The other day my friend Zoma mentioned that her birthday was November 17th. I told him it was the same day as mine. She was thrilled and suggested we celebrate together. “Celebrating doesn’t interest me,” I replied. Friends and acquaintances sometimes ask me what I would like to do for my birthday, but how do I explain that I never liked it?
The reason I never celebrated my birthday is because I don’t know where and when I was born. According to my Iraqi passport, I was born on November 17, 1984, but my parents registered me several years later. It was to protect me by not revealing the date and place of my birth, which was during the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988. My father fled the Iraqi regime and the rest of the family moved from a place to another because we lived at the epicenter of wars. We were constantly looking a safe haven to protect us in Iraq, and could not approach the government offices as most of the administrations were occupied by military personnel.
The Kurds attempted to conceal the men’s identities in order to avoid their being forced to join the Iraqi army as conscripts. Moreover, the Iraqi government did not promote the birth registration of Kurds, in order to hide the real number of the Kurdish population. As a result, it remains unclear where I was born.
As if to deepen my doubt, my cousins often joked that my parents weren’t my real parents. They claimed that I was abandoned by my real parents when I was little because they didn’t have enough food for me. In fact, it was a very common scenario during wars.
For clarity, I asked my parents when and where I was born, but they weren’t sure. They only remembered that I was born during the war.
My mother said to me: “You were five months old when the Iraqi Ba’ath Party assassinated Abdulkareem. Abdulkareem was his second brother, a Peshmerga (Kurdish soldier) who fought against Saddam Hussein’s regime. However, my father remembered that I was one year and four months old when my mother’s second brother, Hassan, also a peshmerga soldier, died stepping on an Iranian-made landmine near the border.
But I discovered that my mother had lost part of her memory after the death of her brothers. My uncle Hussein, his only surviving brother, tells me a different story of my birth, and he is known for his excellent memory. He said, “You were born one day after Abdulkareem was killed.
In the end, they only remembered that I was born during the war and between the death of my uncles.
My story is not unusual. Without accurate information, many are recorded as being “born” on July 1. We have lost not only our birthdays, but also our land, our culture and our language – in a word, our identity. It was not our fight, yet it took place on our land. Forces clashed and innocent people paid the price.
Therefore, we received negative labels. Our neighbors started calling us “Mountain Turks”, saying slogans like “A good Kurd is a dead Kurd”. Some even refused to admit our existence. Despite all this, most Kurds continued to tolerate others, knowing that these were only the opinions of the ruling elite.
That’s why, after everything that’s happened, I’m not sure I can celebrate with Zoma on November 17th. I’m glad my friend is celebrating her birthday with joy, looking forward to another year full of adventures, but I’m still trapped. Both in the history I have witnessed and in the one I see these days, where parts of my country are still under fire, fighting for survival.