Home | Government | WikiLeaks Information

WikiLeaks: 2009-03-19: 09BAGHDAD750: Ninewa: Songs in the Key of Ain Sifni

by WikiLeaks. 09BAGHDAD750: March 19, 2009.

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 06:22 PM UT


If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs
Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD750 2009-03-19 08:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
DE RUEHGB #0750/01 0780800
O 190800Z MAR 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 000750 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/15/2019 
Classified By: PRT Leader Alex Laskaris; reasons 1.4b and d 
1.  (C) Summary:  What do you get when a US Army band plays 
an Eastern Orthodox wedding hall in a Yezidi town with Arab, 
Christian and Kurdish musicians under the watchful gaze of 
the Barzani patriarch, a crucifix, and the Iraqi flag, plus a 
banner celebrating the anniversary of an anti-Saddam 
uprising?  Most of the currents in Ninewa society met in 
Shaikhan District on Friday March 13:  overbearing KDP 
officials, quietly proud local Yezidi voters, Arabs looking 
for any sign of Iraq as they know it, and a gifted but 
diminished Christian voice struggling vainly to be heard. 
The presence of five wonderful American ambassadors -- on 
tuba, trombone, French horn and trumpets -- made this 
gathering possible, and helped it morph into a pinkie-dancing 
conga line to a caterwauling beat -- a fleetingly inclusive 
Kurd-a-palooza in which we clearly danced to another's tune. 
End summary. 
2.  (SBU) PRT Ninewa's public diplomacy section arranged the 
donation of musical instruments to the Mosul Fine Arts 
Institute.  One of the conditions of the QRF grant was a 
series of concerts in Ninewa Province.  At the request of our 
BCT partners, MND-N provided a brass quintet from the 
division band, and local organizers invited a well-known 
Kurdish traditional musician who, like Dylan, went electric. 
We chose Ain Sifni as the venue for the PRT's first-ever 
attempt at performing arts-based cultural diplomacy.  It is a 
Yezidi town in the far northeast of Ninewa; its security is 
provided by the Peshmerga and Asa'ash and its politics is 
dominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).  It has 
two Christian churches (one Orthodox and one Catholic) and 
tombs of two prominent Islamic scholars.  The Arabic name of 
the town "Shaikhan" means "two sheikhs."  The Kurdish "Ain 
Sifni" means "Spring of the Ark;" in the Yezidi faith, the 
trash-strewn spring that provides the town's heavily 
chlorinated drinking water was once the source of the water 
that flooded the Earth in the days of Noah.  The district is 
also home to the largest Yezidi population in Iraq and has 
both the most important shrine in the Yezidi faith as well as 
the Lalesh Cultural Center, perhaps the most impressive civil 
society organization in Ninewa Province. 
- - - - - - - - - - 
A talented but drowned out Christian voice? 
- - - - - - - - - - 
3.  (C) As our Movement Team and PD sections secured and 
prepped the venue -- the wedding hall of the adjacent St. 
George,s Orthodox Church -- PRT leader met with local 
luminaries.  Our first meeting was with a Christian chemist 
who, though a political independent, saw us at the 
headquarters of the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ADM).  He 
told us that the quota system had been a catastrophe for the 
Ninewa Christian community and (uniquely among our Christian 
interlocutors) laid the blame exclusively on the Christian 
political class.  He noted that Christians were under siege 
from all sides, surrounded by local and national dictators 
and migrating abroad in irreversible numbers.  He lamented 
that Christians, as a group, are well educated, highly 
skilled Iraqis who are being squeezed out of the state as a 
consequence of the Arab-Kurd struggle for primacy in Ninewa. 
 He complained that the KDP and the Al Hudba Gathering want 
supporters, not capable people filling the ranks of their 
bureaucracies.  "If our skills don,t provide for us, what 
future do we have in Iraq," he asked; lacking an answer, we 
Qfuture do we have in Iraq," he asked; lacking an answer, we 
treated it as a rhetorical question. 
4.  (SBU) Even though the concert was taking place 50 yards 
from his house, he had not heard of it nor had he been 
invited.  We arranged a table for him and his relatives in 
the back of the hall.  First up were two young Christian 
music students from Mosul playing classical guitar music.  A 
barn-like venue with a lousy sound system and 250 people who 
would have been arrested in the Kennedy Center is not the 
place for a guitar recital.  Mercifully, our ever-ingenious 
PAO Diane Crow told our movement team to leave their dukes 
up, meaning the electronic counter-measures we employ against 
remote detonated IEDs served the higher purpose of keeping 
250 Iraqis off their cell phones for two hours.  ECM 
notwithstanding, the guitarists, one of whom was quite good, 
never had a chance and departed to the most tepid applause. 
5.  (SBU) Arab conservatory students were next up on piano 
(electric) and violin, playing a respectable mazurka with 
slightly less tumult from the boisterous crowd.  We had a 
momentary panic when, after distracting us for less than a 
minute earlier in the day, local organizers snuck a pair of 
Kurdish flags onto the stage, to go with the one on the front 
of the podium.  Even our dukes could not overcome that, so 
our PAO ordered the town scoured for an Iraqi flag.  From 
BAGHDAD 00000750  002 OF 003 
whence it came we may never know, but by show-time, the new 
Iraqi flag was up between the two Kurdish banners.  Our Arab 
Muslim guests, who never would have dared to make the trip up 
without our sponsorship, took it all in stride but were 
grateful for the gesture.  Just as it took American 
intervention to place the symbols of the Iraqi state in the 
venue, it took two US Army trumpeters playing a trio with the 
Arab pianist to win over the audience. 
