Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ottawa Kurds remember Halabja

The Ottawa event drew members of the Kurdish community, the Canadian parliament, diplomats and dignitaries.
The Ottawa event drew members of the Kurdish community, the Canadian parliament, diplomats and dignitaries.
OTTAWA, Canada – A Halabja Memorial Event organized in Ottawa by the Kurdish Youth Association of Canada (KYAC) drew members of the Kurdish community, the Canadian parliament, diplomats and dignitaries.
Dr. Saren Azer, the keynote speaker at Monday’s event, spoke to the audience about his humanitarian involvement with crises in Kurdistan, including Saddam Hussein’s March 16, 1988 poison gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja that killed an estimated 5,000 innocent Kurds.
“The Kurdish issue is a humanitarian disaster with political implications, not a political problem with humanitarian implications,” said Azer. He showed pictures and told stories that illustrated some of the hardships that refugees endure: the psychological trauma, widespread diseases, hunger, cold and the violence suffered by women.
More recently. Azer has been involved in relief work in Kobane, the Syrian-Kurdish city where Kurdish forces evicted Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in January.
Azer ended his speech by sharing heartwarming stories about hungry children who upon receiving a piece of bread from the humanitarian staff, rather than swallowing everything at once, would run to share with siblings.
“It is a kind of generosity that I hope people in privileged groups and countries would express,” said Azer. “Staying silent in the face of the tragedies unfolding in Kurdistan is not an honorable act. The Canadian government has honored us by sending troops there.”

He expressed hope for further Canadian assistance to the Kurdish people.
Chawan Said, a medical student based in Ottawa, opened the event, welcoming guests and introducing Jinahr Jahangir, the president of KYAC.
Sharing her family experience, Jahangir told the audience about the time when she was only 10 days old. Her family had to escape Saddam’s brutality without any food or shelter, and with an infant to care for.
Yusuf Celik the vice president of KYAC reported his experience of having visited Kurdistan and its museums, sharing some photos with the audience, including the rope that was later used to execute Ali Hassan al-Majid. Known as “Chemical Ali,” and a cousin of Saddam Hussein, he was the Iraqi official responsible for spraying Halabja with lethal mustard gas and nerve agent.
Rebar Jaff, a staff of the Swedish Humanitarian Aid Organization, Qandil, discussed the activities of this non-profit, non-partisan NGO that was founded in 1991 in Stockholm. 
Qandil has been building shelters, camps, community centers, hospitals, schools and other amenities for the refugees in Kurdistan. It has also provided hygiene kits, health equipment and clean water.
Royal Galipeau, a Conservative Canadian Member of Parliament, voiced his fascination with all the humanitarian work done in Kurdistan. Quoting Azer, he said he agreed that usually only a small group of dedicated people can and will change history.  
Asso Noosa, the last speaker at the event offered a glimpse into the atrocities suffered by Kurds, not only in Iraq. In Iran they suffer endless executions, in Turkey they suffered the most extreme forms of violence such as the burning of many villages and in Syria over 300,000 Kurds were denied citizenship and identification cards. 
Rojen Xan, another young Kurd, shared her poem about the search for freedom and lost friends she has not met again.
Playing the saz and singing a song about Halabja, Shehram Shikak  remembered the past and present victims of crimes against humanity.

