Young Kurds Celebrate Their Culture at 5th Youth Festival in US

Groups from Iraqi Kurdistan and Europe joined others from the United States and Canada at the 5th Annual Kurdish Youth Festival in Florida this month, where the emphasis this year was on showing support for the Kurds in Syria.


The three-day festival was packed with cultural and social activities, such as a short film competition and a Kurdish trivia game, the main events of the first day. Representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government also presented high-achieving students with scholarships to help with their educational goals.

On the second day, Dr Athanasios Moulakis, former president of the American University of Sulaimani, chaired a panel discussion about the importance of education and later on, the festival’s keynote speaker, Karwan Rostem, gave a speech about his career with NASA.

The day continued with the sole political panel of the festival “Current Events: What’s Really Happening in Kurdistan?” BBC journalist Jiyar Gol, Kurdish Affairs Analyst Mutlu Civiroglu, and Dr. Mehmet Gurses of the Florida Atlantic University spoke at the panel.


Gol spoke about his recent visit to Qandil Mountains and shared with the audience the short documentary film he prepared about the Women Fighters in the PKK. He said both in Turkey and Syria women were always in front rows both in political and social life.

In his speech, Civiroglu focused on Rojava or the Kurdistan of Syria and praised the recent agreement reached between two Kurdish councils, and decision to attend Geneva Conference as a single delegation. He also presented a PowerPoint presentation about his visit to the region.

Dr. Gurses discussed the current peace process in Turkey and talked about Kurdish people’s struggle for decades. He stressed that the emergence of a Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq and the prospects of a similar entity in Syria has provided incentives to address the demands from Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

At a separate panel, Kurdish Organizations in North America discussed about their mission and goals. The second day of the festival continued a live art auction where young Kurdish artists found opportunity to show their art work. The second day ended with the performance by Kurdish rapper Rezan Jamal, who had traveled from Sweden. Proceeds and donations went to Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan.

In the final day of the festival attendees had a remarkable tour of the Miami area, and visited interesting attractions.


The musical theme continued on the final day, with renowned Kurdish singer Chopy, who sang in both Kurdish dialects, giving a performance in the evening.


Celebrated Kurdish singer Diyar took to the stage to bring events to a close. Before starting his performance, he spoke about Rojava, and urged attendees to show their support and solidarity with Syria’s Kurds.

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Solidarity with Rojava marked the event.

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Throughout the festival Kurdish youth collected donation for their brothers and sisters in Rojava.

Heval Pektas, one of the organizers, was glowing about the festival.

Heval“The 5th year of the Kurdish Youth Festival in the United States brought together Kurds from all corners of the world, sending a message of unity and support for Rojava. The highly productive event was a huge success that will provide a strong foundation for a Kurdish lobby in the years to come,” he enthused.

SarahAnother organizer, Sarah Yousif believed being on the committee for the festival for three years now has broadened her conception of the Kurdish culture exponentially.

“It showed me that we are capable of so much. Planning and attending this festival, as a Kurdish-American youth has brought me closer to my roots than I ever thought was possible.”

Akhink Omer, another member of the organization committee said the Kurdish Youth Festival shows the youth that Kurds from North, South, East and West [of Kurdistan] are the same.

“We will be united when we realize that our struggle is the same” she added.

Nuha Serrac, another member of the committee said they wanted Kurdish youth to become agents of change in their communities and she felt that they were gradually meeting that goal.

Nuha_Diyar“We wanted to provide young individuals with mentors by inviting professionals who are highly successful in their fields to inspire them and to advise them on their educational and career paths.”

Khalaf Zebari: A Lifelong Voice of Kurdish Language and Culture


In 1991, he applied for a job at the VOA, where he worked until May 2012, when he was forced to retire due to deteriorating health

WASHINGTON DC – Earlier this month, at the Virginia hospital where he has been in a life-and-death struggle for a month, I went to visit Khalaf Zebari, whose voice is known to many Kurds around the world from Kurdish-language broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA).

His wife Chiman, who was beside him at the intensive care unit, told me that doctors had told her he would not survive, and they should let him go. “No, I told them angrily,” she said. “I told them, ‘do everything you can.’”

