STAFF EDITORIAL: As a leader in the Nashville community, Vanderbilt must make an effort to reach out to the Kurdish community in its time of need

Vanderbilt is a major institution in the city with the largest Kurdish population in the United States; silence is not an option


Emily Gonçalves

Nashville from above. (Former Hustler Multimedia/Emily Gonçalves)

Editorial Board

After an Oct. 7 phone call with Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Donald Trump ordered a sudden withdrawal of 50 U.S. troops from the Turkey-Syria border. He doubled down a week later, ordering the evacuation of roughly 1,000 troops from Northern Syria. Erogdan has since sent troops into Syria. This serves Turkey’s interests, as it has long sought to expand its presence in Northern Syria in order to quash Kurdish military forces there. However, the Kurds have long been U.S. allies in anti-terror campaigns in the Middle East. After losing 11,000 soldiers in the fight against ISIS, the Kurds have also lost U.S. support and are being massacred by invading Turkish troops. Kurdish-controlled towns, once ripped from the ISIS’s grip, are now at Erdogan’s mercy. 

The Kurds are no strangers to diaspora. In one of the world’s most politically volatile regions, their ethnic group has no state to protect them. As such, there are many Kurdish enclaves scattered throughout the globe. One such location: Nashville, TN. Our city is home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States, representing a vibrant community that is 15,000 strong. Kurds in Nashville founded the first Kurdish mosque in North America and they make up plurality of the Kurdish population in the United States. And when the Kurds are hurting, Nashville responds.

Tennessee political leaders of all stripes have taken action. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, who almost never splits with Trump, marched in a Kurdish-led peace rally at a federal courthouse on Broadway. Alongside her? Democratic House Representative Jim Cooper. Senior Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has joined the chorus, saying, “We can’t walk away from our Kurdish allies.” The Metro Courthouse was lit with the colors of Kurdistan’s flag to accompany a vigil, and Nashville mayor John Cooper attended in a show of solidarity. In a political environment in which no one can seem to agree on anything, everyone appears to agree that we must stand with Kurds here and abroad.

But when asked for comment about potential student or community outreach regarding this issue, Dean of Students Mark Bandas replied that Vanderbilt does not “have any active students from Syria.” 

We also reached out to Kurdish Professionals, a group for the social and economic advancement for Kurdish youth in Nashville. Their Director of Community Outreach, Dilman Yasin, called on Vanderbilt to do more.

With Nashville being the largest Kurdish population in America, and the fact that Vanderbilt has hosted events centered around Kurds in the past, I would encourage Vandy to take action with efforts to spread awareness,” Yasin said in an email to The Hustler.

Vanderbilt would do well to listen to Dilman in following the lead of Nashville’s and Tennessee’s political leaders. Vanderbilt Administration has spoken out and taken action against injustice in the past and would be wrong to sit on its hands now. Dean of Students has helped set up vigils for mass shootings. The University joined a lawsuit to defend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration program that protects certain populations from deportation. A fear of getting political hasn’t stopped us in the past. The University may host a Kurdish cultural community event, allocate more research funds to studying Kurdish issues or merely send an email expressing solace and solidarity. But it must do something.