What privileges are better than being human and born healthy? For parents, what joy is equal to the joy of having children? What feeling is stronger then the human feeling of having a successor who can inherit? Yet poverty and an unstable situation force many people to stay single and many couples to avoid having children. Kurds––as a nation, despite their horrible situation and uncertain future––have always liked children and want to have as many children as they can. When Kurds would learn that their sons were killed in an army attack or were disappeared by security forces, I heard from many people that their response was to proudly read the Kurdish proverb, BARKHI NER BO SARBRINA, which means, "The lamb is for sacrifice, to be slaughtered." It was never a surprise that our youths died and disappeared; the amazing miracle for them was to survive.
For many of us who survived, life was not really a life, and for sure it was not fun. As children, we grew up in fear and poverty, and as teenagers we were always targets of the army and the government's intelligence––not because we committed any crime or broke any law, but rather that we were born into a Kurdish family. I think this is one of the reasons we Kurds never celebrated our birthdays, and until the end of the 20th century “birthday” was not part of our culture. In fact, tens of thousands of us don’t know our exact birthdays. When we were young we used to joke about our birthdays, and whenever someone asked us about them, our answer was always, "I don't know, I wish that my dad was not at home that night." Tyranny, injustice, terror, poverty, joblessness, and hopelessness turned our lives into pain, suffering, hardship, and meaninglessness; there was no taste or beauty to life for us, and no one ever felt his existence enough to celebrate his birthday.
These are some reasons why many Kurds like me don't know their exact day of birth:
1- Until the First World War and the birth of many new states in the Middle East, many people, especially in villages and remote mountain areas, never had any identification. They simply belonged to their families and tribes. Their language and culture were their identities, and their experience and knowledge were their honor and respect.
2- From World War 1 until World War 2, many Kurds who lived in the villages and high mountains and depended on their farm and cattle for all their life's needs never received any government help or support. There were no services in their areas, like roads, schools, clinics, or government offices, because they lived outside of the state's boundaries. Even the government's forces and security were not able to reach and control their areas. They belonged to their mountains and did not carry any other identification.
3- From World War 2 until 1991, there were always conflicts between Kurdish revolutionaries and the states that occupied Kurdish lands. Some Kurds simply did not acknowledge those states, and refused to register or carry any identification that they belonged to such states. Instead, they dreamed about and struggled for their own state, Kurdistan.
4- Because of continual fighting between Kurds and the states they lived in, many Kurds, especially in the mountain areas, did not register their children, in order to avoid government harassment. And they didn’t want security forces to follow their children. Others documented their sons under their daughters’ names so the sons could avoid mandatory army service when they grew up. That’s why there was never a correct count of Kurdish citizens. Sometimes the difference between our numbers and the government’s numbers was in the millions!
Because all the states where Kurds lived (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria) ignored the Kurdish areas, many of these areas were poor and the people were uneducated; therefore they were not able to document and register the birth of their children. My parents were an example: both were illiterate, and none of us children know our exact birthdays.
5- Based on Iraqi law, for those whose birthdays were unknown, the government registered their birthdays as July 1 (the middle of the year). That’s why I, all my brothers and sisters, and millions of Iraqis in my generation and previous generations have the same birthday, July 1!
My children are always amazed at the fact that my wife and I have the same birthday. But I have not told them that all their uncles and aunts and many of their relatives all have the same birthday too (they were too young before my arrest to understand, and there was no chance after my arrest to tell them).
Based on what I heard from my mother, and compared to a cousin’s birthday (which I know is accurate), I have no doubt that my year of birth, 1970, is correct. But I am not sure about the month (July), and I am certain that the first of July is not correct. Most likely my real birth date is in the middle of May, 1970.
However, I am still not sure whether I should celebrate my birthday, or whether I should repeat what we used to say as teenagers back in my country: "I wish my dad was not at home that night." I left the Middle East entirely and traveled 15,000 miles to have a real life and live free, but I ended up in prison. Not because I committed any crime or broke any law, but because of who I am.
So, not for myself, but for all the Iraqis who have July 1 birthdays, I say: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU ALL.