This is an extended version of an article which originally appeared at PJ Media, now featuring additional photographs and expanded interviews with participants
Halloween ended two days prior, but on the evening of November 2, 2019, plenty of monsters and heroes walked about the Anaheim Hilton, just across the street from Disneyland. Two big events bumped up against each other, each constructed on fantasy worlds and drawing distinctly-attired attendees. But the real world intruded upon their fantasy in the form of pro-freedom protesters.
The Anaheim convention center was hosting "BlizzCon," celebrating computer game company Blizzard Entertainment, responsible for such titles as World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Thus, numerous individuals were fully decked out in "cosplay" attire, from ogres and elves to sorceresses and space soldiers.
In clothes of a different sort were the event's protesters: pro-Hong Kong demonstrators, some sporting Winnie the Pooh outfits, a satisfying jab at China's authoritarian leader Xi Jinping, who has been savagely mocked for resembling the lovable bear with a very little brain. (Blizzard has chosen the predictably corporate and wrong side in the Hong Kong vs. China question.)
But inside the Hilton hotel, on the second floor, the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Greater Los Angeles branch (CAIR-GLA) conducted its annual fundraising banquet featuring keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill, Philadelphia state representative Movita Johnson-Harrell, Shaykh Mohammed Faqih (previously an imam for 13 years at the Islamic Institute of Orange County and currently imam at the Memphis Islamic Center and AlMaghrib instructor), and comedian Amer Zahr. Hill is particularly notable for losing his job as a CNN contributor after a public endorsement of Palestinian terrorism and call for the destruction of Israel.
What inspired the evening's protests against CAIR had more to do with who was behind the scenes than who was on stage. Turkish Airlines was a silver-level sponsor of the event. This prompted Kurdish activist Amir Sharifi to organize a group of protesters and to issue a press release endorsed by the Southern California Kurdish Committee in Defense of Rojava, the United Rights Council, and the American Hellenic Council of California.
The release said,
Although some moderate Islamic clerics and reformists have decried the Turkish invasion and barbarities, it is indeed appalling and paradoxical that CAIR and other Ruling Party (AKP) apologists continue to promote the agenda of the Turkish regime in North and East Syria... This is what happened to the Armenians in the Genocide of 1915-1923... We expect all conscientious people to raise their voices against this genocidal campaign.
CAIR is the nation's most prominent Islamist influence group with dozens of chapters around the country which work to control local media narratives, radicalize their local Muslim communities through sponsoring events featuring controversial speakers and imams, and ally with radical regimes including Turkey. The FBI refuses to meet with CAIR and the United Arab Emirates have designated it a terrorist organization due to its close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Beginning around 4:30 p.m. and lasting until almost 7:00, the Kurdish group gradually grew from a dozen to around fifty protesters as more people of all ages, from children to the elderly, came with hand-drawn signs and flags of red, yellow, and green.
Initially, the Kurdish protesters began next to the Hong Kong activists, in front of the entrance to BlizzCon, chanting "Shame on Erdogan! Shame on Turkish Military!" which initially led to some confusion between the two protesting groups. But before long the Kurdish group shifted to the other side of the roundabout on the Southeast corner of the Hilton, what turned out to be an ideal spot as many banquet attendees had to drive past them – sometimes painfully slowly – to enter the Hilton's parking structure.
The new protest location offered the opportunity for Kurdish advocates to peacefully engage with a group of gray-haired "interfaith witnesses" wearing white and waving "Welcome CAIR" signs. (The group had also engaged in such counter-protesting at the last CAIR-GLA banquet, when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was hosted in Woodland Hills on March 23, 2019.)
River Hagg is an American Navy veteran and documentary filmmaker who had served as a medic in Syria with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and filmed tons of footage of the experience that would become the documentary film The Volunteers. He came in support of those with whom he served. Reflecting on his experience with CAIR's defenders Hagg said,
As we set up next to them, I could see the look on their faces was kind of like "what is going on?" I think that as the demonstrations proceeded, they started to figure it out. They tried to address some of my protesting information towards them, because I think it's really important that when people actually understand what's happening, there's a lot difference [sic] response... So when we started directing our comments at the CAIR welcoming committee I could see some just outright horror on some of those people's faces when they were learning about the atrocities that were being committed by Turkey. And I think that most good people when they learn of what's happening are outraged. You know, Turkey has armed the al-Qaeda of Syria, they have actively just given guns and sent them across the border. And that's a terrorist organization.
The pro-CAIR group wrapped up early – around 5:45 — and after they left, the protest's heat started to rise. Many of the cars obviously included banquet attendees as women sitting in passenger seats wore fancy outfits with hijabs. Some of the Gala attendees responded to the protesters with thumbs down signs and even the occasional middle finger, prompting angry yells in response. One Kurdish woman blasted, "Islam does not mean supporting terrorism! Do not support Turkish airlines!"
"The Turkish airline is owned by the Turkish government, which is right now killing the Kurds in northeastern Syria and also in southeastern Turkey for many, many years, for decades, and right now I believe the Turkish government is pushing too much here in Los Angeles to try to mislead people," Sereke Welat, a protester and activist who attended the event, explained.
Many activists in the group took their turn at the bullhorn with such chants as: "Turkey out of Syria! Fascist Erdogan!"; "Hey hey, ho ho, Erodgan's got to go!"; "Down with ISIS, Down with ISIS! Down with Erdogan!"; and "CAIR does not care! Turkey does not care!"
At times, traditional Kurdish music played. Among the signs on display: "Erdugan kills Kurdish children in Afrin"; "Trump betrayed and murdered the Kurds"; "Turkey = ISIS"; "No to Kurdish Genocide;" and "Divest Turkey" — the latter in a style and font similar to the Armenian Genocide protests in April.