The article was originally published at

World Toronto Kurds remember Halabja and other victims of Kurdish mass murders

The event featured activists, scholars and artists. Photo: Kurdish House
The event featured activists, scholars and artists. Photo: Kurdish House
TORONTO, Canada – Kurds in Toronto remembered victims of the 1988 Halabja massacre with a gathering that honored all Kurdish victims of mass killings.
Activists, scholars and international artists gathered at the city’s Civic Center on Sunday to raise awareness about the mass murder of Kurds, from Halabja to Shingal. 
“As heartbreaking as the Halabja event was, it was neither the beginning nor the end of the Kurdish genocide,” said the head of the Kurdish League Against Genocide, one of the speakers at the event. “Yezidis recently faced massacres for the 72nd time,” he said.
Illana Shneider, the executive director of the Canada-Israel Friendship Association, emphasized the historic ties between Kurds and Jews, announcing that “Israel is in full support of an independent Kurdistan, a nation of warriors and moderate views.” 
She said the geopolitical situation in the Middle East remains complex but that Jews and Kurds have suffered greatly, often at the hands of mutual oppressors. Shneider called for the “solidarity of all oppressed groups.” 
A documentary screened at the event offered a brief glimpse into the human catastrophe that occurred on March 16, 1988 in Halabja, when Saddam Hussein’s forces bombed the town with poison gas in the closing weeks of the 1980-88 war with Iran, killing some 5,000 Iraqi Kurds, nearly all civilians. 
The film highlighted the bitter fact that, despite the tremendous suffering of the Kurds, many countries in the world still refuse to use the word “genocide” in reference to “Anfal,” Saddam’s 1986-88 murderous campaigns that were directed mainly at the Kurds.
Sartip Kakaei, chairman of the Kurdish House that organized the event, honored Canadians helping the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the war against Islamic State (ISIS). He offered condolences to the family of Andrew Doiron, a Canadian special forces killed this month on duty with Peshmerga forces, and wished fast recovery for other wounded Canadian soldiers.
Kakaei also delivered a message to the Canadian government through MPs and Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPPs) who attended the event.  
“I call upon you to realize crimes against humanity so no other nation would be subject to what Kurds suffered from,” his message said. “We call upon the Canadian government to support Kurdish independence for the betterment of the region and the world. The present Iraqi government should apologize to the Kurds and compensate for the damage.” 
He also noted that ISIS still continued to brutalize Kurds.
In a moving performance choreographed by Fethi Karakecil the Dilan Dance Company portrayed how Kurds wanted only to live in peace and let live in peace, and yet had been subjected to the denial of identity and killed in the thousands for politics and power struggles in which they played no part.
Member of Parliament Changsen Leung offered his sympathies to the Kurds and reminded the community of the Canadian government’s cooperation with Kurds in the fight against ISIS.
Mark Adler, the Conservative Member of the House of Commons who has visited Halabja, stated that, “Even though on the surface life seems to be going on in Halabja, the underneath pain continues.” 
Sharing the story of his father, a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, he said: “We can never forget what was done to Jews and Kurds. We cannot afford to stay still. We must work together.”
Kaziwa Salih, writer and scholar, said that “Kurds are bound to remember genocide -- not just Halabja, but also Dersim and others, as well as the slow genocide of Kurds in Iran and Syria.”
Cautioning against oversimplification, he said it was not only Saddam and a handful of his henchmen who had been responsible for genocides against the Kurds. “Little Saddams” continue to live on in one generation after another, he said.
“Genocide is a culture that can be inherited from a generation and transferred from culture to culture,”Salih warned.
The event ended with poetry, drama and music.

The article was originally published here

‘Turbulence’ showcases suffering of Kurdish lives in Diaspora

A scene from the film.

