Under Siege: The Persecution of Minorities in the Middle East

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT:

DATE: 13th September 2018. 18:00-19:30

VENUE: Second Debating Chamber of the House of Commons

SPEAKER: Lyn Julius

EVENT CHAIR: John Howell MP

 

FULL NAME OF FIRST SPEAKER: John Howell MP

Well, Ladies and Gentleman, as you all seem to be here, we’re going to start a bit early. You are now in the second debating chamber of the House of Commons. I can’t shout any louder I’m afraid and I don’t know if these are working now. Are these working? This one isn’t working. Oh we’ll get the, we’ll get the technology right. Is that better? Is that better? Well this is the second debating chamber for the House of Commons. And I wish it was as full as this for most of the debates that take place here, but sadly it is not. But I think that the subject of tonight’s discussion, the persecution, of Minorities in the Middle East, has attracted so many people here.

Let me just start by declaring my interests in this. My name is John Howell, I am the Member of Parliament for Henley. It is a well-known constituency for having practically no Jewish members in it at all. And therefore it will come as no surprise to you that I am vice-chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel. I think there is an important point there, that if I came from a constitutionecy that was awash with  people from one group, that would be special pleading. And I think what my role does is give me an objectivity over what is hapenning in the Middle East.

Now, we all know that the Middle East is a region in tumult. There are many reasons for that, and particularly at the moment, there seem to be an enormous number of them that the fault can be laid at the door of Iran. And I’m not going to go into the politics of that.

But, you know, when I go to Jerusalem, and I’ve been to Jerusalem 9 or 10 times in the past three years,

 

If you go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you can see the effects of the persecution of minorities by themselves. In this case, you just need to go and look at the history of one Christian sect attacking another Christian set, and often quite violently. Of course today, it is a little calmer than that.

I do think that illustrates the enormous difficulties that we have in operating in the Middle East.

We do have a very large area to cover, we have Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Yemen and Libya, just to name a few places.

And I want to encourage the speakers to go as widely as they can in addressing that. So, there have been an enormous number of displacements of various Christian groups, Jewish groups, and Yazidi groups across the region. And I hope that we can cover some of those and some of the reasons for that, and also what we are doing to help them, I do think that’s an important point.

But now, we can start. She doesn’t want to go first, but Lyn Julius is going to go first. So, welcome Lyn Julius. And her, a copy of her book is on the front here. Can you hold it, can you stand up and hold it up so everyone can see it.

It’s a book called Uprooted, and it’s how 3000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight. She’s a journalist, and the founder of the Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

 

LYN JULIUS

Well, good evening, can you hear me? You can’t hear me, can you hear me now? Well, good evening and I don’t think I can argue with the Chairman, I have to go first whether I like it or not. But thank you very much for inviting me here tonight, I’m very honoured. Firstly, may I wish you all a very happy new year. We are now in the year 5779 since the start of the Hebrew calendar.

The Jewish people; the term derives from Judea, have been around for some 3000 years, most of that time in the Middle East, not just in their ancestral homeland of Israel, but throughout what is now the Arab world, Turkey and the Middle East…sorry, and Iran. Indeed, contrary to the propaganda that you might hear, Jews are one of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East. They were settled over 1000 years before Islam and the Arab conquest. For instance, the community in Iraq where my family comes from, was founded when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzer destroyed the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC and took Jews as captives back to Babylon. Thereafter, Jews lived on that land continuously for 2600 years. There are two aspects to the Jewish story. The Jews are (inaudible) to our discussion tonight as a minority under Islam. But Judaism is not just a religion; Jews are a nation in their own right, with their own identity, common history, distinctive culture, and ancient language.

To deal first with the issue of Jews as a minority: Like other indigenous minorities, Jews found themselves subject to the same currents of Arabization and Islamisation sweeping the region after the 7th century Arab conquest. Like Christians, Jews became dhimmis. This status gave non-Muslims few rights. They were allowed to practice their religion, as long as they forfeited their right to self-defence on payment of a tax.

In spite of their inferior status, the occasional pogrom, and forced conversion, Jews made great contributions to their societies.

They comprised up to a third of the residents of Baghdad. They were poets, thinkers, translators, traders, musicians.

Until 1948 there were a million Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa. Then came a period of persecution and catastrophic decline, to the point where there are barely 4,000 Jews in the Islamic world. In Iraq there were 150,000 Jews, today there are 5. In Algeria, there were 130,000 Jews, today there are none. In Egypt there were 80,000 Jews, today there are 13 or fewer. In Libya, there were 38,000 Jews, today there are none.  There are still functioning communities in Morocco and Tunisia, but these comprise barely 1% of their former Jewish populations. Communities in Turkey and Iran have also dwindled dramatically in the last few decades.

While Middle Eastern and North African Jews have not suffered on the scale of the Yazidis, for instance, they have endured arrests, internment, persecutions, pauperization, massacre and the threat of violence.

Why? You might blame the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yes, these Jews did suffer repercussions from the conflict, but I would argue that their maltreatment is a symptom of a dysfunction in Arab and Muslim society. It is a tendency to scapegoat minorities in times of struggle or instability. It is also an inability to tolerate difference. To use that fashionable world, to ‘otherise’ anyone who is different, because they are non-Mulsim, or non-Arab, or the wrong type of Muslim.

Treatment of minorities is the litmus test of the health of a society. State abuse of minorities can soon degenerate to the abuse of anybody’s rights. This is precisely what happened as soon as Arab states acquired their indepdnence, Jews, Christians and other minorities were the first victims of intolerance. All the others had their turn soon eough. Heretics, secularists. And then finally, those who did not fit in the nmodl of the nationalist of secular or Islamism.

