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Gang activity roils Kurdish enclave in Nashville

Youths say actions are in response to post-9/11 threats

NASHVILLE -- A proud enclave of Kurds has lived in this city for decades, starting businesses and soccer leagues, holding down good jobs, and blending into the immigrant neighborhoods south of town.

But now the Kurdish immigrant community has been shaken to see its young people joining a street gang that blends old-world customs and new-world thuggery. Police say the gang has committed a string of rapes, assaults, and home invasions.

The gang calls itself Kurdish Pride and is made up of 20 to 30 teenagers and young adults.

"This is a unique situation in Nashville," said Pary Karadaghi, president and chief executive of Kurdish Human Rights Watch, based in Fairfax, Va.

The gang members borrow from California gangster culture by adopting rap slang, scrawling "KP" graffiti on street signs, wearing gang colors, and flashing hand signs in photos posted online.

They also put Kurdish flags on their cars and use yellow -- from the Kurdish Democratic Party banner -- as their gang color. On websites, they talk about Kurdish music and culture.

Unlike other gang members, most Kurdish Pride followers grew up in stable, working-class, two-parent homes, and many of their parents own successful businesses or work at universities, Nashville police Detective Mark Anderson said.

The Kurds, most of whom are Sunni Muslim, come mainly from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran but have their own language and culture. Kurdish immigrants have sought refuge in Nashville since the 1970s, creating the largest community of Kurds in an American city, with about 10,000 members, Karadaghi said.

Gang members say they formed Kurdish Pride in response to threats and harassment after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Anderson said. But Anderson said he has never heard of any violence against the Kurds.

"They started out wanting to be a group of kids that would hang out and stick up for each other," Karadaghi said. "They feel they have to have a gang in order to survive."

At Salahadeen Center, a mosque and community center, Ibrahim Ahmed said he is so worried about his son joining the gang that he is pulling him out of public school.

Nashville has seen a string of 10 home invasions targeting Hispanic immigrants since January. In one such case, a group of attackers raped a pregnant woman. Police charged a 17-year-old Kurd, Zana Noroly, with the attack, but he hanged himself in his jail cell before going to trial.

Last month police arrested four Kurdish Pride members on suspicion of trying to kill a park police officer who had stumbled upon a drug deal. One of them, Aso Nejad, 21, was out on bail on charges that he attacked a student at a high school graduation.

Members of the Kurdish community are hoping that summer school at a mosque and the recent start of a youth soccer group will keep others from joining the gang.

"We are not going to sit still and do nothing," said Kirmanj Gundi, a professor of educational administration at Tennessee State University.

"They need to realize what they do is harming themselves and to a larger extent the Kurdish community."