EVERETT — The two brothers are working inside Alida’s, a little Kurdish bakery tucked among the restaurants and shops along Southeast Everett Mall Way.
They talk of betrayal, in a history of betrayals. They repeat what Kurds say: “We have no friends but the mountains.”
It is Wednesday afternoon, nine days after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw troops from Kurdish-held northeastern Syria, allowing the Turkish army to sweep in with full force.
One of the brothers, Nechirvan Zebari, 27, says, “The worst feeling is of helplessness. We cannot do anything.”
When Zebari is not working at his family’s bakery, he is a nurse specializing in critical care at Swedish Edmonds medical center. The Iraq-born Kurd works 12-hour shifts, and on the other days helps run the bakery. It’s the immigrant ethos. Work hard, succeed.
In the back of the bakery, a long table holds just-baked traditional samoon flatbread, which is shaped like a diamond and much fluffier than the pita bread commonly sold in stores. Out front, new customers peruse the display case and always ask about what to them is an unusual bread. Most inevitably buy some, enticed by the golden-brown crust.
But what is happening 6,500 miles away hangs over everything. The family can’t help but continually check their smartphones for updates. The brothers say they have a hard time sleeping these days. Working in the bakery helps.
Trump has said the Turkish incursion into Syria “has nothing to do with us,” all but washing his hands of the Kurdish fighters who have fought alongside Americans against the Islamic State for years, The New York Times reported. “The Kurds know how to fight, and, as I said, they’re not angels, they’re not angels,” Trump said.
Says Zebari, “He uses the most ridiculous excuses to defend his actions. It’s comical.”
He notes that Trump sent 3,000 troops to Saudi Arabia, where the dominant member of the ruling royal family, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is implicated in the murder and dismemberment of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“And he’s giving him troops?” asks Zebari, who lives in Everett.
The other brother at the bakery is Ali Zebari, 38, of Mill Creek. Since childhood, he’s had osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder also known as brittle bone disease.
On this day, he’s putting the bread into plastic bags to be sent to retail customers. It was Ali and his wife, Khalida, who began making the bread at home from a family recipe, evolving 2 ½ years ago into the bakery.
There are six brothers and one sister in the family. They’ve spread out into various occupations, from a lab technician, to retail sales, to construction. The parents live at home, the father having worked here as a handyman until injuries from his days as a Kurdish peshmerga fighter —fighters who battled Saddam Hussein and ISIS — sidelined him.
The brothers say their father worked as a security guard for an American nonprofit in Iraq. But as Saddam Hussein “was arresting, hunting down and killing anybody working with the U.S.” in 1997 the family was granted a visa to come here.
Ali Zebari says after the family’s arrival here he was often asked about his background, explaining that for centuries, despite numbering 30 million and having their own culture and language across Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the Kurds never had their own country.
He says he knows there is sympathy from Americans for the Kurds.
“They all have representatives in Congress. They can tell their opinion to them,” says Ali Zebari. “I don’t understand. I think that maybe they don’t have the time. In America, people work all the time. They’re too busy to take time off for political things.”
The Kurdish community in Seattle is not big, say the brothers. Maybe 500 people, spread out. There is no gathering place, or even a Facebook page with recent postings.
The afternoon passes and the brothers continue their work, bagging bread, cutting up rolls of dough, placing them on metal squares.
Megan Brown, Nechirvan Zebari’s wife, stops in with their two daughters, one 3 and the other, 4 months. They met when both were taking classes at Edmonds Community College and married after four years of dating.
In 2017, the couple and their first daughter went to mountainous Kurdistan for three weeks. It’s not a country, but a region spread across several countries that is the traditional homeland of the Kurdish people.
“You hear about it being arid country. I thought it was beautiful. There was much farmland,” she says. “And the people, they love kids. Strangers came up, [say] ‘Cute baby,’ and take the baby into their arms.”
In their news feed, the brothers also read about the reactions of American servicemen who served with the Kurds.
A New York Times story quoted an Army officer who worked alongside the Kurds in northern Syria (unnamed to avoid reprisal). “They trusted us and we broke that trust. It’s a stain on the American conscience.”
And what will be in the soldiers’ memories?
“All those people they left behind,” says Nechirvan Zebari.