And then, the nihilists of the Islamic State, hammered in the final nail in the coffin of diversity. Minority rights are not a luxury that only democracies can afford. After the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, culture and religion are the next most important human rights.

In the Arab Middle East and Iran, where so basic rights and freedoms are lacking, the struggle has to begin somewhere. Why not with minority rights?

And now to turn to the second aspect of the Jewish question.

As an indigenous Middle Eastern people, the Jewish people have a right to their sovereign state. What is wrongly turned the Arab world is actually a rich and variagated patchwork of religions and ethnic groups.

Some have been demanding self-determiantion for almost a century, since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Why should Arab states have a monopoly on political rights? The state of Israel, and initially Lebanon, were the only non-Muslim states to be establishedin the region. Why should a Jewish state or Kurdish state, or an Assyrian state, or a Berber state be viewed as an anomaly? The Jews driven from the Arab and Muslim world find a safe haven in Israel. If they had not, they would have suffered much more misery and death. They and their descendents comprise over 50 percent of the population today.

The lesson that the Jews have learnt from their history as an oppressed minority is that to survive, in the wrods of Matty Friedman, you need your own sovereign state and the tools to defend it.

70 years since Israel’s establishment, the struggle is still ongoing to preserve it. As George Deek, a former Arab-Israeli diplomat once observed, the key to change is connected deeply to our ability as Arabs to accept the acceptability of others.

The Jewish state is our biggest challenge because they insist ont heirt right to be different. The day we accept the Jewish state as it is, all other persecution in the Middle East will cease. Thank you.

John Howell MP: If it’s okay with you I am going to press on with the other speakers, then we can come back to discussion at the end of it rather than breaking up the flow. So the next speaker, is Amri Knefes, who is the Chairamn for the

Institute for Druze Studies. He was awarded his bachelors…in Haifa. He had a doctoirate from the university of London at SOAS. He subsequently earned a masters degree from the London School of Economics and a Doctorate from Soas. So in addition to his research,

Amir has taught the politics of the Middle East at SOAS. He too is also working on a book, you can’t actyualluy wave it about we can look after that. The struggle for Palestine, and Druze politics of silence.

Thank you very much, Chairman. Um, I would first like to begin by thankign the organisers for this opportunity to speak today. Let me start by the Henry Jackson Society for oranisigng this important event here at the House of Commons. I am really touched by the support and the warm welcome that I have receive by Lady Cox and her hospitality, thank you very much, thank you.

 

Ladies and gentleman, my talk today is about the Druze politics in Syria. But before I describe the current situation in Syria, I would like to provide just a quick overview of the religious belfis of the Druze community. The idea here is to show is that even small and peaceful communiteis in the region are persecuted and subject to hate and prejudice, in most countries in the Middle East, and this is the fact.

The Druze, as many many other monotheistic religions, are one that believe in one God. Culturally, they are (inaudible) by reference to their kidness and hospitality to others. Druze believe in (inaudible) the manifestation fo the shape of God in a human being over many times over the course in gistory. It’s true, that in addituion to other monotheistic religions, they also believe in reincarnation, the cycle of rebirth. These beleifs and wualities are captured in the Druze community flag. Which the red symbolises the barness, the yelloe hthe knowledge, the geren the nature, The blue is the tolerance and botherhood, and thwe white is the peace.

During modern times Druze have mainly lived in 4 countries in the ME. You see in the screen Israel, where the community has exceeded 120,000 members. Lebanon, where between 350-450,000. Jordan, where around 40,000 Druze live. And of course Syria, where there are between600-700 Druze. Even in these 4 states, the Druze community is concentrated mostly in one specific region. Mainly, it is to preserve themselves as a unique cultural group.

But despite that, the fact that they don’t cause any trehat to any religious or cultural community in the region, sinc the beginning of the 20th century, more than half a million Druze have fled the region in the last decades, due to religious persecutuion or discrimination. Most who have fled now live in Nroth and Latin America, Australia, and more recently, Eruope.

Let me more focus on the Druze community in Syria. Which, as you all know, had played a core role in the formation of the state. Played a key role in the national struggle against the French, under the leadership of (inaudible). In fact, the Druze provided much of the military force and national spirit of the Syrian revolution between 1924-1927. This, however, did not help them. Since the civil war is beginning 7 regions ago, The 14 Druze villages in the North and Eastern part of Syria, in the region called Jabat, where the first major casualties of the war, (inauble) when Jabat-Al-Nusra demolishjed attacked their villages. Tehre is no way to describt the degradation, the devastation at the hands of this militia.

May killed, many raped, and many forced to flee Men, woman, the ashes of their hoems. A few months later, Jabat Al-Nusra allowed them to retrun to their homes. With one condition, that they convert to Sunni Islam. As you can see the flag in the Middle was converted to a mosque. So if htat is not enough, only recently, on the 25th of July, only recently, in the last two months. The Isis group entered the city of (inaudible) y killed and slaughtered 250 Druze, men womena dn childen.  In many cases, detsoryign the

The pain and the suffer of the community did not stop with the killing of 250 Druze. Soon after this event, ISIS took 36 Druze hostage, 20 of them were women, aged between the ages of 16 years old and 60…Some people say that these prisoners of war are now in the nroterhn opart of Iraq,others say that they are in the northern part of the state close to the border with Turkey. The community, religious and political leadership, have made great efforts to track down the victims, eiwht little success.

These are some of the womens that Isis kidnapped on the 25th of July. As you can see the flag, they have the ISIS flag in the back, and they have to cover their hair now, of course.In fact, they just released a video about it this morning about their condition.

I want to conclude by repeating my opening statmene that small religious minorities are…In most Middle East coutnries. I want to implore upon you the need of the plight of these people to be acknoqlegdd and for action being taken to alleviate their suffering. I want to take this opportunity, Mr Chairman, to ask each and every one of you to raise the issue of the hostages. To urge the policymekrs and the international community to increase their efforts and retrun hostages to their homes and to their families.

 

John Howell: Well thank you, very much Amir, that was very powerful, what you were able t otell us there. Let’s move on to the next speaker. Who is *masu. A researcher…int eh university of Cambridge,. born in Iraq, he is a Christian of Assyrian Mr Lamasu holds a BA inn Near Estern studioes from the School fo Orienal and African Studies…He is a master of philsioopphy in modern Assyrian languages. He is currently studying for a PhD. He is Executive Director of Assyrian culture trust, and he’s chief editor of (inaudible) journal and a board member of the Nineveh Center.

 

With an enormous list of those credentials, we expect absolute perfection of you.

 

Thank you, Mr Chairman. I fear that I won’t meet your expectations. Good evening ladies and gentleman, distinguished guests, I would first like to thank the organisers for ograisign this, thank you for giving me this opporuntity to be the voice of the voicless Assyrian prisoners in the ME.

Before I start leading what I have to, I have got 5 minutes so I would like to be succinct.

I would like to follow up on what Lyn was saying. I remember growing up and my parents telling me something that an ancednote of my grandmother of the Jewish progorms in Iraq. She was told by her friends, her Jewish neighbours, that be prepared, today is Saturday, but tomorrow it will be Sunday. As you know, we are living what her friend and neighbour, predicted.

The Assyrians, also known as the Caldeacs and Syriacs are indigenopus and stateless people and their modern homeland is now spraed across four states Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran…pan- nationalist policies of the formation of states. For example, in Turkey, an Assyrian student going to school every morning is forced stand up and say: ‘How beautiful is it for me to satdn up and say I am Turkish’. To keep this beat, I will talk about the current situation in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, the 34 old Assyrian viallges of the (inauble) basin, was overryn by ISIS in 2017, and nearly 100 chidlren taken captvies some of them used as sex slaves, in fact one of them, we still don’t know the fate of. The (inauble) fiught alongisde the YPG, our allis in the West, against the ISIS and took part in the (inaudible) of the region…However, this did not prevent the YPG from oppressing the Assyrians in Syria. Shortly after the was launchThe chief of the (inaudbel) was assisaninted by the YPG. Miraculously, he survived the assisnation attempt anjd he continues to take operations to recover from his injuries.

He continues to take…on the Assyrian patriotic…

We have recently clamped down and forcibly closed all Assyrian private schools.

Just as the Baathist regime did to them, the Kurds and the Assyrians. and the chauvinistic policies of the Kurds…not the people of course, but the Kurdish politicans…

 

But in Assyria, the Assyrians find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Kurds, not ht epeople, but the  politicfians.

 

Goging back to the (inaudible) region, all the Assyrian villages of the (inauadible basin) you could sya they are actually fully empty of their original inhabitants now.

In Iraq, I better tyoucvh on the most recent developments, so to cover the Assyrian rights in Iraq and their oppression, but a little background of the key points in recent history.

In August 1953, the so-called New democratic Iraq, through its army and some Arab and Kurdish tribes, This massacre ermaisn unapolgoised for in the so-called docratic irAQ. They have been oppressed and they have always fought alongside the Iraq. Maintainign their…to a unified and democratic state.  They have always sided along the. The Assyrians fighting alongside the Kurds against the oppressive regimes of Iraq, The f

The first martyr of the Krudish movement in Iraq, in what is known as the September uprising of Iraq, was an Assyrian…they also fought alongside the Iraqi opposition overall, in genral, all the political parties sided with the Iraqi oppositinm.

Both of the Kurdish opposition and the fact that (inaudible) of the resolution, and the general Iraqi opposition post-2003, have done nothing to secure the legitimate rise of these Assyrain citiznes, other than paying them a lip service (inaudible). To demonstrate this I will give you the most recent examples.

Udner the quota system, the Assyrrians are given 5 seats in both the Iraqi aqnd the KRG Parliament..The major Iraqi and Kurdish parties ahev always succeeded in hijacking these and forming their own parties.For example in the recent Iraqi elections, they secured 3 of these 5 seats,boasting openly about it on twitter. More harming than beneficial be This leaves the Assyrians without representation. Proper Assyrian representation that serves its agenda. This is the reason by Nahy party has actually boycotted, only two days ago, the current KRG elections and called the Assyrian public to do the same.

In fact, within the the KRG exists huge abuse of the indigenous lands of the indigenous Assyrians. There are 95 Assyrian lands 57 of them suffer from land abuse…3000-6000 acres of abused land. This is 95% of the village. That is not one small plot of land. 95 percent of the village. And (inaudible) I travel and I’m based nowadays mostly in Iraq and in Cambridge, but in the valley of (inaudible) part of the Erbil governate, every single Assyrian village I visited was suffering from land abuse and land grabbing. In Ankara, which is the largest Assyrian town in the Erbil government, the government has taken Assyrian farmland to build housing compounds since 2005. These farmers are not being compensated for their lands. It’s fien to take land for the general benefit of the public to build housing, but as the general rule of thumb goes, the farmkers need to be compenstign and they have not. Furthermore, the airport is built on 13,000 acres of land. The Syrian inhabitanst of the town, of Ankara. Every time we fly to Erbil, in a way we are condoning what is happening. 13,0000 acres of land, to date, nothing compensated for.

