Category: religious extremism

Yezidi Genocide- one man’s personal account

Amy L Beam works with Yezidi refugees and survivors in Iraq and has agreed to share a chapter from her forthcoming book: “The Last Yezidi Genocide”

NB: This was first published on Amy’s facebook page, link at bottom of the article.

For the excerpt please continue reading:

Kocho Manager Describes August 15, 2014, Daesh Executions Were Watched from the Sky
by Dr. Amy L. Beam, as told to her by Nayef Jaso Qassim, October 26, 2015

The flat plains of Nineveh, where Yezidis live, is the bread basket of Iraq. In the center is Mount Shengal, surrounded on all sides by 100 kilometers of wide open, rich agricultural land and many small villages. (Sinjar is the Arabic name and Shengal is the Kurdish name.) There are no trees for shade. The only canopy is the expansive blue sky. We grow the barley, oats, and wheat for flour for the entire country of Iraq. We are mostly farmers and shepherds with large herds of sheep. Some men take jobs in the cities of Duhok and Erbil.

Kocho, Shingal, Iraq, site of August 15, 2014, massacre and kidnapping of the entire town of Ezidis by Islamic State terrorists.

August in Iraq is the dry season. The wheat and barley crops have been harvested and trucked to Erbil silos. Temperatures soar to a stifling 45C. The green grasses die and turn brown. The ground hardens and cracks from drought. A grayish-brown fog of dust hangs in the atmosphere like a heavy blanket, lowering visibility and causing people chronic breathing problems.

I am the manager of Kocho village. My name is Nayef Jaso Qassim. I was born in 1958, one year after Kocho was founded by my father, the leader of the Al-Mandkany clan. People tell me I look younger, but after what I have seen in my lifetime, I feel as old as the desecrated earth of Shengal itself.

I have witnessed the most treacherous betrayal that I could not have imagined was possible. Even though the Yezidis have recorded 73 genocidal attacks upon our people, the 74th was unlike all others. It destroyed the lives and properties of over 400,000 Yezidis. It destroyed our ancestral homeland. Shengal is finished.

Four of my sons were killed. I lost 71 relatives in Kocho, all sharing my family name of Qassim. They are either dead or missing. Twelve of them had married into our family. Only two of the kidnapped women on my list have escaped. One is the wife of my dead son.

Now my mission is to tell the world the truth about the attacks on Shengal in August 2014. I defy any individual or government or Daesh terrorist [Islamic State jihadists] to silence me, because truth is on my side. I will never stop telling what happened. Only God himself can silence me.

Yezidis share many customs with the Kurds and the Arabs, including managing our villages under the tribal or clan system. We do not elect mayors. The leader or manager of the village is a senior man from the clan. As the town manager, I am given great respect by the town’s people who are all my cousins to one degree or another.

I make decisions that affect the well-being of the entire town of 1,735 people. Being manager carries great responsibility to protect and provide for my people. A leader must also take counsel from his advisors. So I am often in council meetings with the eldest men in Kocho, the fathers of each family. On important matters I must consult with the town’s people to reach consensus and have their support. We have a big hall for these gatherings.

On July 28, 2014, my wife and I flew to Istanbul. My elder brother, Ahmed Jaso Qassim, who is actually the head of our Al Mandkany clan which includes Kocho and four other villages, returned on July 27 from his work in Duhok to manage Kocho in my absence. His first wife and their house is also in Kocho.

We Yezidis have our own festivals, separate in custom and dates from the Kurds and Arabs around us. One of our annual events is the feast after the forty hottest days in the year. It is celebrated after the crop is harvested.

On August 2, one day before the Islamic State terrorists attacked Shengal, my brother Ahmed Jaso hosted a lavish luncheon at his house for 50 guests. It included 22 Arab neighbors of whom 15 were managers of the surrounding Arab villages and one Kurdish village. Ahmed sacrificed a sheep for this special occasion. There was every kind of special food prepared.

Women and children were not present at this special luncheon. All the village managers were friends and equals. This was a luncheon for Ahmed’s associates and neighbors to share in the Yezidis’ harvest. It was like The Last Supper, but instead of there being only one Judas who betrayed Jesus, 13 out of the 15 Arab village managers betrayed my brother and the entire Al-Mandkandy clan less than 15 hours after smiling in his face, dining at his table, and eating his sacrificial sheep.