Toronto, Canada – For Jina, who remains haunted by memories of the Iran-Iraq war, heroin is her only friend: it’s the only force capable of numbing her aching agony. 
Jina’s story mirrors that of countless Kurds, exploring the long-term effects of war on children and their struggle to survive as adults. 
It is also the plot of “Turbulence,” a powerful film that featured earlier this month at the Reelworld Film Festival in Toronto and won a nomination for Best Canadian Film at the Vancouver International Film Festival last year.
The work is a multi-layered story with many sub-plots about war and its aftermath, drug addiction and rehabilitation. It also explores father-daughter relationships as well as immigration, racism, murder, rape and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Last week at the Cineplex Scotia Bank Theatre in downtown Toronto, film director Soran Mardookhi was asked what inspired him to make the film:  “When I was a child, I didn’t know anything but war,” replied Mardookhi, a Kurd from Sina (Sanandaj) in Iranian Kurdistan.
Jina, the lead character, has experienced war in Iraqi Kurdistan firsthand, but is unable to articulate her pain or deal with her trauma, years after her arrival in Vancouver, where she immigrated with her father – her only surviving relative.
Mardookhi, who himself arrived in Canada from Iran in 2010, made Turbulence in 2014 in Vancouver. Lack of funds and high-tech equipment were his main challenges, and his actors were mostly volunteer members of the Kurdish community.
Yet, he won over all the challenges with a talent for filmmaking and cinematography, as well as a sense of direction and eye for detail.
Telling the story through Jina and her father, Mardookhi explores a rare  scenario: how the older generation has an easier time adapting to a  new culture than the younger one.
Sherzad, Jina’s father, is the absolute opposite of the stereotypical Kurdish father. He continues to wholeheartedly support his daughter, without judging her, in spite of the stigmatization they suffer in the community because of her addiction.
He is the only reason Jina tries to go back to normal life, but fails.
Regardless of his troublesome child, his failing memory and all the challenges of building a life in a new country, Sherzad continues to dream. Now in his 70s, he has invented a new machine and wishes to register the patent and sell it to large companies.  An electrical engineer in Kurdistan, turned interpreter in Canada, Sherzad is now too poor to afford the patenting fees for his invention.
The movie offers some unexplained scenes: it remains unclear who the hair salon owner is that Jina goes to for borrowing money; the audience remains surprised how Jina, who couldn’t have arrived in Vancouver earlier than age 20, speaks such perfect English and is so deeply estranged from the Kurdish way of life; her mannerism is more Canadian than Kurdish; the murder scene at the end, seeming to completely change Jina, is skipped over entirely and the final climax is about too many events and makes the drama tend to get melodramatic.
Nevertheless, “Turbulence” is a moving feature film with a powerful music selection that manages to stir emotions among Canadian and Kurdish audiences, encouraging them to sympathize with Sherzad. 
It also offers insightful glimpses into life after war and immigration, making the audience ponder over how refugees continue to suffer from painful pasts, even after they are physically safe.

This article was originally published here

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Interview with "Talking Life in Literature"

Beyan Farshi, the host of a British Columbia radio show Talking Life in Literature interviewed me on March 8, 2015 about writing, International Women's Day and other complicated matters.

HERE is the link

or copy and paste this into your browser.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kurdish-Canadian doctor helps rebuild refugee lives shattered by ISIS

Dr. Saren Azar surrounded by little patients and mothers at a refugee camp.  Photo courtesy of Dr Azer
Dr. Saren Azar surrounded by little patients and mothers at a refugee camp. Photo courtesy of Dr Azer
TORONTO, Canada – Dr. Saren Azer knows first hand the plight of refugees returning to the rubble that buries their homes in the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobane, where Kurdish forces evicted the Islamic State (ISIS) after months of steadfast resistance.
That is because he also was once a refugee.
Since January 26, when Kurdish forces fighting ISIS declared Kobane liberated from ISIS, refugees have been returning by the thousands. But because of the war, which included near-daily airstrikes by coalition forces on ISIS positions, little is left standing in Kobane.
“The decomposing bodies of humans and animals and lack of medical supplies and staff pose a threat to the health and safety of the returning refugees to Kobane,” said Azer, a Kurdish physician based in British Columbia, Canada. 
“The only hospital in Kobane was bombed by ISIS and we are now trying to rebuild a new one,” he explained.
  The only hospital in Kobane was bombed by ISIS and we are now trying to rebuild a new one, 

