Yassin Aref is a Kurd from Iraq. He was a resident of Albany, New York. He was unfairly accused of supporting terrorists and sent to a special prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The purpose of this site is to tell you who Yassin Aref really is and his interesting story; his struggle as a Kurd in Iraq, how he survived the Anfal genocide, his struggle for freedom, his journey to America with his family; and above all, how he ended up in prison. To learn of his story and about the Kurdish struggle for rights and liberty, Yassin wrote for you his life's story, Son of Mountains.
If you have any comments, suggestions, questions or criticisms, we would love to hear from you. Please email your comments to Lynne Jackson or send comments via postal mail to Yassin Aref.
A new book about the Aref-Hossain “sting” case in Albany, New York has just been published.
Rounded Up: Artificial Terrorists and Muslim Entrapment After 9/11, by Dr. Shamshad Ahmad, president of the Masjid As-Salam mosque in Albany and the 2007 recipient of the Jim Perry Progressive Leadership Award from Citizen Action of the Capital District, is now available nationwide. Rounded Up is the only comprehensive account of the Albany case available, and there is only one other book on the market about a domestic terrorism case itself. Rounded Up is an important contribution to the new body of literature about the government’s preemptive prosecution of Muslims in America. To order and to read more about the book, click here.
They thought I was ashamed
that my color is brown
They wanted me to plead guilty
for my nationality
They do not understand
how proud I am that you are my mom
My eyes and your eyes,
my color and your color,
are the same
They do not know
how happy I am
with my identity
When I was a child
all you asked
was that I be thankful
I was neither.
If only I could find the words
to convince myself
that I was true to you…
if I had lived until now
gratitude and devotion,
perhaps your spirit
would rise above death
All that I knew
about the world, about reality,
was in the mirror
of your tears.
I lived in reflected
without a homeland,
without a home,
alone and lost,
I am more than ever
your heart's resident.
I saw mournful visions
through your eyes.
Now I see with
my own eyes
and truly understand
our land is still occupied,
our wronged people
still fight for their identity,
besieged and embargoed,
and upon the summit
of our high mountains
our flag still does not fly!
When you gave birth to me
you challenged war,
you defied our enemies,
you defeated death
This too is true:
in the midst of anguish
you proved that
joy lives. You are
the spring of my love,
of my memory.
Permalink to Letter to My Mom
(which means, Repentance for a Wolf Is Death)
There are many stories in Kurdistan about wolves. Kurds regard wolves like an enemy hiding in the darkness, looking for an opportunity to do harm. As a child I heard many stories about wolves and I was always scared of them, thinking that they were lurking in the shadows waiting to jump on me. My favorite Kurdish novel, GALA GURG by Hussain Aref, was about wolves. It was made into a movie and became the first Kurdish film to be shown in the world’s cinemas.
I have difficulty understanding why wolves in my culture represent the worst example of dangerousness, while the lion (SHER) is the best example of beauty and strength. Both are wild, both are dangerous, both depend on killing animals for their survival. Yet no Kurd would accept being called a wolf, while everyone would feel happy and proud to be called a lion. The best explanation I can give for this is that wolves come at night in darkness to attack the sheep, in the same way that an enemy might sneak up on someone at night when he was least expecting an attack. In Kurdish culture, sheep are the most peaceful animals, without even horns to defend themselves. The Kurds see this as similar to their own situation--like sheep without horns. The Kurds (sheep) are always being victimized when the wolf is the shepherd, who is supposed to be taking care of the sheep. The youth become scapegoats who are sacrificed to keep the wolf satisfied.
As for the lion, it represents the strength and independence of our youth who refused humiliation and went to the mountains to ask for our rights and freedom. We used to call these freedom fighters PESH MERGA, those who are facing death, because they really were facing death every day. Like lions living in the mountains who were brave and strong, they drove the wolves away.
This proverb tells us that wolves cannot change their basic character and will always remain a danger. A wolf can never be trusted even if it shows some signs of good behavior. It is still a wolf and is dangerous by nature. In Kurdistan, we use this proverb to warn the people about individuals with sick minds or weak hearts who always have bad intentions and look for ways to destroy people’s lives. Such a person cannot be trusted even if he claims he will act differently or change his ways, because he may say this only as another trick. Since a wolf’s very nature is to act with bad intentions toward the sheep, any attempt at repentance would be the death of the wolf. We also use this proverb when someone is happy and proud of what he is doing, but people want him to stop and change himself. He will tell them this proverb as a way of refusing their requests for a change in behavior, and it implies, “Leave me alone and don’t waste your time--I am not going to change.” Over and over, whenever my Dad asked my big brother to start saying his prayers regularly, my brother would reply, TOBAY GORG MARGA.
