Friday, February 28, 2014

Kurdish Asylum Seeker’s Death Exposes Conditions at Australian Refugee Camp

Demonstrators in Australia shout slogans against policy of resettling asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, July 2013. Photo: AFP
Demonstrators in Australia shout slogans against policy of resettling asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, July 2013. Photo: AFP
TORONTO, Canada – The death of a 23-year-old Iranian-Kurd during a riot at an Australian detention center for asylum seekers has exposed conditions at the Manus Island facility, which a former interpreter has described as worse than a war zone.
Reza Barati, who died of multiple head injuries, was sent to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) camp in July, after arriving in Australia as an asylum seeker. 
He was killed earlier this month, and many other detainees were injured, after violence broke out between guards at the detention center and some of the 1,300 asylum seekers that Australian authorities have banished there as their papers are processed.
The incident, and reports of conditions at the center, have caused deep concern among humanitarian workers in Australia and worldwide.
Tara Fatehi, the founder and director of the Australian Kurdish Youth Society told Rudaw: “We are locking up innocent civilians and breaking international law, ironically making us criminals, not them. Yet the media and politicians are making this a political football to win votes.”
Fatehi, who is a PhD student studying medicine and a volunteer working with refugees and Kurdish children, was the speaker at a candlelight vigil in Adelaide. “This is an absolute tragedy for Australia. This country is built on immigrants. Our ancestors arrived by boat in the country,” she said.
Azita Bokan, an interpreter working on Manus Island during the violent clashes who lost her job after protesting at the guards’ treatment of detainees, has decided to speak up. In an interview with ABC Sydney, Bokan described the situation of asylum seekers on Manus as “horrendous.” 
“Even though I have been to Nauru before and I warmed up a little bit to the condition of the bad camps, I can say that Manus is just a different scale. It is not only the heat, the diseases, the conditions, it's the morale: Mentally, everyone is pretty much not really able to participate and integrate in any society. They are mentally gone. There has been a lack of everything…. Everyone is having massive pain.”
Yet, no detainee complains, Bokan said. She explained that was because they were warned they had to be on their best behaviors to be granted asylum. 
“You know, for someone from outside, when I've gone in I said 'I would prefer to be dead today in a camp than live like this for a day.' But surprise, surprise, everyone was so, so quiet. For days I saw these people living in the best of times, they act (so quietly). Except at nighttime they sing as a bit of a protest, but it's a calm protest. Immigration would not retaliate. But during the day they are just quietly sitting somewhere like they have been injected with some drug - they do nothing.”
Bokan reported that just a few days prior to the riot, the detainees were told they would never be able to set foot in Australia or anywhere else. Those people had nothing but hope, and when that was taken away from them, they were left with nothing, she explained. 
“Immigration came up with the idea to say that we are announcing again that you will not see the land of Australia ever, full stop! You are also not going to have a chance on a third country because there's no third country that has ever stepped forward. Also, the PNG people and the country and condition of economical situation in PNG will never be able to assist you.”
The former interpreter said she had lived through the Iran-Iraq war and the Iranian revolution, but what she saw in Manus Island did not compare to what she had previously seen.   
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report earlier this month, echoing “significant inadequacies in the transfer, treatment and processing of asylum-seekers transferred from Australia to the Assessment Centre at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.”
It reveals that 34 children and their families are held captive at the Manus Island center. 
“UNHCR’s report found that the current policy and practice of detaining all asylum-seekers on a mandatory and indefinite basis, without an individual assessment or possibility for review, amounts to arbitrary detention, which is inconsistent with the obligations of both Australia and PNG under international human rights law.”
Barati’s family want answers from the Australian government. “First, we want his body to be returned to Iran and then we want answers, what happened to him? What did they do to him?” Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted a family member as saying from Iran.
Despite the pain and hardship, Barati had told his family that he prefers to stay in an Australian prison for another decade than to return to Iran. He was raised in Lumar, one of many impoverished Kurdish cities in western Iran, in close proximity to the Iraqi border. 
Australians are deeply concerned about the event and large candlelight vigils have been held.
 Victoria Roll, a blog writer for the Australian Independent Media Network, had this to say in an open letter to Australian immigration minister Scott Morrison: “No person with a shred of humanity, the sort of humanity needed to qualify as a human, could ever condone what you are doing to the world’s desperate asylum seekers who come to Australia begging for help.”
Barati’s death has once again revealed the sufferings of asylum seekers worldwide, among them Kurds. Activists decry that governments willingly accept investment-immigrants from corrupt governments like Iran, but refuse to bother much with the plight of poor asylum seekers like Reza Barati, who have nowhere to go and no place to turn.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

‘I May Give up on Music,’ Regrets Talented Kurdish Singer Navid Zardi

Navid Zardi lives in Dusseldorf, Germany. Photo: N. Zardi/Facebook
Navid Zardi lives in Dusseldorf, Germany. Photo: N. Zardi/Facebook

TORONTO, Canada – He is loved by tens of thousands of fans, but emerging Kurdish singer and songwriter Navid Zardi fears he may soon have to give up on his love for music.