The campaign to rebuild the city – which became an international icon of Kurdish resistance for standing up to repeated ISIS assaults since mid-September – began last month. 
Dr. Azer has been giving speeches at venues across Ontario and British Columbia to raise funds for rebuilding the autonomous Kurdish region within Syrian borders.
He is involved not only because he is a medical specialist, or that he is a Kurd; it is also because he was once a refugee.
Twenty-five years ago Azer, an Iranian-Kurd, had to spend time in a refugee camp in Iraq during its 1989-88 war with Iran. In 1994, he arrived in Canada and continued his education in Edmonton, receiving his doctorate. He is now a medical specialist, a doctor who has completed advanced education and clinical training in internal medicine and critical care medicine. He is also fluent in Sorani, Kurmanji, English, Farsi, Arabic and Turkish.
In 2007, Azer founded the International Society for Peace and Human Rights (ISPHR) and has been sending medical supplies and staff to the camps in Turkey and northern Iraq ever since.
“ISPHR, in collaboration with Health Partners International Canada (HPIC), has the exclusive chance to purchase Physician Travel Packs for only 10 percent of the price,” Azer explained.
“The retail price is almost $6,000 but for $575 we can send essential medicines and supplies to the camps. Each box can save 60 to 120 lives,” he said. 
Azer frequently gathers a team of volunteer health professionals and they carry the shipment of medicines and supplies to a number of refugee camps -- from Kalar to Koyah and Makhmour to Dohuk – running mobile clinics in the overcrowded sites.
The camps in Domiz in the Kurdistan Region, which were built for 8,000-12,000 people, housed 40,000 inhabitants last year.
 “Back in 2007, the camps’ situation was much better than now,” Azer said. “I have been told that on certain occasions the camps have had up to 90,000 refugees. Whatever the exact number is, what’s important is that the situation is dire,” he warned. 
Overcrowded, underequipped camps in Domiz have created a crisis.
“People don’t have access to clean water. Malnutrition, cholera, meningitis, and other infectious diseases prevail,” Azer said.
This articulate and humanitarian Kurdish doctor, himself a father of four, finds it extremely difficult to see children dying from easily preventable diseases. 
“Life is majestic and beautiful. Children are the core of existence. I wonder how many future Einsteins die in those camps around the world, every year,” Azer wondered. 
In December, ISPHR raised $20,000, enough to send a shipment of medicines to a camp on the Turkish border. But with so much misery everywhere, what can be done seems never enough.
 People don’t have access to clean water. Malnutrition, cholera, meningitis, and other infectious diseases prevail,  

“Sometimes it haunts me that nothing we do is enough,” Azer said, recalling a heartbreaking incident during his time in the Kalar refugee camp in 2011. 
“An eight-year old, carrying 250 dinars (25 cents Canadian) in her palm came up to me one day and asked me to cure the pain in her chest. I examined her and it turned out that she had severe heart conditions and needed immediate attention, much beyond what our mobile clinic could offer,” he recalled. 
“It took a lot of convincing and a lot of time until her father allowed us to take the little girl to a hospital,” Azer continued. “Despite our efforts, we couldn’t raise enough money to get her the heart surgery she needed. Under our care, she passed away. I shall never forget the small hands presenting 250 dinars to me.”
Despite numerous such stories, Azer and his team continue to work hard. A generous donor in Edmonton has been matching the funds raised by ISPHR.
Because everyone working for ISPHR is a volunteer, every cent raised has been spent on medicines and supplies, Azer explained.
“Each suitcase-size box can treat up to 600 children and adults. That means with every 50 cents Canadians can prevent an unnecessary death.” 
The United Nations warns that the world is facing the worst refugee crisis in recent human history. Humanitarian groups remain overwhelmed by the devastating war in Syria that has been dragging on for five years. Millions of civilians have lost their homes and livelihood.
The United Nations Food Programme announced this year that it was running out of money to feed a million and a half refugees. That has meant more deaths; it has meant Syrian refugees abandoning their dignity and begging in the streets of Turkey and Jordan.  
Azer and his team say that, through them, people have an easy and practical means of helping hungry, cold, and sick children and other refugees in the overcrowded camps. They can also help lend a helping hand to the long-oppressed Kurds who are rebuilding homes demolished by the brutality of ISIS.
For more information or to donate: