Under an umbrella
Individual vs. society and the role
of the Kurdish National Congress
Kamal H. Artin
April 4, 2005
While preparing for my trip to the 17th annual meeting of the Kurdish National
Congress of North America (KNC) in Nashville, TN on March 25th, 2005, a friend
of mine asked me if there was any psychiatric explanation for the suffering
of the Kurdish society! The question was stimulating and in fact I came up
with some possible explanations that became the subject of this speech.
believe the scientific methodology of many disciplines could be helpful
to policy makers. As an example, a cell biologist might teach us
how the function of parts of a healthy cell is similar to that
of parts of a healthy
society. An anatomist might tell us how the complimentary functions of
organ systems are similar to complimentary functions of various
organizations in a society.
With this in mind, I would like to explain
how psychiatric principles might help with understanding sociopolitical
and their solutions. People turn to psychiatrists when having difficulty
with their feeling, thinking, or behavior. The analogy of such a triad
in a society might include culture, ideology, and government.
disturbances have been classified based on their nature such as disease,
behavior, personality, and life story (1).
Similarly the nature of sociopolitical disturbances could be
classified based on their nature such as geographical location,
governing style, human resources, and historical experiences. Since
Kurds are divided and have no state of their own, the KNC could perhaps
use the models of groups such as Indian, Jewish, or African National
Congresses to function as a pluralistic umbrella organization and
promote ending Kurdish suffering with peaceful means more effectively.
In that context, Kurdish American Education Society would be
able to carry out its primarily educational mission more efficiently
by working closely with many other organizations with similar
such as the Education Committee of the KNC.
With the development of society, psychiatry has made significant progress as
well. Around the time of colonialism, when native people were exploited and
terrorized (2), romantic psychiatrists thought that mental illness was related
to passions that drive people to choose evil which, in turn, leads them to
inner corruption (3).
Enlightenment led to American, French and the Industrial
Revolution in the 19th century. At that time Benjamin Rush, the Father
of American Psychiatry, thought that mental illness was related
to the brain.
From late 19th and mid 20th century on the field was influenced by the
work of psychiatrists such as Kraeplin for his medical or categorical
Freud for his analytical or " neo-romantic" approach, and Meyer
for his combined approach.
At the same time the world witnessed two disastrous
world wars. During World War II, academic medicine and psychiatry were
partially responsible for Nazi's racial and social hygiene program
Hitler's machinery of death killed not only 6 million Jews but many
people with mental retardation and other, so called, biological degenerates
Since the 2nd half of the 20th century much progress has been
made. We know today that mental illness has no ethnic, class or
Even the most powerful people may become mentally ill or victim of
traumatic experiences. Abraham Lincoln once had said: "I am
now the most miserable man living; whether I shall ever be better
I can not tell; I awfully forebode
I shall not; to remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better" (4).
Yet, we know he recovered and made a major contribution to the
history of mankind. Likewise, the community of holocaust survivors
experiences has been able to recover and contribute to progress in
many areas such as science, technology and humanity today.
to such progress,
contemporary psychiatry has become a comprehensive and advanced
medical, psychological and social discipline; the trend is now
(5), as it is the case in social sciences, in which we see diffusion
and approaches, and even coexistence of war and peace movements
in a democratic society. This does not mean that we now live in
still much progress
needs to be made to have a more humane world.
Type and Nature of Disturbances in Individual vs. Society
An individual can feel sad, miserable, hyper, nervous, or empty. A society's
culture might show signs of isolation, aggression, irresponsible pleasure seeking,
resistance to innovation, and appreciation of death more than life. An individual
might have bizarre, nihilistic, obsessed, expansive, and paranoid thoughts.
A society's ideology might show signs of anarchism, isolationism, fanaticism,
expansionism, and fascism. An individual might behave withdrawn, impulsive,
self injurious, dramatic, or violent. The government in a society might act
isolative, expansive, suppressive, reactionary, aggressive, or wild.
Paul McHugh and Phillip Slavney, two of my greatest ex-mentors and contemporary
prominent thinkers at Johns Hopkins University, have differentiated mental
disturbances based on their nature that includes individual's life story,
diseases, personality, and behavior (1). Likewise, I think one could differentiate
the suffering of societies based on historical events, geographical location,
ability to utilize resources, and system of government.
