Kurdish singer sparks identity debate on Arab talent show

Thu Apr 25, 2013 4:19am EDT
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By Isabel Coles

ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - A singer from Iraq's Kurdistan region has made it through to the semi-final of an Arab talent contest, igniting heated debates over Iraqi identity and politicizing the popular TV show.

A panel of judges praised 24-year-old Parwaz Hussein and she was voted through to the next round of "Arab Idol", in which aspiring popstars from Morocco to Bahrain compete for a recording contract.

Many Kurds have rallied behind Parwaz, who wore a pendant in the shape of "greater Kurdistan" - the term used to describe the territory Kurds claim as their rightful homeland, which covers swathes of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

"If before you were a singer, now you bear a great patriotic responsibility," one Facebook user called Kurdistani Kurdan wrote on Parwaz's page.

Numbering more than 25 million, the non-Arab Kurds are often described as the world's largest ethnic group without a state and regard national borders as an historical injustice that has led to their systematic oppression.

In Iraq, Kurds were the target of chemical attacks under deposed strongman Saddam Hussein, but now enjoy a large measure of self-rule in the north of the country, where they run their own administration and armed forces.

Kurdish autonomy is enshrined in Iraq's federal constitution, drawn up after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. The document recognizes Kurdish as Iraq's second official language.

But relations between the northern enclave and the central government in Baghdad have been strained by disputes over land and oil rights that have worsened since U.S. troops left in December 2011.   Continued...