will always remain as such. Kurdistan is only a piece of land in Iran, it was never a part of Mesopotamia. Kirkuk was always known as "Karkh d'Sluq", just as Havliar was always known as Arbil "Arba Ello" or 'Four Gods'.