Heroes of Shengal: Nûjiyan Erhan’s interview with Zekî Şengalî
The following interview with Zekî Şengalî was conducted by Nûjiyan Erhan and published in Kurdish in Yeni Özgür Politika newspaper on December 12, 2015.
When on August 3rd, the so-called Islamic State attacked the Yazidi (Êzîdî) people of Sinjar (Şengal), the armed forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) abandoned the people and left them to suffer yet another genocide in their painful history. Those, who rushed to the rescue of the dying people, stranded on Mount Sinjar without food or water, were the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as the People’s Defense Units (YPG) and Women’s Defense Units (YPJ) of Rojava/Northern Syria. Initially, only a handful of guerrillas of the PKK were fighting to create a corridor for tens of thousands of Êzîdîs to flee into Rojava/northern Syria, where a refugee camp was established for them by the democratic self-administration of the Cizîre canton, which still hosts tens of thousands of Êzîdîs.
Nûjiyan Erhan, a young guerrilla and journalist, was based on Mount Sinjar for years, reporting about the war against ISIS and documenting the political developments and social transformations in the Êzîdî society stranded on the mountain, with particular focus on the liberation of women. She trained young Êzîdî women and men to work in the field of press and media. On March 3, 2017, she was cowardly attacked by KDP-affiliated forces, who provoked military escalations incited in the interests of the Turkish state, which is currently occupying majority Kurdish territories in Iraq and Syria. Weeks after, she lost her life due to her heavy injuries.
Zekî Şengalî, member of the KCK Executive Council and member of the Êzîdî Society Coordination, was a veteran of the Kurdish liberation movement. Especially since the ISIS massacre, he had been involved in all efforts to help build an autonomous military, social, and political system for the Êzîdî people in the vein of Democratic Autonomy. On August 15, 2018, on the 34th anniversary of the PKK’s beginning of guerrilla warfare and the 4th anniversary of the ISIS genocide, he was assassinated by the Turkish state in a targeted airstrike, after he had attended a commemoration ceremony in Sengal. The PKK does not believe that such an execution could have happened without coordination with the KDP.
Both, Nûjiyan Erhan and Zekî Sengalî were thus killed as part of a vested effort by the Turkish state and its treasonous Kurdish collaborators to suffocate the Êzîdî people’s self-determination and to annihilate the very same Kurdish freedom movement that liberated the Êzîdîs when the entire world watched the genocide unfold. The killing of a free Kurdish woman and a revolutionary, popular Êzîdî leader are seen as a continuation of the mentalities and tactics of ISIS.
The following interview with Zekî Şengalî was conducted by Nûjiyan Erhan and published in Kurdish in Yeni Özgür Politika newspaper on December 12, 2015.
Nûjiyan Erhan – Şengal
12 December 2015
With the 73rd massacre on the Êzîdîs, the world has heard about the existence of the Êzîdî people by way of yet another genocide. August 3rd, 2014 went down as a day of darkness in the pages of the general history of the Kurds. But the suffering of the Êzîdî people is not limited to the last massacre. As we rejoice with the liberation of Şengal, our Êzîdî people express their sensitivities. The people on Mount Şengal do not view the events as the city’s liberation yet. They say: “As long as our political will is not accepted and recognized, Şengal will not be free”. Behind this backdrop, the councils and organizations on Mount Şengal issued a joint statement.
What do the people of Şengal want? What do they need and what is required for the reconstruction of the city? We asked Zekî Şengalî, member of the Êzîdî Society Coordination, for his opinion.
The liberation of Şengal was great news for all Kurdish people. But what is the meaning of Şengal for the Êzîdî people?
Şengal has a very different meaning to the Êzîdîs. Şengal is both, a historical site and a sacred region, as well as a strategic space for Kurdishness. The liberation of Şengal carries great importance. But we cannot yet speak of a genuine liberation of Şengal. Liberation must also take place in the realm of politics, ideology and psychology. Now a certain degree of comfort has been obtained, as the threat of ISIS no longer lures over the people as it did previously. However, some of our surroundings are still under the siege of the gangs. On October 8th, the Şilo operation started. After the liberation of Şengal, the efforts began to liberate the surrounding villages. These are ongoing. Many villages have been liberated, but many are still in the hands of the ISIS gangs. But the problem is not only the liberation of territory.
Clearly, Şengal has been liberated territorially. But the city was hit hard. Many places have been looted. What is needed for the reconstruction of Şengal?
Şengal has been destroyed. On one hand, the gangs of ISIS haven’t left anything behind, on the other hand, the war and conflict have greatly devastated the city. People must immediately start working on the reconstruction of the city. For this, a commission must be formed, but it mustn’t be determined by decisions from outside. On the contrary, it must be elected with the will of the people. People, who are specialized in reconstruction-related work, should also take part in it. It is important to work on these problems. All Kurdistanî forces ought to unite and collectively extend their helping hands to Şengal. The issue of Şengal is both, a national as well as international affair. For Şengalîs to live in freedom, all national and international forces must assist. Şengal was liberated, but the families have not yet returned. As long as the issue of reconstruction is not solved, people will not be able to return. Likewise, there is no status for Şengal yet. Therefore, the will of the people of Şengal must be recognized. The people of Şengal ought to be able to administer themselves. They must be given the opportunity to do so. The trust of the people here is broken now. We must never underestimate what happened to these people. The previous status is unable to cure these wounds inflicted on the people or to solve issues. The people cannot and do not accept it, because they saw that the old order was not able to protect them. That is why people must rush to assist the situation of Şengal.
Nobody should fall into the trap of petty calculations, partisan, familial, tribal or individual interests. The situation of the people of Şengal has international significance and must be defined by the needs of these affected people.
How should Şengal be approached?
Above all, people must cease to see the distinct aspects of the Şengalîs as a threat, but view it as an enrichment instead. The Ezdayî faith is the most ancient of all in these lands. In this sense, we can say that it constitutes the foundation and roots of Kurdishness. Thus, the entire region ought to show their respect to this belief and allow it to live according to its own ways and manners. This in turn is possible with the recognition of the autonomy of Şengal. This is the most legitimate right of these people. According to article 125 and 116 of the Iraqi constitution, every region can determine itself autonomously. If this right is supposed to apply for all of Iraq, why shouldn’t the Êzîdîs benefit from it? The autonomy of Şengal, as well as the regional administrations set up by the Êzîdîs themselves, must be recognized.
Why are there city councils for all regions of Iraq, but there shouldn’t be one for Şengal? Our people of Şengal established their own council now. Likewise, the autonomous women’s council has been formed. This does not mean that Şengal is seceding; this autonomy will strengthen Şengalê and with this strength, they could in turn be part of the Kurdistan region. The existence of a strong Şengal means a strong Kurdistan.
What does the administration of Şengal look like now?
The Kurdistan Regional Government wants Şengal to be run like in the past. But this era is over. Before, a central administration was sent to govern. The willpower or recognition of the people were not involved. This administration completely abandoned the people at the time of the massacre anyway. The administration before the massacre has no legitimacy left. The people that had been employed as district governors have not been here in the past year and four months. How can a person, who is not even among their people, claim to govern them? The people don’t recognize such governance issued by the centre. Those who claim to constitute the administration of Şengal issue statements from time to time, but nobody pays attention to these words because they have no legitimacy.
In January of this year, the regional government [KRG] established an administration, which created a conflicting situation. There was an administration for Şengal before already. But when it mattered the most, it completely abandoned the people and went off. The governor is member of a party. People like that cannot respond to the needs and problems of society. What must be considered most essentially is the will of the people. The people created their own council and committees. That is what is legitimate.
Without a doubt, one of the most crucial aspects to consider for reconstruction is the issue of defense. What are the requirements of the people in Şengal in terms of security?
Just as we say that the administration cannot be continued as in the past, it is clear that the same applies to the realm of defense. That is the greatest fear of the people anyway. Defense must not operate like it did in the past. Previously, there were 17 thousand peshmergas stationed here. Among them were Êzîdîs, but they didn’t have anything to say on their own behalf. Whatever their commanders said, they had to implement. Nevertheless, today a defense force of Şengal has been established with the willpower of these people, through the participation of the children of these people. They know their needs and requirements better than anyone else. Even if the whole world wants to run them over, they will defend themselves. No matter how many attacks are launched, they will not surrender their defense, because its organization was founded and built on all this suffering and difficulty. Above all, the military will of the Êzîdîs must be recognized. Likewise, the people cannot simply trust everyone like in the past. The internal security forces must also be recognized. One must radically reconsider the issue of Şengal’s defense.