Who knows, when Zardi performs with the highly established and popular Kurdish singer Nazer Razazi at a Newroz concert in Stockholm on March 22, it could be the last time he goes on stage.

Zardi, who resides in the German city of Dusseldorf and sings mostly in Kurdish, says that he needs to be able to pay his rent, and music does not earn him an adequate living. His savings are ending and he has to decide between his devotion to music and the harsh realities of life.

The singer says he is touched that he has fans everywhere. “Some of my fans email me from small villages I had never heard of before,” he says. He is amazed and touched by the supportive emails he receives from the Kurds he doesn’t know.

But, that is not enough to keep him going, he says.

Zardi sings in a variety of styles such as pop, hip-hop and rap and his songs have social, political, romantic and even sometimes highly personal themes, expressing his strong emotions,  objections, insights into life and sympathies for those in distress.

“My emotions are the purest when I sing in Kurdish,” Zardi says..

He was one of the first Kurdish singers who immediately released a protest music video when Farzad Kamangar, the Kurdish teacher, poet and human rights activist was executed by the Iranian government in May 2010, charged with “enmity with God.”

The music video project was a collaboration with the well-known avant-garde Iranian artist, Shahin Najafi. 

Kurdish university student Sane Jaleh’s death in 2011, during an anti-government protest in Tehran, also triggered Zardi’s creative and artist talents, resulting in a music video in which Zardi empathizes deeply with Jaleh’s mother. 

For the most part, Zardi writes his own songs. Although inclined towards originality, he says that at times he finds lyrics that he knows are beyond his own creativity. That’s when he sings someone else’s poems. 

Even though Zardi usually responds to his environment in a timely manner, such as the situation of the Kurds in Syria, he is not an artist who would force or limit himself to occasional singing. 

When it comes to song writing, Zardi does not follow an agenda. “I allow the moment and my strong emotions shape and write my lyrics.” 

The son of a political activist, Zardi left his hometown of Mahabad for Germany in 2010. That is when he discovered that: “My Kurdish roots are more important to me in exile than they were at home.”
Zardi has been writing songs and singing for many years, yet he finds himself writing about Kurds much more now than when he was home.

This does not mean that the artist does not like Europe. He enjoys his life in Germany because this self-imposed exile, despite the bitterness, means less anguish for him. “I am not constantly harassed by the political and cultural oppression I suffered from in Iran,” he says.

“I don’t really want to give up on music,” Zardi explains at last. “But if I have to, I want my fans to know why I had to make that decision.” 

Zardi’s music is available on

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sozan Jamil: An Authentic Voice of the Middle East

“They admire the fact that Arabic is my second language.” Photo: Author’s Facebook