Clan leaders of neighboring Arab villages who had lunch with Ahmed Jaso August 2, 2014: Nofel

List of Arab mayors (mukhtars) and one Kurdish mayor who were lunch guests of Ahmed Jaso, August 2, 2014, Kocho, the day before they joined ISIS in attacking Shingal. Names of two Arabs who did not betray their Yezidi neighbors are crossed out. The list was written by Nayef Jaso Qassim, mukhtar of Kocho. Five people with lines next to them returned August 14 to meet with Ahmed Jaso in Kocho, the day before the Kocho massacre.

 

1. Nofel
2. Khalef
3. Jarallah
4. Abdullmajud
5. Khaton
6. Khalal
7. Tarik
8. Muhammedradife
9. Muhammed Imad
10. Mallik Al Nuri
11. Muhammed Abaz
12. Zed
13. Farhan Jarallah
14. Jasim

Not only were my brother Ahmed and I friends with the managers of the surrounding Arab villages, but our wives and children also were friends. We danced at each other’s weddings and visited in one another’s homes. Our children played together. We grew up together. We did business together. I regularly traveled together to Baghdad and Mosul with the Arab village managers for meetings with the government.

Our fathers’ friendship goes back to 1948. The Yezidis used to live with Arabs in Kinissee which is only 8 kilometers to the east of Kocho on Blaj Road. There were never any problems between the Yezidis and Arabs in Kinissee. In 1956, Yezidis built Kocho and they all moved out of Kinissee. Kocho is surrounded by 13 Arab villages and one Kurdish village.

Since 1957, when Kocho was founded, our fathers, and then we, have been friends with our Arab neighbors with not one problem between us. Our problems started only when Daesh came. We call the Islamic State “Daesh”.

When Shengal was attacked on August 3, 2014, my wife and I took the next plane from Istanbul back to Erbil. While we were flying home, some people from Kocho tried to get away in their cars. Daesh captured them and massacred a total of 150 people in three different locations. The others turned back.

I wanted to drive immediately from the airport to Kocho, but my brother, Ahmed Jaso, told me on the phone to stay in Duhok. It was already too late to return. Peshmerga had left Kocho and it was now surrounded by Daesh. Daesh was everywhere in control of Shengal cities and villages. Over fifty thousand Yezidis were trapped on Mount Shengal without enough water or food.

The road from Sunoni, on the north of the mountain, across the flat open plain to Kurdistan, was jammed with cars and trucks packed with families fleeing to safety. The Peshmerga pickup trucks were leading, with Yezidis following close behind. Four-wheel trucks were passing on the side of the road over the hard ground, over-taking the slow traffic and turning the two-lane country road into a four-lane one-way road.

It would be impossible to drive against the flow of traffic that inched northward at only a few kilometers per hour. Every civilian had to pass through several checkpoints before entering the safety of Kurdistan which has protected borders in northern Iraq.
So I stayed here in Duhok, Kurdistan, from where I was in constant telephone contact with my brother, Ahmed Jaso, trapped in Kocho.

We did not know Abu Hamza, the Daesh leader who came to meet with Ahmed Jaso on August 5, but he came with my Arab friend Khalef Al Ayid and one other man. Khalef Al Ayid is the manager of Pisqi Jemali village which is 3 kilometers east of Kocho. Abu Hamza is from Khaider city, south of Mosul. They drank tea together in the meeting hall next to Ahmed’s house.

Abu Hamza demanded we convert to Islam and gave us three days to decide. We tried to get outside help to rescue the village. We called the Arab managers who had been Ahmed’s luncheon guests on August 2, and asked them to help us by going to talk to the Daesh leader in Mosul. I do not know the name of this bigger Daesh leader, but his wife’s father is named Salam Mala Allo.

The Arab managers from our neighboring villages, whom we asked for help, talked to the brother of the Daesh leader in Mosul. They promised to do something to help us, but no help arrived. We remained besieged.

On August 8, Abu Hamza returned pretending to help us. Ahmed Jaso and the men of Kocho listened to what Abu Hamza had to say. The meeting hall was full. Hamza told us we did not have to convert to Islam after all. He told us to go about our normal lives, but we did not believe him. We knew they were Daesh.

For twelve days my brother and I and all the people of Kocho were desperately phoning people everywhere in Iraq and in the world asking to be rescued. My friends who were interpreters with the U.S. Army took our message to Congress and the government in Washington, D.C. and to Europe. We called members of the E.U. parliament. Yezidis living in Europe went to the European Court in Brussels and pleaded for help for Yezidis, especially to rescue Kocho. We contacted every embassy. There were even demonstrations in Brussels in front of the European Court and in Hannover, Germany.

We called government leaders and military commanders in Kurdistan and Iraq and begged to be rescued, but the Iraqi government gave us no response and did not care. We were racing for time. We never rested.

