Thursday, August 28, 2014

Inconsistent narratives of Yazidis and Kurds

This week, the New York Times described the plight of "400,000 Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with roots in Muslim and Zoroastrian traditions [and] have been forced to flee their enclaves" in Iraqi Kurdistan by ISIS, the violent jihadis also styled the "Islamic State." The break with their longtime Muslim neighbors was violent and traumatic.

“Our Arab neighbors turned on all of us,” said Mr. Habash, who recounted his story from a makeshift refugee camp on the banks of a fetid stream near the city of Zakho, in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We feel betrayed. They were our friends.”

... The extent of the collusion is hard to map. Many Yazidi families interviewed did not have firsthand information of Arab neighbors aiding ISIS. And in some cases, Arabs risked their lives to save persecuted friends.

But amid the chaos, an emotional truth has emerged: ISIS has destroyed the peaceful coexistence that many northern towns once cherished.

Yvo Fitzherbert describes a different Yazidi experience, by way of interviews conducted in Turkey where he lives. Xal İsmail Ferhad, one of the refugees, concurs in horror at betrayal by his long time neighbors.

Throughout our conversation this gentle, openhearted man in his sixties kept on repeating, “I want the world to know what the Arabs did to us.”

But the same man gushes about the generosity of other Kurds (mostly Muslims) who saved many lives. Though the peshmerga -- the troops of the Iraqi Kurdish semi-autonomous government -- were brushed aside by ISIS, Kurdish guerrillas of the YPG (People Defense Unit) and YPJ (Women’s Defense Unit) won an escape corridor for some 100,000 Yezidis marooned on barren Senjar Mountain.

“If the YPG hadn’t come to the mountains, our people wouldn’t have survived. They are our saviours”, Ferhad passionately explained. It was a point Ferhad kept on emphasising, how YPG have won the heart and trust of all Yezîdîs. When asked if he trusted the YPG more than any other forces, specifically the peshmerga, he said, “Of course. We will give all our boys to them. I will go myself... We are the same mentality as the YPG and PKK.”

Fitzherbert describes these forces as thriving in Rojava (literally, ‘Western Kurdistan’) where three cantons have adopted a "grassroots democratic model" as a consequence of a libertarian socialist evolution led by the imprisoned Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Representatives are made up of Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, with at least one third of all representatives, female. ...

...From his prison, Öcalan wrote, “the nationalism we should have opposed infested all of us. Even though we opposed it in principle and rhetoric, we nonetheless accepted it as inevitable.”

... Democratic Confederalism, which Öcalan simplifies as essentially “democracy without a state” has already begun to be put into practise in Rojava. It seems that Senjar has now become part of this revolution, and as far as Ferhad is concerned, he hopes it is something which the Yazidis of Senjar will embrace. Whether the US-backed Kurdish Democratic Party like it or not, the guerrillas are there to stay. And they are fighting for a new kind of freedom.

Perhaps from tragedy something wonderful springs. All reads quite rosy, doesn't it?

Reading these two contrasting articles, what I felt was humility. I have almost no idea what is going on in that remote part of the world. I know the fog of war obscures it. I know human beings are suffering. And I also know that, living in a state and a civilization that has played a role in turning these peoples' lives upside down, I should at least try to understand and try to prevent our rulers from making things worse!

I have adopted the New York Times transliteration of the label "Yazidi" and the place "Senjar" to make this post read slightly more coherently. These authors use different spellings.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

The map is very helpful.I also feel bewildered and underinformed about what is going on in Northern Iraq. Probably should start reading more foreign press.

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