Around 6:20 a young woman took over on bullhorn duties, leading such chants as:"What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!"; "Stop killing Kurdish Kids!"; and "Turkey is not our ally! Turkey out of NATO!" At one point a protester showed a video on his phone that had been circulating around. It showed two Kurdish girls being beheaded.
After the protests wrapped up around 6:50, this reporter entered the hotel lobby and requested to speak with Eugene W. Fields, the chapter's communications director. Jasir Soomro, CAIR-GLA's Outreach and Events Coordinator, soon emerged to hear the subject of the inquiry: What did CAIR have to say about the Kurdish protest outside?
After about 20 minutes of waiting and engaging in friendly conversation with the guard – who admitted he mostly attended these events for the food and socializing – Soomro returned with the anticipated answer: "No comment."
After all, what could CAIR say that would justify taking money from a government engaged in brutal war crimes and ethnic cleansing?
Dozens of protesters outside a luxury hotel chanting in the name of the Kurds, a forgotten people far away being slaughtered by a monstrous Islamist dictator, while LA's Muslim elite dine inside, laughing at their comedian and awarding a man who calls for the elimination of the Jewish state. While the BlizzCon attendees scurrying around the convention center and hotel may have dressed as monsters in celebration of their benign fantasy worlds, with the banquet attendees it was the opposite. While CAIR and its supporters pretend to be heroic protectors of oppressed minorities, the banquet demonstrated that the opposite is true, that CAIR is merely another cog in the global machine of authoritarian Islamist oppression.
Yes, of course, "No comment." None is needed – CAIR-GLA's actions again speak more than clearly about the organization's moral standards.
Expanded Interviews with Protesters
Post-Protest Interview with Amir Sharifi
Q: What prompted you to organize the demonstration?
Let me begin with what William Faulkner is quoted as said, "Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty, truth, compassion against injustice, lying, and greed." And if all of the world would do this, it would change the earth. But unfortunately, people all over the world do not raise their voices until it is belated and belated it was, perhaps even our effort to put an end to the brutal invasion of North East Syria, an area which is called Rojava.
And definitely what prompted me to participate in this was the depth and breadth of the savagery that is perpetuated against not only Kurds but also Arabs, religious minorities, other ethnic minorities that are indigenous to these areas that have come under the brutal invasion and aggression of the Turkish regime. On the one hand, on the other hand, this was really confronting the Turkish apologists and supporters in the United States, those who condone the Turkish regime and its programs, and pogroms I should say, and I am specifically referring to this event that we had against the hosting of a banquet by the Council of American-Islamic Relations, an event that was among others supported and sponsored by the Turkish airlines.
This was an absolute travesty that those who claim to be American, and claim to be spiritual in their orientation, rather than condemning they are condoning the Turkish invasion and massacre of innocent people and the ethnic cleansing which is soon to follow the expulsion of over 400,000 people from their homeland, 80,000 of whom as reported by the UN are children. So it is the human catastrophe that is unfolding, has been unfolding, has been plaguing Syria for quite a few years that really prompted me – and this was not the first time, unfortunately I know it is not the last time – to participate in organizing this relatively successful protest event.
Q: Have you organized these kinds or protests in the past?
I have been writing, basically speaking, giving talks in academic and non-academic circles, I've written academic papers and have published basically non-academic materials for general readership but I've also been a political activist, a human rights activist in promoting human rights all over the world, specifically for the Kurds that are under brutal repression in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. They suffer various kinds of discriminations cultural, linguistic, economic, so on and so forth. With respect to Turkey, yes, I have also been active in that area since I know Turkey has even gloomier and darker past when it comes to other ethnicities, other religious minorities. The world basically knows what they did to Armenians, other groups, and Kurds have continuously suffered from a combination of the Turkish jingoism and Jihadism. If at a certain point it was just absolutely the ultra-nationalism, racism of the various Turkish, basically states, and now this is combined perniciously, poisonously with Islamic fundamentalism of the ruling party.
So, ever since AKP, the ruling party, took on basically these characteristics of a religiously-moderated, theocratic organization bent on the suppression of human rights, civil rights, not only to Kurds but throughout Turkey, I became basically more vocal, bolder and more assertive in my pronouncements, condemnation, participation in political, basically events to raise consciousness about what was happening. And Turkey, there was a time, you'll recall not long ago, Turkey was being portrayed to the West as a model democracy, moderate basically state. The world really didn't know what basically the schemes, the underlying really moderations for Erdogan and Erdoganism was.
So, you know, as soon as I became conscious and aware, following the political developments, I took it upon myself, going back to what William Faulkner had said, that I wanted to reveal basically to the extent that I could the truth and the injustice that was being perpetrated against everyone and anyone in Turkey, just two days ago 15 mayors were arrested in Turkey. They were SJP nominated mayors and they had an overwhelming majority of votes... It's a really awful, 25 people have been mayors who have been detained. Hundreds basically declined or denied their position. And I would say probably more than 50 mayors have been detained, some of whom have been arrested and are in jail. Not to mention thousands of political, basically activists, critics, journalists, soldiers, even Islamic reformers. So, the record of the ruling party is so, so dark. That anyone who is interested, has the slightest interest in human rights could not remain silent. Obviously, the Kurds are being the apogees of the secular democracy and a leftist movement suffered the brunt of these attacks. And I have been primarily active in that area, not losing sight of the overall picture of human rights in Turkey and neighboring countries.
Q: About the protest itself? Were there any memorable moments or highlights from the event for you?
What I definitely appreciated this demonstration was the fact that it was basically a well-attended overall even that it was a weekend and not the most space for a public demonstration in the midst of a touristic center, secluded area...
