Accessibility links

To VOA from Kurdistan - 2002-04-30


Voice of America began broadcasting in Kurdish on April 25, 1992. Khalaf Yaseem Zebari, whose career in radio started in the green, rolling mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, was one of the original members of the Kurdish Service staff.

Khalaf Zebari is a short, slender man with a weathered face and a big voice seemingly made for radio.

Kurdish Program Opening

For the past ten years, he has been broadcaster, reporter, translator, producer and program host in the Voice of America’s Kurdish Service. He believes VOA provides vital information to Kurds scattered throughout the Middle East, Europe, and many other parts of the world.

“Accurate news, events around the world, the life in America… It is important for the Kurds, because it is the only international radio broadcast from Washington. There were no other Kurdish radios anywhere else, I mean internationally.

In addition to translating and broadcasting news reports, Khalaf Zebari prepares a weekly cultural program.

“Through that program I contact and interview the Kurdish poets, writers, journalists around the world, from Europe to the Middle East to the former Soviet Union to Australia. We also talk about the Kurdish classic poets, or the early Kurdish poets. If in some area they don’t know about a poet, maybe, then they’re going to know him through this program, and so on.”

Kurds are dispersed throughout the world, and Khalaf Zebari says a love of Kurdish culture, as well as strong family ties, help them maintain a sense of community. Khalaf grew up in a Kurdish village in northern Iraq in a family of five brothers and two sisters. He left home to attend high school in town, where he began to write poetry, and then went on to study economics at the University of Masul. Although all his education was in Arabic, Khalaf taught himself to read and write Kurdish, and while still in high school started writing poetry in that language. He says he got into radio in 1974, when the Iraqi army attacked Iraqi Kurdistan.

“I started working for the Voice of Kurdistan, which was a radio run by the Kurdish movement. The program mostly was about the war operations, news of the war, of Iraqi attacks on the region. I had sympathy with the Kurdish movement, but I was not a part of it, or involved in it. Most of the young Kurds, you know, had sympathies.”

In 1975 the Kurdish uprising ended, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds became refugees in Iran. Khalaf was one of them. He met his wife in a refugee camp there, and in 1976 they applied for asylum in the United States. The next year the Zebaris arrived in Nashville, in the southern state of Tennessee, where Khalaf Zebari had cousins and where there was a small Kurdish community. For 15 years he worked at any job he could find, mostly in restaurants.

“I did many works. But I felt that I lived in freedom. That was the most important for me, to live free. To go anywhere I want to. To talk anything you have in the mind to say, things like that, you know.”

In 1991 he heard that the Voice of America was organizing a Kurdish service, and needed people who had experience broadcasting in Kurdish. Khalaf Zebari applied, and has been with VOA ever since. He continues to write poetry, and a book of his poems was published several years ago.

“I wrote many poems about love, about society, about the country, the beauty of the country, spring, Nowrooz, which is the Kurdish new year – I wrote about these things.”

Many of his poems also have been set to music, and have become popular songs.

“The lyric of this song -- I wrote about the Kurdish tragedy after their uprising against Saddam Hussein was crushed after the Gulf War in 1991, and a hundred thousand, if not millions, of Kurds fled to the mountains, toward Turkey and Iran. The song in the beginning says ‘Who should I call or turn to? Should I turn to the same cold, frozen conscience, or to the deaf and silent world…’”

Khalaf Zebari – broadcaster and poet – one of the 10 members of VOA’s Kurdish Service.

English Programs Feature #7-36224 Broadcast April 29, 2002

Note: VOA's Kurdish programming has expanded and as of August 2003 the service now has a staff of 23 broadcasters.