In the coming months, Saddam Hussein will sit on trial for genocide against his own people. In less than eight months in 1988 during the infamous Anfal campaign, Hussein’s regime killed more than 100,000 ethnic Kurds, including by poison gas. During the last months of war with Iran, Hussein accused Kurdish militias of siding with the enemy. For that, he annihilated thousands of Kurdish villages and killed or displaced their inhabitants.
Most people can only imagine the terror that spread through the northern Kurdish villages that year.
But not Goran Rahim of Reston. For Rahim, who was born just miles outside the Kurdish city of Kirkuk, Anfal is a nightmare.
While only five when the campaign started, Rahim is still haunted by the memories. “I remember the killings, army guys around the city and the fear, of course,” said Rahim, reticent to discuss what seems like a lifetime ago.
Had Rahim and his family stayed in Iraq, his life would not have been. “We would be dead,” said Rahim.
During the assaults against civilians, several of his family members, including his uncle, were kidnapped and never seen or heard from again. Rahim assumes they were buried in one of the many mass graves where bodies were dumped.
Rahim’s family fled Iraq as refugees to Pakistan, where they lived until Rahim was 15. At 16, Rahim and his family came to the U.S. and received permanent resident visas.
DESPITE A CHILDHOOD of death and despair, Rahim has somehow stayed upbeat, even optimistic. Last year, the 22-year-old became a U.S. citizen, and last month he published a book of poetry — love poetry.
It all started to fall in place when he came to America. While he looks back with fondness at his time in Pakistan, where he became fluent in Urdu, something didn’t feel right. “I always had the feeling that I was a stranger,” said Rahim.
“When I got to America, that is the time I figured out what is the beauty of life,” said Rahim. “I felt like I knew who this person called Goran really is.”
He started writing poetry about the time he came to the U.S. He titled his first poem “Love,” which was published in his high school newspaper at East High School, in Erie, Pa. “I was still learning the language,” said Rahim, adding that the school’s educators were friendly and supportive. “But poetry helped me learn English faster.”
One of his English teachers, Nancy Sadaly, remembers Rahim’s authenticity. “He was a very conscientious student,” said Sadaly. “His sincerity always showed up in his poetry.” The two still correspond periodically.
Rahim went on to became editor of the literary publication at East, where he graduated in 2003.
SOON AFTER, when his family moved to Reston, he began pursuing a dream. He wanted to publish a collection of love poetry. “There’s a girl behind the poems,” he said, but he called his book, “A Faded Love” because it reflects on teenage years when love is fleeting.
“It’s faded because it doesn’t exist anymore,” said Rahim.
Last March, E-Book Time published Rahim’s book. “I was so excited. It was the dream of my life,” said Rahim.
Rahim said that his brother, Hogir, who attends South Lakes High School, helped a lot with the book.
Rahim hopes one day to also publish a collection of poems he wrote in his native language of Kurdish. “I often read Kurdish poetry to hang on to my heritage,” said Rahim.
His book is being sold online by the publisher and is also available on the Barnes & Noble and Books A Million Web sites.
Rahim’s friend, Saad Hamid, bought a copy for his girlfriend. “She liked it. She said, ‘I want to meet this person.’ But I was like I don’t think so.” joked Hamid. “His poems are really good.” When they first met, Rahim startled Hamid because he knew how to speak Urdu. “He knows it better than me,” said Hamid.
But Hamid is more amazed at how Rahim has been able to do it all. “He’s had a lot of tough times, but he never got a negative attitude. He kept thinking positive.”
TODAY, RAHIM says he’s lucky to have made it to America. “I’m a proud American,” he said, adding that he loves “the freedom here, the right to be your own person.”
Rahim, who wants to go to law school and become a diplomat, recently finished two years of undergraduate courses at Northern Virginia Community College while working full time as a supervisor at CVS Pharmacy in Vienna. He plans to attend George Mason University or Marymount University in the fall to study international affairs.
But that doesn’t exclude a possible poetry class or two.