- - - - - - - - - - 
Kurdish Yezidi or Yezidi Kurds? 
- - - - - - - - - - 
6.  (C) Following his Christian meeting, PRT leader called on 
the new mayor of Shaikhan District:  Hasso Narmo Hussein, a 
Yezidi from Dahuk by way of Hamburg.  The fact that with 
every point he made, Mayor Hasso looked over to Fareeq Farouk 
(KDP Branch Chairman for Shaikhan) for approbation, and 
subsequent conversations, provided a glimpse into the 
interplay of Yezidi identity with Kurdish politics.  Hasso 
opened the meeting with a long discourse on the history of 
the Kurdish people, saving a 30-second burst at the end for a 
request for USG projects in the area.  While he told us that 
he is a Yezidi, he made no effort to establish that as a 
discrete identity.  Others, however, did.  We ran into a New 
York Times reporter who got wind of the concert in Irbil.  He 
corroborated what we have been hearing from Yezidi throughout 
the province:  they had a carefully orchestrated plan to vote 
for Yezidi candidates on the KDP-dominated Ninewa Fraternity 
List (NFL).  We heard this as far afield as Sinjar.  The 
Yezidi did what the Christians did not even attempt; they 
voted for their own but without the vehicle of a 
sectarian-based party. The end result was nine Yezidis on a 
37-seat Council, far in excess of the single quota seat and 
well in excess of their numbers. 
7.  (C) Farouq eventually tired of speaking to us through a 
Yezidi proxy; he took over the conversation by repeatedly 
referring to Shaikhan as part of "Kurdistan."  We reminded 
him that it is part of a larger swath of territory referred 
to as the DIBs region, as in "disputed."  Although they would 
presuably disagree on most everything else, Farouq and Ninewa 
Governor Atheel Alnujaifi agree that there is no dispute. 
Unlike Alnujaifi, however, Farouq believes Shaikhan and other 
parts of Ninewa are Kurdistan not Ninewa, a reality he said 
was proven through elections and ready to be ratified by 
UNAMI and the USG.  When we said that -- what with this being 
the new Iraq -- "dispute" implies resolution through some 
sort of dialog, Farouq replied, "we,ll discuss it, but if 
someone tries to take it away, there will be conflict." 
8.  (C) In planning the concert we had actually shied away 
from a Friday gig, and not because the Friday in question was 
the thirteenth.  As our hosts insisted, we happily drove the 
90 minutes north to the venue.  What they neglected to tell 
us, probably not by oversight, was that March 13 is the 
anniversary of the 1991 Shaikhan uprising against Saddam.  As 
we were driving from the mayor,s office to the hall, we were 
stopped by a "spontaneous" street festival of dancing 
townies, a tableau that would have made Potemkim blush. 
Since traffic was coincidently blocked by a drummer, a horn 
player, and 12 Kurds-a-dancing, we had to watch and be filmed 
watching the commemoration of an uprising that led to untold 
brutality against the people of the town. 
- - - - - - - - - - 
American voices:  conveners but still an opening act 
- - - - - - - - - - 
Q- - - - - - - - - - 
9.  (C) All of our interlocutors stressed that it was up to 
the USG to ensure that the Iraqi constitution is respected 
and implemented; the Christians want us to enforce the 
minority rights provisions and the KDP insisted that it is 
our obligation to implement Article 140.  In the face of 
those demands, we offered five gifted army musicians playing 
jazz, Dixieland and army standards.  Five brass musicians, 
anchored by an improbably slight tuba player, quickly got and 
held the room,s attention.  However, by the quintet,s 
seventh piece, the organizers were clearly looking to move on 
to the headliner.  The Americans got the ball rolling and 
were treated as honored guests, but we were just an opening 
act.  (Note:  Our musicians disproved the monstrous calumny 
that there are too many American ambassadors in Iraq; they 
did so both by their performance and the obvious warmth they 
exuded throughout a long day.) 
- - - - - - - - - - 
This Kurd goes up to 11 
- - - - - - - - - - 
10.  (SBU) The headliner was a well known Kurdish musician, 
BAGHDAD 00000750  003 OF 003 
playing a traditional instrument plugged into an 
industrial-sized amplifier and accompanied by a synthesizer 
capable of laying down a back-beat and replicating Kurdish 
horns.  Within a few seconds, it was impossible to hear 
anyone speaking in the crowd; Kurdish caterwauling filled 
every nook and cranny in the room, and the inevitable dance 
of the inter-locked pinkies began, first as a contrived 
display, but eventually as a bona fide Kurdish hoe-down.  As 
PRT leader,s radio call sign is "Dances with Nobody," all 
COM personnel were barred from joining in.  Our two trumpet 
players, however, who do not fall under COM authority, locked 
digits with the locals and joined the pinkie-led conga line. 
11.  (C) Hostile or friendly, loud or subdued -- there was 
only one voice in the end.  It was a Kurdish voice but one 
that the critics knew had been cleverly and subtly subverted 
by the Yezidi.  Christians, Sunni Muslims and Americans had 
their turn on the stage, but this was a Yezidi-inflected 
Kurd-a-palooza.  Even the KDP could not dominate an assertion 
of complex identity, a group of people whose continued 
existence in a twice-hostile world is their daily 
accomplishment.  Whether we,re dealing with Kurds or Yezidi, 
we have to always bear in mind that they celebrate survival. 
Insofar as we are viewed as protectors, we are friends. 
However, we are second-tier friends compared to the 
mountains, in whom the Yezidi and Kurds place their enduring 
trust.  The power of our instruments, acting through the 
power of our soldiers, can quiet the crowd when we are all in 
harmony, but it cannot long overpower the indigenous noise of 
this place. 


Government ForumGovernment Forum

WikiLeaks InformationWikiLeaks Information

Do you have any related information or suggestions? Please email them.

AIM | Atour: The State of Assyria | Terms of Service