Life Events in Individual vs. Society
One of the causes of suffering is life event. An individual who has experienced
torture, physical or sexual abuse, hunger, and neglect will have a very difficult
time to lead a normal life. He or she will need much reframing and comfort
to recover. Likewise, suppression, genocide, poverty, invasion, and assault
break the backbone of any society. Such societies need international support,
security, and guidance to become a regular member of the international community.
During colonialism a romantic psychiatrist might have called a
battered spouse evil, if she had wanted to end a prearranged marriage
with the chief of a
clan. Today most reasonable psychiatrists would not discourage separation
in such cases. Likewise, in contemporary world one expects that politicians
not to consider "separatism" or independence of oppressed people
as a taboo.
Broken Part in Individual vs. Society
An individuals' mental disturbance might be related to a disease, chemical
imbalance or a broken part in the brain that might cause psychosis, agitation,
confusion, depression and even suicide. Such individuals need immediate intervention
with medications, hospitalization, and at times even electroconvulsive therapy
for stabilization and recovery. Likewise, national and international communities
could relate a society's misery to geographical location, natural disasters,
and lack of resources that requires intensive financial and technical support
in order to recover.
Maladaptive Behavior in Individual vs. Society
Another cause of individual's suffering is maladaptive behavior such
as drug, sex, gambling, and eating addictions or criminal activity. Interrupting
such behavior and relapse prevention is the key for recovery in such cases.
Likewise, a government might preoccupy people's minds with rituals,
past glories, superstition, and fantasies of worldly or heavenly pleasures,
yet engage in exploitation, terror, drug trafficking, assassinations, mass
murder, and neglect of its citizens.
The appropriate intervention would be
to stop governments from such behaviors with whatever it takes to help and
protect innocent people so they can enjoy the peace and prosperity of the
civilized and progressive world. Stopping the behavior of dictators
with whatever it
takes might be rightfully worrisome for many because of complications of
radical measures. This is probably the reason that a significant
part of the civilized
world including progressive Arabs, Turks, and Persians advocate that we all
are equally suffering and that we should wait until the change comes within,
when everyone is ready.
As counter argument, many Kurds might agree with George Orwell's
animal farm and mention that "some people are more equal
than others" and that enough is enough. Likely this is the
reason they are appreciative of US determination to move on with
stopping dictators from their maladaptive behavior!
of Individual vs. Society
Another reason for the suffering of
an individual is temperamental vulnerabilities such as extreme
impulsivity, immaturity, defiance, self-centeredness, and lack
of intelligence, etc. In such a case one needs guidance to be
aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses to handle daily challenges
Likewise a society might be underdeveloped, lack knowledge
of politics, ethics, philosophy, art, literature, music, technology,
and architecture and yet remain ethnocentric and resistant to change.
In such a case, education, education, education, and guidance are
the key. The heritage of such societies needs to be appreciated,
protected, and developed so people can relate to positive aspects
of their culture and identity and improve their self esteem. Once
there, they might appreciate other people's culture and
welcome change, progress, and voluntary unions.
Nature of Disturbances
in Kurdistan and the Role of the KNC
In short, an individualës
suffering can be due to one, few or all four factors of life story,
personality, behavior, and disease. The society's problems
can also be related to one, few or all four factors of traumatic
experiences, cultural characteristics, governmental behavior, and
geographical location. In fact Kurdish society seems to be affected
by all four factors.
In terms of traumatic events, Kurdistan has experienced displacement, suppression,
abuse, genocide, bombing, and assassinations. Kurds are advised by outsiders
to be patient though. It might take a very long time for people in Mahabad,
Darsim, Qamishli, and Halabja, to feel as comfortable as people in Teheran,
Ankara, Damascus, and Baghdad, although these cities might have had their
own traumatic experiences.
Here is a description of Halabja's experience: "In
every street and alley women and children rolled over one another. The sound
of crying and groans rose from every house in the town.
Many families who were sleeping were subjected to chemical bombing
before the sun rose "(6).
Halabja's tragedy is only
the tip of the iceberg of the Kurdish history. Shame on those who
consider Kurdish "separatism" or independence a backward
movment! Of course every apple tree might have some bad apples,
but considering Kurdistan's traumatic history, the peaceful
independence seeking faction of the Kurdish movement seems to be
the most progressive faction.