And in Ankara there is  wealth tax that is imposed on the Assyrians. Nowhere else. Ankara is the largest Assyria town of the Erbil governate. There is a wealth tax that is impose only on the Asyrian inhabitants and nowhere else is wealth tasxes beign imposed.

Basically, the Assyrians in Iraq find themselves without a future in their own indigenous lands. And find themselves without a voice, because the 5 seats that have been allocated for them are not being occupied by their own genuine representation. In the Iraqi Parliament and the KRG, They are thought voiceless.

In behalf of the Assyraisn of the ME and Iraq specifically…They are in dire need of friends in the West. They feel that their demadns are falling on deaf ears without your support and your solidarity, they cannot achieve anything in Iraq.

 

Howell: Thank you very much. Thank you. Now, we move to Dr Layla fe…co-President of the Yazidi federation of Europe. And Dr Fer was Born in Germany to a Yazidi and Kurdish  family, and she studied political science at Lepnitz unvierity, which I think is near Hanover. She compelted an MA on theodolism in Iraq in 2009. After graduating from university she worked as a volunteer in the international relations department. She completed her PhD published her dissertation in 2014. I don’t think you’ve got a book to show us today. She is currently contributing to the perpeations for the first WiorldCOngress of the Yazidi.

 

Well first of all, good evening, I am more than glad to be with you this evening.  Thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for inviting us, for inviting me especially. I am going tot alk avbout the position of the Yazidis and the Sinjar. Well if we look on this map you see the area of the Sinjar. Well, The Yazidis call themselves an ethnic group, some Yazidis are saying we are a nation. The border area of the Syrai, Iraq and Trueky. Due to maby genocies…they were only used to living in a big number in Sinjar. That means that Sinajar became the centre of the Yazidis in the ME.. and the Only place where a big numern of Yazidis are living. As you might know,in August 2014, the ISIS attacked Sinjar- they had different aims. Maybe the most imjporatnt aim was the region of Sinjar. Because, After establishing the caliphate  in part of Syria and Iraq, they needed the area to better attack Syria and Iraq and also the Kurdish areas of Sria,.but, they were also aware of the fact that there are many non-connecetd oil-fields int eh areas Of Sinjar. The Yazidis were senen as non-Muislims, and for the IS, that measn that they can kill theYiziids, the Yizidis have no right to exist. They are aware that the Yazidis are not an oragnised society so they have easy gains in Sinjar. 30,000 Yazidis escaped to Sinjar mountain where they were surrounded by ISIS for 7 days. And only thanks to a corridor TheYPG was organising a corridor, 10 thousandsof Yazisis could escape. About 6500 Yazisi are held in captivity. There from 3,500 are back with their families.  held in captivity. Most of them were women and childen. Well, there were thousadns of stories about these children. Of course it is not the first time that women were misused in some kind of conflict. By selling them on markets, by misusing them as sex slaves and as house slaves IS wanted to try to destroy the whole culture of Yazidis. Twenty mas graves in Sinjar. About 1000 Yazidis decided to go back to Sinjar.

Wel, as you might imagine after foru years of war, and Sinjar has been divided into two parts. The northern part of the state only a few weeks in the hadns of the ISIS After two weeks, Kurdish armed forced and Yazidi armed force.s.. But the southtern part of Sinjar remained for years in the hadns of IS.

We face infrastructure problems; limited access to water, limited access to…We also face social infrasurtucture problems; access to schools, access to medcial care. Women have the needs to oragnsie also themselves and to come together becasu ehtey have special neweds. And we have serious security dimensions.

The dimensions have two dimensions. Firsly we have an internal dimension. But when it comes to the Krudish population in Iraq,the Yazidis today do not trust anymore the Kurds. And, um there are, There is an external dimension, it means there is an external dimension, like states. We have also to ask the question of who is supporting IS. Tehre are interest of Turkey: Turkey is also bombing Sinjar. Just once monthe ago a very famous Yazidi lewader has been killed by the Turks, because he is one of the most important people trying to unite the Yazidis

The Yazidis decided to survive. I would like to share with you a few impressions of our last day in Sinjar. Here you see the city of Sinjar. Many of these streets are completely destroyed. Here are pictures of cillages, cakled Kutur. Kutur became a symbol fo Sinjar, almost all men have been killed by IS and almost all women have been held in capcitivy by IS. The villaghe is really destroyed, this picture on the right is isonly one of 20 mass graves in Sinjar.

Well, what are we doing? We are civilians. Of course, we really have respect for those who are fighjting against IS in the eifls. WEspecially fro Kurds, especially for Iraqis and others, because this is their right tio protect themselves. But we are civiliasn are doing other things. Especially me, I am part of the struggle of the platform for women who are held in captivity. One of our main work is to get evidence of this genoice, Especuially to do inetrveiws for women who are kept in captivity by IS.

We start to brign together Yizidis, There are Yizidis coming together working for their own hoemaldn. Before this genoice, Yizidis have always been divided and they have always been looking to others but not to their own community. This is onecommunity also from Nortehrn Sinjar

Very big refugee camp, they are living  in tents, this brings really big social problems also.

As you can also imagine living for 4years…we are caring also about holy palces in Sinjar. In the Southermn part of Sinjar, many holy places have also been dstoryed by IS. So our aim also is to protect the holy places

And to rebuild holy temp[les like here. Well, with our work, we want to receive justice. I mean, this has to, I eamnt his is very very important work. Because, without justice, there will be no believing, also in the future. I really would like to ask you this question; do you really want IS to win this game? I mean for instance, we e are collecting many many many evidence.

