The Plight Of Kurds, Christians & Yezidis
In an interview with journalist Rozh Ahmad, Dr. Widad said:
“History tells us that Christians, Kurds and Yezidis have been repeatedly displaced internally, and many have fled to neighboring countries or other continents in order to survive…
Civilians are now being targeted again, partly because of their religion or ethnic origin, but mainly because of the richness of our land… After centuries of persecution, we still haven’t found security and peace… On the contrary, every few years we face acts that amount to crimes against humanity…”
On 8th November 2014, Mr. Rozh Ahmad (RA), a freelance journalist working for Kurdish and English outlets, interviewed Dr. Widad about the status of human rights in Kurdistan, the massacre of the Yezidis by the Islamic State, and the current situation in Kobane.
The interview was conducted in English and published in Sorani Kurdish and Kurmanji Kurdish at RojNews on 16 and 15 November 2014.
RA: Earlier this month you were awarded the International Pfeffer Peace Award, which you dedicated to the victims of persecution, particularly Yezidis, Christians and the residents of Kobane. Why do you consider these particular minorities as the most persecuted?
Widad: Before answering your question, I would like to thank you for this opportunity.
Currently, facts on the ground indicate that the Yezidis, Christians and the residents of Kobane are the most targeted, partly because of their ethnic origin and religion, but mainly because of the richness of our land. IS has stated publicly that Christians and Kurds including the Yezidis, Kobane residents, as well as Armenians and others are “legitimate targets.”
We, the Kurds, have fallen victims to systematic persecution and ethnic cleansing repeatedly. If you google “Kurdish genocide” you will get a long list of genocides, including Anfal, Dersim, Zilan, Marash, Uludere, Sirnak and Roboski. Now, after centuries of persecution, we still haven’t found the security and peace desired by our nation. On the contrary, every few years we face acts that amount to crimes against humanity and crimes against human diversity. The Yezidis are right now subjected to the 74th ethnic cleansing in their history. As we are witnessing, IS aims to commit genocides in the name of religion. Without the corridor carved out for Yezidis by Rojava defenders hundreds of thousands were at imminent risk of execution or beheading.
RA: Kurds, Christians and Yezidis have been subjected to systematic massacres throughout the modern history of the Middle East. Would you see the current persecution is somehow related to the historical massacres and human rights violations committed against these minorities in the region?
W: Yes, survival in such a troublesome region hasn’t been easy. History tells us that Christians and Kurds, including Yezidis, have been repeatedly displaced internally, and many have fled to neighboring countries or other continents in order to survive. Reports have documented systematic cases of kidnapping, torture, bombing, mass beheadings or killing of civilians; not even pregnant women and children were spared.
In the case of Kurds in general, their ethnic origin and ancient religion were used to justify acts of unimaginable horrors. Throughout history, they have been seen as “infidels” and were forced to convert under threat of death or slavery. Those who refused ran the risk of execution by the sword, by shooting or otherwise. With regards to Christians, I remember cases of Christian priests being beheaded and mutilated despite payment of ransoms. In the city of Mosul, several Catholic priests have been killed in 2007. Consequently, many have fled to Kurdistan region or to other countries.
All these facts demonstrate that these peaceful groups are not safe in their enclaves and they are in urgent need for immediate attention from the global community.
RA: How should the international community define the systematic massacre of the Yezidi civilians in Sinjar by IS jihadists that included taking Yezidi girls as sex slaves?
W: The international community should define what’s happening to the Yezidis as a crime against humanity, crime against cultural heritage of the region and ethnic cleansing. With respect to the females, we have to classify the crimes they are subjected to as systematic gender-based violence and the use of slavery and rape as weapons of war.
RA: Thousands of civilians are still living inside the city of Kobane despite consecutive offensives and deadly onslaughts initiated by IS jihadists. Do you see a new Kurdish massacre looming in Kobane?
W: Sadly, yes. However, such a massacre can be avoided, if there is a well-organised and a well-defined plan on how to deal with IS – a plan that sets out the strategic and tactical activities to be undertaken at the international, regional and local levels.
RA: No international aid or human rights organisation is present in Kobane despite the fact that the civilian population is short of food, fuel and medicine! Why do you think the aid as well as human rights organisations are reluctant to go help the neglected civilians or document the crisis even though parts of Kobane still remain under Kurdish control?
W: The NGOs and other agencies are not reluctant to provide help to civilians inside Kobane, but we have to take all factors related to assisting them into consideration. Regrettably, one problem is Turkey and the closed border. After a humanitarian mission in the battle zone in Kobane, MSF co-founder Dr. Jacques Berès talked about Turkey’s involvement, noting that Turkey will have a huge responsibility in the genocide that will follow a potential fall of Kobane. According to reports, Turkey is not letting humanitarian aid reach Kobane; no medicines or food, not even baby milk. In reality, the Kurds are trapped between Turkish Military on one side and IS on the other sides.
In addition, both humanitarian- and human rights organisations are unable to operate safely, and they are not allowed to cross the border locally. NGO representatives and journalists have problems with passing through Turkish checkpoints near the border. It’s unclear at this point, whether Turkey is doing this to prevent NGO teams from investigating the events near the border or to prevent them from helping the civilians or both. Moreover, Turkish forces have arrested, injured and killed many Kobane supporters for protesting against Turkey’s alleged collaboration with IS. You may have heard about Ms. Serena Shim and Ms. Kader Ortakaya. Just a few days after exposing how Turkish forces routinely communicate and cooperate with IS, Ms. Shim lost her life in a suspicious car accident. Ms. Ortakaya was murdered by Turkish military while taking part in a human Kobane chain near the border. We have formally requested an impartial investigation into these two incidents, as well as into the systematic targeting of demonstrators in Turkey.
Apart from that, representatives of human rights organisations, especially those from Western countries can easily be targeted by IS. We have seen how journalists and international aid workers were beheaded brutally in the hands of IS members. All these factors must be taken into account when evaluating the situation in Kobane.
RA: The use of some sort of chemical weapon by IS jihadists against Kurds in Kobane has been widely reported in the international media and yet nothing is officially heard from the intentional community and the international human rights organisations. Kurds fear a chemical attack similar to Halabja Massacre may soon take place in Kobane; do you share the same fear?
W: As long as groups like IS have access to chemical weapons of any kind, there will always be fear of chemical attacks being carried out anywhere in the world! It is, therefore, very important to take their chemical capabilities seriously and address this issue as soon as possible.
RA: The humanitarian crisis is generally expected to worsen in the Middle East, particularly in Kurdistan, as the IS war continues to intensify on daily basis. What can the international human rights organisations do to help the civilians?
W: The international human rights organisations can advocate to ensure that the victims are protected, fully assisted and compensated fairly. They can help provide humanitarian aid and coordinate activities related to intensifying the efforts aimed at rescuing Yezidi women, men and kids captured by IS.
They can act as Watchdogs, playing an active role in eliminating corruption and making sure that aid is delivered to those most in need. They can expose the countries supporting IS and develop ways to make them either join the coalition against IS or refrain from sending weapons and logistics to IS. They may also document the economic resources of IS and approach international agencies and world leaders, urging them to impose sanctions on buyers, dealers and middlemen who help IS sell the oil and the cultural heritage of Mesopotamia.
That aside, they can offer platforms where lessons learned can be shared. It is important to maintain the momentum created and to build bridges between potential partners and communities whose work might be of relevance to the civilians affected by the crisis. I am talking here about groups like artists, songwriters, singers, intellectuals, youth, communities and organisations active in the areas of women’s and girls’ rights, as well as actors involved in ending modern-day slavery and violence against women and girls.