The enthusiasm that I saw, the keen really interest in humanism, in basically having our voices our protests, be heard and screaming at the top of our lungs at those who were basically in the midst of the bloodshed were going to attend a banquet in a luxurious hotel. And to those people I was thinking they would go back to their places, they would sleep, in the comfort of their rooms, not even having any qualms about basically what they were doing, they were culprits in this horrendous situation.
So, I appreciated the unified voice of the demonstrators. The fact that we were not alone, that the Human Rights Council of California and the Armenian association, the Hellenic council of California, several US citizens of various persuasions. The fact that primarily we as a community of Kurds coming from different parts of Kurdistan participated and contributed. The fact that Rojava and its secular democracy in a way had given us a voice. That we stand for diversity and more than anything else I would say it is diversity which is under attack in our part of the world because we happen to be, we used to be as a matter of fact, one of the most diverse regions in the world and that is under vicious attack.
And I think many Kurds really have gone to the realization that our beauty lies in this kind of religious and ethnic diversity that the world, especially Erdogan, and Erdoganism, and Trump cannot tolerate. I saw that probably for some Kurds as well who had any illusions about Donald Trump, to see the mirror image of Erdogan and Trump and each other because they have so many similarities. For even religiously-minded people to see that talking about Xenophobia and Islamophobia as it comes from CAIR for instance that do not really reflect a progressive but definitely it could reflect a very reactionary position. This is where basically reactionary forces came together.
This was a beacon of hope in the sense that some people could see the commonalities between Trump and Erdogan. That both really lie as I said on jingoism and Jihadism, Islamic, or Christian fundamentalism, both propagate and promulgate racial and ethnic hatred, isolationism, and some form of religious fundamentalism. So, both are really capable of the criminal and treacherous acts. Not only capable but they perpetrate these.
I was happy basically to see that many of us now could see how immigrants, refugees are being weaponized in basically our own borders within the United States. The poor families that are kept in these cages, they are separated, children are being kept in prison-like conditions and Erdogan weaponizing these defenseless Syrian refugees against Europe, wants to basically send them into Europe if they don't shut up and then he wants basically to bring them all into the Kurdish, historically inhabited, indigenous area belonging to Kurds. A re-drawing of the map, this is happening, this is going to happen right in front of our eyes. I was happy that basically we could see these things more clearly but I felt helpless and hopeless that we cannot really do anything... Erdogan does the same, the gray wolves are going to be destroying our lives, the white supremacists in this country have destroyed, will continue to destroy people's lives. And yet they speak of basically brotherhood so on and so forth.
I was feeling somewhat basically helpless. Actually, my vocal bands are totally strained as I was giving out these slogans against Erdogan. But what is going to happen? Is anything going to change? For this is a global conspiracy. NATO is involved, Russians are involved... Definitely you know, we had this protest, but I felt somewhat helpless in the sense that I don't think we could stop this. Sanctions have been passed but they happen to be hollow words unless they are enforced, unless they are imposed, unless the Turkish army is pulled out, is forced to withdraw. Otherwise, this ethnic cleansing is in the making. The catastrophe has already occurred and there is sense of more than happiness the bitterness that I can't put into words.
I began by saying "belated" because the land has been occupied, hundreds of people have been massacred, thousands have been wounded, 400,000 people have been made refugees in their own homeland in Southern Kurdistan. And there is no hope that the world wants them to return. And Turkey continues to be vociferous in their pernicious and slanderous propaganda against Kurds. And the world really is not doing anything. At least to recognize, officially recognize, SDF, Syrian Democratic Forces. If that recognition does not come, one could not really give a sigh of relief because if Kurds are not recognized for their contribution to the world, to the war against the Islamic State, for establishing a secular, plural, ethnically diverse and democracy, I don't know what kind of world we live in. I have no choice but to continue to carry out Faulkner's basically message, all freedom fighters and activists until such a dream, such a hope becomes possible. Unfortunately, we live during a time that reactionary forces are gaining increasingly more ground. I would call this era the era of jingoism and Jihadism. The Kurds are under this vicious attack, of two potent and destructive forces of history. And some people suffer from it more and probably earlier than the others.
Q: To conclude now, do you have any future plans? Future protests or other actions that you'd like to explore? Where do you want to go from here?
I really appreciate Middle East Forum for their progressive and conscientious line of thinking and covering ignored matters, matters that fall into basically fall into abbreviate given the plurality and instantaneous nature of social media. And as a member of this new organization in Southern California – Kurdish Committee for the Defense of Rojava – we will definitely look into ways in which we could organize and continue our protests until the complete withdrawal of Turkey even though once Turkey occupies an area, look at Syria, look at what happened to the Armenians when they made them disappear, and if this is not done decisively and quickly this will turn into a long-term entanglement, which it has already become.
Definitely, we have not had the foresight to look at the long term, but protests will continue, including for instance, we would be involved, some members may go to Washington. Erdogan has been invited. The criminal has been invited to the White House on November 13, is coming to town, the same man who ordered his security forces to brutally beat up American citizens, American demonstrators, and they ended up in American courts. And he was directly implicated.
He has been invited to come to the white house. The alliance between Trump and Erdogan is a totally different topic that we would look at, but their primary interest is not really human life. But their own collaboration with one another to enrich themselves, their pockets at the cost of the misery of other human beings. And so we intend to contribute symbolically and also some members have heard of this committee we have established would participate. We have written, I personally wrote, letters to the American, more specifically the congressmen and women in our district, in our area, so there is a letter campaign going on, we will continue with that. We have visited some congressmen and women in their offices, local offices here in California to voice our protest, to push for the enactment and the enforcement of these restrictions against Turkey. We will write and we will publish, we have a website as a matter of fact which was created for the purpose of this particular event. We will build it up as a part of social media campaign.
And obviously we are going to have regular meetings to plan future activities. We are also involved in relief aid efforts trying to bring together different channels, learning more about what would be the best, the most effective way to help the internally displaced and also the refugees in Syria, collecting donations and so on and so forth.
