U.S. Kurds Turn Out in Protest

Kurds who have resettled in the U.S. have been demonstrating in advance of the meeting between Turkey's prime minister and President Bush on Monday. The largest community of Iraqi Kurds is is in Nashville, Tenn.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Kurdish Americans have been watching events unfold in their homeland. They have a serious concern about Turkey's threat of military intervention, and they're taking it to the streets.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports from Nashville, Tennessee.

AUDIE CORNISH: What the group lacked in size, they made up for in noise.

(Soundbite of protest)

CORNISH: A few dozen high school and college students draped in Kurdish flags and waving palm-sized U.S. ones demonstrated at the federal courthouse in Nashville for the second time in a week. They are the children of Kurdish refugees who fled to the U.S. in waves after the Kurds' failed rebellion in the late '70s and the first Gulf War in the 1990s.

Today, Nashville has one of the nation's largest populations of Iraqi Kurds -nearly 10,000.

Ms. RAMSIYA SULIMAN(ph) (Political Science Major, Tennessee State University): We are Americans. But then again, we're Kurdish Americans. And we see this as a story to our identity.

(Soundbite of protest)

CORNISH: Ramsiya Suliman is a 22-year-old political science major at Tennessee State University. She came to the U.S. as a toddler in 1991, when her family fled the very area of Iraq now facing a possible incursion from Turkish forces. She says through satellite television and calls from relatives, she knows her parents' old village is already experiencing violence.

Ms. SULIMAN: I believe the United States need to take a stronger stand and say, look, if you do this, we're not going to sit back and watch. And they're not doing it. They're just basically saying negotiation, negotiation. Turkey does not want a negotiation. Turkey wants a military action, and I believe they will do it.

CORNISH: But others aren't so quick to dismiss the U.S. diplomatic efforts to calm tensions between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdish leadership. Sarwer Hawez(ph) is a social worker here. But he says he escaped Iraq in a U.S. airlift of refugees in 1997. He wants U.S.-led negotiations.

(Soundbite of protest)

Mr. SARWER HAWEZ (Social Worker): To find out other way for peace solution. To encourage them don't use military force.

CORNISH: Rigor Ali(ph), a sophomore in nearby Lipscomb University says the threat of invasion is the talk of every Iraqi Kurdish dinner table in his community.

Mr. RIGOR ALI (Sophomore Student, Lipscomb University): Turkish troops just need to get out of Iraqi Kurdistan. It's not their land. It's never been their land. It's not of nowhere. Just simply because we have our own state, we're starting to build our own foundation and is growing rapidly. It's threatened Turkey. Turkey is scared.

CORNISH: A small network of young Kurdish Americans organized similar protests in half a dozen cities including Atlanta, San Francisco and Los Angeles. And larger rallies are planned on Monday in New York and in Washington, D.C. That's when President Bush is said to meet with the prime minister of Turkey.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Nashville.

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