A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

by Christiane Bird

(Ballantine)

One week ago, I knew absolutely nothing about the Kurds. Possessing only a vague notion of their geographical whereabouts, I read Christiane Bird's chronicle of her travels in the Kurdish world. What I learned was both enriching and startling, and vitally important for a deeper understanding of the political world in the Middle East.

Why, then, have the Kurds been virtually ignored by the reigning media in the last several decades? The only answer I can manage is that total ignorance, manipulation, and denial of the Kurds is a time-honored tradition in Western and especially Middle Eastern politics. Old habits die hard--but die they must.

The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own, and the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East. In her travels, Bird entered the silence of this controversial disenfranchisement; and her retellings of her first-hand encounters with the Kurdish people unfold with brilliant cultural insight and non-partisan sensitivity. Wary of confusing the novice reader with excessively academic fact-storming, Bird relies heavily on her actual communications with the Kurdish people, presenting a montage of views from the Kurds in Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. She relates with clarity the terrible crimes committed against the Kurds by these neighboring countries, and how their policies against the Kurds are imperative to understanding current political issues such as the Iraq war and Turkey's proposed induction into the European Union. The Kurds themselves tell and retell stories of violent persecution, torture, and psychological repression by nations such as Turkey.

A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts is a moving work of accessible scholarship that contributes invaluable knowledge to the West's understanding of the Middle East. Eye-opening descriptions of the modernization pushed on the Kurds, their religious ceremonies, art, and myth prove that Bird's portrait of the Kurdish people is truly sensitive to the complexities of their culture and sympathetic to their plight. Her work is stunning, revelatory, and important. EVAN JAMES