TORONTO, Canada – Canada-based author, Sozan Jamil, is an award-winning storyteller who is receiving her latest prize this week from the Iraqi government in Baghdad. The life of this Kurdish woman, whose command of Arabic is so complete that she writes better than many Arab authors, is a story itself.
As a child, because of her blond hair and blue eyes, the girl immediately stood out as “The Kurd” among the other Arab kids.  Despite the brutal treatment of the Kurds in Iraq, people were kind to her. Except for a few extreme cases, she did not face discrimination.
When she was in high school, without her knowledge her Arabic teacher entered one of her stories in a writing competition.  
One day, she heard her name called as the second-prize winner in a short story competition she did not even know she had entered.
She counts that moment as one of the climactic events of her life. From that year on, she regularly wrote in to the competition, collecting more prizes with her stories and poems.
With her rich imagination, her profound love of literature, her persistence and her mastery over the Arabic language, Jamil has created many works that have been highly praised in the Arab world.
“They admire the fact that Arabic is my second language yet I write in it better than many Arabs,” she says. 
On Friday, Jamil receives third prize at the “Nazik Almalaika Short Story” competition, awarded in Baghdad by the Ministry of Education. She is also part of the literary festival being held at the same time.
Kurds praise Jamil’s work but also want her to write in Kurdish. Although born in Zahkho in 1968, Jamil moved out of Kurdistan when she was only two years old. Her father, one of her major supporters, had to leave his homeland to find employment. Jamil was raised in Baghdad and Mosul.
“I am teaching myself Kurdish but the mastery in Arabic was earned through decades, and I don’t know when I will be able to compose in the Kurdish language the way I manipulate Arabic,” she confesses.
When Jamil’s father saw her writing, she was only nine. His first reaction was disbelief. He later became the one who constantly encouraged her to “read more and write more.”
From 1991 to 1998, after earning a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Mosul University, Jamil taught physics, chemistry and math in Zakho. 
Soon after Jamil, now a mother of three, landed in Canada as an immigrant and has been working as a freelance interpreter and translator.
She recently released her first book in English. In the Shade is a poetry collection, published by the self-publishing US company Xlibris and launched in Hamilton, Ontario. 
The public library there adopted the book, organized a launch, and many Kurds and other Canadians attended the event.
Jamil has published two collections of poetry in Arabic: Swirls of the Rainy Honey in 2011, and Two Hymns of One Exile the year after.  Groans is the title of a Kurdish novel Jamil translated into Arabic for the National Translation Center in Cairo and published that same year.
Unfair treatment of women and children is the running theme of her writing, a subject that tends to appear in most of her poems and stories. She is critical of how Kurds perceive women and children, even after living in Western countries for years.
 She believes that Kurdish communities should be aware of the problems and deal with them, rather than hiding them. They react to her writing first usually by denial and anger, but acceptance and reflection later. Her portrayal of war, destruction and injustice holds a mirror to a society that is not always ready to accept the truth.
The Devil’s Wedding, a short story she wrote about children of war, won the third prize in a literary festival in Baghdad in 2010. In 2011, Egypt chose Jamil as the best Iraqi poet and short story writer of the year.
Residing in Canada did not limit Jamil’s writing. In 2010, she founded the “Dijlah Writers Association” and organized an Arabic literature festival in October of the same year. She is also a member of the “Hate Crimes Prevention Program and Victim Advocacy Network” in Hamilton. 
Her latest challenge is to try and express herself as eloquently in English as well, to be a voice of the Middle East.
“I feel Westerners don’t know Middle Easterners beyond stereotypes,” Jamil Says. “The Middle East needs more authentic voices that can tell the world how we feel, how we live.”  

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Iranian President Apologizes for Food Baskets Fiasco

People waiting for goods basket
Image by
TORONTO, Canada – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued an apology after a  program to hand out food parcels to the country’s poorest provoked an uproar, following long queues in freezing cold, scuffles and allegations that the rations were of poor quality.
“People receiving the basket of goods experienced inconvenience during these snowy days; I apologize to our people for any mismanagement,” Rouhani said on Twitter.
“I have ordered measures to be taken to improve the distribution of the baskets of goods to people,” he tweeted.
Rouhani, who promised to control Iran’s runaway inflation and help the millions of poor who are crushed by rising prices during campaigning before his June election, put his plan into action by beginning the food handouts last week.
Under the program, some seven million poor families are eligible every month to receive 10 kilograms of rice, two frozen chickens, two dozen eggs, two bottles of vegetable oil and 500 grams of cheese.
But large queues and chaotic scenes in freezing weather turned Rouhani’s povery-alleviation drive into a fiasco.
Hard-line newspapers opposed to the moderate Rouhani plastered images of endless queues in freezing weather. Pictures of people fighting and grabbing the baskets were shared on social media.
 Iranians posted comments about the shame the program had brought on Iran, after international news organizations reported the chaos. 
Iranians also expressed confusion over the qualification criteria for the handouts, with the most poverty-ridden parts of Iran reportedly disqualified from the program.
Some Iranians commented that the rations contained in the baskets were of such poor quality that they were only fit to be thrown away.
Meanwhile, the hard-line prosecutor general, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, said on Monday: “What happened during the distribution of the basket of goods is below people’s dignity. The Government should find a better solution.”
On social media, many Iranians expressed “disappointment” at the president’s program, and at the unbridled inflation, officially at almost 40 percent but believed to be much higher.
“A loaf of bread that was 500 tomans suddenly became 1,500 tomans,” reported Ali, from Mazandaran.
“Taxis only pick up people who bid on the price. The low-income group, which is the majority, wait in the freezing condition without any  means of transportation,” said Roya. 
Werya from Sanandaj said: “Governments are rarely better than their people. Iranians have learned to take advantage of the vulnerable and are ready to fight each other over food and rip off one another.”
Western sanctions against Iran, related to its nuclear program and only recently eased, have pushed many Iranian families below the poverty line.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

