Graeme Wood

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Greetings from Abkhazia

The Smart Set

The forlorn seaside resort where Soviet rulers once frolicked.

The Republic of Abkhazia is one of the few countries, if you can call it that, where every tourist who shows up gets a handshake and a friendly chat with the deputy foreign minister. Or rather, it would be such a country, if it were a country at all. A wee seaside strip in the Republic of Georgia, Abkhazia hasn’t yet persuaded anyone to recognize its independence, even though it boasts many of the trappings of nationhood — a president, a parliament, and an army that guards the border in case the government in Tbilisi wants to invade again. Read the rest of this entry »

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Among the Kurds

The Atlantic (online)

When I visited the PKK training camps in northern Iraq last year, about half the terrorists I met were women, and most of the rest looked barely old enough to shave. This week, according to reports, after years of threatening to bomb the camps, the Turkish military started pounding the PKK’s camps near the Turkish border hard. The PKK have used those facilities to train for their guerrilla struggle in Turkey. The earnest ideologues I met in the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, having long practiced for war, are now probably living through it, and facing the gravest dangers of their young lives.

The average age when I visited last year hovered somewhere between college sophomore or young grad student. Indeed the PKK members called their training facilities “the world’s greatest university,” offering an intense outdoor education, where everyone triple-majored in political philosophy, guerrilla tactics, and history. They bunked in communal dorms and tents, and they spent their days and nights in classes (principally on the works of their imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan) and bull sessions peppered with buzzwords like “praxis,” “radical feminism,” and “cultural hegemony” that reflected the movement’s origins in European academic leftism. They trained every day in warfare, maintained their ramshackle campus, and prepared mentally and physically for the day when they would leave their studies in the remote heights of the Qandil Mountains and go kill Turkish soldiers.

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Breaking Away

The Atlantic, May 2007. With a map by Ryan Morris.

With time, Arab Iraq is looking less and less like a country, and Kurdish Iraq is looking more and more like one. Since 2003, Kurdish negotiators have quietly compelled Baghdad to acknowledge the Kurdish parliament, ministries, and 100,000-strong peshmerga army—in effect, to let the Kurds be Kurds first and Iraqis second, if at all. Read the rest of this entry »

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