So those are the most immediate, and on the top of that, we have to continue to raise consciousness and awareness. For instance, during the demonstration there were quite a few adherents of interfaith dialogue. And it seemed to me that they were really welcoming CAIR, or they were encouraging, urging interfaith dialogue. And some of them knew... Again they had been somewhat influenced by CAIR's denouncements of Islamophobia and xenophobia that came from the White House. And when I explained to them, when I talked to them, they realize some of them, how mistaken they were or they hadn't thought about the issue. So raising public awareness definitely is a very important part of this because people are being killed in the name of God by someone who is totally godless and he is selling this terrible war as a godly, as a divine intervention by getting rid of the so-called "terrorists." If anyone wants to know what terrorism is they have to live in southeast Turkey, Kurdish inhabited areas....
If anyone wants to know what the connection between Donald Trump is and Erdogan, they could also look why the United States withdrew from the Paris pact. I think our work is cut out for us. It's not just one dimension, it is multi-dimensional. It is global. What the Kurds are facing may appear to be regional but this is a global fight between two opposing camps, unfortunately Kurds we just happen to historically have inherited the brunt of this brutal suppression and repression. Why? Because we are more vocal for the recognition of the most fundamental freedoms and human rights. Which we have been denied.
So we will continue this work, it's really long term. I don't know how long this ad hoc committee we have created will survive, but I've been here for 40 years and I have been active in various organizations and in various forms. I think part of our effort should really be how to connect our movement with the global movement. Unfortunately, the Left in this country has been anything but progressive and I don't want to sound too pessimistic or over-generalized. But support for progressive democracy hasn't come through. So we need to to push for that. We have to build bridges and make connections with progressive organizations. We have to bring the stories of Americans who gave their lives. You saw one of them, I don't know if you talked with him [River Hagg, whose interview appears below]. A volunteer who is very persistent in promoting and I just was reading the story of an Australian... a 23-year-old young man who had been in Rojava for only six weeks when he was killed. These volunteers, these brave men and women. Those stories really have to be told. Those are the inspirational things.
So you initially began by asking me the presence of those volunteers, the spouse of Chelsea, she was not at this particular demonstration but she was the first one with her two kids whose husband had been killed in Rojava. I think this connection is new and many people don't realize that this connection is not limited to the United States, Europeans, and from Asian countries. The international brigade is not really a massive force but it is a burgeoning force that brought a sense of internationalism beyond Kurdish narrow nationalism, turning it into a transnational movement. And in that sense, I said our work is cut out for us because this is a global really effort and campaign and we need to connect and allow ourselves to connect with us. And this campaign and quest for freedom and justice and truth if you want to change the world.
Q: To wrap up: what you said previously made me think of one final question. It's of course well known that in the past when people have been protesting that Erdogan sent his thugs out to do violence against them. I was curious, is that ever a fear that is sort of looming over when you protest Turkey that there may be a higher chance of violence than other protests? Is that a factor at all?
There is always a fear. Of course, whenever there is a demonstration and we have demonstrated along with Armenians and fortunately as you know the House finally recognized the Armenian genocide, which is a belated step in the right direction, so they always basically around. They have in the past for instance, I remember, we were demonstrating in front of the Turkish consulate and cars were passing by, some would stop, and basically try and engage or take our pictures and engage us by exchanging basically throwing insults at us. But fortunately, at least in California, I am not really seeing any outbursts of violence from our part, we think peaceful means would be the ultimate mode of transformation. But obviously there is an element of Turkish, more than an element, I've been to Turkey, there is a personal fascism, an ideology that has been institutionalized. A sense of superiority, a sense of not seeing anyone but oneself. And that ideology, the true believer, those who are true believers in this creed both the religious and the nationalist, would be prone to basically kill and be killed. And I'm always apprehensive of those elements, those radical elements. The same people, elements that Erdogan has hired and terrorized people, summarily executed...
So this violence is endemic to the ideology and of course it really frightens me and I don't want to personally despite my fury, really unspeakable indignation at what is going, the injustice, I would not allow myself to express my sentiments violently. But I don't know about the other side. We saw what they did to peaceful demonstrators in Washington, in the heart of the United States. A city that has had its own not-so-glorious past either. I'm not saying this violence is limited to only the ultra-nationalists or Jihadists Turks. But at least here we have learned to contain and control our anger so to speak, but when political fervor becomes an ideology, becomes an unquestioning faith, you don't really pay attention to where you are and who you are attacking. And that definitely worries me, if there is violence, violence is contagious. If it happens in Syria they will target everyone. Turkey has even targeted Kurdish satellite TV. You cannot even exist in space! Anything under the name Kurds, is brutally, physically, culturally, linguistically obliterated.
So violence is not just physical, it can take various forms. And the worst kind, which is happening, what has happened to Kurds in Turkey is not only physical, exclusion, decimation, depopulation of areas, all these things massacres, imprisonment, these are all physical. But there is also a symbolic violence, when your language is denied. When you cannot even listen to your music, when a musician is pulled away from a stage, a talent show program, officially sanctioned. And he sings a song in Kurdish hoping he would win in this contest. A policeman grabs the microphone away from him and he says, 'This language is not permitted in this country.' I mean this is absolute violence. If you can't really think or express your feelings in your own language. This is the worst kind of violence so obviously our fight is against all kinds of violence, really or symbolic, for us all kinds of violence are real.
