Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Iranian Kurds in Iraq await chance to go home

AFP , BAHARKA, IRAQ

Iranian Kurdish boys sit at a refugee camp in Zejnikan, 20km north of the Kurdish city of Arbil, Iraq, last Monday.

PHOTO: AFP

Iranian Kurds living in a sprawling refugee camp in Kurdish north Iraq dream of returning home, voicing hope the US will use its might to overthrow the Tehran regime and make that wish come true.

Close to 500 Iranian Kurds, including 150 children, are crammed in clay or breeze-block dwellings in the Zejnikan camp, 20km north of Arbil, in northern Iraq.

For most of the camp elders, home is an elusive dream they fled more than 25 years ago after many of them took up arms against Iran's Shiite clerical regime in a fight for autonomy.

Amine Omar was 18 when she left her village. Now she is 36.

"We thought we would be gone for a year or two," she said sadly. "The Iranian soldiers were getting closer to the village. Our men were peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] and would have been killed."

During the first four years of their exile, home was a tent pitched in northern Iraq. Then they were moved to Zejnikan near the village of Baharka.

The Iranian Kurds were settled in a village that had been built by the ousted Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to house unruly Iraqi Kurds whose villages had been razed because they refused to bow to his rule.

NEW KEYS

Years later the regional Kurdish government has built 70 houses for the Iranian Kurds and the refugees are due to get the keys to their new homes within a month.

"We will be fine here but we want to go back home. I am hopeful. One day we will return," said Amine.

Mustafa Maanaf, a former peshmerga fighter, firmly believes that the US government holds his ticket home.

"We gave up the armed struggle so as not to embarrass our hosts, the Kurdish government in Iraq.

"The regime of the [Iranian] clerics will fall but this will only be possible through US military intervention like what happened here.

"It is our only hope," said the 40-year-old Maanaf who survives on a US$75 monthly handout from the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran and money he earns working as a mason.

Party representative Mohammed Saleh, who also heads the camp, agrees.

"We are awaiting a popular uprising in Iran backed by the Americans," said the 43-year-old, who dreams of taking his three children born in Iraq back home one day.But the dream is fading as the years go by.

FADED DREAM

Iranian Kurdish children born in Iraq know little to nothing of their ancestral homeland, with fewer having the chance to learn Farsi since they stopped teaching it at the camp school.

Young people are marrying into Kurdish Iraqi families and making roots in northern Iraq, others leave the camp to seek jobs in Arbil while the lucky ones have managed to emigrate to Australia, Sweden and the US.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, around 11,800 Iranian refugees, most of them Kurds, live in Iraq.

Faring Zrar, 12, is one of them and like his elders he dreams of Iran, which in his mind is closer to Eden.

"When I get older I will go back to Iran," he said. "It's not nice here. It is a desert. But Iran is like a paradise. Some cousins came and they told me: There are trees, rivers. It is beautiful in Iran and there everyone speaks English," he said.

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