So I am wondering, who is interested in learning who is IS? Who are the members of IS? Which states are supporting them? How is there structure? Where are there mamebrsa? How are they connected? Not only in the ME, but also in Eurpe?

It is not only us to care about it, but it should be all our task to have a look at this especially…issue.

We especially looking at women escaping IS. We are facing a traumatisesd society.

And we are an enactor of the preparations of the first Yazidi world congress. Without the unity of the Yizidis, there won’t be any future for this community. I am also not here today to ask you to support us, but we would be more than glad to go together, this joint task, so our task to be engaged for democracy, for peace and also for human rights. So thank you.

Well thank you Layla…that was a very comprehensive description.

Our last speaker, is Mohammed…He is the councillor, and I think he is the deputy mayor of the royal borough of Kensigntona nd Chelsea. He was first elected in May 2014. And he is an active member of the Kurdish communit. He is a freelance translater working in Arabic. He also helps the Kurdish community and works with an Iraqi oragnsiation for war veterans…what you have done is t ochange the focus of the way that you work, to become more engaged in… and make sure the council is more engaged with borough residents, who were affected by that.

Thank you. Thank you ver much. It is a privilege to be in your preence, and tahnsk for your kind invitation. To start with Gernfell, it is not on the agenda, but it is mentioned. Grenfell was the biggest tragedy since WW2 in my view, and I think if you check, you will see this is right. Because we lost the biggest number of victims, in peacetime. 72 lives so far and hundreds of people displaced. That made me think, I joined a political party 15 years or 17 years ago. And I had a choice of studying politics or doing politics. And I have chosen doing politics, and being a decisionmaker, rather than beign an advisor. Because in the end, polticians could get away with any decision they make.  And this is exactly what happened in my borough.

To give you an example, one thing I did, was in July this year, I managed to submit a proposal…

82% of them, outsiders, were living in the borugh. Taken away 85% of our wages. So, I managed to convince the council to give them a job within our council.

Until recently, until few years ago, back to the main question (inaudible) I have great sympathy for my colleagues and our speakers before me. Because we, I as a Kurd, we go exactlythrough the same things you go through, and even worse. Back in a few years ago, it was very difficutkl to tell people that you are a Kurd. Before you needed to give a lesson in geogprahy to explain where Kurdistan means and what Kurdistan is; but now luckily enough, thanks to our brave boys an dgirls who managed to defeat ISIS.

 

If you think you have a problem., think again. Whenevr you say you are a Kurd, you

Because, being a Kurd is trhe biggest problem in your lfie. Last Saturday, Saturday the 8th September, District city… was Bombed and targeted by Iranian al-Quds brigade, using for the first time, smart missiles to attack civilians. Killing 16 and injuring more than 50. This is only few days ago. The irony is, in the UK we have Welsh, Irish, Scots, but no one calls them, they have never been classed as minorities. Yet in Krudistan, my nation, we are nearly 50 million, and we are classed as minorities wherever we go.

Kurdish language is not permitted in Iran and Turkey and Syria, You can’t educate your children using your won language; you arenot alloed. Until tecently, until a few years ago, Turkey, even Turkish citiznes, didn’t recognise recognise having Kruds in the country. We have Turks living in the citiies and Truks in the mountains; so Kurds were classed as Turkish mountains.

The problem we have in the Middle East now, espceuially post-2003, when Saddam regime’s was toppled; We have a new kind of polticiians and new kind of policies, its very Iranian-like, very one-sided. Politivcians related to gods, prescribed as angels. When a country like Iraq, when 17 percent, nearly half of the population, are illiertate. They only follow their clreics and they take orders from them and that’s whyThe Americans spend billions and billiosn to build a new Iraqi army; we now have the al-Quds brigade in Iran. Okay, very dangerous. These kinds of politician asre the biggest…to any solution. One thing we could do in the west. The biggest problem I had, we see, politicians from the developing countries; warlords, crimijnals, polticiains drug-dealers, they leave the state, they leave their nations and they invest it in the West because it is safe haven for their porperties.

If you wantn to solve this probledmif tyou want to promote tdemopcracy in developing coutrnis, which the ME is part of it, you need to ave tohavce regualtions, have laws to prevent warlods from coming here. UK need to start doing tyhis and promoting it. UK is one of the coutnries of 5 which are repsonsable for policint eh world.

We should start something, as politicians in here. The whole ME situation escalated After 1979, after the Iranian revolution. We have Yemen Syria Lebanon and Iraq, and more to come. The regime in Iran can’t stand, they are always promoting their ideology, I want to move to Rome and import the revolution to other coutrnies where Shia lives. Iran needs to be stopped…Want to import their reoltuion to other countries where Shia lives. Iran needs to be stopped in order to make any changes in other parts of the world

To keep it short, I can’t see peace in the ME, without Kurds being free in the first place, enjoying the freedom like all other nations on this planet. Thank you.

 

John Dowell: well thank you very much indeed, Mohammed. That’s a very good description of the situation. Well we have on the panel here represnrtatuovesof a numner of different ocmmuniteis. We have Jewish, we have Druze, we have a Yazidi, we have a Krud. We can answer, I’M SURE, a number of your questions.

But I would like to kick off your questions with a first question. Mohammed, you talked about getting the politics right in the ME, but it seems to me, from what you all said, that the politics cannot be divorced from the lack of respect for the identiies of your minorities. Is that not, is that not soething we should be desparelty upset about? And The supplementary question of that, is what one thing would you ask Western democracies to do in order to make things better.

