A provocative Kurdish pop hit has attracted condemnation from Islamist fanatics invading Iraq – but singer Helly Luv says she will not be put off by death threats from militants and will continue to support her country in the push for independence.
The 25-year-old – whose mother was a Kurdish peshmerga fighter and who herself has visited troops on the front lines – has seen the video for her song Risk It All rack up more than 2.5 million views on YouTube since its release in February.
Ms Luv said the video – which includes exploding petrol bombs, backing dancers with AK47 rifles, and the singer dancing in a short, figure-hugging silver dress atop a citadel – represents the Kurdish spirit and struggle for an independent state, in contrast to the hardline Sharia law-driven aims of those currently invading Iraq.
Speaking from Arbil, the autonomous Kurdistan region’s capital, she said: “There were death threats from many Islamic groups … it was a really hard time for me. [But] my whole message is that, Kurdish people, we need to risk everything for our dreams and fight for our country.”
Iraqi Kurdistan’s population of roughly five million people has enjoyed a degree of independence from Baghdad since the end of the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.
But the Kurds are now closer than ever to leaving Iraq altogether, with Massoud Barzani, leader of their autonomous region, calling on his parliament to ready a referendum on independence after the latest violence in Iraq.
However, critics have said that the Kurdish leaders’ actions could lead to broader chaos in Iraq and beyond, promoting rebellions in Kurdish areas of neighbouring states.
Ms Luv’s mother was a Kurdish peshmerga fighter – elite troops hardened by years of battling Saddam Hussein – before the family emigrated during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
“You can see in Kurdistan right now that people don’t want war, we have been through so much already,” Ms Luv said. “We have fought so much to get this freedom, so we’re not going to let nobody take it away.”
The singer’s management team declined to say whether any of the death threats she had received came from the Islamic State (also known as Isis), saying they did not want to give the groups or individuals publicity.
The lightning takeover by Isis of the northern city of Mosul and advance towards Baghdad stirred the latest crisis in Iraq, and saw the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government expand its borders and take over oil areas as Iraqi military forces retreated.
Ms Luv recently visited Kurdish peshmerga forces that have been involved in skirmishes with Isis on the front lines.
Photos posted online show her wearing an old-style peshmerga uniform, red and black scarf and aviator sunglasses, standing in front of the black-uniformed Kurdish troops.
She was close to Mosul, which is the Iraqi power base of Isis, but just six miles from territory controlled by forces of the Kurdish Regional Government.
“I wanted my first single to be Risk it All to let people know that’s what I represent,” Ms Luv said.
As a baby, she spent nine months in a refugee camp in Turkey before her family emigrated to Finland. She moved to Los Angeles at 18 to pursue a music career and after struggling for several years was picked up by independent label G2 Music.
Many of the dancers and children who feature in her first video, which was filmed in the Kurdish-controlled regional capital Arbil, were Kurdish refugees fleeing civil war in Syria.
Ms Luv said: “I decided I wanted to visit them and thank them for everything they’d done. So I went to one of the schools inside the camp and gave them books and toys. I owe those Syrian Kurds a lot as really without them the video wouldn’t have been such a big success.”
Risk it All has since featured on an album for the 2014 Fifa World Cup.
Speaking before Sunday night’s World Cup final, Ms Luv said she hopes in a few years to be cheering on another team.
“Nothing would make me more proud than to see Kurdistan there,” Ms Luv said.
“I believe the dream of independence will come.”