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Kurdistance: Launching the Arab Association for Kurdish Rights

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Digital Activism, Ethnicity & Race, Human Rights, Humanitarian Response, Politics, Protest

On June 1st a new initiative was launched by the Alliance for Kurdish Rights [1], the Arab Association for Kurdish Rights [2]. In their announcement, the organization is described thus:

We are a group of students, journalists, and activists from various Arab states who are concerned for and supportive of Kurdish human rights as well as the conservation of Kurdish history and culture. Due to injustices faced throughout the Middle East, many Kurds have found a home in neighboring Arab countries, where most Kurdish communities are entirely isolated. We are using this campaign in order to draw attention to not just their plight, but also to raise understanding of the Kurdish culture and allow them to be outspoken members of our communities.

The Alliance for Kurdish Rights [1] is a project of the activists at Mideast Youth [3], and today I chatted with its Director, Esra’a Al Shafei, about this new venture.

The official launch of this Arab Association for Kurdish rights is today?

We launched it on Twitter [4] last night, but the mailing list went out today. The response so far from the Kurdish community has been amazing.

A few years ago, the Alliance for Kurdish Rights had a petition supporting Kurdish rights, how is this new initiative different?

That petition was a specific one to unblock three websites, and it came from Middle Easterners in general as opposed to Kurds, but also Turks and Iranians. The three websites were prominent Kurdish news sites that people needed to stay in touch with their communities and with current Kurdish events that are never covered in local papers. To block them was a tragedy for many. Through that, we met a lot of Kurdish students and activists who really felt the need to join in and create something better. The Alliance for Kurdish Rights was launched a few years ago, but was hacked and we lost all data. If you remember, a Turkish flag replaced the index page and we couldn't recover the content. We started from scratch and relaunched late last summer. The participants were mainly Kurds. I got together a group of Arabs and said ‘we gotta help them out’ but in a way that officially recognizes the effort…..so Kurds can realize that there are Arabs who believe in their rights.

You've said that the Kurdish response has been positive. Have they been posting their responses on the web? How has their support manifested itself?

Mostly via email. We have a lot of Kurds on our newsletter and they were replying to the email sent saying how this was the first time they have seen Arabs openly supporting Kurds in this manner. There was also this comment: “This initiative step should be appreciated. I, as a Kurd from Iraq, welcome warmly this huge step toward the recognizing the Kurdish rights and remove the decades long of suppression and assimilation. This will also improve bilaterial relations between Kurds and Arabs, and also with other communities. Good job. In Kurdish, destan xosh.”

Turkish hackers have been notorious for destroying Kurdish sites, I would expect that this new site would again make you a target. Are you prepared for another attack?

Yes we are prepared, we have daily backups and are servers are much stronger than before. We are now on a dedicated server and monitor our logs for each error or suspicious attempts for an attack. I mean, it won't be easy, of course there is no doubt that hackers tend to outsmart you pretty fast. In 2007, each time we relaunched again, the hacking would continue- literally within hours or one day. We had no one to help us handle it. We don't remember what was said in Turkish, but Turkish friends said the statements weren't kind, obviously. It wasn't the average nationalist statement, like “long live Turkey”, but things likening Kurds to animals who must be “sprayed to death.” This was two years ago but these brutal statements made us more determined to continue the efforts.

We are working now on a video page of Kurdish content, our own Kurdish video service to archive Kurdish videos, historical, cultural and otherwise. I always felt a responsibility to speak up for Kurds as an Arab. I was appalled at the lack of attention and sympathy they generated within the Arab world. I mean you are talking about a minority that suffered through genocide, severe discrimination, execution, humiliation, refusal to legal or ethnic recognition….

I met a lot of Kurds in the past who kept asking “where are the Arab voices on our behalf”? I had no answer, until now. So really, what I hope to offer is a really strong voice: an Arab one in favor of Kurdish human rights, one that can change the current relationship (or lack thereof!) between Kurds and Arabs. I know this is already happening. The responses from Kurds from Syria or Iraq saying things like, “I have new-found respect and appreciation for Arabs, even if not all of them were responsible for our suffering.” There were racist tensions between Kurds and Arabs in the past. We are answering some crucial questions.

Have you had much Arab feedback? And are the Arabs that have responded living in the Middle East or in the diaspora?

In the Middle East, mostly Iraq. We have a few members already from Iraq; two of the articles were written by Iraqis.

How has this dialogue been carried out between these groups?

We have gathered members from 16 countries so far to serve as sorts of “spokespeople.” Their responsibilities include getting this message across to the Kurdish communities in their own countries. It was hard for many to reject because they are aware of the history. How can you justify genocide and hundreds of thousands people dying tragic deaths for decades on end? All the Arabs I know felt a deep sense of responsibility to speak up. This was their wake up call.

So you are encouraging the ones joining this to go out into their local communities to speak up?

Definitely. I want them to find the Kurdish communities. And as Arabs I want them to lift a hand, express interest in who they are, in their work, recognize their ethnicity, and express their willingness to coexist.

This is definitely a first but a major first step. In a perfect world how would you like to see this project expand?

Well I am a big fan of interactive and dynamic media. I want to see programs by Arabs that discuss Kurdish issues, and then joined up by their Kurdish friends, hence us giving away Flip cameras to make this possible. But we also want to note that Kurds don't only exist in the areas where most originate, many have moved to neighboring countries where they are equally ignored and sometimes discriminated against.

What would you say about this project to those that aren't Arab or Kurdish?

I'd tell them that there are things that frankly only we can solve as members from the region. If a Kurd was abused in an Arab country, or in the name of Arabs (forced to convert his/her ethnicity), whose responsibility is it to stand up for this injustice? Ours, no one else's.