 

Mohammed: I worked with the Krudish forces in Iraq, for nearly three years, as an advisor, and I have noticed, very braze…very intelligent…but they had no clue, they didn’t know wy there were there, for the first place. The only thing they were interested. They had a rotation fo 10 months, they wanted to go home in peace.

Polticians on the top, they are trying tio impose western ways of solving problems. Iraq is failed state for the past 100 years. Iraq was created after 1st world war. We have three nations living in Iraq; plus other nations; three major nations. they are different, theyhave nothing in common. Yes, Islam is a common umbrella for 2 billion peoples on this planet…but we have other nations…Stop imposing Western soltuions, and listen to people that live there. Because it’s like…we needt o come back to Eurpep. Look to Brexit, look what happened. In my view, European Union, despite its difficulties, was the best achievement of the mankind. Because these nations in Europe, we have two major wars in Europpe , and ended it here. EU was making a difference, now we pulled out because we say its not good for us. To come back to your question again, listen to people If you want democracy, we need to have a free Kurdistan. If I have an external threat…I don’t keep a blind eye on many things, because we have a danger, but if we don’t have this danger…I have to ask the population what have we done…we have shia. We have ISIS… I’m not going to say anything about democracy. Democracy is not an urgent part of democracy now. We need to split these nations into 3.

Well, um In the ME, to give power to others, unfortunately, means conflict. But without sharing power, there won’t be any process of democracy at all. The question of whether Europe should support others to become democrats, it is very iomporatnt to well,  listen, of course, to the people, and to have a very sensitive look to thte local people. Not just to send money, for instance, trhough the govt, but to really have a hawe a close look in the field. Like also to be an actor in this field. Everyone and every people has the right to become an actor and to receive the rights as a people.

I think one of the clear things we are saying in recent years is that we are expecting that foreign states and the West put more pressure on terror organanisations, that you can see for the last 7 years has detsoryed 5 countries in the region. But there is true, that also we have to say it here, certain leadersin the region, that’s not secret, playing double face, they are supporting the terrorist orgsnisation on one hand, and killing thousands of Kurdish on the borders for mnany years…on the other hand they are having a different language in the West and I think the West should put more pressure on these Presidents.

I think thehre is very little oen can do in this region unless there is stability and an end to war. There3 has t be a monopoly of force, so what you were saying about warlords and militias. You can’t have any hope for these people unless there is some kind of goverbemtn in place which actually enforces law and order. Not just that, but which has the will to protect ervybody regardless of their ethnic group fo religion. All citizens of the country have to be entitled to be protected by the citizens of law and order.,.

Thank you Mr Chairman for your most astuate observation and I thank you for your observation. You dpn’t think there would be any progress without these peoples and these nations respecting each other and recognisign each other’s rights. My esteemed colleague talked about Iraq as a failed states..

She is afialure…can youi imagine in today modern Democratic Germany. Hitler…and youall should fight that. With every thing of power you have in this.

Crimes against the Assyrians, and the Yazidis, who committed similar crimes…is praised in school currciula, and is translated into other…can you imagine that, in a Jew living in Germany? Would that satet not be a failure? Would that not be respcting the communities living among you and with you in yheir own indigenous lands?

,My esteemed colleague talked about Kurds not beign recognised as a people in Turkey. Of course that is wrong, and we should all be fighting that. They are called Kurds, they live on the mountains because they live int eh snow, and when they step on the snow they should Kurd Kurd Kurd. Really, it is all to do with this nation building. Unforutantely, there seems to be soemthign wrong with this concept of nation-buulding.

If we do not recognise other’s violence, we can ourelves never be free. Under KRG government, should recognise the rights of the people in there as they reocgnsie their own rights, thank you. Just before we open this up to the floor, there’s one organsiationt hat I think you ought to spend a bit more time getting to know.

The Council fo Europe founded after the Second World War. The Israelis, representnatives of the Palestibas, who particiaote in our debates, as if there was nothing werong with it.

That forum for aqllowing discussion is a ery good one.

There are hadns already going up.

Can we take three questions in a row so that we can get throughthem . Yes, YOU FIRST.

 

We have heard tonight about terrible terrible things. I would like to ask the panel members why they think that the press in England, the church in England and the BBC in particular. I don’t know if you saw the news bulletin on Yemen last night on the BBC. It went trhough the WHOLE news bulletin without once mentioning the Iranians.

Okay so, you mentioned now in this program about Yemen, didn’t mention Iran. I was just wondering, if Iran was mentioned before. Iran is obviously a fialed state. If you javbe Iran in Syrai, in Lebanon..I would like to know what the feeling is about Iran and what we can actually do about it.

 

Right, should we try to give you some answers to those.

I will answer you. I have lived in Iran, and I can tell you that the detsabliastion of the ME started in Iran in 1979.The BBC, why they haven’t mentioned Iran. I think this is a direct of Brexit. Your country is panicking. Your country is really panicking. Your PM is tring to secure…in case we have Brexi.t

In my view, the European Union, despite all its failings, is the best thing of humankind, because all these coutnries are drinking each other’s blood.

 

I’ll tell youi something like that…I lived in London for about 12 years…I think I will agree withyou, uf you follow the ME, you will think the only news in the world is the Israeli-Paletsinian conflict. It ignores all the other conflcist around the world. I will assure you, that if you go back to the BBC and their website, and you see if they covwered the killing of 250 Druze, and the fact that there is strill 36 kidnapped, until today, I promise you you will pronbably find about hgalf a page abou thte whole thing.

I think it is a muystery about why Britian which is a Christian coutrny has ignore dthe plight of the Christiasn in the ME. Not just un Iraq and SYira, but the Cotps in Egypt,. We have an established church in this couitnry and you don’t evenm hear a statement from a bishop…We haven’t heard very much from them. I thin kyes, there is an inbuilt bias within the BBC. It’s partly..notice t4here’s not much broadcasting going on fromt eh Palestinian authority. On the question of immigration, I think uits; sad that thso with the greatest need have not been given priority. A lot of economic mirgants have been coming in, harassed and persecurtieid minorities have not been given priorty, I’m thinklign christiasn and kurds who get harassed in regufgege camps in Syria by Muslim,…you metnioend Jews retrunign to Mrocco. I’m sorry to say that very few Jews have retruend to morocco..the offer is out thre. But I’m afraid morroc has gone an islamist problem. If the king of morocco were to be deposed tomorrow, the future would look very bleak for people to retrubn. I don’t think we should turn the clock back and try and revive these Jeiwhs communities. We need to come to terms with the newreality; Israel ecists, it is now hjome to 50% of jews who once lived in the Jewish world.

 

I would like to actually touch on two fo the questions. One of them is the media. Usually it is called the ME problem. As if there is one ME problem. It is not just tej Isralei Palestinian issue; Yazidis, Kruds, who talks about them. Well thanbks to Peshmerga advancements mad, Krudsih got a bit of coverage. But in Iraq, there aer  demomnetsation sprotests, and ahueg clampdown. Fro example in the government of Basra. Where is the BBC on this. These are the people who we hope and we see and we belive, who we hope are going to brign the democracy in Iraq because they are agains tiocfcryoption and they ara aainst these rlrigious parties who have not doen anything for their own people, or for the country.

When ISIS forcibly evacuiated the Assyrains from the Assyrin heatlabd, Nineveh, how much of that was covered in the news? I was very active and I tried my best. We did vet somet coverage. But nothing compared to the magitduie of the problem. Now, the second question about offering people asylim in the west, or making sure they live free and secure in their honmeldans. Now from a financial economic perspective of course it is bettr for us to ensure that they lvie and ,…securely. Assyrians there from Nineveh, mosul and the asyrian planes. Initally they said nearly all of thenm, without exception, wanted to leave. And then when I started tyalkign about These people, according to my…want to stay and live in their homeland, but with secyurity,…because they don’t trust no one with Iraq.

Woyuld it be better to sypport the people on the field? Of course. No one want to leave their country and their homeland. The Yazisid they don’t even have access tio water in their village. So I am wondering,. Can you surivie someqwhere without access to water. I mean, if there is no security of course the Yazidis have to ecape. I am concerned about many people on this region, they would stay if they would be abel to have as afe future. We should also understand that many of the refugees are traumatised. It’s bot jusyt like they are coming ehrea dn they are going to join something here.

Whoel there are many conflcits…okay we can deny everything, we can blame veryone. Btu we have to start solmewhere. We want to surivive in this area. So what we are asking. We of course hoep to aslo receive tsupport for insatcen for basic thing such as access to wqater. This is how we could start a policy. Not just to send money to Krudistan regional governemtn and to Baghdad, but to let them also learn to share theirt dwecisions in the field. Nothing we should always deny and complain about the conflicts, we hgave to sypport he people on the field who would like to survive. Tahnk you.

It’s absolutelyimpossible. Why is that? Maybe you can tell me that. These people ar dying,. Wee are killing them. Nobody is supporting…The Yazdidis have nobody, they are terrified. The sunni Arabs have come back to their village…Since *, 5 Yazidis have been out to enter the UK. They do not want to stay in Sinjar. They want to leave Kurdistan where they are oppressed in camps…

There’s been two owrds that haven’t been mentioned the first is Donald the second is Trump. I’m talking about the retreat fromt eh international system. Donald Trump would have wanted to retreat further, unless his advistors had stopped him. Isn’t this a tragedy,.  The retreat from the international order based system since the second world war.

 

I would like to hear more about…

 

Syriac-Maronite community. It was the first country in the ME to recgise the identity in the ME. As I heard frommy Assyrian brother here, even the Kurds are persecurting the Assyrians, and the Yazidis are actually int eh same status. Tehse people are then the indigenous people in the lands. After seeing the success of Israel as a nation state law. Not even one minority is perfect; even not England is perfect in tis democratic laws. We have a lot ways to go in any democracy. But Israel still, trying to be better in its democracy. Afetr seeing this success isn’t it the tiem for Western powers to intervene in the ME and intervene for all minorities. If I ehard my Krudish friend here he wants 3 states in Iraq. 10 million Maronites living worldwide, only 1 million living in Lebanon.

Okay, just want to say, I sympathise a great deal with the lady there, I think it’s terrible the Yazidis have not received very muych internationalhel;p and I think we should do more tohe;p them. Right, absolutely, itu’s an absolute tragedy.

I just want to make a point about Trump and the withdarawl from international norms based politics. I think he has done one very godo gthink in my estimation, by abrogating the deal with Iran. Ad I think, as you have pointed out, Iran isone of the main players stirring up trouble in the ME, and the quicjer we, the more pressure we put on the regime…wewant to see this regime goen and a better future for the people of Iran and in the region. I believe Iran is alos an artiifical state. I believe there are only 50 percent ethnic Persians; the rest are etc…It’s beign held together by sticky tape, I think. Maybe it too might explode, we don’t know.

