Good Kurds, Bad Kurds Film Reviews

The Orange County Register - Nov. 29, 2001

Kurds' blood colors documentary 

TV Review ~ A documentary shows Turkey's campaign, abetted by the United States, against its own. 

The Orange County Register 

The nation of Turkey is in the news these days as the good guy in the Islamic world, a base for U.S. planes to attack Afghanistan and patrol the skies over Iraq.

But things are never simple in that part of the world. "Good Kurds, Bad Kurds," a documentary airing tonight at 8 on KCET/28, exposes U.S. complicity in Turkey's oppression of 15 million Kurds.

The premise of the documentary - illustrated, in part, by the case of a former University of California, Irvine, student and his Turkish-Kurdish family - is that the difference between a good Kurd and a bad Kurd, as far as the U.S. government is concerned, is where they come from.

In Iraq, armed Kurds are freedom fighters, because they opposed Saddam Hussein. But in Turkey, the documentary contends, Kurds engaged in an armed struggle for their people are regarded as terrorists, and the Turkish government has used U.S.- made weapons for a brutal campaign that verges on ethnic cleansing.

"Good Kurds, Bad Kurds" reports that Turkey has killed 37,000 Kurds,

razed 3,500 villages and left 2 million Kurds without homes since 1990. It also shows how, in 1996, the anti-Kurd campaign reached Orange County, where former UCI history major David Gunduz was tried for passport fraud and student loan fraud, reportedly at the request of Turkish authorities.

Gunduz admits he lived in Turkey under the family name of Xulam but used his relatives' name, Gunduz, to escape persecution because of his Kurdish family's anti-government activities.

He pleaded guilty to using a false name on his U.S. passport but received temporary U.S. asylum because a federal judge believed he faced persecution if returned to Turkey. The case is on appeal.

"I'm living in limbo now," said Gunduz, 32, who works in Washington, D.C., as a real estate investor.

In 1997, six years after leaving UCI, Gunduz was indicted for using a same false name for his student loan -- a loan he had faithfully repaid.

Kevin McKiernan, who made the documentary, said Turkey and the U.S. State Department raised the loan fraud charges to undermine Gunduz's asylum claims. The closest he gets to demonstrating this assertion in the documentary is footage from an Orange County deputy district attorney and an official from the California Department of Education conceding that they had never seen the State Department intervene in a student loan case before.

McKiernan, a free-lance journalist from Santa Barbara, became interested in the plight of the Kurds in 1991, when Saddam Hussein brutally crushed their uprising after the Persian Gulf War. 

Much of the documentary is devoted to the Gunduz family, which runs a Maytag franchise in Santa Barbara. The documentary follows the oldest son, Kani Gunduz, to Washington, where his efforts to lobby Congress seem as lonely as the old TV ads about a Maytag repairman waiting for a call.

McKiernan traveled with Kurdish rebels in Iraq and with a Turkish military unit assigned to wipe out the Kurdish resistance. At great personal risk, he filmed burning villages, nighttime raids and rebel caravans on donkeyback through mountains. To this American eye, the scenes look a lot like Afghanistan.

"Good Kurds, Bad Kurds" is worth watching as a tribute to the persistence of the Gunduz family, their oppressed people and the filmmaker, who stayed with this project for nearly a decade. It covers events before Sept. 11, which David Gunduz said was fortunate for his deportation case.

"We would have been lynched," he said. "We would have had no chance of going through the system."

Unfortunately, Sept. 11 also has made it harder to pay attention to the plight of the Kurds.



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