We’ve talked about Kurdistan here at Speaker TV in the past. In an essay entitled The Kurdish Agents of Feminism, we explored the Kurdistan’s Workers Party‘s goals to fight for feminism and against ISIS at the same time, while attempting carve out a Kurdish state in Turkey, Iraq and more recently in Syria. The group has been internationally recognised as a terror organisation, and very few on the global stage wish to recognise Kurdish people, or the idea of a Kurdish state. Kurdistan or Greater Kurdistan, is a roughly defined geo-cultural region wherein the Kurdish people form a prominent majority population and Kurdish culture, languages, and national identity have historically been based. The simple reason that the Kurdish people don’t have their own country is because Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria simply don’t want to recognise them. This means that they don’t have representation in global discussions, and subsequently are not recognised internationally.
However, the fact that Kurdistan is not recognised as a country does not stop the Kurdish people from having a country. They have their own culture, language, food, army and political structures to some extent, in various capacities of formal organisation.
An example of these societal structures comes in the form of the first and only jazz club in the Iraqi Kurdistan region. The 42 year old proprietor of this business, Chalak Salar has said “I wanted people to come here and enjoy the music, relax, and forget about the war.” Around where his jazz club has been set up, there are daily reports of atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the area has been ravaged as more and more people attempt to flee to Europe. The name of the venue is Uptown Jazz, and it opened its doors in 2015. After the ousting of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, the country’s northern Kurdish region become a hot spot, and investors, NGO workers and diplomats began pouring in to the community. Salar wanted to create a space where people could hang out after hours, which led to the inception of Uptown Jazz.
Most of the social clubs and hotels in the area offer live music in some capacity, but these offerings are usually Kurdish, Arabic or Western music. Jazz is so uncommon that a large number of residents in the area are not even familiar with it as a style. Salar says that “jazz is good for you. Everyone should listen to jazz music.” Uptown Jazz is the first of its kind in the Kurdish region, but not in all of Iraq. Older Iraqis recall a night when Duke Ellington and his band played in Baghdad on the eve of the 1963 Baathist military coup.
Since its opening in 2015, Uptown Jazz has managed to stay open even in the face of looming political and ideological threats from ISIS/ISIL and other camps. Salar does not have clearly defined political views, and he has said “when you come here, leave the politics at the door.” Even with the ongoing regional conflicts, Chalak Salar is sure his venue will continue to thrive, and he is living proof that all of our political, cultural and religious disputes are somewhat transcended by the nature of music. Even though they don’t have a state, the people of Kurdistan get their very own jazz club. Which begs the question, is a country only a country because it is recognised as such, or do those who believe in and occupy what they perceive as their country create it? Perhaps the goals of ISIS and Kurdistan are not too dissimilar – both wish to create places which do not and have not existed before – they’re means for pursuing these goals however, are vastly, catastrophically different.