2021 / 5 / 13
“In the Shadows of Mountains - Memories of the Revolution and Resistance”
Reviewed by: Nemat Sharif
Author: Rizgar Kestayi
Issue: Roj Helat Press, Dohuk 2018
Language: Kurdish, 276 pages of medium size
"The revolution was not only a fight, but behind that fight lay a special lifestyle"
In this elegant edition, the Peshmerga writer, Rizgar Kestayi, recounts 33 mostly military operations against the Baathist occupation forces into a fine reading in a story-telling style that captures the reader to follow to the end. Events and their dynamics remain a mystery to non-Peshmerga until he reads a story after a story to see himself as if he were participating in the operations, and moves the feelings of sadness and tragedy in him to culminate into pride and heroism in every step a Peshmerga sets to climb a mountain again. These stories are not without humor and paradoxes that adds to the joy of reading and traces it to the comradery relationships between the Peshmerga and their superiors as well as among the Peshmerga themselves. For those who have tried a life of a special style, as the author describes it, in the ranks of the Peshmerga, these stories truly bring you back to the atmosphere of struggle and resistance to injustice and oppression.
While the book provides an accurate de-script-ion of Peshmerga groups and their lifestyle and work among themselves through party organization on the one hand and Peshmerga ranks and cooperation between them to achieve the desired victory in military operations. It also describes Baathist forces, mostly in numbers and armaments. This allows for a comparison between the attacking and the attacked forces to assess each operation and the difficulties the Peshmerga faced in defending the legitimate rights of the people of Kurdistan against the government forces of the Army, Jash and police involved in the operations described.
Furthermore, the book offers a track record of Peshmerga names who had the role of leadership and responsibility, including a number of senior officials at present as well as those who sacrificed their lives for the homeland of martyrs and wounded. The short biographical notes include the full name of the Peshmerga and affiliation with his village´-or-clan, and a summary of his services and responsibilities he assumed. We should also mention that the writer s life and role appears here and there in reading between the lines. Also the exact de-script-ion indicates that he had participated himself in these operations. The writer recounts his stories in a time sequence and chronicles them with real dates of operations, thus truly chronicling the events of the glorious May Revolution from experience and this constitutes a record of resistance unmatched in the history of the Kurdish resistance.
Of the 33 stories documented in this book, only 3 are narrated by another Peshmerga. One of these stories is the liberation of Rayat Citadel led by Mustafa Barzani himself in 1962 after a 37-day siege. Two other stories of the infamous Anfal tragedies that have claimed more than 180,000 innocent civilians, mostly children, women and the elderly. These two stories are "The Old Man and the Sickle", "The Anfal and the Story of Little Ari".
This book is a valuable reference for researchers and general readers alike. Despite the fact that the text is well written and despite its literary, linguistic and historical value, we must mention some of the points that if the author had added, it would have made it more enjoyable and useful reading, including:
Added some pictures, for example, that of the writer s father, a great man, who was congratulated by the King of Sweden on his 100th birthday, and some other images of the places and mountains mentioned. As well as some illustrations of operations, locations and Peshmerga routes. Not all readers know the historical sites mentioned-;- even if the maps were simple´-or-hand-drawn, and that is easier in the age of technology. A final note on the use of the word "enemy" was correctly used in the text and did not need to be clarified in the footnote because of the personal relationship mentioned in the narrative applies to the use of the word "enemy", and what the two did deserves recognition because of their high sense of solidarity in the struggle against a common enemy demanded of them that high level of responsibility and behavior, and did not regress to outdated traditions of revenge killing.
In the introduction, the writer shows his sense of historical responsibility and his documentation of the revolutionary struggle, and his role in raising future generations. However it is worth mentioning that he avoided some negative stances in order not to injure the feelings of others. But from a historical point of view, the Peshmerga were perfect fighters as they etched heroic epics in the history of both the September and May revolutions. The circumstances of the struggle were very difficult and had to be interspersed with some negative attitudes, betrayal, as was in the case of all Jash. For example, there are books and lists containing the names of their chieftains, aides, other Kurdish Baath Party officials, members of the phony ‘autonomous parliament’, and others.
In his conclusion to the book
"We are not all Peshmerga", the author presents a valuable opinion on the status of Peshmerga in the pre-war years against ISIS and their current status. For nearly two decades, the conditions were not favorable for the Peshmerga, as they were neglected the Kurdish government was busy with politics, and rebuilding. The writer recalls that some of them avoided acknowledging that they were Peshmerga. As a result, we believe that President Massoud Barzani, with his keen sense of responsibility, was often stressing the role of the Peshmerga and their sacrifices to raise their morale, and he had said more than once that he was above all a proud Peshmerga. We often echoed his words fondly and called him the "Peshmerga President” in our conversations and discussions. We believe that the purpose of the amnesty for all Jash was to heal the rift caused by years of fighting among the people of Kurdistan.
The goal of the amnesty was not to favor the Jash over others, especially the Peshmerga. But by giving the Jash important positions and privileges, the amnesty had taken another unintended turn. Therefore, at that time, the culture of "personal interest" that motivated the Jash to work with either PUK´-or-KDP was the subject of a major competition between them at the expense of the revolutionary thought and history of the Peshmerga.
But it is truly regrettable to see the effects of that period still visible in the continued suffering of Peshmerga, as noted by the author, thankfully. The majority of Peshmerga still lived in primitive huts when the writer visited them after returning from the war fronts against ISIS (p. 276). The writer then continues to say that there are two differences between those who sacrifice their lives for the country, and those who live in palaces, villas and expansive farms, and everyone raises the deceptive slogan "We are all Peshmerga"-;- lies and fallacies.
Notes by the reviewer:
Jash: Kurdish collaborators with the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein-;- literally "donkey s foal" in Kurdish. They were armed by and supported the Iraqi army. The Jash mercenaries led Iraqi troops to Kurdish villages and their hideouts in the mountains. They frequently made false promises of amnesty and safe passage.
On May 26, 1976, a small band of Peshmerga first engaged the Iraqi army, and Syed Abdullah of Haji Omran became the first martyr of the May Revolution.
Rā-;-yā-;-t, a town in Choman District, Arbī-;-l Province. The closest airport to Rayat in Iraq is Erbil International Airport, 64 mi South-West.
Al-Anfal´-or-the spoils (of war) is the eighth chapter of the Qur an. It explains the triumph of a few hundred followers of Islam over an army of pagans three times their size in the Battle of Badr in 624 AD. Thus, "Al-Anfal" and was used to describe the genocidal military campaign and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid. He ordered the Jash mercenaries that taking cattle, sheep, goats, money, weapons and even women was legal. The Anfal campaign lasted 18 months. Thousands of civilians were killed in 1987 and 1988. The attacks destroyed 4,500 Kurdish and at least 31 Assyrian Christian villages in South Kurdistan (Iraq) and displaced at least a million people. Amnesty International collected the names of more than 17,000 people who had "disappeared" in 1988. According to Iraqis and Kurdish officials, as many as 180,000 people were killed.
Centre of Laic Studies and Research in the Arab World