In Tbilisi, Georgia, a worker installs a flag in preparation for independence day celebrations, 2008. Photo: AP
By Nechiravn Hussein
TBILISI, Georgia – As a poor Yezidi Kurd who has lived all her life in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Alihan Gohar may never fulfill her wish of visiting the Lalesh shrine in Iraqi Kurdistan.
“It is my dream,” she says, explaining how she and her husband were forced to send their three children to Europe in search of better lives.
They left for the United Kingdom and France to study and find jobs, because “here they could not make enough money to pay for their tuition fees,” says Alihan, 48, who runs a shoe store with her husband in the main market in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Thousands of Kurds, mainly of the Yezidi faith, arrived in Georgia from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the Kurdistan Region and most now live in Tbilisi. The majority live in unfavorable economic conditions, with many Kurdish women working in the markets or as street vendors.
Some of the women told Rudaw that it is their dream to one day return to Kurdistan and live in their ancestral land. Others said that they were destined to spend the rest of their lives in Georgia, and expressed no wish to go back to their Kurdish homelands.
It is believed that the first group of Yezidi Kurds arrived in Georgia in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries, fleeing religious persecution under the Ottoman Empire.
A 1926 census shows a total of 2,502 Muslims and Yezidi Kurds. However, the numbers now exceed 40,000 Kurds, comprising one percent of Georgia’s five million population.
Some of the Kurds here say that they had a better life before 1991, when Georgia was still part of the Soviet Union. Since then, they say, many Kurds from Georgia have left for Europe.
While some Kurds and their children in Georgia have completely assimilated, Alihan and some of her relatives still speak the Kumanji dialect and have maintained their Kurdish culture.
“Our culture is very different from that of the Georgians,” says Alihan, who was born in Georgia.
For more than two decades -- between the 1960s and 1980s -- the Kurds of Georgia were culturally active. They established Kurdish clubs and published magazines and newspapers.
They say that after Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union, the country’s only Kurdish theater group ceased to exist, and the Kurdish-language service of Radio Georgia was shut down thanks to the rising sense of Georgian nationalism.
Christina Cengiz, a Kurdish woman who sells coffee in the market of Tbilisi, says that she is happily assimilated with the Georgian way of life and is skeptical of the idea of returning to visit Kurdistan.
“I don’t know how they are going to treat me,” she wonders. “But I don’t mind if my children want to go to Kurdistan, if that is their wish,” she adds.
Unlike Cengiz, Guzel Bapir, 61, thinks of the Kurdish lands of her ancestors everyday, and the few songs she still remembers are about Kurdistan.
“I become very angry when I hear someone talking badly about Kurdistan,” she says, adding that she also dreams of a journey to Kurdisatn. “But I can’t, because I am too poor.”