The major topics of discussion consisted of:
1. Kobane, the expected next steps and the future of IS
2. Childhood memories as a refugee
3. The creation of an independent Kurdish State
4. How can the international community help the Kurds?
5. The condition of the Kurds in Turkey
6. Turkey’s alleged collaboration with IS
7. The enslavement and rape of women and girls in the hands of IS
8. Female Kobane defenders.
XT: It’s more than a month since the Kurds are fighting to keep Kobani. Do you believe that Islamic State can be defeated?
Widad: Ms. Tourki, I would like to first thank you and Philelftheros for this opportunity. I am glad to be with you and your readers.
As you said, Kurdish forces backed by US-led air strikes have been holding out for over 45 days against IS offensive in Kobani! This Kurdish city has become a high-profile symbol of efforts to stop IS advance. With the current efforts I don’t believe that IS can be defeated! It can be disrupted to a certain degree but not defeated. However, if the world unites and all UN Member States join this cause, IS can be eliminated significantly. We have to remember that since 9/11, the world has tried immensely to defeat Al-Qaeda, but even with two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and many losses it still exists and has created different affiliations and regional branches.
XT: Do you think that the next step will be ground operations?
W: It depends on whether or not there is willingness to deploy ground forces. Also, the effectiveness of the air strikes will partly determine the next steps. At this point in time, my take of the current situation is that US and other countries will not be sending ground troops due to concerns related to IS strategy.
“I would have loved if someone noticed my pain as a child and how my childhood was ruined because of conflicts. One of the biggest challenges in life is to overcome the trauma of war, particularly during childhood… Now, I would like to help the survivors acknowledge their past experiences. I want them to know that I feel their pain; I’ll be there to communicate their suffering and highlight the contradictory emotions they often evoke. My aim is to take part in the process of empowering and motivating them so that they can overcome these tragedies and become the extraordinary leaders of the future. There are glimmers of hope, even in dark times.” ~ Dr. Widad Akreyi
XT: You have been a refugee since childhood. How does it feel today, 30 years later, to see millions of Kurds abandoning their houses in Iraq and Syria?
W: It feels like I am going through it again. It is heartbreaking to see that they are abandoning their homes and may not ever be able to return to the lives they had before the displacement. It makes me devote all my attention to prevent more children from experiencing what I experienced as a child. It makes me feel I have a big responsibility to send numerous appeals, to be their voice, and to show the world how traumatized they are, to ultimately help them smile again, to help them hold on their childhood and dreams.
I would have loved if someone noticed my pain as a child and how my childhood was ruined because of conflicts. One of the biggest challenges in life is to overcome the trauma of war, particularly during childhood. What can you do when the suffering around you becomes too much? How can you deal with shocked, fearful or grief-stricken people? How can you survive having seen the massacres of hundreds if not thousands of your city’s residents? How can you forget the images of those abducted, raped, humiliated, tortured or executed? How can you deal with depression when you don’t even know what depression is? How can you help the people around you who are talking about suicide? How can you live when you fear that your parents may be gone soon? How can you cope with the fact that you may have lost some friends you will never see again? How can you get used to live in crowded and dirty places instead of your own home? How can you accept being sick knowing you cannot afford a visit to the doctor? In such conditions, everyone fight for survival, destined to a life of statelessness, forced to live a life void of fundamental human rights. Adults often lack the time and capacity to adequately address the negative impacts of such conditions on their families as a whole.
Now, I would like to make the children feel safe and treasured! I want them to know that I feel their pain; I’ll be there to communicate their suffering and highlight the contradictory emotions they often evoke when asking for help! My aim is to take part in the process of empowering and motivating them so that they can overcome these tragedies and become the extraordinary leaders of the future. There are glimmers of hope, even in dark times!
XT: Are Kurds today closer to creating their own state?
W: They are closer than ever to create their own state. And yet, history tells us that the international community needs to support them and refrain from letting the geopolitical interests and the richness of Kurdistan continue affecting the lives of over 40 million Kurds who are exposed to genocides every few years. The world has a moral responsibility, as well as a strategic interest to lead the international community in the pursuit of a comprehensive and credible approach to peace and justice for Kurds. When our land was divided after the First World War, the world did not have the global institutions in place to do something about it. Our people have been suffering for generations, and it is time for the world to see and acknowledge their suffering. It is time for the world to pay respect to our victims of genocides throughout history. World leaders known for their high ethical standards are expected to honor the wishes of the Kurdish people through a referendum on independence.
XT: Does the political separation of Kurds obstruct the dream of an independent Kurdish state?
W: To some degree, yes; but hopefully things will change now, and all Kurds will unite to make the dream of the Kurdish people come true. Although there are different political views among Kurds, most political parties agree that an independent Kurdish State is our human right.
As you know, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, while Bosnia proclaimed independence in 1992. Relaying mainly on Pb and Zn mines, Kosovo was the poorest part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, their economy relies on international assistance, whereas Bosnia has a marginal economy and relies heavily on exporting metals. To give an example from another continent, South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, following a referendum and it became a UN Member State. While Darfur had no hope of long-term sustainability, South Sudan had oil. Currently, oil provides about 98% of South Sudan’s income. Yet, the country is still at war and tens of thousands have been forced to leave their home.
With these facts in mind, Kurdish oil and the current collaboration between all Kurds provide great investment return and much better prognosis than Kosovo, Bosnia and South Sudan. Kurdish oil will help Europe, Turkey and other countries to reduce their dependence on the expensive Russian (and Iranian) gas. Unlike Kosovo and South Sudan, Kurds have proven viable entity and the soon-to-be State of Kurdistan will not be a burden on anyone, neither on the UN nor on the world. Many American oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, are already drilling in Kurdistan knowing that many countries need Kurdish oil.
XT: How can the international community help the Kurdish struggle?
W: The international community can help at various levels. We do need humanitarian aid, political support, and technological/financial support. We need political support with the main aim of establishing an independent Kurdish State. We also need the international community to help us in our fight against IS and to put pressure on the countries that pretend that they want to tackle IS to take this threat seriously. The crisis requires an international response because it constitutes a threat to regional and international security. The plight of the Kurds is a humanitarian tragedy, and the world has an obligation to ensure that the victims are protected fully, housed safely and compensated fairly. Those still in captivity must be released immediately and those stranded on Mount Sinjar must be brought to safety without delay. Moreover, residents of kobani need both protection and humanitarian aid.
Further, we would greatly appreciate a timely and systematic approach on how to advance and improve our self-defense abilities. In this vein, we do need to have Kurdish air bases to coordinate aid (humanitarian and otherwise) and necessary weapons to be able to stand up to IS, and thereby protect humanity, peace and justice. In other words, the Kurds are ready to make agreements in future stability because we have resources for potential. Although outnumbered and outgunned, the Kurdish forces have been protecting all civilians targeted currently, including yezidis, Christians and other minorities. As the only credible ethnic group that can confront IS, the world needs the Kurds, and the Kurds need the world.
Furthermore, as a Kurdish woman, I can assure the world that the Kurds are generous and very loyal to their friends. They never forget those who stand by them. Our land is very rich, and we will gladly share our resources with our friends. We will be there for them, as they are for us.
XT: What’s the condition of the Kurds in Turkey today?
W: I’m sad to say that the conditions are dire. The use of teargas against kobani supporters is almost a daily occurrence. Several peaceful demonstrators have been killed. Many have been arrested and the Turkish police have fired on civilians at multiple occasions and locations. Politically, the polarity of the society is becoming more evident day by day. There is no working model of ethnic co-existence, and gross violations of human rights persist. Turkish professors say that the peace process was aimed at gaining political power but never intended to bring peace. Now, we are concerned that peace might be in jeopardy because of the policy adopted by a group of politicians.
I have asked the Turkish people repeatedly to come out and speak up against this policy. The protection of justice is everyone’s task because without it all sectors of society will be threatened, and there will be no peace and prosperity. It might be easy to label someone if you don’t know anything about him or her, but how can you label him or her when you know his or her tragic story? Knowledge leads to understanding and respect! This is crucial if we aim to have healthy and peaceful relationships between nations. When the Turks protested in Gezi Park, the Kurds joined them; they were teargassed, arrested and risked their lives to support the Turks’ struggle for human rights! I was personally involved in lobbying world leaders, NGOs, as well as prominent and influential public figures, urging them to declare their support for the protesters. Some may try to divide us but human suffering and human rights must always unite us. Recent events have made ask myself: Why are we Kurds able to feel the Turks’ pain but the majority of Turks don’t!
Essentially, it’s our belief that all world nations, including the Turkish people, are our partners. And we hope that the Turkish government will be able to see the benefits of having a democratic society as a neighbor instead of a barbaric one.
XT: Turkey is trying to neutralize the Kurds with its stance against the Islamic State. Do you think Turkey can succeed?
W: Firstly, I would like to emphasize that the Kurds have not attacked IS! It is IS that is attacking civilian Kurds who live in their own land. Innocent civilians, many of whom are children, are the target of unbelievably inhumane acts like beheading and sticking of heads on poles. As a young engaged woman, I’m sure you are aware of the incomprehensibly inhumane acts of gang-rape that are taking place right now against girls and women. Secondly, for an observer, it doesn’t seem that the Turkish government is trying to “neutralize” the Kurds! Any kind of support provided to IS by any country is considered immoral, and that country must be held accountable. I would like to ask the Turkish political leaders to reevaluate their position and to play a constructive role in ending this genocide against Kurds. Hopefully, they will also be able to list a modern, civilized society for Turkey among their objectives.
XT: The Islamic State kills people, rapes women and violates every human right. How should the international community react?
W: The international community should react in the same way it should react with regards to ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, crimes against the cultural heritage of ancient nations, as well as gender-based violence in conflict and the use of rape and modern-day slavery as a weapon of war!
Regrettably, civilians are being killed, raped, enslaved and their organs removed because of their ethnic origin and the richness of their land. A yezid girl captured by ISIS gangs and sold into slavery begged the West recently to bomb the brothels, saying she was raped 30 times before lunchtime! We are daily receiving horrific details of their ordeal and the international community must insist on accountability for this type of war crimes. We know the world acted in an efficient way when the crimes happened to other ethnic groups. Many human rights defenders and civil society activists are disappointed at the level of response and the time to response.
XT: You are a woman that devotes her life to the Kurdish struggle. How do you feel when you read about those courageous women in Kobani that they fight the jihadists?
W: I am definitely proud of them! In my opinion, they are writing history and their courage has captured the world’s attention. Ordinary people and American admirals alike admire the female kobani defenders. I am grateful for every life they have saved! Whenever I see them, I become speechless! They have shown a bravery and determination that cannot be described! They are changing the dynamics of the society, not only in the Middle East but also in the entire world. This is a unique phenomenon in our modern history! A large number of Western armed forces are intensifying their efforts to recruit women in because of what they have seen in Rojava and Bashor of Kurdistan! There is a hope for gender equality in the long run and history should pay tribute to the courageous Kurdish women for accelerating the process, even in the Western countries that are known for their commitment to women’s rights.