Kurdish gang crime in Nashville, Tennessee
Miles from downtown, Nashville’s southern neighborhoods are home to a thriving enclave of Kurdish immigrants. Just off a wide commercial strip called Nolensville Pike, women in head scarves shop at the Judy International Market. Lunch traffic is brisk at al-Rasoul Restaurant, and on the door of a local mosque, a flier announces Kurdish soccer league signups.
Bound by a common language and ethnicity, Kurds here tend to shun attention. But a growing problem has turned an unwanted spotlight on them: a group called the Kurdish Pride Gang, thought to be the nation’s only Kurdish street gang.
After a series of high-profile crimes, a teenage suspect’s suicide and four arrests connected to the attempted murder of a policeman, Kurdish Pride has become a source of deep shame and frustration, as Kurds find that their youth are as vulnerable to gang culture as are those of other populations.
Kirmanj Gundi, an associate professor of educational administration at Tennessee State University who came to Nashville in 1977, said the gang’s activities had upended decades of hard work.
“We did everything to build a good reputation here in Nashville and elsewhere, and tried to be good Americans,” said Mr. Gundi, 46, who is Kurdish, “and all of a sudden a few irresponsible hoodlums have tried to tarnish the reputations we’ve been working so hard over the years to create. That’s sad.”
Kurds are an ethnic group spread across parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, in a region collectively called Kurdistan. Nashville’s community grew up around those who fled Iraq in the 1970s after the collapse of an autonomy movement; Kurds from elsewhere followed.
Now numbering about 8,000, the Kurdish community is well established here. Public access television carries a show called “Who Are the Kurds?” Community members boast of their college students and business owners. A popular bar in the city’s Rock Block of nightclubs is Kurdish owned.
But some see the success of their diligence losing ground because of the gang, which is estimated to number just 20 to 30 members ranging in age from their teens to mid-20s.
Police officials say that Kurdish Pride members have grown increasingly vicious and brazen. Investigators believe that the gang has committed about 10 home burglaries since January, including two involving rapes, said Mark Anderson, a Nashville police detective who works in a gang unit.
In a case involving the rape of a pregnant victim, a 17-year-old suspect, Zana Noroly, hanged himself in his jail cell in April. Messages in his memory are ubiquitous on the Web pages of Kurdish youth.
There was an assault in which a student was dragged from a high school classroom and beaten, and another during the school graduation that left the victim hospitalized. Kurdish Pride members have been accused of shooting at a rival gang, injuring three, and also beating a man to death in January at a motel, Mr. Anderson said.
Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted four members of the gang for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in a case in which a gang leader, Ako Nejad, is accused of shooting at a park policeman who interrupted a drug deal last year. The members have adopted older gangs’ symbols, adorning their MySpace pages with photos of the rapper Tupac Shakur and slogans like “Live and Die 4 Kurdish Pride.” They sport tattoos and gang colors, and flash hand signals.
The gang’s origins are murky, but many people believe it probably formed to present Kurdish bravado to this city’s mix of Latino, Asian and black gangs.
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