Son of Mountains

My Life as a Kurd and a Terror Suspect

by Yassin Aref



Publication date: March 10, 2008

544 pages, paperback, photographs and photo insert

ISBN: 978-1-933994-30-7

First edition of 750 copies, printed by The Troy Book Makers

Price: $27.00

After production expenses, all proceeds from sales will go to the Aref Children’s Fund, to benefit the author’s four children.


Where to purchase Son of Mountains after March 10, 2008:

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New York

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“One day I was talking with one of the peshmerga commanders…who…quoted Napoleon Bonaparte, saying that ‘I am not afraid of 100 men with guns, but I am afraid of one man armed with a pen.’ Since then, I have always looked at my pen as my weapon. I consider myself a peshmerga, but I fight my battles with a pen.”


––from Chapter 4, A Student in the City


Sometimes they put innocent men in prison. Yassin Aref is one of those men.

Son of Mountains tells a story in prose and poetry that is much more than just Yassin’s side of his arrest, conviction, and imprisonment. It’s the story of a UN refugee who sought peace and freedom for himself and his family in America, and found just the opposite. It’s the story of a two-time immigrant who has struggled all his life just to survive. And it’s the autobiography of an Iraqi Kurd––a “son of mountains”––who grew up in poverty under the rule of Saddam Hussein, and who writes that “I have the whole of Kurdistan and all of my people with me in my tiny cell at the jail.”

Yassin wrote Son of Mountains in five months at the Rensselaer County Jail in Troy, New York between his conviction in October 2006 and his sentencing one year ago, on March 8, 2007. Because English is his third language, two members of his legal team, Stephen Downs and Kathy Manley, and a professional editor, Jeanne Finley, worked with Yassin over the past year to edit and assemble the book.

Yassin was born to illiterate farming parents in 1970 in Hashazini, a village in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. However, his was a famous family; his grandfather and uncle had been Muslim imams (religious leaders) loved and respected by thousands. As a teenager, he sympathized with the Kurdish peshmerga (freedom fighters) and risked his life opposing the dictator’s genocide against the Kurds.

In 1995, Yassin married and made the wrenching decision to leave his beloved Kurdistan for Syria. Although he worked full-time to support his growing family, he managed to graduate from Abu Noor University in Damascus with a degree in Islamic studies. But Kurds had no freedom or rights in Syria, and in 1999 the stateless family was given refugee status by the UN and sent to Albany, New York to begin a new life in America. An immigrant once more, Yassin worked at several low-paying, often temporary jobs until he was appointed imam of Masjid as-Salam (House of Peace), a small Albany mosque. The 2004 FBI raid on the mosque and Yassin’s arrest, which was nationally reported as a victory in the “war on terror,” and his trial and conviction in 2006, tore his family, the mosque, the community, and the city apart.

Son of Mountains is divided into five parts, each subdivided by chapters and stories. The book runs chronologically, beginning in Iraqi Kurdistan with stories of Yassin’s family, childhood, young adulthood, and marriage, all set against the backdrop of the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Yassin describes surviving the Anfal operation (the Kurdish genocide) in 1988–1989; fleeing with other Kurds to Iran in 1991 when the Iraqi army once again pursued them; and witnessing Kurdistan’s subsequent economic, political, and social ruin. For an excerpt from Part 1, Kurdistan, click here.

 The story then moves to Syria, where Yassin and his family spent four years in exile (for two excerpts from Part 2, Syria, click here); to America and Albany, where, after 9/11, “the walls could see and hear” (for two excerpts from Part 3, America, click here); to the Rensselaer County Jail, where Yassin lived for eighteen months from 2004 to 2006 and wrote stories about his experiences and his fellow inmates; to “Beyond the Walls,” a short compilation on such topics as the teachings of Islam, human rights, Martin Luther King, social justice, the tragedy of Iraq, the dream of Kurdish independence, and the rule of law in America.  For an excerpt from Part 4, The Walls, click here.

The book concludes with an outspoken essay by volunteer lawyer Stephen Downs that details how the government’s case against Yassin was not a sting but a frame-up, with lives, families, and Constitutional rights sacrificed to America’s post-9/11 climate of fear. For an excerpt from Profile of a Frame-Up, click here.

By the end of this extraordinary memoir, filled with the peaceful, practical morality of Islam as well as Yassin’s lively humor, the reader will understand why he is no terrorist, and how grave an injustice has been done.