US Left Holding Starting Gun, As French Firms Stampede for Iran

US Secretary of State John Kerry told the French their over-enthusiasm was “not helpful” and only gave the wrong impression. Photo AFP
US Secretary of State John Kerry told the French their over-enthusiasm was “not helpful” and only gave the wrong impression. Photo AFP
TORONTO, Canada – The United States is yelling to France, Turkey and other allies that the race to the Iranian market cannot begin before Tehran complies with all conditions for lifting sanctions. But in an early stampede towards Iran, no one appears to be listening. 
More than 100 French executives from the biggest corporations visited Tehran this Monday, less than a week after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed with his large economic and energy delegation.
 US Secretary of State John Kerry told the French their over-enthusiasm was “not helpful” and only gave the wrong impression.
Wendy Sherman, the US Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said in Washington that: “Secretary Kerry has talked directly to Foreign Minister (Laurent) Fabius about the trade delegation... about how this is not helpful in this regard to ensure that in fact it is not business as usual.”
“Tehran is not open for business because our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted,” she added.
Erdogan visited Tehran late last month to discuss Ankara’s oil and gas needs, and to boost trade.
But before Erdogan left for Tehran, US Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen cautioned him about expanding economic ties before the final stages of the agreement.
Last November, Iran signed an interim agreement with six world powers over its controversial nuclear program, promising not to enrich high grade uranium in return for an easing of some international sanctions.Most of the sanctions are still in place until a long-term agreement is signed, but in the meantime Tehran has $4.2 billion in unfrozen funds it is free to spend.

 Hence the stampede, which the Iranians love as a way of thumbing their fingers at America, or “The Great Satan.” 

Iran’s mines, industry and trade minister, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, was reported as saying he wanted to see Iran-France trade at more than five billion euros a year. His comments came at a conference in Tehran for the visiting French delegation on economic and investment opportunities for French companies in Iran.

 The French delegation read like a “Who’s Who” of some of France’s biggest companies and industrialists, including Total, Safran, Airbus, GDF-Suez, Peugeot, Renault, Alcatel, Alstom, and L’Oréal.

Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Ali Majedi was quoted as saying that major French oil companies such as Total and Technip have voiced their willingness to invest in Iran’s oil industry.He underlined that giant oil companies are waiting for the removal of the sanctions, and that they will return to the Iranian market as soon as the sanctions are removed.

French automakers Peugeot and Renault, meanwhile, had already sent executives to Iran for an automotive conference last year.

Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted officials as saying that the French delegation is the largest European team ever to visit since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

An anonymous source from France’s business organization, Medef, was quoted by the Le Canard Enchainé newspaper as saying that America had its own commercial ambitions in Iran, and that Washington’s real aim was to disadvantage the competition. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Iran Reports on Human Rights Violations in the United States

Activists protest against Guantanamo Bay prison outside of the White House on May 17, 2013. Photo: AFP
Activists protest against Guantanamo Bay prison outside of the White House on May 17, 2013. Photo: AFP
TORONTO, Canada – Tired of being on the receiving end of human rights concerns by Washington, Iran has responded with its own scathing report on rights violations by the United States.
A report by Iran’s Basij militia questions the United States’ role as the self-proclaimed defender of human rights, accusing Washington of a string of abuses.
Death penalties, violation of prisoners’ rights, racial discriminations, breach of privacy rights, lack of free speech, and violation of the rights of indigenous populations are among the ways that Iran believes the United States breaches human rights. 
The 30-page report accuses Washington of using human rights as a tool to wage war on other countries, while violating those same rights at home.
“Although the United States of America claims to be a protector of human rights around the world, and each year assesses the HR situation in each country, it remains to be asked where its own situation in terms of respecting and protecting Human Rights is,” says the report, published in English, Arabic and Farsi.
“As soon as we all hear the phrase ‘human rights,’ the painful memories of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram prisons remind us of the human rights violations committed by the US government,” says the report, referring to US military scandals involving prisoners under its care.
The focus of the report, released in a ceremony at Tehran University, is on rights abuses in 2013.
Last week, the United Nations published a report on human rights violations in the Islamic Republic, which was immediately dismissed by the Iranian justice minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi. 
The Basij report refers to specific cases, including Edward Snowden’s, a former National Security Agency contractor who revealed top secret NSA documents to several media outlets.
“The American Civil Liberties Union documents show that... (US) security agencies widely intercepted American citizens’ phone calls in 2013. Many of these actions were carried out without a court order,” the report notes.
It also objects to a 35-year prison sentence given by a US military court to Bradley Manning, the young American soldier who was arrested in 2010 for revealing classified information to WikiLeaks, the online whistle blower. 
Iran notes that rights watchdog Amnesty International has repeatedly asked for his release.
Privacy violations of Muslims by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and other law agencies is another topic of focus for Iran, which shows strong support for American Muslims whose anger it sees as justified.
“For over a decade, the NYPD's Intelligence Division has targeted Muslims for discriminatory surveillance based on nothing but their faith, spying on them in their places of worship, businesses, and even homes.” the Iranian report says.
“The NYPD's biased spying program constitutes a clear violation of the civil rights of innocent Muslims, who are viewed as suspect and stigmatized by the very authorities charged with protecting them,” it adds.