My first contact with Zebari was over the phone 19 years ago, when I was a high school student in Turkey. His pure Kurdish accent and remarkable voice had fascinated me all the years I had tuned in to the VOA’s Kurdish programs.

His weekly show Ferheng û Toreya Kurdi or “Kurdish Literature and Culture” and Michael Chyet’s Zimane Me were my favorite programs.  Zebari would interview Kurdish poets, writers or journalists around the world — from Europe to the Middle East and from the former Soviet Union to Australia.

He talked about the Kurdish classical poets, love stories, legends and epics. It was thanks to his program that I learned a great deal about Kurdish literature, culture and oral tradition.

In 2004, when I met him face-to-face for the first time in Washington, I expected to see the tall, big man behind the imposing voice. I was surprised to see that Zebari was neither tall nor big. He was short and slender.

My friendship with Mamosta Zebari continued while I was in Turkey, and afterwards in Canada. After I moved to the United States in 2009, we became even closer.  Together with Chiman, their two children Znar and Jvan and daughter-in-law Harez, they became a true family for me.

Besides being a true friend, Zebari has also been a great mentor and genuine role model for me. I had the privilege of working with him at the VOA Kurdish service for four years, where I got to know him better and tap into his deep knowledge of the Kurdish language, literature and culture. What he taught me about broadcasting guide me to this day in my profession.

Zebari was born on March 12, 1948 in the Zebar region of Akre in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 1970, he graduated from Mosul University with a B.A. in economics. Three years later, he joined the Kurdish Freedom Movement and began his career as a translator and news broadcaster at the Voice of Kurdistan. In March 1975, following the collapse of the Kurdish Movement, he sought refuge in Iran with thousands of other Kurds.

In 1977, he emigrated to the United States and settled with his wife and infant daughter in Nashville, Tennessee, where he began a new life. In 1981, Zebari published a magazine in Kurdish and Arabic named Denge Gel, or “The Voice of the People.”

He got into radio broadcasting in 1974, when the Iraqi army attacked Kurdistan.

“I started working for the Voice of Kurdistan, which was a radio run by the Kurdish movement. The program mostly was about the war operations, news of the war, of Iraqi attacks on the region. I had sympathy with the Kurdish movement like most of the young Kurds then,” according to Zebari’s recollections.

In 1975, after the end of the Kurdish uprising as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds became refugees in Iran, Zebari met his wife-to-be at a refugee camp in Iran. In 1976, they applied for asylum in the United States and shortly after moved to Nashville, where he joined his cousins and became part of the small Kurdish community.

For 15 years he worked at any job he could find, mostly in restaurants.

“I did many jobs, but I felt that I lived in freedom.” he said. “That was the most important for me! To go anywhere I wanted to, to talk about anything you have in mind.”

In 1991, he applied for a job at the VOA, where he worked until May 2012, when he was forced to retire due to deteriorating health.

Zebari grew up in a family of five brothers and two sisters. He left home to attend high school in town, where he began to write poetry, and then went on the study economics at the University of Mosul.

Although all his education was in Arabic, Zebari taught himself to read and write Kurdish. While still in high school he began writing poetry in his ethnic tongue. His first collection of poems was published in 1999, called Ware Seran or “The Land of Lions.”

“I wrote many poems about love, our homeland Kurdistan, Kurdish society, Newroz — the Kurdish New Year and the symbol of freedom and national existence,” he recalled.

Many of Zebari’s poems also have been set to music, and have become popular songs. His poem Nesrin, which was composed by well-known Kurdish singer Mohammed Sheikho, is one of the most beloved songs in all four parts of Kurdistan.

Bo Kê Bikim Gazî û Hawar – “Who Shall I Call or Turn to” – was his cry when some 5,000 fellow Kurds were gassed to death in the town of Halabja by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1988.

Who should I call or turn to?  Should I turn to the same cold, frozen conscience, or to the deaf and silent world?, was Zebari’s lament.

Today, Zebari’s wife laments that she does not know who to turn to as doctor’s – who perhaps know nothing of this man’s struggle and role in lifting the Kurdish spirit during some of our worst times – say that he must die.