One Family’s Journey from Kurdish Iran to America

From Zero to One Hundred, Real Quick

by Eveen Aryana Ajir

My name is Eveen Ajir. However, I go by the name of Aryana at home because the Iranian government wouldn’t allow my parents to officially name me Aryana. Well, the government didn’t stop my parents from calling me Aryana. I like to think I have two worlds. Eveen is an introvert and Aryana is an extrovert.

I was born in Sanandaj, a Kurdish-majority city in Iran. Many know it as S’na or Korsan. I moved to the small town of Lincoln, Nebraska when I was two years old with my parents and my sister. Looking back at old photo albums, and hearing my dad speak about our struggles from the past can be emotional, and is a disturbing reminder of the reality of our old life.

My Father, Kurdish Activist

My father was a 16-year-old Kurdish political activist in the Kurdish-majority region of Iran. He would secretly deliver letters that the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the mountains wrote for their families and friends in Sanandaj. Unfortunately, going back and forth from the mountains into the city was too obvious, and one day he was caught and taken to prison.

My father always tells me that he wouldn’t be the man he is today if it wasn’t for the time he served in jail. He was lucky enough to be taken into a jail full of Kurdish political activists, instead of criminals. My father was surrounded by wise men who believed in the future of Kurdistan.

In some ways, prison was my father’s own personal college. He read all the books that he could get his hands on, and practiced to become an expert in martial arts. My father’s training was so great, in fact, that today he is a licensed black belt. My father’s martial arts training also toughened him up on the nights when he was tortured by the guards.

My father, toughened in Iranian prison, became a black belt in the United States.

He said that the first night he was thrown in jail, he was taken to a dark room full of other prisoners. One by one, the guards would come in and snatch someone. All of the prisoners were in fear of who would be next. My father was the last man standing in the room. The guards decided not to kill him since he was only a child.

Marriage and Family

Four years later, my father was finally released– at the age of 22– into beautiful S’na (Sanandaj). He met my mother, fell in love, and got married. Just kidding — the marriage was arranged because let’s face it, what marriage in Kurdistan wasn’t arranged back in the 70s?

The love and the bond between my parents grew, which led to the birth of my sister, and shortly thereafter, I came along. Having a family changed my father’s views almost immediately. Knowing that he had to take care of his wife and children, my father filed papers to get out of Iran. He wanted his kids to get a better education, and have a better life. With just the right motivation and willingness, he made that happen – but it wasn’t easy.

Waiting for America

Our family got on the waitlist to go to America, but Pakistan was where we had to wait. Imagine leaving your life behind and moving to one of the poorest countries on earth. Imagine waiting for an acceptance letter that you may never get. It was a risk that many of my father’s colleagues did not have the courage to take.

Waiting in Pakistan

I look back at pictures and see how happy we all look living in one small room. Our huge grins were all we had in order to make it through the poverty and lack of cleanliness in Pakistan. My dad shaved our heads, as well as his own, because taking a shower everyday was not an option, and a shaved head was the only way he could keep the lice away.

After two years of living off bread and water in a tiny room, we were finally accepted into the United States, and left Pakistan for Lincoln, Nebraska. Excited to start a new life, my mother and father came to America only knowing two words: “apple” and “hello.”

 

The story above was written by Eveen Aryana Ajir, a Kurd living in the United States. Eveen submitted her story through our website, and you can too. Share your story with the Kurdish Project today.