Peter Pinto ‘22
The Thesis as an Opportunity to Explore Your Interests
Tucked away in a small lecture hall on the campus of George Washington University, Dr. Najmaldin Karim stood at the podium in front of a large red, white and green flag with a yellow sun spread across its colors. Despite his impressive resume which included a fellowship in neurology from George Washington University, multiple publications in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times among others, and an extensive career in Washington D.C., Dr. Karim introduced himself in one word: a Kurd.
As I sat in the audience. I was surprised by his self-proclaimed title. Despite my strong interest in the Middle East, the Kurdish ethnicity and people was never a topic discussed in my academic education. Nor did the Kurds ever dominate the headlines of most American media outlets as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan did during the majority of my upbringing. Thus, I was fascinated to learn of Dr. Karim and the Kurdish people’s century long struggle for independence and freedom that he described so passionately with the Kurdish flag draped behind him. The shocking nature of his claims to a homeland I had never heard of was only enhanced by his personal experiences of violence and repression against the Kurdish people in hopes of quelling their ethnic pride. Dr. Karim himself lost his brother-in-law and nephew in an Iraqi military attack and witnessed the public hanging of one of his childhood friend’s fathers at the age of 13. Such violence and trauma is a common theme throughout Kurdish history and identity, as the Kurds have faced prejudice and cultural erasure in most of their host states.
However, rather than be intimidated by such violence, Dr. Karim became one of the most well-known and successful Kurdish activists. Often referred to as the “one-man lobby” of the Kurds, Dr. Karim devoted nearly all of his life to bringing the plight of the Kurdish people to the forefront of both the U.S. Congress’s and American public’s attention. Dr. Karim’s passing in 2020 sparked a strong reaction in both myself and the strong Kurdish network throughout the United States that he helped build. Remembered by Kurdish nationalist figures like Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Masrour Barzani as “a true nationalist and faithful patriot of Kurdistan,” his death helped recenter many Kurdish and American activists on the plight of his population and their quest for a homeland, a topic seldomly discussed compared to traditional Middle Eastern groups.
It was in the aftermath of his death that I was beginning to decide to on a topic for my thesis. As an IS major, I have taken classes on places and topics across the globe and time. I have learned about war in Latin America, movements in the Middle East and even Diplomacy in the Vatican. I have never forgotten my interaction with Dr. Najmaldin Karim, though. His personal story has inspired me through my time at BC and as an IS major, and I have always sought to learn more about him and his people. The IS thesis was the perfect opportunity to do that. I have been able to use the analytical, writing and research skills that I have learned throughout my classes and apply them to a topic that I am deeply passionate about.
The thesis is a daunting project and there are days where it can seem like more of a challenge than I signed up for. That being said, if you have a topic that you are passionate about, it can be the perfect final project to finish your time at BC.
Peter Pinto '22