So I sent my message to the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani, the most respected religious leader in Iraq. Only a few days earlier, on August 1, six grand ayatollahs had publicly announced their support to Ayatollah Sistini because Sistini was calling for a democratic Iraq in which each person could vote. Sistini called for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down or be voted out of office.

Sistini sent my message to Prime Minister Maliki: “Kocho needs to be rescued.”

The next day the Secretary to the Ministry of Iraq, close to Maliki, called me from his phone, 07802200011, and asked me if I was Nayef Jaso, the manager of Kocho. I said, “Yes.” We talked.

After our talk, the Secretary of the Ministry of Iraq signed an order to rescue Kocho. This order was sent to the operations control room for the Iraqi Army in Baghdad. This happened sometime between August 8 and 12. My sources told me that Americans were in the control room along with Iraqis.

I will never trust Americans again.

I had connections within the PDK political party. I sent them the same message, “Kocho needs to be rescued.” I gave them a plan. They said they would send it to the military operations room in Erbil, capital of Kurdistan. There were Kurds, Arabs, and Americans in that control room. I did not see the Americans in the operations room in Erbil with my own eyes, because I was in Duhok, but my intermediary swears that American military personnel were there.

I asked for 14 planes to include ten helicopters, two Apache attack helicopters, and two military fighter jets such as F-16s. The helicopters were to be used to evacuate the people of Kocho to Mount Shengal. The Apaches and the F-16s were to protect the helicopters during their operation. I said, “I have 200 Yezidi men of my own forces on the ground in Kocho. They will protect the helicopters when they land.”

We got no sure reply to our request to be rescued.

On August 12, I called my brother Ahmed in Kocho and told him, “It’s a plan. I do not know what will happen in the future, but I am sure it is a plan. Take whatever steps you can to save yourselves. No one is coming to your rescue.”

On August 13, Daesh returned and brought some rice and food to the village. They also brought more guards to surround the village night and day. Only 3% were foreign. Only 7% were from other areas of Iraq. Ninety percent came from the Arab villages in Shengal. They were our neighbors.

The operations room said to my intermediary contact that they were watching Kocho intensively. They promised if more than two cars go to Kocho, they would bomb the cars.

I told my brother on the phone, “On August 15, Daesh will give you their decision. Either you can change your religion or they will kill everyone or you can escape to the mountain.” Daesh did not say this, but I understood.

On August 14, Ahmed hosted a luncheon meeting with five of the 15 Arab managers from surrounding villages in an effort to avert an attack. They were Nofel, Khaton, Tarik, Jarella, and Farhan Jarella. These were the same friends who had come for lunch on August 2. Abu Hamza attended, too.

On August 15, at 9 AM many cars entered Kocho from three available directions. Cars came from Tal Afar to the north, heading south on Blaj Road. Others came from Blaj village southeast of Kocho, heading north. Others came from Baaj, southwest of Kocho. They had loudspeakers on their cars and announced they would take everyone to the mountain. It was very hot that morning, so they brought ice and distributed it. They told everyone to bring their gold and cars and report to the school which is on the northeast corner of Kocho.

From 9 AM planes were flying overhead. The operations room in Baghdad watched and did nothing even though there were lines of cars and pickups surrounding and entering into Kocho.

They took the women and children to the second floor of the school. The world knows by now that they were all kidnapped and the women and girls were beaten, raped, and used as sex slaves. Some of them have escaped, but nearly 3,000 Yezidis are still being held captive.

Daesh kept the men and adolescent boys on the ground floor of the school. They checked the hair under the arms of some of the boys to determine age. Young boys went with their mothers.
Abu Hamza asked Ahmed one last time, “Do you want to change your religion?” My brother told everyone, “You are free to choose.”

No one agreed to change religion except for one family that was not from Kocho. They were allowed to leave. Daesh said to the others, “We know you are not going to convert to Islam.”

Until they collected the mobile phones, I was always in touch with my son, Mufit Nayef Jaso, who was only 20. He was the last one to have his phone taken, because he was hiding it in his pocket with a wire in his ear. He was in constant communication with me. He was giving me the details of what was going on in the school. How they separated the men from the women and children. How they collected everyone’s gold and cash and took their ID cards (hawea).

When they started taking the men out of the school and driving them away, my son told me they were shooting everyone. I told my son, “They will kill you.” Then they took his phone.

I was in Duhok meeting with a man named Khairi Hamoka. He was sitting right next to me. He was talking on the phone to the operations room in Erbil. As my son told me what was happening, I was telling Khairi, and Khairi was telling the operations room. They knew everything that was happening in real time. The operations room said they were watching from the planes overhead.