From now on, nobody can force the people to wear the clothes of the past. The approaches will become clear with time and in light of concrete needs. For instance, several battalions have been formed in the area, but there is no formality to these battalions. In fact, the formation of battalions fragments the united force of the Êzîdîs. Thus, no unity comes about, which in turn harms national concerns. Indeed, concerning the reconstruction of Şengal, the matter of defense is the most important aspect. They must let the Êzîdîs organize their own defense.
What is required for the recognition of the Êzîdî people’s will?
Above all, the institutions and organization of the Êzîdî people must be recognized. Êzîdîs can raise their consciousness, create their existence. There are many particular issues that affect children, youth and women. There is the issue of education. Many efforts are being led to these ends, but they do not suffice. Autonomy would guarantee a free and democratic life, but if autonomy does not get recognized, there will be discrimination against some groups in society. Democracy always strengthens society. People must approach the Êzîdîs with this in mind.
The efforts to reconstruct Şengal are ongoing. What sort of aid is needed? Many people are collecting aid in the name of the Şengalîs; does this aid reach the people?
Until now, no humanitarian aid was issued that would embraces all the people. The aid that does arrive comes in a fragmented way. This in turn does not relieve the people’s needs. There is the Foundation Council of Şengal, where all the humanitarian aid should be sent to for distribution But because everyone is acting on their own and in a fragmented manner, the intended aid does not adequately fulfil its purpose. Cooperation is required in this area. Certain parties take the aid and distribute it according to their own interests. Our people generally send aid for the Şengalîs, but the stuff often ends up in the hands of certain parties. These either reserve the aid for themselves or distribute it among the people close to them. In the past year and few months, we have been distributing things as the Êzîdî Coordination, but we never discriminated between people when doing so. According to our means, we shared the stuff among all people. Those, who send humanitarian aid, should always make sure to check whether or not their items actually reach the people. That is another reason for why we need a commission that could conduct research to see how many Êzîdî camps exist and how many people inhabit them.
In relation to the topic of defense, Turkey has sent soldiers to the Bahşîqa region. How do the Êzîdî people assess this?
Who really believes that these soldiers that have been sent came here to fight against ISIS? Nobody believes that, everyone knows that the state that helped ISIS rise the most is Turkey. Has ISIS not based all of its logistics, manpower and general existence on Turkey? If that is the case, who could possibly believe that the Turks arrived in Bahşîqa region to fight against ISIS? If they really wanted to fight ISIS, they could start in Dîlok (Gaziantep), which is full of ISIS gangs. Why not start by arresting them? Their ultimate aim in Bahşîqa is to annihilate the presence of Êzîdîs. Bahşîqa is a region of the Êzîdîs, but the Turkish state wants to settle Turkmen in the area. At the same time, the policy to displace the Êzîdîs from their homeland is an ongoing effort, led above all by Turkey. The presence of Turkish soldiers in the region is like a threat to the Êzîdîs. We don’t accept it. If the KRG has military capacity, why don’t they assist the Êzîdî forces of the YBŞ (Şengal Resistance Units) to obtain experience in the war against ISIS, instead of calling up another state? All this has been consciously planned by these two forces; it is a systematic policy to remove Êzîdîs from this region.
Do you wish to say some last words or to make a call?
Our people of Şengal ought to maintain faith in their future. Much suffering and pain has been experienced. A genocide happened. Nevertheless, they should believe that the times have changed. National and international aid is not small, but a great duty falls on the shoulders of the Êzîdîs to re-create themselves, to return to their lands, and extend their hands to each other to re-establish a new Şengal. Êzîdî boys and girls should take part in the defense of Êzîdxan. In these lands, it is obvious that we cannot wait to surrender our protection and defense to others.
Comrade Berîvan Şengal, as young Êzîdî girl, increased her belief and her dreams after the big massacre and went to participate in the freedom ranks. Despite her young age, she took up great duties and responsibilities. Berîvan was a forerunner for Şengal. As a young girl, she rose up with the duty to avenge her people for the genocide. Today, Berîvan Şengal is a symbol of resistance on these lands. She did not abandon her lands or her faith. On the path to defend the values of her lands, she sacrificed her life along the way. The Êzîdî youth must look up to her.
We must take lessons from history and accordingly fulfil all the duties that fall on our shoulders until we are able to gift a free county and beautiful days to the children of the future.