Named for the Kurdish new year, the Newroz Café is a small, dingy kebab joint tucked away in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Boasting little more than two old plastic chairs and a broken Coca-Cola machine, the compact space smells like hot grease and strongly brewed tea. After recognizing the name while walking down the narrow streets one dusky evening, I was excited by the possibility of meeting Parisian Kurds. Once inside, I was indeed met with smiling Kurdish faces eager to find out what an American Kurd was doing in their tiny restaurant. We chatted for a few minutes, exchanging brief family histories and origins. They had emigrated from Iraq to France; my father from Syria to the United States. Then suddenly a young man emerged from the kitchen, his eyes dark and wild. He was palpably hostile and though I picked up the word “Turkish,” I was startled and confused by his aggressive entrance. The young man’s coworkers turned and hurriedly explained that I was Kurdish —not Turkish. Almost instantly, the young man’s wild eyes softened as he smiled. “I don’t like Turks,” he explained in broken French.
Two years earlier, as an ingenuous college freshman pouring over mountains of yellowed history text, I had begun a romance with the idea of nationalist struggle. Up until then, my Kurdish ethnicity had been an afterthought; a fact that surfaced only to explain my last name to an interested party. Now this dormant identity had found a new use. Aged but underused, the library’s books on Kurdish history engulfed my senses with a passionate irredentism. Like many students of international relations, I wanted to save the world. For me, this began with saving my fellow Kurds, or at least arguing their case.
By the time I began my junior year abroad in London, my arguments for Kurdish statehood were being recognized. That summer, papers I had written for two graduate-level courses during the previous semester were published as articles on the website KurdishMedia.com. I subsequently began a dialogue with the website’s co-founder and prominent Kurdish scholar, Dr. F---. After reading my work, Dr. F--- invited me to help edit articles in the website’s London office during my semester there. Though the time consumed by my course load and internship at a London law firm precluded me from accepting this generous offer, recognition by such a Kurdish figure crystallized my feeling of belonging to the nationalist movement. I was fully committed to supporting Kurdish statehood and denouncing those who opposed it. That was until my experience in a Parisian kebab shop.
Just as Newroz represents a new year and a new beginning in Kurdish culture, my experience in the Newroz Café represented a new beginning for my personal beliefs and academic focus. The young man’s aggressive reaction to the thought of an enemy inside his restaurant demonstrated the ethnic tension and nationalism that I had been writing about for the prior two years. This time, however, I was not in a sheltered classroom or behind a computer screen. I realized then that my obligation was not simply to advance an agenda to which I happened to be ethnically linked. Instead, I had to facilitate understanding between the ethnic fault lines. To do this, I would need to first understand these fault lines myself.
The following year in Boston, I began my senior thesis under the guidance of Professor [name]. My thesis did not focus on Kurdish nationalism, but on the country that I had taught myself to see as a foe: Turkey. As I analyzed Turkey’s strong political ideologies in reaction to its ethnically diverse population, I sought to learn how the Turks and Kurds had developed such mutual hostility when they have so much in common. Three weeks before graduation, I defended my findings before a panel of international relations experts and received acclaim for my accomplishments in the field. Though my academic pursuits had seemed fulfilling to me in the past, they did not compare with the sense of personal development that came with completing my thesis. I had used my academic opportunities and intellectual capability to look past the allure of ethnic bonds to the history and political theories that allowed nationalism to flourish unabated and unresolved.
With a basic comprehension of nationalism and international relations, I now wish to understand the practical mechanisms I can use to implement collaborative solutions to international problems. I believe in the potential of international law to be an objective tool of arbitration, but this potential needs to be nourished and groomed to ensure its realization. Studying the Kurdish Question sparked my interest in international law but it is not the only question I seek to answer. I plan to use my legal education to help unravel and resolve issues surrounding transnational ethnic movements the world over. I will always be, at heart, an international relations student who wants to save the world; but I hope to also be a lawyer with the expertise to do so.