Khairi relayed the question from the operations room to me, “What will Daesh do?”

I answered, “They will kill everyone.” I told them, “Bomb everyone, the women, the children, the men.”

The man from the operations room asked, “You gave us orders to bomb and kill everyone in Kocho? What is your relationship to them?”

I said, “They are my family, my children, my relatives. I will write a report and put my fingerprints on it that I gave the orders to bomb.”

The operations room said, “Human rights will not allow us to do that.”

So they watched from their planes and never did anything to stop the executions that went on for an hour from 11AM until about noon. Two planes flew overhead watching until late afternoon. Inside my head, I was screaming for help. I felt helpless. No! No! No! Please stop them! Please bomb them! Where was God?

When they took my son’s phone, I called my Arab friend who lives in Pisqi Junoovi, 2 kilometers from Kocho. I told him to go see and listen for sounds of shooting. My friend called me back and began to cry on the phone and said, “Yes, you are right. They are killing them. I see one person running away. He is coming toward Pisqi Junoovi.”

I asked my friend to care for him. When he arrived, my friend called me again and let me speak with him. He was Alias Salih Qassim, the father of Basman who is missing and presumed dead. Alias was shot in the knee. Alias told me they were shooting everyone. I told him to take care and promised we will try to get you and take you to the mountain.

This information was passed immediately by Khairi Hamoka to the operations room in Erbil.

Daesh took the men in their own cars and pickup trucks parked at the school to four locations at the edges of Kocho. The first location was to the water storage pool on the side of the perimeter dirt road at the edge of southeast Kocho. The first group of men and boys was shot in the back of the head at the edge of the pool. This is the group Alias was in. He ran directly east to escape.
The second group was in the same location, but Daesh made them get into the empty pool where they were executed.

The third and fourth groups were executed about 300 meters away from the first group on the southeast corner of Kocho, next to the perimeter dirt road where it turns to the west and wraps around the village.

The fifth group they took to a farm one kilometer north of Kocho. [According to a survivor, this was actually the fourth group to leave the school, but it may have taken longer to get there or shoot them because Daesh made a video first.] They put about 50 men into the empty pool and shot them. Three men escaped with multiple bullet wounds.

The sixth group was executed on the southwest corner of Kocho.

Diler Havind (interpreter), Amy L Beam, Nayyef Jaso

During the executions, the men in the cars saw others who were dead or being shot and they jumped from the cars and the back of the pickup trucks in an attempt to escape. On the northwest perimeter of the town, twelve men got shot and killed while running away.

Later, Daesh brought other kidnapped Yezidis to live in Kocho. They are witnesses to the locations of the four execution sites and the twelve bodies of men who jumped from the trucks.

Kocho had a population of 453 males aged 15 years and older. Of these, 19 men and teenagers escaped the execution lines with bullet wounds. These men have identified 84 people who were killed next to them.

There are another 350 men who are considered missing because no witness has identified them as killed. This includes my brother, Ahmed Jaso Qassim, leader of our clan. No one has heard from any of these 350 men since the attack of August 15, 2014. We will not have closure until we can enter Kocho, uncover the mass graves, and perform DNA testing.

Four months after the attack, in December 2014, I visited the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It’s a town, not a building. It is rumored they have 5,000 American soldiers there. We argued for two hours. I made him listen. The U.S. government cannot claim that it does not know what happened in Kocho.

I am sure if I live long enough, I will see the videos, taken from the planes, of the men and boys being executed in Kocho. If we do not have weapons, our children will fight with pens.

No one has seen me shed a tear, because my life’s mission now is to tell the world the truth about Kocho. The U.S. Embassy offered me a visa, but I turned it down. I will stay right here in Iraq.

Nayef Jaso Qassim
manager of Kocho
October 26, 2015
Duhok, Kurdistan, Iraq
interviewed by Amy L Beam
copyright 2017 by Amy L Beam; chapter from forthcoming book “The Last Yezidi Genocide”

DONATE to help Yezidi survivors get their Iraqi IDs and passports atamybeam.info/donate_yezidis.htm

 

Tunisia, France, Kuwait and Kobane.

I’m terribly saddened this last week at the news of terrorist attacks in three separate countries all of them engineered by ISIS.There was an attempt at a chemical plant in France with the brutal beheading of the manager, the shooting of holiday makers on a beach in Tunisia that has resulted in over 30 deaths, and a suicide bombing of a Shia mosque in Kuwait with a loss of over 27 lives. 

