TODAY |

Community gathers in Auckland to raise awareness of Kurdish plight in Northern Syria

By Irra Lee

About 75 people peacefully gathered with New Zealand’s Kurdish community in Auckland’s Aotea Square today to show support for Kurds in Northern Syria, known to them as Rojava.

The protest began at about 12.00pm and lasted two hours. 

Kara Ali, the chairperson for the NZ Kurdish Community committee who organised the demonstration, told 1 NEWS the group was raising awareness and calling for support following the Turkish offensive into the Kurdish-controlled Syrian area.

The offensive caused as many as 300,000 people to be displaced, the Independent reported.

“It’s more about humanity than it is about an ethnic group,” Mr Ali said.

“Listen to our stories, understand what we're going through in those countries and support the fact that we are human, that we deserve the same rights that anyone else has anywhere else in the world.

“We've been trying to expose them to some of the atrocities that have been committed.”

He said he hoped people could make their own judgments after hearing their stories.

Kovan Eskerie, 17, a youth leader from the committee, said he was thankful for the people who gathered.

Kovan Eskerie says he is thankful for the people who turned up to support the Kurdish community. Source: 1 NEWS

"It proves our energy and proves how much we won't let our culture die ... regardless of where in the world," he said.

The Kurdish community holds a protest at Aotea Square, Auckland, to raise awareness of what is happening to Kurdish people in Northern Syria. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Eskerie said he had seen "obvious sorrow" in the Kiwi Kurdish community over what was happening in Northern Syria.

"A lot of the people you see here [at the demonstration] are either from refugee status or are refugees themselves because they were displaced during the Saddam Hussein regime. Though it's now in a different part of Kurdistan, it's the same struggle," he said.

"Recognition itself is something that we've struggled with, the idea that our homeland has not been recognised as an independent state ... it's one of the deepest pains of the Kurdish identity.

"To the New Zealand Government, I would say please stand up with us," he said, like international leaders who had spoken out over the Turkish Government's actions.

Ziye Liu said although she was from China and not from the Kurdish community, she came to Aotea Square to show support for Rojava because she was an internationalist and supported Rojava's democratic stance and its more egalitarian attitudes towards women.

Today’s demonstration was the second for the NZ Kurdish Community group, with the first one last month attracting about a hundred following the US withdrawal of troops northern Syria. This cleared the way for what Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dubbed Operation Peace Spring.

In a statement in October, the White House said that Turkey would be "moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria".

US President Donald Trump said via Twitter a few days later: “Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East.”

But Mr Ali said the Kurdish people living in the region did not have the same option to leave and will “have to continue to fight”.

“From a political standpoint, any academic understands that national interest is very important," he said.

“But at the same time, as a group of Kurdish people who have been fighting the US war [against ISIS] for a very long time … it definitely is a betrayal that this group is just hung dry, basically, and left to fight a war.”

Mr Ali said it was easy to think of all Kurds as a "strong elite force" even though this was not the case for all areas. He said this meant the Kurds in Rojava would not have the resources to resist Turkish-backed groups.

Mr Erdoğan said Operation Peace Spring planned to remove the threat of a "terror corridor" posed by Kurdish fighters in the YPG (the People's Protection Units) of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey saw the group to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Turkey, the US and a number of European countries considered PKK a terrorist organisation. The group called for an independent Kurdish state in Turkey in the 1970s and has been involved in armed conflict with the country.

But Kurdistan Othmani, 20, also a youth leader from the NZ Kurdish Community group, said there was no link to terrorism to be made in Rojava as the Kurds in the region were only looking for independence.

Kurdistan Othmani at the Auckland demonstration. Source: 1 NEWS

Ms Othmani said a good start for the New Zealand Government would be to break its silence by "showing solidarity, raising awareness and condemning the invasion [by Turkey]” in line with its values on inclusiveness. 

Farhad Ismael said at the gathering he did not agree that Turkey's actions were for peace.

"We would be happy if New Zealand's Government could at least say something about Kurds not being killed," he said.

Kurdistan, which Ms Othmani was named after, is an area considered to be the ancestral homeland of the Kurdish people. The area was divided up after World War I between the modern states of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Armenia. 

Since then, there have been various movements towards Kurdish autonomy in regions of Iraq, Iran and northern Syria. Autonomous Kurdish regions within Iran and Iraq are recognised by their respective governments, but Turkey remains resistant.

Census data from 2018 found over 900 people in New Zealand identified as Kurdish.

Kurdish people make up about 10 per cent of Syria’s population and 19 per cent of Turkey’s. There are about 25 to 30 million Kurds in the Middle East.

People gathered at Auckland's Aotea Square to raise awareness about what Kurdish people were facing in Northern Syria, or Rojava. Source: 1 NEWS