Salah-Zandi, a brown-skinned man with a strong, straight nose and a fierce smile, joined the Kurdish Revoluntionary Army in his native Iraq when he was 16.
Eight years later, and halfway around the world, Salah-Zandi found himself spending Saturday night - belatedly celebrating the Kurdish new year - dancing in Falls Church with the Persh Merga (Facing Death) dancers, a group formed by five of his friends from the war years.
Abruptly, the dancing stopped. To the sound of cheers, Gen. Mustafa Barzani, the exiled leader of the Kurdish people and head of the revlutionary army, stepped through the door of the Best Western Motel on Lee Highway.
"Har biji Barzani (Long live Barzani)," shouted the Kurds, many of whom were among the 350 Kurds who took refuge with Barzani in the United States last year.
Barzani and his fellow refugees came to American a year after the U.S. and Iran stopped giving aid to the Kurdish forces. Without their support Barzani could no longer fight off the Iraqui Baath regime, which was trying to force the Kurds off their oil-rich homeland in northwestern Iraq.
Faced with what they claimed was the prospect of mass murder if they continued fighting without outside support, the small Kurdish army of 100,000 men surrendered to the Iraquis.
With their surrender the Kurds began and exodus that took them first to Iran, where they say they were mistreated, and then back into their homeland of Iraq.
"But it was no good in Iraq," said Mohammed S. Dosky, head of the Kurdish American Society. "The Iraqis put 10,000 Kurds in concentration camps and they sent about 300,000 others to the south away from the homeland. The south is desert," he said.
Last year, the U.S. accepted its first Kurdish refugees, 350, and Saturday in Falls Church the Kurds held their first celebration of the Kurdish New York on American soil.
The festival, called Neuroz (New Day) is usually celebrated on the first day of spring, or March 21, but the refugees' celebration of the Kurdish year 2677 was late because it took time to gather Kurdish refugees from their homes across America, Dosky said.
Salah-Zandi, the Kurdish soldier who danced with this friends Saturday night, now lives in Chula Vista, Calif.
The largest group of Kurdish refugees lives in North Dakota, where there are about 88. The biggest urban settlement of the Kurds is in San Diego, where about 60 reside.
A sprinkling of the Kurds, including Gen. Barzani, live in the Washington area. Barzani lives in the District, but other Kurds live in Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Va., and New Windsor, Md.
Saturday's party was also attended by Americans, such as the foreign service officers who got to know the Kurds during their stays in Mid-Eastern countries.
"The people in the Mid-East consider the Kurds a hard-riding hard-fighting, hard-loving people," said David Patterson, a foreign service officer who spent three years in Tehran, Iran. "They are known for their honesty and independent spirit."
Patterson's wife, Susan, who worked to process the Kurds' immigration papers with the American consulate in Tehran, said the Kurds seem to be adjusting well to American life although they have had trouble getting jobs and have not had the government aid that the Vietnamese refugees received.
Salah-Zandi, who is working in a store in Chula Vista, said life for him in America has not been bad, but it is not good.
"I'm alright," he said. "I live near other Kurds, but I didn't come over here because I wanted to live here. I like our country and I want to do things for my people, but if I go back now things would be unpleasant."