The media has been filled with terrible pictures of pain and suffering and the stunned incomprehension of normal people who were doing nothing but go about their normal business when their world imploded. But while these images, of Tunisia in particular, have flooded the news reports, there have been ISIS attacks elsewhere, in which gunmen have shot and killed children, not just adult tourists and where the death toll has been over 150 adults and children. Here you see the same stunned incomprehension, the same dreadful grief on so many faces, but this time it’s Kobane, where there are so many ISIS terrorists that they qualify as an invading army, where the media coverage has been so scarce that it verges on shameful. The people in this town didn’t deserve to die any more than the people in the Mosque worshipping, or the people on the beach holidaying, or the man going to work. None of them deserved to die and I’m saddened that despite David Cameron’s rhetoric about stopping extremism, he still won’t enter dialogue with the Kurds in Rojava to see what Britain can do to help. 

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the people suffering at the hands of ISIS wherever they are. I will keep shouting for you in the hope that my voice will be heard at some point.

Be wise, be brave, be strong.

First hand account of a visit to a Yezidi refugee camp.

This is a guest post by Rachel Emec and is her account of her visit to a refugee camp in eastern Turkey. Her original post can be seen here: 

http://www.turkishliving.com/forums/news-views/79241-my-news-my-refugee-camp-visit.html

Rachel is raising money for this camp here: http://www.gofundme.com/t3pkgs 

My News & My Refugee Camp Visit

I haven’t really posted on the forum much over the past year … but there are a few things that I would like to share with you that may be of interest to some members. I also wanted to update members who were involved with my charity collections sending clothes, toys and teddies to refugees from Syria.

A few years ago I wrote a thread about my travels to Diyarbakir in The South East Of Turkey which I had a great response from.
http://www.turkishliving.com/forums/…st-turkey.html
I’d like to tell you about my most recent trip and the events leading up to it. (sorry if it’s long but I’ll try and be brief).
Many of you may know that for years I have been involved in Kurdish issues, I’ve signed hundreds of human rights petitions, set up charity collections, helped Kurdish children get an education, I’ve protested about inequality and inhumanity. I’ve been touched by many things for many years but never have I been touched by anything more than this.
In early March this year I read about the death of a young man, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield. A 25 year old former Royal Marine he left the UK to travel to Syria to fight alongside Kurdish forces. On the 2nd March 2015 he was sadly killed. What touched me so much was the fact that Kosta wasn’t Kurdish…in fact he had no links to the Kurdish cause or community. He wasn’t a mercenary, he’d had a promising career in The Marines. He took the medical training he had learnt and travelled to Syria not for money or to be a hero, he simply wanted to help.
I attended Kosta’s funeral here in Nottingham on 26th March. Like many of the hundreds of people there I had never met him…but on that day, in that church I looked at his coffin and his family and I decided that what I’ve done in my life for others just wasn’t enough!
On 3rd April this year….still reeling with the emotion of the previous week I travelled to Turkey with my husband and 2 sons. It was a trip for Kawa and Lesker to see Granny and granddad and for me to catch up with some things and with some friends. It wasn’t long before I was told in some detail about the Ezidi refugee camp on the outskirts of Diyarbakir. In desperate need of help I was asked if I’d visit. Then a former member of TLF messaged me suggesting a visit so I arranged to go and have a look around. So I did….
The camp holds 6000 Ezidi refugees, 3500 of those are children. Babies are being born and the camp has only 2 cots. The Turkish Government does not and has not donated one kurus YES not ONE PENNY to the camp’s running costs. Nor does the UN, nor any other charity or organisation. Turkey blocks any group from working in there. The camp has been set up and is run entirely by public donations and goodwill.
On entering the camp I was met by a middle aged man who had quite severe learning difficulties, he had escaped the Brutal massacre of Ezidi men…how I was soon to find out.
I had free access to the camp, my husband’s friend volunteers as a doctor and my sister in law has a friend who helped process the refugees. When they first came she worked for 40 days and nights with minimal sleep to help settle them. The people working there are living angels x
There are sooo many children, it hits you. There are elderly, not many men and fewer young women. I hope I can post photos at the end of the post but there is a beautiful young lady of about 18, I really connected with her. I thought that the young girl that she had was her daughter. Sadly not, mum had been murdered and this was the aunt. Surrounded by children many without parents she cared for so many.
The stories that they tell of what was behind them are horrific…utterly horrific and I feel unable to share most with you.
I was approached by an Ezidi elder who invited me to his home. Home for everyone is a tent, a foam mattress and a blanket. Tents have a small area for preparing food and some have a heater. Everything is communal there, showers, washing facilities, clothes stores. It costs 8000 lira a day to run the camp…not much per head.
Before I sat he held my hand and thanked me for visiting. He spoke English, Kurdish and Turkish among other languages. He told me very firmly that the only reason that the majority of those in the camp were alive was because of The PKK. It was a message that EVERY ONE of those refugees that came from Shingal in Iraq told me. The PKK fought ISIS to the death, they carried the disabled, the old and the children to safety….and that is the reason Turkey ignores this camp. The Turkish government will only allow aid to get to it if Ezidi refugees publicly deny The PKK’s help.
Turkey have also said that they want the small school closed inside the camp unless it teaches in Turkish (all the children speak Kurdish). Turkey in fact wants to ban any Kurdish being spoken at all in the camp (this even applies to the volunteer counsellors that help the rape victims!)
The next group of people I spoke to were refugees from Mount Sinja. They spoke of how they were saved by The YPG and (deep breath!) a group of foreign fighters fighting alongside them. I didn’t really speak until they told me that some spoke English.
I’d read that Kosta posted on his Facebook page that he had helped lift the siege of Sinja mountain… here I was sitting with women and children that he had directly help save. A week before I was weeping at his funeral, now I was weeping at what he’d done. I showed these few refugees the photos I had of his funeral….and we all wept together.
I spent quite a bit of time at the camp (and I think you’ve probably had enough of me already) but walking out I decided that if I am to do anything in my life it’s to help these people.
We have to stand up to ISIS, in doing so we are standing up for humanity. These people were good people, they just happened to be Ezidi and therefore a target for ISIS. The camp now holds families from Kobane, unable to go home due to the ongoing fighting and threat of ISIS.
Kosta’s mum has set up a petition that needs more people to sign
https://www.change.org/p/number-10-downing-street-barack-obama-jean-claude-juncker-stop-isis-act-decisively
There is also a group: 
Kosta’s Olive Tree
Thanks for reading so far. I also just wanted to thank everyone who donated to my clothing and teddy collections over the years. I’ve been in contact with some people who benefited from them when they needed help. Syria is in turmoil and at that time the West didn’t know just how much. We got clothing to people before aid agencies did…so Thankyou x

