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 blame the gang for 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.
“We don’t have the phenomenon anywhere else. 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 their Web sites, 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 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. More Kurds fleeing persecution came to Nashville in the late ’90s, and many attend the city’s public schools.
Nashville has seen a string of 10 home invasions targeting Hispanic immigrants since January. In one such case, a pregnant woman was raped by a group of attackers. Police charged a 17-year-old Kurd, Zana Noroly, with the rape, 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 murder a park police officer who had stumbled upon a drug deal. One of them, Aso Nejad, 21, was already out on bail on charges he attacked a student at a high school graduation.