While I was writing this proverb, one of my friends sent me some books, one of which was IN OTHER WORDS by Christopher Moore. The book is a collection of beautiful stories and wisdom from many different languages in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, China, India, and Turkey. Of course, there is no mention of the Kurdish language and wisdom. This book made me believe all the more in what I am doing, and to see why I need to write about my culture and its wisdom. It is true that we are the biggest nation on this planet that does not have its own independent state, and we are not free in our own land. But we do have a long history and a very rich culture to share with the world. It is my pleasure to do a part of it. I know that my knowledge of language is not sufficient to convey all of the richness of my culture into English, but, as they say, “if you can’t do all of something, at least do some of it.”
I liked Moore’s book very much, and I laughed over and over when I read what the author wrote about Arabic languages, especially the proverb HIMUL QITTQT AKLUL FIRRAN (The dream of cats is all about mice), and its meaning of a one-track mind. If cats only dream about mice, no doubt wolves only dream about killing another sheep and of getting another victim. Since nothing can stop cats from dreaming about mice, no one can tame a wolf to the point that it will not dream of killing new victims. Repentance is its death.
Permalink to Tobay Gorg Marga
I read in the Holy Book:
nothing between Heaven and Hell
but a wall
on one side is mercy
on the other side torture
I learned from philosophic debates
that between right and wrong
is a single hair
only intellects can see
I was appalled when I discovered
the difference between pagan and believer
is so minute, even thinner than an atom
You see two prostrating:
the former’s heart direct to the Idol,
the latter's soul to God on the high throne
Now nothing prevents me
from enjoying life, meeting the beloved
but the wall
nothing separates me from freedom
but the wall
I call on you from behind the walls:
stop building them!
walls block the hungry from food
walls bar the sick from medical supplies
walls obstruct people’s interaction with one another
walls segregate lovers
Demolish the walls!
symbols of tyranny and the dark age
enemy of man and life
Permalink to Demolish the Wall
I am looking for spring
to see trees blooming,
to see our burned land
turn green with flowers,
to see birds
singing for a new life
bringing a new generation
I am looking for freedom.
I want to see
an end to jail and humiliation,
see the flag, the state,
the map of my nation,
see the end
of the army's occupation
I am looking for my children to grow.
I am eager
to tell them my story
with my people's history,
I want them to understand
what has happened
and why we are in
this current situation
I am looking to see the day
when pens replace weapons,
when philosophers instead of generals
when by mind, not desire,
by heart, not ego,
they will make decisions!
I am looking
to see a new generation
human rights activists
to renew and bring back
the motto and the spirit
of the French revolution:
Liberty! Equality! Brotherhood!
I am looking for mercy,
waiting for God
to wash away people's sins,
clear their hearts,
guide them to live together
like they are human beings
2009 by Yassin Aref
Permalink to I Am Looking
(which means, “In the Face of Force, Philosophy is Invalid”)
No humiliation is more bitter than being forced to renounce your faith and beliefs. Nothing is more painful than being forced to do something you know is wrong. And nothing is more sad than to see your life, your family and your land ruined while you are powerless to protect them. Many times in our history, we Kurds saw our people forced to do things that in normal times they would never accept. This proverb tells us that when the force, ZOR, comes, QWALA--making excuses, telling stories, crying for mercy--will not bring any benefit. I saw many of our youth tortured until they turned into people they were ashamed of, and who became traitors to their country. I myself could never justify such turning and betrayal, and I believe that no one should ever do it. But this proverb reminds me and all idealistic people that force can invalidate all philosophy, and it makes people speak or act against their will. Not everyone can stay firm under torture and force.
It is wrong to withhold food and medication from people by embargo in order to force them to do things which are contrary to their beliefs and will. It is not fair to use new technology and science to break human beings and make them say or do things that they believe are wrong and would never do in their whole lives under normal circumstances. It is sad to see today, all over the world, people forced by fear and need to sell their dignity and lose their humanity just to survive. I met a man who once sold his kidney in order to feed his family. I read many stories of women selling their chastity and dignity to feed their children; and what about those forced by need or fear to work for the enemies of their nation? This proverb talks about them all, and reminds us that they have become this way because of force. They are not hypocrites or traitors, but victims.
History and logic tell us that those who exploit the weakness in others, and force humans to submit to their will, never win in the long run. Tyrants will have no future or happiness or success. They cannot build the future by abusing and exploiting people, and anything built by force will not last. Philosophy becomes invalid in the face of force, but force will not last, while philosophy will last and eventually triumph.
Permalink to Ka Zor Hat Qawala Batala
Yesterday the science teacher
showed our class a small computer chip
He explained its enormous capacity to us
He was excited and amazed
"This is the miracle of technology!
All the tools we use in our lives
proclaim the greatness of the brain
and the power of the human being!"
the teacher really surprised me
How can he accept and believe
that the brain,
which invented the computer,
that the heavens,
which contain billions of galaxies,
that the universe,
with all of its beautiful creatures,
just appeared out of nowhere,
or came into existence by chance,
or was created
which itself is deaf and dumb?