For now what the KNC should do, is to
insist on compensation for the abuses, promote return of displaced
people to where they belong, support Pishmarga for self defense
unless militarism is abolished in the region, and build alliances
with progressive factions of other ethnic groups that believe
in unconditional justice and equality!
In term of dimensional or cultural characteristics, fortunately Kurds tend
to be ethical, open, flexible, and tolerant of diversity. Fanaticism does
not seem to be appreciated in Kurdistan. However, some Kurds still believe
in gender discrimination, male polygamy, honor killing, and capital punishment.
The society is still deficient in areas of education, language, art, science,
and philosophy and it has not built a coherent national identity.
the KNC should
continue to promote values of contemporary civilization, educate and obtain
scholarships for youth at home and abroad. It should promote boycotting
Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages in Kurdistan unless the Kurdish
equal in the four countries. However, it should promote friendly coexistence
and dialogue between Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians, Jews, Turkmen, Assyrians,
Armenians, etc. and appreciate their heritage without compromising Kurdish
identity and full equality with them.
In term of governing behavior, Kurds often have been at the service of dominant
cultures, too busy with internal pitiful conflicts, and overlooked the bigger
picture for short term party gains; they have not enjoyed self determination,
are unfamiliar with pluralism, and assign responsibilities to individuals
based on family and tribal relations. the KNC could remain modern, modest, and
pluralistic in advocating for national interests. It could encourage giving
responsibilities based on skills, expertise, and ability! It could coordinate
developmental stages and put federalisms, independence of one or few Kurdish
states, interdependence, and voluntary unions in the Middle East to referendum.
In term of geographical location, Kurdish society is being broken apart between
four unreasonable countries; it lacks a recognized national identity. It
lacks industrial development, jobs, and
security. It is impractical now to expect all parts of Kurdistan to be united.
However, it is practical that an organization such as the KNC uses the Model
of African, Indian, or Jewish National Congresses and becomes a broader,
pluralistic, and umbrella organization for all factions of the Kurdish society.
the KNC could initiate dialogue and invite all Kurdish political,
social, cultural, and educational institutions to join and to take
their share of responsibilities.
Once there, the KNC might request a budget from national and international
communities and monitor that priorities are given to building factories,
schools, universities, and cultural centers in all parts of Kurdistan.
the KNC could intermediate that US and other allied forces remain
in Southern Kurdistan
to prevent the repetition of Mahabad's experience in 1946, when the
first Kurdish republic was eliminated in Iran. To do so, every Kurd might
need further selflessness, and the society as a whole further sacrifice
in form of paying for the cost of mutual cooperation with and
by the allied forces with all of the oil from Kurdish soil.
How About Me and Us?
One might ask what can be done besides lecturing the KNC? I encourage transparency
and straightforwardness. As a spouse, parent, and citizen, I hope I have
enough time to do my share of responsibility at home and in the community.
As a professional (www.doctorartin.com),
I hope I can find an academic or humanitarian institution that can help me
with building a mental health center
in the liberated part of Kurdistan.
As current president of the Kurdish American
Education Society (www.kaes.us), I hope
I can convince the board members to work closely with other organizations
with similar objectives such as
the Education Committee of the KNC of North America (www.the KNCna.org)
for a common goal. Locally KAES has been successful in carrying out many
cultural activities with minimum resources. Our hope is to have support
from Kurdish, American, and the international community to be able to take
share of responsibility.
Although many might be rightfully skeptical about
the role of the UN in our cause, the previous president of KAES, Mr.
Rashidi, has initiated talks with them via the United Nations Association
I urge the KNC or any other individual or organization that is convinced
Kurds deserve to determine their destiny, to join us so that together
a Kurdish Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at the UN. Once there,
we will be able to be more effective.
Our first initiative then
could be to
the unpaid budget for oil for food program for various national projects
that could be carried out by many dedicated and altruistic Kurdish
individuals and organizations for a common goal; such a goal would
Kurdistan in particular and humanity in general.
Kamal H. Artin, MD, is a member of:
- Kurdish American Education Society
- Kurdish National Congress of North America
- Kurdistan Referendum Movement
1. Paul McHugh and Philip
Slavney, The Perspective of Psychiatry, John Hopkins Press, 1998
3. Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry, John Wiley and Sons,
Inc, NY, 1997
Nassir Ghaemi, The Concepts of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins Press,
7. Personal opinion and memory from lectures of mentors, report
of patients, and review of history.