Regardign the question about the Druze community in Israel. Of course, after showing all the pictures on the svreen before and mrteh massacres that happened to trhe druze community in Syria, the biggest one is from last July…I thought I would focus on the Druze community in Syrai. But I can assure you that the Druze community in Israel live in peace, and in respect and in dignity. There are a feew fact that uyou cant argue with it. The saem community in 1948, was 14,000 and now we are 120,000. At the time of the establ;oshemtn of the state we had 1 gfraudate now ee have hundreds of graduates. In 1956 Druze was recoghnised as an indpedfnent community. Not only about the Derzue community but all community in Israekl. They have the right not only to live in dignity and resoect but to respect their religious beleifs..

I am not a Yazidi. I was a successful career in my country. I was a lawyer in my country. I lost tens of friends, personal freidns, and I didn’t know what trauma is until I arrived here. I didn’t understand what all the speakers are talking about. I do symptahsie with Yazidis…I will tell you what I believe ishappenign there. It is a big conflict with PKK, and …your toher speaker made very unjust comments about Kurdistan. Do you know in Krudisgtan we have only 3 cities…we have 2.5 million Arabs. It is a safe haven for minorities…I know the facts, I ghave been there. If you ask them,would they like to come to the UK…its chaos in there.

Again, about 5 6 months ago I wa sin Iraq. As Assyrians we are indebted to the Yazidis. Durign the 19015 genocide…protected the Assyrians and foguth the Ottomans and did not surrender the Assyrain refugees. We said also cover what happened to the Assyrian refugees…my esteemed colleagtreu said I made unjust claims about the KRG. First, I want tomaek one thing clear. I know my people are not against anyone. I’m talking facts,. Out of 95 villages…57 sufer from land abuse, nothing has been done about it. Have I said anything that contradicts the facts? We all want a successful Iraq and a successful KRG. That cannot happen if I do not respect others just as I respect myself.

 

Well, concerning Sinjar…

Also by Trukey by bombing those areas of Sinjar…they are trying to fulfull the aims of the IS, becasu ethe IS couldn’t manage it. This is soemthign we reaslly have to understand. Hw come the tuRKS…so the aim is this: they don’t want to have a Sinjar oranise dby the Yazidis, but it s thei traditional homeland. When ti comes to the bombing of turkey. IS tried to occupy the area in Syria. The relaitobships between the states and IS are very clear, I wanbt to repeat what can we do to support people to survive.

We as sicivlaisn we are also receiving support.

Okay I have a question first of all fro Mili namasu. You have been in a lot of disinformation about the KRG party. I am Kurdish. Oen side of my village they are Christians, the other sied Jewish. The Jewish people.

Christian are following them, mostly Krudish. So my question, what my friend said there: no one airport is made from the old airport, which is Erbil, only five minuties…the land…

Just wanted to say that were all moral, but it seems that big corpoerations rules the world. For example, Obama gave Iran the nuclear problem.

(Inaudible) all thje problem. Now is our time, please, everyone to stand up, for Kurdish nation, to support IOraq. Jews left Iraq, Christians leave Iraq, now the Kurdish leave Iraq.

Who wants to answer those questions? I really would urge you to be very every short in your answer.

Again, I feel I need to emphasise. I am not against anyone nor was my intention here to be against KRG. But, I am here to speak facts. If you want, well. Wellm you see, this is really…we cannot be stadnign here trung to defend oursefl. We have to be here to find solutions. Solutions can only be founded on mutual respect…if you want, I can send youall the documentation of how the Erbil international aiprot is built on Assyrian lands. Nothing beign implemented.

The clear pictyre from this panel is that all these minorities suffer dscriminationa dn prejudice from one big group and I think it’s time that all these minorities together unite to one group.

Maybe, yes you are right, compared to other peoplk in the region,t eh Kruds are democratys, but yes this is not enough. When I talk about the Yazidis, we are also suffering as weoman. It is alos our task ,w hen we demand democracy when we demand safety of oursefl, we are also demandinf safety within our own society. The kurds of course should understand and shoulda ceept, well to allow that.

Well, the fact is, the fact is, democracy is another end in process. You can’t expect them…they need internatonal help…If Whatever, this is what I believe.

 

Vey very short, well as I said, in my speech, the nmost important right is the right to life, without the right to life, you can’t move forward, then comes all the other rights. But we’ve got to get our periroities right.

 

Well thank you very mnuch from your questions. But it is with great pleasure now that I ask Lady Cox to provide some closing remarsk to the conference. This is a real pleasure for me to give this vote ofthanks for this meeting which is long overdue. Msot of us haven’t heard most of the stories; most of us havenot. I’m really trhileld that weve had the opportnyiy today.

I must say I was vert depressed; all the groups I ehard asking to speak today. When Henry Jackson Society called this afternoon. That was the first good news ive heard for weeks and weeks and weeks. It’s too wonderful that people are interest in maiing the truth/. I wanted tomake a whole attack on the BBC but I wont bother; I think weve heard enough about wagt we htibk fo th4 BBC. I had the pleasure ofmeeting our chariman…aftwer all the trouble people in the labour aprty ahbve had with our leadership.

I want to aslo thank Lyn Julius. None so deaf as those who won’t hear and not so blind as those who don’t speak. I want to tell her that we love her and she’s always been there whwenver we’ve neededher.

I havenmt really met you and I hope I’ll have a chance to do so now.

We’ve worked togeterh years before, and im a very old lady now..his old uncle eho was a Knesset…we worked together many years ago…now he has taken over as the leader of the Druze community in Israel. I’dlike you all, if you want to he;lp and want to join in with us…we’d like to be able to contact you againa dn continue to do some of this work,.

 

 

 

Well thank you. That’;s it. Goodnight. Have safe journeys home.

HJS



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