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A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan Paperback – June 14, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Travel writer Bird (Neither East nor West: One Woman's Journey Through the Islamic Republic of Iran) provides a compelling glimpse of Kurds and the difficulties they face with this blend of travelogue and history lesson. The book's title comes from a Kurdish poem about the Kurds' determination to be masters of their own lands, an effort that brings about "a thousand sighs, a thousand tears, a thousand revolts, a thousand hopes." Bird deftly describes each of those aspects of Kurdistani culture, from the sighs and tears of women who offer Bird both flavorful dinners and wrenching stories of loss, to the hopes of Kurdish artists who believe their ethnic group's artistic traditions can survive beyond war. Where Bird focuses most, however, is the revolts that have plagued the Kurds for decades. The largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own, the Kurds number between 25 and 30 million, and live in an arc of land that stretches through Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and parts of the former Soviet Union. As Bird travels through Kurdistan (a country that isn't on any map), she meets an array of people, from scholars to bus drivers. Each story of conflict, poverty, homelessness and suffering is like a brushstroke in a larger portrait of the Kurdish experience. Bird's talent for blending reportage with illuminating tales from individuals makes this a notable and much needed work. B&w photos, map.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Kurdistan comprises a craggy, mountainous stretch through the epicenter of the Middle East and is home to as many as 30 million Kurds, the fourth largest ethnic group in the region. Long marginalized and brutally repressed--as in the late 1980s, when Saddam Hussein attacked Iraqi Kurds with chemical weapons and destroyed more than 4,000 Kurdish villages--the Kurds are notoriously independent, passionate, and proud, and today they hold tremendous geopolitical importance, as evidenced by their role in building the new Iraqi government. Bird first became fascinated by the Kurds during her 1988 visit to Iran. Here, she explores Iraqi Kurdistan--which, with a decade of protection as part of the "Northern No-Fly Zone," has flourished as a near-autonomous democracy--and makes stops in Syria, Iran, and Turkey, showing Kurdish history and culture along the way. Her well-written and timely story reflects the Kurds' sense of determination, as described in a Kurdish poem, "A thousand sighs, a thousand tears, a thousand revolts, a thousand hopes." Andy Boynton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
All this being said, and what is keeping this book from getting a five star review, is that I found the author's semi frequent (once or twice a chapter) pot shots at American politics leading up to the invasion of 2003 to be somewhat tiresome. If you are reading this book, it is because you want to find out what the Kurds think and do, not what the author thinks about American foreign policy.
Robert A. Lincoln
"Once again, just business as usual in the wild and woolly world of Kurdish politics."
So writes Christiane Bird two-thirds of the way through A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts as she describes an event in the relationship among Iranians, Iraqis, and Kurds in the early 1970s. In a sense she was denying what she announced at the start: "This is a not a book about Kurdish politics. This is a book about the Kurdish people."
Like any good travel book, however, A Thousand Sighs is also a political study, which is especially important today when the Kurds are suddenly in the forefront of the news. Ms. Bird is a reactor, not an analyst. As she states early on, the Kurds are the world's largest ethnic group without a state of their own, despite their longstanding claim of a country called Kurdistan. Several times, they have almost but not quite made it and at least once held the senior position in someone else's empire (the Seljuk, for Saladin was a Kurd), but have never been truly absorbed into or taken control of another political culture.
Today, the Kurds are a sizeable percentage of the populations of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. On unofficial maps, Kurdistan extends from the middle of the Anatolian plain to the mountains of Iran. The Kurds probably number between 25 and 30 million.
Ms. Bird found them today extremely sympathetic, perhaps dangerously so in the long run, toward the United States. They hope at least to hold a federated piece of real estate, rich in oil, in Iraq. Centuries ago the Kurds converted to Islam, and she does not mention much about the conventional saying in the Middle East that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Kurds Ms. Bird contacted rate Turks as their most fearsome enemy. Her personal interactions were mainly in English. It was Ataturk after World War I, when the French, British, and Greeks threatened to take over Turkey from Izmir in the west across Lake Van in the east, who held off the threatening troops and somehow kept Turkey together; the Kurds considered Diyarbakir in the east the traditional capital of Kurdistan and continue to resist integration. Here, again, politics strongly enters in. Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, hopes for European Union membership and EU powers rate her treatment of the Kurds as an important issue.
At one point toward the end of A Thousand Sighs, Ms. Bird likens mainstream Turkish attitudes toward Kurds to white mainstream attitudes toward black Americans, but it is impossible to agree. Kurds have an entirely different cultural and political tradition. The Kurdish question, colorful as the Kurds may be, demands a healthy dose of but more than the cultural-personal study A Thousand Sighs is able to provide.
Robert Lincoln, a retired Foreign Service officer who lives in northern Virginia, spent a dozen years in or directly connected with programs in the Middle East.