Kurdistan – at least the bit of it in Iraq – has voted for independence. Go them!
Which means one of two things: either the Middle East is about to have its most earth-shattering moment since the creation of Israel, or the US will tell the Kurds to shut up and it’ll have to stay awkwardly part of Iraq for a few more years (here’s a good analysis explaining both possibilities).
But one thing’s certain whatever the outcome: Kurds will keep singing Ey Reqib – Oh, Enemy! – as if they already have a national anthem.
“Oh, enemy! The Kurdish people live on / They have not been crushed by the weapons of any time,” goes the song, written by the poet Dildar while in an Iranian jail in 1938 (he was locked up for campaigning for independence).
“Let no one say Kurds are dead, they are living / They live and never shall we lower our flag.”
That clip’s a version by the singer Dashni Morad, which she posted on Facebook just before the vote with the note: “To all my Kurdish brothers and sisters, times may have changed, but our objective hasn’t. Do not lose sight of what is important here. Independence is within touching distance. Let us unite and make this happen, as those before us always dreamed.”
As an anthem, it certainly does the trick, which explains scenes like this after the vote – (weirdly filmed in Iran, I think):
When researching my book on anthems, I considered a chapter on Kurdistan – I liked the idea of looking at the power of national anthems in countries that didn’t exist – and did some initial research by visiting Bayan Rahman, the Kurdish government’s representative in the UK.
In our first meeting, just down the road from Buckingham Palace, she diplomatically told me Ey Reqib isn’t an independence song:
“It was written at a time when Kurds’ language wasn’t recognised, when people were trying to deny the existence of Kurds at all in Turkey.
“They were killing Kurds – genocides – but it was saying, ‘I’m the never-ending Kurd. You can try to kill me but we will get up again.’
“It was a song about survival. ‘I will exist.’ It’s really not about independence.”
A few months later I went to meet her a second time – ISIS were bearing down on Erbil and I was trying to get access to the Peshmerga’s front lines so I could see if they sang Ey Reqib in battle. And that time, for some reason, she was far more open about the role the song had played in both her life, and the wider independence movement.
Bayan’s father had been a senior member of the Peshmerga and went on to be a successful politician until he was killed by a suicide bomber in 2004.
Bayan smiled while telling me about him, and suddenly remembered a night in the ’70s when he woke her and her brother, dragged them outside where all the adults were partying, and made the two children sing, while recording it all on a tape player.
“You would think that at that age we would be singing nursery rhymes, like Humpty Dumpty or whatever. But we were singing Peshmerga songs.
“My father was a Peshmerga. We’d lived in the mountains and we had guns in the house and he’d come home with his Kalashnikov, and so we had grown up with all that, seeing them sing before they went off to battle. So he made us sing like them.
“He got my brother to sing one: ‘Mother dearest, don’t start crying. I’ve been killed, but I’m a martyr, I’m a hero, I’ll come back.’
“And then my brother and father were killed in 2004, and my mother used to play that tape [over and over].
“And, of course, all she did was cry.”
I asked Bayan if Ey Reqib meant more to her because of that loss:
“Yes, I definitely think of them and others who have been killed when I sing it, because they were killed because they believed in it.
“They believed in what that song says.”
That quote tells you everything about the strength of feeling in Kurdistan and the power of anthems.
Whether Kurdistan becomes independent or it has to stay part of Iraq, neither the anthem nor the desire is going anywhere.