And we try to, if we are attacked, we defend ourselves. And that is what Kurds had to do in Turkey. Look what has happened to them. And look what is happening in Syria. The second largest arm is the first probably, most aggressive army in the world. So yeah it really worries me. Because this is not I as a person, I have felt that kind of pressure, I have felt the violence in all its forms... but as a Kurd from Iran I felt the exclusion, the discrimination, the symbolic violence at its depth. But what Kurds in Turkey have suffered from by comparison, really my experience pales in comparison. So, we can confront this violence all the times in various forms. We just have to be conscience, alert, and primarily defend our integrity, our resilience, fortunately Kurds have been resilient. And in this resilience their struggle is for a better world for everyone, not just for themselves...
When it comes to the personal fascism that I began with, when you have demagogues in power such as Erdogan or Donald Trump, these forces become unleashed, Menendez, the Democratic Senator, in criticizing Donald Trump, he had said, and quite aptly, 'You have unleased the gates of hell.' By withdrawing US troops from Syria. So Erdogan and Donald Trump both have created a hell. And that is frightening.
Q: Any final points?
I think people everywhere and anywhere should not let this matter fall into oblivion. Should not let basically the cries of a child who had been bombed with phosphorus chemical weapon, with people who have been brutally killed, and what worries me the most is this ethnic cleansing...
This is also a language war. They want to bring back and they use in the media the Arabic words for these. And Kurds insist on using the names...
It is important that, there are many issues in the world, but we should not forget that these issues are interrelated. And if we kept that in the back of our mind, whether one is Kurdish or non-Kurdish, I am saying this as a Kurdish-American, regional issues have never been so intrinsically and intimately intertwined with global issues and developments. We should never lose that kind of a focus.
Post-Protest Interview with River Hagg
Q: What was it that pushed you to want to come to the protest?
Well, I tried to go back [to Rojava] but the FBI stopped me. And so I guess that's the best I can do, is show up on a street corner. And use my voice. I really feel like, Rojava and Northern Syria the alliance that's formed there is a real chance for peace for the whole Middle East as a whole. And it's a really ingenious way to incorporate minorities within the Middle East. And due to the colonial impact that happened when the Middle East was divided up over a hundred years ago into the current states that they are now, it really it cut out a lot of people, it cut some cities in half... It just divided so many people that shouldn't be divided that way and it's really created a lot of conflict. And so for me to, as an American, support democracy and the ideals that I stand for as an American, you know, which is justice and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, religious freedom, women's rights, these are things that need to be supported and so for me to come out and support the Kurds in Northern Syria and the Christians and the Jews and Alawites and Armenians, and the Yazidi.
You know, there's so many people in Northern Syria and I know the Kurds have the largest minority group there, but there's Arabs and Kurds and there's just such a wide variety of people that gets kind of forgotten in the rhetoric because of the YPG and stuff, you know, it's the reason I felt that I needed to come out in support of the Kurds because I feel like I know a lot of people in northern Syria that follow me, and I need them to see that we do care. Because they kept telling me that nobody cares. And I know they watch my Facebook feeds, I know they watch my Twitter feeds and when they see me out there demonstrating as a habal, as a volunteer, I carry a certain weight that isn't assigned to somebody who hasn't necessarily risked their life.
Q: Could you tell me about the Kurds?
The Kurdish people are a mountain people, typically they come from an area that's divided between Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq and it's a giant mountain range that stretches along that whole region and they are such a beautiful people. They have such a connection to the land and also they're artists, they love to sing and dance. They're always singing. Kurdis are always singing. Wherever you go, we're getting ready to go to a big gun fight, everybody pulls over right before we go to the gun fight, they stop the trucks, they turn the stereos on, and they all get in a line and start dancing together. And they're smiling and they're laughing and they're singing, and they're talking about resistance being life. They're talking about their friends and their homes and their dreams of having a country and then they go and throw themselves into just the most insane chaotic environment that you could ever imagine. As in urban combat and just throw down their lives. And that same group that there was 50, 100 of them, and two hours later, half of them are dead. And they're coming back, and they're crying over their friends, wrapped in colorful blankets. And they're hugging each other and they're turning the music back on, and they're dancing and they're saying 'Shahid Namirin' which is 'Our martyrs are never forgotten.' And their idea of martyrdom is to die for their community. And that's a really beautiful concept to sacrifice your life, whether you die or whether you live, but to give your life for the community... 'Resistance is life'. And that is just so noble and beautiful and inspiring to me. And I see so much of that here in America. I see it during a natural disaster, Americans are together, they're helping each other, neighbor helping neighbor. It's only in the news and in the media and in the propaganda that America looks divided. And I saw that in the Kurds. I really saw fledgling democracy that was inspiring to me as an American, and I didn't expect it. You know, I went there to aid in the fight against ISIS... I helped defend the Kurds, in the navy against Saddam, and that was my first combat deployment. So, I've known about Kurds for a long time, but I had no idea they're rad, man. Such a rad people. Really, they love all religions, they don't care if you're Muslim or Christian or Yazidi, they don't care. And that's again, it's not what we're taught about in our Orientalist perspectives that we're taught here about the Middle East.
Q: Was the protest what you expected it to be or were you surprised in any way? What did you think?
Yeah, I was surprised because it's such a hard location... I was a little concerned. But in the end, I was really happy with the show-up and the turn-out. We had easily 50 people show up who paid $35 or $20 each to park, depending on where they parked at. That really says a lot. When you can get your protesters to pay to protest – that says a lot. These people are here to stick.
But when I first drove up, I thought, "Oh shit, you know, how are we going to meet? There's cops everywhere, there's all these tourists, are people going to understand what we're doing?" I was really kind of concerned but true to going to a gun fight with the hamals, the Kurdish community they brought it together. We started finding each other, it was really cool, I was going through the hotel lobby and all of a sudden, I heard my name, I looked over and I saw Luckman [a protest leader]... and he's such a wonderful human... And so it just started to come together.
