Before I could begin my question to President Trump at Wednesday’s press conference, he asked me where I was from. I told him I was a Kurd from Iraq; he said: “I like this question so far.”
Naturally, I went on to ask about the Kurds, who have provided boots on the ground in the fight against Islamic State. “We have defeated ISIS, essentially,” Mr. Trump told me, “And we did it with a lot of help from the Kurds. And they are great fighters.”
Then Mr. Trump took a question from Rahimi Rashidi of Kurdistan TV, whom he addressed as “Mr. Kurd.” Cue the social-media outrage.
Neither Mr. Rashidi nor I was offended by the nickname. I tweeted: “I’m proud to be a Kurd. I actually take it as a compliment if you call me Mr. Kurd.” I have received hundreds of messages from Americans apologizing for Mr. Trump. Soon #MrKurd started trending onTwitter .
This was great news for the Kurds. For a moment, all of America seemed to be talking about the Kurds, a stateless people of 40 million, who have long been oppressed in the Middle East and ignored abroad. Our very existence was denied until about three decades ago. For nearly a century, we wished our governments would call us Kurds—not Arabs, Persians or “mountainous Turks.” We were subjected to genocide and chemical gas merely for being Kurdish.
What might have offended many Kurds was Mr. Trump’s shallow characterization of our people, echoing that of politicians before him. He called Kurds “great fighters.” Most Western officials who praise Kurds talk about our fighting skills as if we are no more than mercenaries or security contractors.
Kurds have been in the region for thousands of years. Kurdistan is home to Erbil, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. We have contributed to civilization. We are a tolerant, secular nation where multiple religious groups including Christians and Yazidis continue to live together in peace.
It is true that Kurds have been America’s most effective partner in the fight against ISIS. And in 2003 we fought side-by-side with the U.S. to topple Saddam Hussein. While thousands of Americans were killed in the rest of Iraq, no American soldier has been killed in Kurdistan in the Iraq war.
Our single biggest problem is that we don’t have a state of our own. Our people continue to be oppressed and persecuted. But when asking for our political rights, nobody, not even the U.S. or Mr. Trump, seems to be on our side. Our historical land of Kurdistan is divided among four hostile countries, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why should Arabs, Turks, Persians and other nations enjoy independence but not the Kurds?
So thank you, Mr. President, for calling us “Mr. Kurd.” No offense was taken. But please know that we are more than just “great fighters.” We hope that you will start taking real steps toward securing the rights of our pro-American, peace-loving people in the Middle East. The first place to start is in preventing Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria from attacking us while you depend on our soldiers to fight ISIS.
Mr. Gly is New York bureau chief for the Kurdish Rudaw Media Network.