The petition- please sign

Here is the link to the petition that I promised you. Can we make it reach 100.000? If we do, the British Government will have to discuss it in parliament. Please sign and share.

Stop ISIS, act decisively

Kurdish Newroz celebrations – talk

I wrote and gave this talk at the Kurdish Newroz (New Year) celebration at Finsbury Park in London, shortly after Kosta was killed.

Thank you for inviting us here to share your new year’s celebrations. I know that Kosta was looking forward to participating in them with his new friends in Rojava. He spoke to me about Newroz with excitement and he would have loved to have been here.
 
Newroz at Finsbury Park, London, 2015
Newroz is a new celebration for me. I had heard of it but I didn’t really know much about it.  It seems to me that Newroz reminds us that the Kurdish people are one people no matter where they live. It reminds us that individually they are strong but together they could be unbeatable. It reminds us that they have a distinct, unique and ancient culture that should be valued and preserved.
Celebrations like this are bitter sweet. Among the joy of such a time we must all remember loved ones who are no longer with us and the struggle in which they were lost. Whether our loved ones were lost at Halabja or Heseke, Kobane, Til Hamis or Tikrit, whether they were lost years ago or yesterday their spirit lives on in our fight against injustice and unfairness.
At times like this it can be easy to become distracted by feelings of hatred and rage but remember that hatred is the dark, destructive emotion that fuels the so called IS. When the year is renewed and the coming months are, as yet, unwritten pages, we need to look forward and not back. We need to channel this rage at the injustice and the atrocities that are still being committed against Kurdish people, and we need to use it to fuel a strong and unshakeable resolve; a bone deep determination to succeed against this organisation no matter what.
Recently people have asked me, ‘What is the difference between Kosta, who went to join the YPG and fight in Syria, and the men who go out to join IS?’ You and I know what the difference is. Your friends and relatives live the reality every day. So called IS is aggressive, YPG like other Kurds, is defensive; IS is oppressive, YPG and the Kurdish people together, is about people and their right to free choice; IS seeks to suffocate and eradicate anything that doesn’t fit their belief system, YPG seeks to nurture and grow communities.
You and I know that self-styled IS must be defeated. There is no acceptable alternative. We will do what it takes and we will succeed because all the Kurdish people are on the side of humanity, the side that allows choice and fairness; that recognises the equality of women and the right to practise your own religion and culture.
 