At first we were next to the Hong Kong protests which was really cool. They were really gracious, they wanted to come over and ask about what we were doing and so I don't know how I ended up somehow being the spokesperson there but I did and I tried to explain it to him and I think I did an OK job, I got a few pats on the back so I appreciated that. And we ended up moving towards where we saw people for CAIR set up, welcoming, there was kind of a, I wouldn't call it a demonstration but a welcoming committee of really nice-looking community members who were out there with their signs trying to welcome the CAIR community in. And you know as we set up next to them I could see the look on their faces was kind of, like "what is going on?" ... I think that as the demonstrations proceeded, they started to figure it out. They tried to address some of my protesting information towards them, because I think it's really important that when people actually understand what's happening, there's a lot difference response...
So when we started directing our comments at the CAIR welcoming committee I could see some just outright horror on some of those people's faces when they were learning about the atrocities that were being committed by Turkey. And I think that most good people when they learn of what's happening are outraged. You know, Turkey has armed the al Qaeda of Syria, which is Al-Nusra, they have actively just given guns and sent them across the border. And that's a terrorist organization. I mean that's really a terrorist organization. And Al-Shabab and all these different jihadi gangs that comprise of the FSA which has a great name, you think of FSA, First Syrian Army. But really, they're head choppers. They are every bit as nasty and evil and bad as ISIS. And they've been unleashed on our allies.
And so for that demonstration we wanted to pick something where we were going to be noticed. And where we could get the attention of business and because we figure at this point we need to start going at the pocketbooks of these businesses that are dealing with Turkey. Because Turkey is basically, Erdogan is a very, very scary individual. And I would say he's our modern-day Hitler.
And just in his employment of Jihadis, and now they've just busted him giving a bunch of guns to Boko Haram. So you can't just look at Turkey and say that it's a NATO country and there's nothing we can do about it. The world needs to make some serious thought of what they're going to do in Turkey. Because Turkey is now telling Israel that Israel is a terror state and shouldn't be there. They're getting a coalition together of Arab nations to get rid of Turkey.
Donald Trump has just emboldened and empowered Iran. Russia, Assad, and Turkey all of these players are dealing in Islamic extremism. And Donald Trump through his actions of abandoning our democratic religious free Kurd allies, by him abandoning them to Turkey and not only Turkey but he has also now shifted the balance of power drastically so think about it, a lot of Americans don't realize that all of a sudden Israel has Iran with a direct route straight to Hezbollah or Hamas, straight through Libya, straight in, and not only that, but now you have countries surrounding Israel, surrounding them saying "we don't believe you should exist." You have America stocking up all of our hopes now, pretty much relying on Saudi which is the exporter of Wahhabi Jihadists in the first place... I think when we talk to the CAIR people they started going "Wow, this is a lot worse than we thought and have been led to believe." ... So then I heard... the organizer of the protest said the organizers of the event came and spoke to him and were very supportive of what we were trying to do. And apologetic. Because they didn't realize that the corporate entity Turkish Airlines that was sponsoring that event is also sponsoring an ongoing genocide.
Q: Who did you speak to? Was it someone from CAIR?
... An actual representative of CAIR came down and met with him [one of the protest leaders] and one of the other, I think Luckman, and she said that they had not been aware that Turkish Airlines was supporting this Jihad in northern Syria and she said that they were actually going to speak to him more about it...
So, moving forward, what we're planning on doing is, we're re-releasing The Volunteers, we found a distributor to rerelease this documentary that we made about my time with the YPG as a combat medic. And we found a distributor, Giant Pictures, and they're going to be distributing this for free. Which was really difficult for us to find someone that was willing to distribute it for free. Because obviously distributors want to make money. And so a big hat's off to Giant Pictures and to Ricky Schroeder for being very committed to this cause and giving away this real estate to the world. So we're going to be releasing it sometime in December on YouTube, Amazon wanted it so we're putting it on Amazon, I think Hulu wanted it so we gave it to Hulu, AT&T wanted to re-air it so we gave it to them to re-air it. We've charged nobody anything. We've just completely given it away. We did initially sell it which we used the budget for that to pay for the editors. This has been a non-profit project. So we're really looking forward to getting that out, really widely, the project's called The Volunteers. So that's one thing we're trying to do.
The impetus behind that is hopefully getting the American public to understand and care a little about our Kurdish friends because when you spend time in the documentary, you spend time with them, you spend time with us, it gives you a different perspective than the news, to in-depth storytelling.
In addition we're working on setting up some sort of benefit dinner. We're going to try and raise some money for Heyva Sor a Kurd, which is basically the Kurdish Red Cross and... the aid workers in Northern Syria have been being targeted by the Turkish militias. So in particular Heyva Sor has had four of their aid workers either kidnapped or killed already... And so we're going to look at trying to do a fundraiser, to raise some money for the aid people that are helping and then we're going to continue to do demonstrations probably every two weeks.
I think our next demonstration will probably most likely be either at Turkish airlines at LAX or we'll go over to the federal building or we'll go back to the Turkish consulate. I think we kind of want to try and get a Turkish consulate protest going mid-week so we can get a little more attention from them there, make them feel a little bit uncomfortable. And again, all of our demonstrations are always non-violent. You know, here in America... all the activists here and myself all feel very strongly about non-violent movements. You know in Rovaja, they're forced to defend their homes, they're forced to defend themselves which is really really sad. But here in America we really don't want to, we don't want to be, seen as more angry Middle Easterners or angry crazies. We really want people to identify with the similarities that we all have and so we really focus on trying to make our demonstrations loud but we like to play music, we always try to educate people as they're going by, sometimes we have fliers that we hand out. Because we're really trying to keep people informed and also having press involved... all these things they're actually huge for us...
And they've [those in Rojava] already had over 500 casualties, killed. And that's in just about a month now. And they're going to keep fighting and it's really tough but there's a town called Genuar where all these surviving women from the ISIS sex slaves and camps were rescued and they started this all-woman village and it was recently, they had to flee because it was overrun by Jihadists that would have just done the same thing to them.