2009 by Yassin Aref
Permalink to Surprise #2
Come close and stay near
allow me to linger with your scent
give me a hug
Please listen to
my doctor's prescription:
"To improve your heart's condition
you should receive a warm hug
four times every day"
I am here by myself
struggling with life's concerns
a stranger! a long distance
far from you and from all those
beloved to me
A fire blazes in my chest
it melts my heart
boils my blood
there are no limits no boundaries
that can contain my thoughts and memories
I am a poor man
knocking at your door
begging for charity
for love, friendship and sympathy
With your soft hand, give me a kind touch
be generous, accept this guest
with warm hospitality!
Do not look at my gray hair
My heart is very young
as well as my ego
which still cries like a baby
for the loving embrace
it used to receive from my mother
when it was a child, such a long time ago!
2009 by Yassin Aref
Permalink to Warm Hug
(which means, It's Easy by Mouth but It's Not So Easy by Action)
There is always a difference between theory and science, between talking and acting, between what we hear and what we see, between claim and reality. Changing a situation and building a nation depends on action. Everywhere you will find people who talk, criticize, claim, and dream, but how many of them are standing for what they say? Or how much do their actions prove what they claim? In Kurdistan we say, "The one who speaks a lot will not act upon it." We must keep our words, do what we say, and work instead of talk, in order to separate ourselves from hypocrites and modern politicians who are good at talking but who usually do the opposite of what they say!
We are what we do, not what we say. Many people have beautiful thoughts and ideas but never put them into action. The way to find out whether our words are practical or not is to put them into action. Change and improvement are fruits of hard work, not of nice talk only!
We use this proverb a lot, and we say this whenever some idealist talks about beautiful theories or ideas for a solution to all the world’s conflicts and problems, but he doesn’t have any means or clear plan for it; or when someone criticizes what people are doing while he does nothing. And if he is not ready to prove any differently by his actions, we say to him, "It’s easy by mouth, not so easy by action."
Nations are made great by people who struggle and work hard, not by those who are good speakers and do nothing. I still remember when I was seven years old in 1977 and my cousin Hasan bought a bicycle. That was the first bike that had ever been seen in our village. We were all excited to see it, and we tried to get close to Hasan and befriend him so that maybe he would let us touch the bike. Hasan himself did not know how to ride a bike; we used to hold it steady for him, but still he had a hard time trying to stand up on it and ride it. One day, after we had tried hard to teach him to ride the bike but he had not made any improvement, we thought he would not be able to learn. But none of us told him that. Then one of Hasan's neighbors, Mardan, came over as soon as he found out what we were doing. When he learned that Hasan couldn’t ride his own bike, Mardan looked at Hasan and said, "But it’s easy." Hasan got mad and asked him if he could ride a bike? Mardan replied, “Of course! There’s nothing to it. All you have to do is hold the handlebar and start pedaling!”
Hasan gave Mardan the bike to ride, but Mardan was not even able to stand on the bike. He fell to the right and then to the left, and even though we held the bike steady for him, Mardan was shaking and not able to pedal. Then Hasan told him, "It’s easy by mouth but not by ass"––an informal way to say this proverb. In fact, Mardan was right in his instructions for riding a bike: all anyone has to do is hold the handlebar and pedal. But he was wrong to think that it was easy, and that he could do it in practice!
No one is born with knowledge. Whatever we learn in our life that we can do, many things may look fun and seem to be easy, but that doesn’t mean they are! We do not know for sure until we try them. This is always the problem with being an idealist!
The tongue is the most important tool we have to communicate with people so we can express ourselves or exchange our ideas. A kind word will reach and touch hearts; we should never remain silent. Speaking to people, telling a story, or asking questions will improve our lives, open our minds, and educate us. But to make that happen, we need to prove all of what we say, and show people that we mean it by our actions. There is no benefit from philosophy if nobody practices it, no benefit from an idea if no one follows it, and no benefit from talking without acting upon it. Building our lives and our universe requires action rather than talking. All of what we say is just claim and propaganda until we put our words into action and practice them. People need to struggle and work for a better future and for real change; by only talking, we will never reach these goals.
Permalink to Ba Qsa Asana Balm Ba Krdawa Grana
Welcome Democracy Now! Listeners
Read about Dr. Rafil Dhafir, the Muslim Solidarity
Committee and more information about the CMU-
"Little Guantanamo" on the Links page here
Read more about the CMU Prisons
“Little Guantanamo”–Secretive ‘CMU’ Prisons Designed to Restrict Communication of
Jailed Muslims and Activists With Outside World
Broadcast on Democracy Now! April 17, 2009
Photos sent by Arif Gull, a friend of Yassin's of
Hashazini and Kurdistan.
by Yassin Aref
This is me
Wherever I am
I carry a pen in my pocket
and book in my hand
Tons of new ideas are in my mind
My heart full of love and caring
Looking forward hopefully
For justice, peace and a better life
For us all and the coming generation.
Searching for an answer to the question
“What exactly does it mean
that we are human beings?"
Quote from Pastor Martin Niemöller
In Germany they first came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then the came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.
from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations