RUDAW: ‘Social Media Making the Kurdish World that Much Smaller’

Social networking has brought together people on an unprecedented scale,
 making the Kurdish world that much smaller.

By Shwan Dizayee

LONDON – Twitter has become a leading medium for news, and for the Kurds #TwitterKurds has risen as a trending hashtag on numerous occasions, voicing the opinions of Kurds around the world. That includes a Diaspora that spreads across the globe, from Australia to the United States. 

These people come together on a daily basis with a common purpose: Raising awareness about the Kurdish cause, which resonates across the whole of “Greater Kurdistan.” 

Social networking, especially Twitter, has been used to demand rights, arrange protests or events and to raise awareness of less-covered issues. People involved include a wave of ambitious activists, journalists, students and even politicians who have recently followed suit.

Tara Fatehi -- a PhD candidate in medicine in Australia who is originally from Rojhelat and is a very busy activist on both sides -- explained that: “Kurdish activism through social media is strong, especially through the establishment of #TwitterKurds. However, much of the activism online has translated to on-ground activism as well, shared through photos, blogs, articles and much more.”

Fatehi also shed light on numerous projects that are ongoing. These include: the Wham Project, which aims at improving education worldwide; collecting books for the Sulaimani Library, which will be the biggest English library in the region; the “Kurdistan Information Health Bank,” which consists of health professionals who connected on Twitter with the shared aim of raising awareness of health issues troubling Kurdistan.

#TwitterKurds has been used on many instances for spreading specific region-related news, or when a strong view is trying to be expressed, such as the desired presence of a delegation from Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) at the Geneva II Conference, which was endorsed by the hashtag, #Kurds2Geneva. 

Hash tagging enables a wider exposure for a comment or publication. Some share day-to-day situations that they feel others can relate to. Others use it as a news feed, whilst some actively use it for organizing public events, such as the Secret Newroz event in London last weekend. The organizers of the event felt that, without #SocialMediaKurds, an event like this could not have been organized. They said that, with social networking at their fingertips, they “had power.”

Several shared ideas and projects have materialized into “on-ground” action. In 2012, the first Kurdish Social Media Gathering (KSMG) was organized via Twitter. There, the debate was over finding what the Kurdish media presence should focus on in future. 

Live newsfeed streams also seem to be efficient in posting non-stop news in real-time, before any other media coverage. At the KSMG, for example, a live stream, along with consistent Twitter updates, enabled those who couldn’t attend to have a say. Another instance is the Annual Kurdish Youth Festival, which is held in a different US state each year. Social media feeds are also being incorporated at worldwide conferences and forums, as seen with the Twitter feed at the recent second annual Sulaimani Forum, hosted by the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. This shows there is a strong wave of opinions on a worldwide range of topics.

Many #TwitterKurds felt enlightened after connecting online with other Kurds, and even non-Kurds. An example is @AriadniCorfu -- a Greek lady who goes by the name of “Freedom4Ocalan” -- conveyed gratitude for the help she has received in understanding the region better. Her Tweet: “As a non-Kurd it helps me extremely in keeping in touch with latest developments, since Greek media don’t cover the subject enough plus it gave me the chance to chat with Kurdish people and have a ‘from the inside’ look at the issue.”

Baxtiyar Goran -- a student from University of Kurdistan, Hawler (UKH) -- also felt he gained a lot from the community, seeing it as an efficient news portal. “It is good having #TwitterKurds. I personally gained from it in terms of finding out what’s going on in all parts of Kurdistan. It’s easier to be found.”

Omar Brifcani -- another student who currently resides in Britain but is originally from Duhok--  described the warm “family feeling” such an online community radiates: “It has made me feel less alone in the struggle, I feel a part of a big family, an online community where we all stand by each other regardless of the differences in opinions. It is nice knowing there are others out there who face the same problems as me and to hear their versions of what are typically the same problems e.g., when people ask where Kurdistan is. It’s nice to hear how these people deal with such issues and learn from them.” 

Sazan Mandalawi -- a proactive activist who has dedicated her spare time to helping others -- sees social media as a place for uncovering new ideas and sharing these with like-minded people.  “You know what other Kurds are doing; it becomes a point of linkage, unity and sharing of ideas.” 

Facebook has also been used in a similar context, but with a more user-friendly one-to-one messaging system. It is mostly used for keeping in contact with family and friends. Groups such as the “Largest Kurdish Community on Facebook” aim to bring together Kurds in a similar context to Twitter, creating a closer link between people from all parts of the world, helping collect ideas and helping each other when needed.

With the “tribal” family system still an integral part of Kurdish culture, families have created groups to bring relatives -- who may have never even met before -- closer together, and keep them up-to-date with news, such as the passing of friends or relatives. 

Ashna Shareff, a student from UKH who enjoys blogging in her spare time and is also a journalist and determined activist, felt strongly about social media networking as a whole. “We are telling the world through Twitter about our culture, religion, and politics to non-Kurds. Many of those had no idea who the Kurds were in the past. And Twitter has helped recognise many of our activists who are working to promote the Kurdish cause in the world, personally.”

She adds, “I rarely watch TV or read newspapers as Twitter keeps me very well updated.”

Social media has been an important tool particularly for Kurds in the diaspora. It has enabled a level of connectivity that didn’t exist whilst growing up in the 1980s or 90s.

Zawen Aarif, originally from Sulaimani and now in London working in the investment banking sector, is the founder of a Kurdish online network called, the first of its kind which currently has 100 members and more than 4,000 followers. When asked about her reasons for this project, she reiterated the fact that achieving a direct line between the younger generation of Kurds and their roots and people is of paramount importance and enables them to “have a positive impact on our community.” 

Social networking has brought together people on an unprecedented scale, making the Kurdish world that much smaller. With the 26th anniversary of Halabja marked last week, one can’t help but wonder how much more effective evacuations would have been, had there been a more effective communications system then.


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