NASHVILLE, Tenn. – They fled to the United States to escape Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. A decade later, dozens of Kurdish immigrants may be going back to Iraq to settle the score.
Titan Corp., a major defense contractor, has been actively recruiting Kurdish speakers to serve as civilian translators for the U.S. Army.
"I hope that from this war we will eliminate the Saddam regime and all people in Iraq will live in freedom," said Sakvan Bamerni, an American citizen of Kurdish descent currently living in Nashville.
Bamerni recently submitted an application for a translator post. His brothers Adris and Diyar have already flown to Washington, D.C. for the week-long interview and screening process.
The Army would not confirm how many translators are being hired, but officials say the global war on terror has created a large demand for linguists to gather intelligence and help U.S. troops out in the field.
"The linguists are absolutely crucial," said Lynn McCann, a U.S. Army linguist specialist.
Recent advances in computer technology have made it easier for the military to translate foreign languages.
"But these are not very well developed," McCann said. "They can not replace a person, a linguist."
If America goes to war in Iraq, it is likely Kurdish translators will follow U.S. troops into the country they once fled.
"It’s going to be dangerous," Sakvan Bamerni said. "But we’re going to be around U.S. troops and we hope we’re going to be safe."
Either way, the Bamernis say liberating Iraq is worth the risk and they are eager to help.
"We were dreaming for a day like this," said Sakvan Bamerni, "for us to go there and do something and make a difference."
For the Bamernis, who now have American citizenship, working with the U.S. army in Iraq would be a way of serving their adoptive country while helping the people of their homeland.
Memories of Saddam’s oppression of Iraqi Kurds are still strong in their minds.
"A lot of people suffered from him," Diyar Bamerni said. "We lost a lot of loved ones, family members, friends."
In 1987, when Diyar Bamerni was 15-years-old, he spent two months in an Iraqi prison after his eldest brother Sabri refused to join Saddam’s army.
Systematic attacks on Kurdish villages forced the family to flee the country. After spending four years in Turkish refugee camps, Sabri Bamerni moved to Germany and the other three brothers were allowed to come to America.
They moved to Nashville. A combination of economic opportunity and word of mouth has attracted a Kurdish population of 8,000 — the largest of any American city. Kurds worldwide often refer to Nashville by its nickname "Little Kurdistan."
It is here that Titan Corp. is making some of its most active recruiting efforts, faxing and mailing job notices to Kurdish community organizations.
The city known for country music may soon develop another reputation as a significant player in the war on terror.