So the protests got us the attention of CAIR, it got the attention of the individuals next to us welcoming CAIR... and you have to say that for a couple hours and the effort of 45 people, that's a big difference. And if we look at making big differences in those terms then the protest couldn't have been more successful, even if we had 500 people there. We accomplish exactly what we could have hoped to accomplish with that action. Raise awareness, get people to care, and keep the information flowing and out there. Because I think as more people get the information they can make better decisions.
Q: Finally, I found a quote from you in one of the articles, "There's been a lot of divide in this country recently, and I hope our country can reach back a little bit towards that. Because that's what I saw in Rojava. I saw Christians, Muslims, atheists, anarchists, communists, and we were all together on one side fighting a common enemy. If we can do that there, we can do that here." Do you have any thoughts on bringing people together of different religious and political views?
When you get down to it, we're all the same. And there is a lot of different ideas on what we believe in or that the way we believe in it, maybe the way we talk but we are all a part of humanity and we all occupy this earth together. And we've been focusing so much these days on our differences and we have so much in common. And if we could start focusing on our commonalities, I mean looking at what we share together, I think we could really go a long way to bringing all of our problems a little bit closer to resolution, and it's like I said, in Rojava there was Muslims and Christians and Alawites, Yazidis and atheists and anarchists and communists, and right-wing Christian conservative volunteers, left-wing dudes from Germany and all over the world. And we all came together with one common goal and that was to defeat extremism and fascism and to protect the innocent.
And I think that almost everybody in the world would think, "You know, we should do that." And we just need to focus a little more on what we have in common. And this country was built on an idea, and that idea is sometimes almost unachievable, and our forefathers, I think meant to do that... But let us not lose heart that it might not be achievable, let's try harder to achieve it. They wouldn't ask us to do these great things if we couldn't do 'em.
And especially now, where our country is so politically divided, that it's never been so politically divided and there are entities from all over the world that would love to exploit that and you know, I have friends of mine and we have very different opinions of Donald Trump. Very different opinions of Donald Trump, I mean completely. But they're still my friend. I'm not going to go beat them up or yell at them. I can't force them to see that we're all the same. Just like they can't force me to see how much they love Trump. I mean, there's something in him they love, I just don't see it, but they do. They frickin' believe it all the way through and I can't figure out why they like this sexist, racist, misogynistic dude but they do! And they're not that way in their own lives with their own families. I've got friends that say "America first" and it makes me feel like I'm listening to a speech in Nazi Germany. And it terrifies me. But let us not focus on hating on that. Let's put our arm around our brothers and sisters and let's lead them the way. I think that... Obama had a lot of issues, he wasn't the best president, a lot of people think he was a great president, other people think he was horrible but I always loved how he tried to unify people. And I think that if we can have a little more of that in the world we'll be doing a lot better.
Post-Protest Interview with Sereke Welhat
Q: What was it that motivated you to come to this protest?
I believe it was the misleading of this religious, Islamic gathering... It was financed by Turkish airline, and the Turkish airline is owned by the Turkish government. Which is right now butchering the Kurds in North-eastern Syria and also in Southeastern Turkey for many, many years, for decades. And right now, I believe the Turkish government is pushing too much here in US to try and mislead people. So, I was really trying to be there and to help to bring the truth out. To tell what the goal of this gathering really is, supporting the Turkish government by CAIR really shocks me. And so, I have to appear and be part of the protesters.
Q: Was the protest about what you expected? Or how was it different than you anticipated going in?
I was hoping to see more people, people from outside our community, Kurdish community. Basically, we were not supported locally and I was disappointed in that because I was hoping people could join our protest and to clarify what the goals of CAIR are here. Is the CAIR local a peaceful organization? Or that it really aim of CAIR is different? I was hoping a community member to attend and support their Kurdish community, it is true we are a very small community... I do not know why with CAIR put themselves in situation like that. And I still have questions about CAIR's activity regarding Turkish state, a dictator – a fascist dictator – the killing of civilians and children. So I would say I would have hoped to see more local community members to protest about this conference and basically ask question CAIR, "why you doing that?" What's your aim? What's your aim? And what's your purpose having an organization in the United States which is one of the democratic countries in the world, you have freedom to do your activity, and now you are using this freedom knowingly or unknowingly supporting a fascistic government.
Q: Regarding CAIR, is this your first time protesting them? Or has CAIR bumped up against the Kurdish community in the past?
No, my first time.
Comment: We've noticed that Turkey has been getting more involved in the domestic Islamist groups. When the Arab Spring happened and the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, many Arab monarchies started to see the Brotherhood as a threat to them too. So over the last 5-7 years, now there is more engagement between CAIR and the Muslim American Society (MAS) with Turkey. I guess, welcome to finding out the destructive influence CAIR has been having on our country.
Totally correct. I was shocked. I've been following CAIR's activity not as much as maybe I should have in the past. And I have seen some of the articles... But I remember seeing that Erdogan was meeting with a Kuwaiti in the United States... They are I would say pushing very, very hard to have control over the Muslim community in the United States and CAIR have in my understanding have supported.
By finding out that they are basically cooperating with the radical organization like the Muslim Brotherhood or Erdogan himself, which Turkish government all in support of Hamas. And we as the Kurds believe that Erdogan and his politic and his beliefs are equal to ISIS. Basically, Turkey's policy is supporting a very, very dangerous road of radical Islam right now. And that's why I was shocked to hear they are basically working with CAIR and they are promoting their own agenda through CAIR. I wish it would not happen, CAIR would have kept their idea of being a peaceful community member here but not get involved directly at committing genocide against minority in northeastern Syria with the Kurds...
