‘We want our freedom back,’ says Kurdish activist

Avesta Ahmed

The following speech was given by Avesta Ahmed at a forum organised by the Resistance Club at Sydney University on April 24.

* * *

My name is Avesta and I'm 16 years old. My family comes from Afrin, in northern Syria.

Today, there are people in Afrin city and surrounding villages being killed and tortured by ISIS terrorists and other gangs, supported by the Turkish government, who are occupying our homeland.

Kurdish people in Afrin are being forced from their homes. These thugs and the Turkish military claim to be Muslims, but they really have no morality or real respect for the Muslim religion. They have no respect for the innocent families of Afrin, who they are terrorising today.

“Freedom” can be a very difficult word to define, but it is easy to understand when you lose it.

For some people, the word “freedom” means just the ability to walk outside of their house without fear of getting killed, kidnapped, or injured. For others, the word “freedom” is just an empty slogan, allowing them to define it as they like and use it to their own advantage. 

I would like to talk about the situation of women in Afrin. As we all know, the whole world talks about women's freedom. Nearly everybody claims they support it. 

But today, Kurdish women in Afrin don't have freedom. Women in Afrin are being killed or raped every day. They are fighting to defend their country and while they are doing that, they are being killed by the Turkish army and their Islamist allies.

What type of person does this?

They say the Kurds are “terrorists” and we deserve what we are getting.

When you take a mother from her children, it will affect the family for a lifetime. Surely we can all understand that?

We are human beings before we are Kurdish. Are we “terrorists” just because we defend our country? How can the world watch what is going on and remain silent?

Before Turkey invaded Afrin in January, women had respect, freedom and equal rights in the community. They had their own jobs, their own businesses. They had all the rights women living in a country like Australia have — and maybe even more.

Before the Turkish state invaded Afrin, the local governing council of Afrin was made up of equal numbers of men and women. Decisions were made by women and they participated in meetings at all levels.

Women were directly involved in running the community and in defending the freedom of the community by putting their own lives at risk. This special group of women are called the Women's Protective Units (YPJ). 

The YPJ are a women-only armed force and they fight as well as any men. They have the admiration and support of women all over the world.

The Turkish invaders hate the YPJ. When they capture YPJ fighters, they torture and abuse them before killing them or mutilated their bodies.

Since the Turkish army and the remnants of ISIS occupied Afrin last month, they have destroyed all the hard work done by our people to turn their dreams of a democratic future into reality.

Today in Afrin, the Turkish occupiers and their allies are trying to control women's lives and rob them of their freedom. They tell women what they should wear and how they should act. This is cruel, unfair and ridiculous in the 21st century.

The Turkish occupiers appointed a new governing council that is all men who are just puppets controlled from Turkey.

Afrin was a democratic, free and civilised place with equal rights for women and men. But now the Turkish occupiers are trying to destroy our people's culture just like the dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done in Turkey, where there is now no freedom of speech and no freedom for journalists or political opposition.

In Afrin today, the Turkish occupiers are trying to change the Kurdish identity by destroying their history and not allowing them to talk their own language. 

The Erdogan dictatorship wants to make Afrin a Turkish state and part of this is to change everything in Kurdish words to Turkish. Children in schools in Afrin are now learning Turkish. The names of buildings have been changed to Turkish and Kurdish people are being evicted from their homes.

But if you study Kurdish history, you will learn that the Kurds never give up. Erdogan knows that. He also knows that there are more than 25 million Kurds in Turkey and they are hungry for freedom.

The Turkish state has broken international rules. It is committing ethnic cleansing. Erdogan should be arrested and taken to the international crimes court. Europe and the US should stop supplying his regime with weapons to oppress people.

What is the meaning of freedom?

If people in other countries stay silent and let this terrible injustice and suffering happen to innocent people in Afrin, what will they be teaching their children about the meaning of freedom, of women's rights, of democracy?

We should not be silent and let countries destroy the freedom of other human beings.

Become a Green Left supporter today and get the first month free!

Green Left aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. We rely on regular support and donations from readers like you.