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Kurdish Americans React To U.S. Force Withdrawal


This week, Turkish military forces entered into Syrian territory, attacking U.S.-backed Kurdish militia who've been fighting ISIS. The Kurdish population in America is relatively small, but it's been a serious uptick of that population since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. San Diego is one of the largest centers for Kurdish American life in the U.S., and reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler of member station KPBS has more.

MAX RIVIN-NADLER, BYLINE: In 1982, Amad Zadah immigrated from Syria to the United States. He's ethnically Kurdish and still has family and friends there. To him, the withdrawal of American troops from the region in anticipation of the Turkish invasion is a deep betrayal.

AMAD ZADAH: I've not met a single American who did not appreciate the sacrifices the Kurds made fighting ISIS. The Kurds lost 11,000 people fighting ISIS to protect the United States, to protect the West. They lost their lives over there to protect humanity.

RIVIN-NADLER: Zadah works as an engineer, but he wasn't able to turn away from the news all week.

A ZADAH: I'm just so upset. I have not been at work since Monday. I went yesterday for a couple hours, then I came back. Today, I haven't been out to work yet. It's - I've been glued to the news, hope for a glimmer of good news. Even when I'm at work, I'm not myself.

RIVIN-NADLER: Amad's daughter Sherin was born in the U.S. She's planning to return next year to Iraqi Kurdistan to start an educational nonprofit.

SHERIN ZADAH: As a Kurdish Syrian American, it's a mixture of anger and confusion - anger at the lack of a reaction from the international community. I've expected more of a reaction from the U.N. - right? - from NATO because these are international bodies that were created to protect minorities from this exact situation.

RIVIN-NADLER: The Zadahs are part of a larger Syrian community in San Diego which has come together during their home country's eight-year-long civil war. Yara Ayache works for the Syrian Community Network in San Diego. The group helps asylum seekers and refugees resettle in the U.S..

YARA AYACHE: It's a collectivist community, so they really rely on each other. They lean on each other a lot.

RIVIN-NADLER: The Trump administration has announced it plans to slash the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. next year. Ayache says this is leaving many Kurdish asylum applicants in an increasingly volatile situation.

AYACHE: With the new resettlement numbers at 18,000 - which is extremely low for the U.S. - a lot of them are here, but a lot of them still have families back home. So the stress really comes from the fact that they don't know if they're going to see their family again.

RIVIN-NADLER: After Turkey began attacks this week in Syria, President Trump tweeted that he would clamp down on Turkey if it was not acting humanely in Syria. For Syrian Kurds like Amad Zadah, this wasn't reassuring.

A ZADAH: What is inhumane in Trump's eyes? I have no idea. Is it 1,000 lives, 500 lives, 10,000 lives, something - 1 million refugees instead of 2 million refugees? I have no idea what inhumane means in Trump's eyes.

RIVIN-NADLER: Amad and Sherin Zadah, along with other Syrian Kurds in Southern California, are planning on protesting in Los Angeles. For NPR News, I'm Max Rivin-Nadler in San Diego.


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