When Kae Bahar was 14 years old he was tortured by Saddam Hussein's secret police. Thirty years on, he returns to the place of his torment: “They pulled me upside down with my head down, and one with a cable started to hit the bottom of my feet.”
By fate, he meets the man that turned him in thirty years ago: “They tortured me too…I had to do it”
, the man explains. After a tense exchange, they embrace. Their story of intense trauma is shared by Kurds across the region, as is their determination to put the past aside and look to the future.
After fleeing Iraq to build life in London, Kae returns to Iraqi Kurdistan to fight the cause of Kurdish independence. The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in the world without a sovereign state; their population split across Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, with a large diaspora spread across the world.
Kurdish troops from across the Kurdish regions lead the fight against ISIS: “fighting Daesh not just for themselves, but for the civilised world”
, Kae explains. Whereas ISIS represents the very worst of violent religious fundamentalism, Kae envisions a Kurdish state that could enshrine democratic principles, becoming a “very open and progressive country in the Middle East.”
However, as he travels around the country, rallying support for independence, internal divisions appear. Captain Hussein of the Peshmerga tells him that “The Kurdish leaders are not yet politically united to liberate Kurdistan.”
One of the most potent tools for fostering internal cohesion is the celebration of Kurdish culture. “It’s not just about guns and war”
, Kae muses; his travels enlivened by rich music and dance, and punctuated by mystical digressions into the ancient history of Kurdish lands.
As Kae moves freely in the city of Kirkuk, administered peacefully by the Kurds, he considers the good that a Kurdish nation could bring to the region: “In a desert of hatred and fear, Kurdistan is an oasis of hope where everybody can live in peace.”