The governments of all countries that share Western values need to understand that without the Kurdish people there would be no stopping this caliphate cult called IS. If Rojava wasn’t putting up such a brave and successful resistance, a resistance Kosta was part of, and if the resistance wasn’t also being realised in places like Tikrit in the Kurdish region in Iraq, then this caliphate cult would spread unhindered. This inhuman cult will not be happy with a little bit of Syria or a little bit of Iraq. It is a greedy monster that will continue eating peoples up until its belly is full to bursting with the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe, and then it will look even further afield.
 
The whole world is at risk from the dark ideology of caliphate cult IS and it is the Kurdish fighters at the front line every day who are keeping it at bay. Just as Newroz brings light to darkness and spring to winter so the Kurdish people create hope and courage against the darkness of Daesh and show how tyranny can be defeated.
I beg the governments of Europe, USA, Australia and all other countries that share similar beliefs about equality and freedom to make sure that all Kurdish people participating in the resistance are properly equipped and supplied to continue the fight; I beg them to make sure that all Kurdish people have access to medical supplies and proper aid. I beg these governments to understand exactly who the real terrorists are. I beg them not to get distracted. Please don’t turn your faces away.
Here in the UK what can we do? Well, there are at least seven thousand people here tonight. That’s seven thousand Kurdish voices. If everyone here writes one letter to their MP that will be almost every MP in the country who will be made aware of the issues. If every person here asks to meet with their MP and talk to them to discuss these issues, that would be seven thousand meetings across the country. The MPs may not be able to change anything yet but not one of them would be able to say that they don’t have a clear understanding of the and they would not be able to get away with ignoring it. It doesn’t matter whether you are a citizen of the UK or not. It doesn’t matter if you can speak and write English well or not. Your assembly can give you a letter to copy and you have the right for your voice to be heard.
 
There are approximately fifty thousand Kurdish people in the UK. If just thirty thousand of you write a letter to a Minister- let’s say, for example the Deputy Prime Minister, or the Secretary of State for Defence, that is a lot of letters for his staff to open and they have to answer every one of them. But imagine- if each of those thirty thousand Kurdish people gets three non- Kurdish friends to also write that is ninety thousand letters. If everyone sends all these letters in one week-wow! Even if the government doesn’t take any action this time it will start to wake up and it will have to take notice. We can use this power to pester the government and let them know that we will not be silent and we will not go away.
My son has lit a fire in the hearts of the Kurdish people. His death has directly touched hearts across three countries. Every one of you can keep that fire burning and continue to make the difference. Every one of you can light a new, small fire underneath your MP and the government and with those fires you can light the way together. Every one of you can reach out and tell your story. Every one of you can spread the message and make sure no-one forgets about the Kurdish people.
Thank you.
Newroz pirosbe. 

Talk given at Kurdish reception after Erik Konstandinos Scurfield’s death

I wrote and gave this talk at a reception in Parliament shortly after Kosta’s death.