I think it's a very dangerous direction and I am very, very disappointed that CAIR would make a decision like that. By me knowing that Turkish activity in the United States... I believe their goal is to triple their member supporter of Muslim community and in the next couple years to get people to take sides in what is already existing. And so, I am very, very worried about Turkish and CAIR's aim or activity.
Q: Were there any memorable moments at the protest? Did you have any good exchanges with people? What would you like to highlight?
Overall it was good. I wish I had seen more people. At the same time, I saw some Christians welcoming CAIR, and I was kind of like, "Wow..." Shocked to see welcoming CAIR that have supported a dictator or actually murdering civilians in northeastern Syria. I don't know there were they not concerned, I am kind of disappointed by that, they were peaceful as we were, and overall it was good, I hope each time we have something like that the community will see more people getting activity and getting involved and getting informed in a meeting and conference like that. Because that's happening in our backyard and our home. And we have to vigilant to protect our community. I hope the community members will be involved more in the coming activities in the future.
Q: What are you own interests and plans in moving forward? What other activism are you interested in?
I myself have been activist for over 3-4 decades and I am against anything who works against humanity, against freedom, against democracy, I am keeping my line of activity to support minorities, people who cannot help themselves... I do believe very deep in my heart that it is very important to stand up right now. Because as you know, the global politic and activities are changing. And I am very aware that genocide can happen tomorrow in some corner of the world. As you probably know, Turkey has used chemical weapons on the civilians, killed many children and women. And I'm worried of bigger weapons, and dangerous weapons could be used in larger scale so I definitely would stay active and I'll definitely like to see people standing up to this fascistic war that are going on especially in the Middle East with these dictators, like in Iran, Syria, Turkey and so on. Those governments have been doing that for many, many years. And as you know the Armenian Genocide was committed one hundred years. But really it was Armenian, Syrian, Chaldean, and Kurds at the same time and it has been going on over 100 year...
They have forced hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people to leave southern Turkey to leave to Europe, mass immigration to Western Turkey. So basically yes, I will be active, I will stand up to fascism, I will stand to killing civilians but they have no defense. I will stand-up for justice, for democracy, for freedom, for brotherhood of nations, of people, I believe that the only way to live your life meaningful, to be active and to do whatever you can to stop both killing that are going on... I support human rights, equality...
Q: Do you have in mind any particular policies you would like to see implemented. What can be done about Erdogan? What can be done to bring peace?
All my life I was trying to live a truthful. And see a truth in my community and globally. I know there are a lot of people they make living on spinning the lies and forcing people to believe otherwise. But I hope and pray and strongly ask all representatives who are supporting this in the congress and the Senate to be truthful, please... Please support the truth, bring freedom and democracy, not just to our nation here, but support it globally, because as we all know, the world is becoming smaller and smaller and you cannot hide the truth anymore.
People are connected, they are talking, and I hope that all representatives will do the same. Will aim to follow and find the truth... especially in Northwestern Syria as the killing of civilians, I believe this should be done globally. That's what I ask our government to support people who cannot protect themselves. People who have been massacred and killed for money for many years. And I ask our government to help, to bring the truth about what we all stand for. We want to see and hear truth. We want to live the true life, not to be afraid by manipulation and the lies of what's been going on lately especially with Erdogan. So that would be my goal and my aim and my hope, to be part of this bringing the truthful to the global community and protection, but especially our government since this is the most powerful government in the world and is involved in all countries in the world.
We should push for the minorities and protect the minorities, especially the religion minorities that they have no government and they have no support, no protection, and of course the minority of people like the Kurds. Kurds have always stand for democracy even when they coexisted with their neighbors whether it's Arabs or Armenians or Chaldean. You can go today to Kurdistan and you will find all these people who have lived with us, they are protected and safe, and I hope the United States, especially the congress and the government, even the president, I think he should speak out for the brotherhood of nations of people. That's my dream, that's my wish, that's my goal...
Moral is our highest human value we should have, if we don't have morals then everything else would be lost overnight. We as a Kurdish nation have been through horrifying genocide many time over, especially by Muslim radicals, as you remember, 1988 Saddam Hussein... used chemical weapons, killed 5,000 people in a single day... Without moral, I don't think you can stand in a government or rule the world. Or you can't rule your own family even – you have to have a moral, have to have a human value, you have to have a respect for human being... No matter their belief, no matter what their culture, you have to respect it. And moral will give you the first step toward equality and freedom and democracy. If you do not have morals I guarantee you will lose everything. Morals is the foundation of humanity, connected to the culture. A culture without the morals is a lost culture, that's my belief. Morals are very, very high in my standards, my way of living. I have to live and I have to live with morals, with respect and love to others. To be able to coexist. Morals that will give me the same equal rights like my neighbors, and my fellow neighbors, and my fellow man, and my fellow human beings on this earth... That's what I totally believe.
I'm here to do that, that's my duty. That's why I'm an activist. As a Kurd, I have seen a lot. And it has made my belief and moral stronger every day to see these criminals with no value, with no respect to anything, not even to human being, not even for life of human being, not even for a woman's, not even for a kid... Because moral value would give you a responsibility to protect this kid and the weak ones in your community. If you don't have it, you're gonna lose it. If you don't respect your community as you respect yourself, you don't have a chance to survive a long time.
Q: Anything else you really wanted to say?
I hope the United States government stands together – senate, parliament, pentagon, everybody – stay together please, have one message to Erdogan. Stop your criminal activity. Stop being part of terrible criminal organization like ISIS. We have over 10,000 ISIS member in our jails, we have tons of proof that Turkey is a member of ISIS, equal ISIS. And Hamas and the Islamic brotherhood, and now they are trying to here even in our country with CAIR. So I would ask everyone, please, please be aware, stand up, united against this fascism, dictatorship mentality, please do that.