Allow me to introduce Zmnako Moradi, who goes by Zak, a Kurdish-Irish athlete hailing from the city of Sarpol-e Zahab in Kermanshah province of northwestern Iran.
Zak’s family was forced to flee their ancestral homeland in eastern Kurdistan (Iran), and found themselves in the Al Tash refugee camp in the devastated city of Ramadi, Iraq, where Zak was born in 1991 during the Gulf War. Zak and his family later moved to Ireland in 2002 as part of a program overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
There, in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim, he fell in love with the ancient Gaelic sport of hurling through the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club St. Mary’s Kiltoghert. Gaelic hurling has a longstanding importance in Irish culture and is still highly popular in Ireland today.
We are now able to learn more about Zak’s life as a refugee, human being, and athlete thanks to a recently published biography ghostwritten by Niall Kelly called Life Begins in Leitrim: From Kurdistan to Croke Park. The title’s reference to Croke Park – one of Europe’s largest Gaelic games stadiums, Ireland’s national stadium, and the headquarters of the GAA – captures how high Zak has risen in hurling.
Religion and humanity
Life Begins in Leitrim presents an amalgamation of the different periods of Zak’s life. In addition to sports, Zak’s successes and talents are presented through topics such as war, peace, humanity, love, and friendship, as well as his longing for his homeland and his adaptation to life in Ireland. Through these themes, the reader perceives not only the complex challenges faced by those who are displaced, but also the benefits of stability and security.
Despite all the success that Zak has achieved and the love he has for his home country of Ireland, he still longs for the day when his homeland becomes an official country for the Kurds.
“I have been recognized in the Republic of Ireland because they believe in unity, respect other people regardless of race and religion, and are aware of how religion affects people,” he writes. “They have separated religion from the daily aspects of their lives.”
“I call on the Kurdish nation and on the new generation in particular to stop sacrificing themselves to religion,” Zak implores. “We can be Kurdish without the taboos and prohibitions that some religions put on us.
“As Kurds, we have had our own religion and beliefs for more than 1,000 years. We must preserve our roots, educate ourselves, and teach our descendants faith, but do so for the sake of unity and humanity, rather than attaching our thoughts to the domes of religions,” he continues.
“We have traditions, dances, music, songs, literature, and more – why not honor our own background and culture?” he asks.
An Irish formation
Life Begins in Leitrim is an intermingling of stories from Zak’s early childhood and later years, overlaid with a number of flashbacks to the obstacles and setbacks that he experienced through displacement and war.
Through various narratives, such as his travels in Ireland’s wide green spaces, he presents to the reader the essence of the feelings and principles that are nearest and dearest to his heart: caring and respect for others, safety, integrity, honesty, openness, and, of course, sport.
Following the publication of the book, Zak’s life became a popular topic in the Irish media, gracing the headlines of newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, and online podcasts. A documentary about Zak’s life is currently in pre-production.
As a result of this attention, Zak became a prominent figure in Ireland’s Kurdish community, as he emphasizes a blend of his Kurdish heritage and adopted Irish culture in his biography. “I have a second country. I have become a useful individual for both the Kurdish and the Irish communities,” he says.
In capturing Zak’s journey and growth, we see how he has developed a deeper awareness of the sorrows and wounds of Kurdish history, but also its bright spots. Moreover, in beautiful language, he captures how grateful Kurdistan is to Ireland, its people, its culture, and its support.
In many ways, Zak’s life is a dream that speaks in simple language about being human and living a life as a contributing citizen of a foreign country while longing for home. As the events in Life Begins in Leitrim oscillate between past and present, between Ireland and Kurdistan, he beautifully depicts two cultures, two dreams, two names, and two geographies.
Rahim Rashidi, a Washington DC-based Kurdish journalist, is widely recognized as "Mr. Kurd." He is focused on Kurdish affairs in Kurdistan and abroad.