It was an off-the-cuff remark heard instantly around the world, befuddling spectators of President Trump’s freewheeling Wednesday news conference, who appeared conflicted about whether it was polite, rude or a mixture of both.
“Yes, please, Mr. Kurd. Go ahead,” Trump said to Kurdish journalist Rahim Rashidi as he called on him to ask a question about U.S. relations with the Kurds.
The answer from Trump was nearly drowned out by the social media frenzy that ensued, as people wondered whether they had heard the president correctly. The clip started circulating and wound up in highlight reels of the news conference. “Mr. Kurd” started trending on Twitter.
But of those shocked by Trump’s remark, Rashidi, a reporter for Kurdistan 24, was not among them.
“Hello, this is Mr. Kurd,” he said as he answered the phone late Wednesday night, several hours after he went viral.
For Rashidi, Trump’s acknowledgment of his identity as a Kurdish person as the world looked on was far from insulting. Instead, it was a moment of pride, he said.
“I loved it, because all the time our identity is ignored by the Turkish government, by the Iranian government,” he told The Washington Post. “We are proud of our struggle for democracy, for justice, for freedom. He made me so happy when he called me Mr. Kurd. It was a moment of respect for us, for me.”
The Kurds are “one of the world’s largest peoples without a sovereign state,” with a “history marked by marginalization and persecution,” as the Council on Foreign Relations has put it. About 30 million Kurds live in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and “many who remain in their ancestral lands maintain a strong sense of a distinctly Kurdish identity,” the CFR wrote, amid their long-fought bid for independence. Rashidi said he was born in Iranian Kurdistan and later lived in Iraqi Kurdistan until 2000. At that point, he fled to Turkey and later Sweden as a legal refugee, he said. He now lives in Washington, D.C.
On Wednesday night, other Kurds also expressed appreciation for Trump’s acknowledgment of their identity, including another Kurdish journalist in the room. Majeed Gly, New York bureau chief for Rudaw Media Network, said on Twitter that he would “actually take it as a compliment if you call me Mr. Kurd.”
“There is an outcry on social media as if Trump was being disrespectful,” Namo Abdulla, the Washington bureau chief for Rudaw, said on Twitter. “He was not! I am #Kurdish and Mr. Kurd is my colleague. Kurdishness is an identity most Kurds are openly proud of.”
Amid a flurry of questions directed at Trump about the sexual misconduct allegations that have beleaguered Supreme Court nominee Brett. M. Kavanaugh, Rashidi asked Trump what the future relationship with the Kurds will look like in a “post-ISIS” world. Kurdish militias, allied with U.S. forces, have played a crucial role in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State. But the question on Kurds’ minds, Rashidi said, is whether the U.S. government will continue to support the Kurds after the Islamic State is defeated.
“We’re trying to get along very well,” Trump said in response. “We do get along great with the Kurds. We’re trying to help them a lot. Don’t forget, that’s their territory. We have to help them. I want to help them. They fought with us. They died with us. They died. We lost tens of thousands of Kurds, died fighting ISIS. They died for us and with us. And for themselves. They died for themselves. They’re great people. And we have not forgotten. We don’t forget.”
Rashidi said he found Trump’s answer more than sufficient.
“It’s given us something,” Rashidi told The Washington Post. “He’s given us hope.”
Asked whether he believed Trump’s moniker would stick, Rashidi said it’s already caught on.
“Just call me Mr. Kurd,” he joked.