I would like to start by taking this opportunity to thank the Kurdish people from the Rojava region for looking after my son and honouring him and for their support in his repatriation and the financial assistance they’re giving us for this. I’d also like to thank the people from the Kurdish region of Iraq and particularly the Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani for their support of my husband during this difficult time and for pulling out all the stops to expedite the paperwork so that we can bring Kosta home. It is heart-warming to see Kurdish people coming together over a common goal and it bodes well for the future. I’d also like to thank the Foreign and Commonwealth office and the police for their advice, support and encouragement and my MP Dan Jarvis and his office for their unstinting support, advice and empathy which helped keep us strong; my family, friends, acquaintances and even total strangers for their hugs and exceptional support which have helped ease our grief. We’d also like to thank the media in the UK and Greece for the respect and dignity they have shown in their discussion of Kosta.
Kosta was not a mercenary. He wasn’t an out of work soldier looking for an adventure or something to do to pass the time. After fulfilling his obligation to Greece by doing his national service there, he joined the Royal Marines and only left his well-paid job there in order to go to Syria to fight against so called IS. He wasn’t paid a wage as a reward for going out to oppose IS; he gave up a wage to do it.
As a Royal Marine I was told Kosta was exemplary. While serving in the Marines and on exercise in Nevada, I am told he saved the life of a colleague by administering timely first aid. He was also one of the first on the scene when Luke Island lost his life in the Cairngorms and he insisted on keeping a long vigil at Luke’s side until the necessary authorities arrived. While in Rojava he worked alongside thousands of Kurds to create a corridor so that the trapped Yezidi people whose plight touched the heart of the British nation could leave mount Sinjar and escape to relative safety in Rojava. While participating in this he administered first aid to an injured colleague and carried him down the mountain to safety, saving his life. When Ashley Johnston fell Kosta went to retrieve his body. We are told he was a positive motivating force and always first to volunteer. Kosta would never ask someone to do something that he himself wasn’t prepared to do first.
Ashley Johnston and Kosta. Both served in the same YPG unit and both died within a week of each other.
Kosta was determined to make a difference and although this is not a way that many of us would have had him choose, it was the way he considered the best for him and I am proud of him for finding the courage to do this. He went out to oppose so called IS of course but really he went out to support the fundamental rights of every human being to live in their own country, with a government they have chosen rather than one imposed on them by religious ideology, the right to worship the God of their choice, in the way they choose, to celebrate their own culture and language, to read and speak freely, to make music and enjoy art or play football without fear of brutal execution. In other words he was a humanitarian who, in his own words, wanted to help.
We have found the support of so many people stunning and inspiring. We welcome it but we must remember that he is not the only person to have died at the hands of so called IS. He is not the only hero. I am not the only mother who is grieving. We mustn’t forget Ashley Johnston, Ivanna Hoffmann, James Foley, Ali al Sayyed, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Abbas Medlej, Hervé Gourdel killed by an affiliated group in Algeria, Alan Henning, cameraman Raad al-Azzawi, Peter Edward Kassig, Haruna Yukawa, Kenji Goto Jogo, Hujam Surchi of the Peshmerga, Moaz al-Kassasbeh of Jordan, 21 Coptic Christians, 500 Kurdish men and women combatants, the victims of Charlie Hebdo, the Iraqi soldiers executed and dropped into mass graves, the group of 13 year olds executed for playing football, and the thousands of civilian women and children sold into slavery or brutally murdered for being the wrong religion or race. There are many more who we don’t know about and can’t name.
Does any human being really believe this self-titled IS is Islamic? Does any rational person really believe it is a state? It has repeatedly proved through its actions that it is a gang of genocidal, mass murdering, and sex trafficking terrorists and we should give them a name that reflects this. To call them anything else lends them credence.
Kosta may not have been supporting British political interests with his actions but he was certainly supporting British values. Values that are pretty standard across the Western world and that we take for granted. Values that make me grateful every day that I live in Europe. He was born on the day of the Deal bombings and in the year that the Berlin wall fell. He saw the Balkan wars, the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war. He was brought up in a multi-cultural, multi lingual family. He was taught to value Democracy, religious freedom and the rights of women. He watched while the Western world joined wars to promote these values and then he watched while genocide and brutal executions took place, while women were sold into slavery, and those same governments did nothing. Being brought up to think critically and having acquired a set of specific and valuable skills he decided that it was cowardly to stand by on the sidelines so he went to do what he could and what he believed was right. In our family we have always believed that if something needs to be done you step up and get it done, rather than wait for someone else to do it and he did exactly that, in the end giving his life for these values.
 
He was one small drop in a massive ocean but he has caused big ripples and now I ask that the governments and media across the world turn their attention to so called IS. Shine the spotlight on them so brightly that there is no shadow deep enough for them to hide. Name and shame every government and politician that supports this organisation either covertly or overtly and ensure they are sanctioned, name and shame every organisation that sells them weapons, buys their oil or does any business with them at all and ensure strong penalties. Self-titled IS needs two things in order to continue their foul work. They need people and they need money. Let’s think creatively about how we can cut off their supplies of both even if it means rethinking treaties.
 
Not everyone can be a Kosta but there are elections coming up. If you are feeling politically apathetic but have strong feelings about self-titled IS, then here is a cause and a clear reason to get involved. Ask your MP what their view is on so called IS. Ask what they are going to do about it. Ask what will be done to immediately secure a humanitarian corridor into Rojava so that the refugees who Kosta helped can now have the aid they need. Ask what our government is going to do to support the work of Mogens Lykketoft, the Danish MP who says that strong action is needed to ensure thousands of women who have been taken captive and are being sold to rich businessmen are returned to their former lives. Ask your MPs what they are going to do to ensure that pressure is put on countries where these women are being trafficked to ensure that it ceases and they are returned. Ask why we are not supporting the Kurds at the frontline in Syria by, at the very least, equipping them with defensive equipment such as bullet proof vests and night vision goggles. These Rojavan Kurds are the 300 Spartans fighting the massive Persian army; they are inadequately equipped but armed with spirit, conviction and the desire to protect home and hearth, they have shown that the so called IS is not invincible and they have halted its advance. We owe them as much help as we can. Let’s stop standing by and let’s instead think creatively about grinding down and putting out the biggest threat to the world since the Nazis. 

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