June 18, 2009

Interview with Arab Association for Kurdish Rights - By Ara Alan

Esra'a Al Shafei is the founder of Arab Association for Kurdish Rights. She has formed an activist group with fellow student and journalists to speak for Kurdish rights in Arab countries. Esra’a, herself an Arab, and a firm believer in Kurdish rights; has formed this association to give more visibility to the Kurdish communities and raise awareness among Arabs of Kurdish struggle. Esra’a first launched in early 2007 and a part from that, the Arab Association for Kurdish Rights, was founded in June, 1 2009.

While conducting the interview Turkish Hackers attacked their site and brought it down. Hopefully in a short time the site will be running stronger and more effective than before. You could visit them at

In this short interview we asked Esra’a the following questions

Question: Can you please give us a short background on your organization. How was it created and why? Also what are the main objectives?

I witnessed that the Kurdish communities in the Arab world are extremely isolated and I feel that we as Arabs have a major responsibility to learn more about the Kurdish cause, considering the amount of discrimination and even racism that they have suffered through for many decades in the Arab world. A lot of people tend to think that within the Arab world. Kurds are only based in Iraq or Syria, but they’re actually spread out throughout the region, with little or no support from any government, or within the Arab societies in general. So, I formed this association in order to give more visibility to the Kurdish communities and in order to make Arabs aware of the Kurdish struggle. It is quite astounding that despite the fact Kurds form the largest ethnic minority in the region, that they have been ignored, censored or sometimes abused in Arab countries, which means that we as Arabs have a major task ahead of us, and that is forming progressive and sustainable relationship with the Kurdish community and having a platform that allows us to express our solidarity with Kurds. The most important part of the initiative is not integrating Kurds into our society by converting their ethnicity for the sake of acceptance, but rather we want to inform and educate the Arab population at large who the Kurds are, their history, their culture, their language and traditions, and why there are different from us. However, just because they are different in terms of ethnicity and culture, it doesn’t give us the right to exclude them from social activities.

The aim in this initiative is mostly to build a very supportive network by Arabs for Kurds throughout the Arab world, so that any human rights violations against Kurds in any Arab country will be strongly condemned and in the future prevented through Kurdish right activism from Arabs. We do have contacts with Kurds, and we have worked with many Kurdish students and activists, and we hope to find more Kurds throughout our countries and make them aware that we are here to help them in all their needs. We would like to coexist with our Kurdish brothers and sisters and we invite any Kurd to become a contributing member of our society.

Question: Is the organization an online community? Is there a desire to establish it into a physical organization? If so where would you base it?

Yeah, it's primarily an online community, because online allows us to cover a lot of areas. Establishing a physical presence would basically feed the online content: the idea is to get people to do things on the ground, and then share them online; hence us also giving away Flip cameras. This way the content would be visible to the entire world.

Question: How are the Arabs reactions to the organization? How are the Kurdish reactions?

Once they become aware, many Arabs are actually really supportive, but admittedly, it's very hard finding Arabs who are willing to dedicate and really commit themselves for the Kurdish cause. There are several Arab journalists who have expressed their solidarity with Kurds in their struggles, but it has never really grown into a visible movement, which has kept many Arabs unaware of the Kurdish situation. I grew up feeling really strongly about Kurdish human rights, and as an Arab I felt somewhat isolated in this regard, so I had to found this community. There are still many Arabs as well who have no idea about Kurdish history, and their situation in various parts of the Middle East, why recognizing them is so vital to all of us. The Kurdish reaction has been wonderful. Many supportive words were shared about it, and several Kurdish groups have covered it on their websites. Some unfortunately suspected that we are Kurdish making this up, but otherwise we couldn't be happier with the feedback from our Kurdish friends.

Question: Some say that the supporters of the organization are all Kurds who lives in Arab countries?

Of course Kurds living in Arab countries would be supportive; anyone would be supportive of any organization that stands up for their rights. But we have at least 16 members who are Arabs, and are working on getting a lot more from many different Arab countries. There are many Arabs who, while not members, are also very encouraging and welcoming of this initiative and are inspired by it to learn more about the situation of Kurds. But it's definitely not the case that only Kurds are supporters of the organization, and hopefully soon we'll be able to prove it.

Question: Where are the Arabs supporting this organization? are they in Middle East or they are in Diaspora?

They are primarily within the Arab world and based in the Middle East, anywhere from Iraq to the UAE to Arab countries in North Africa.

Question: What Language is your site is publishing in?

Most of the site is already only available in Arabic, and we intend that all of our posts will be in Arabic as well with some translations into English. If we find a contributor who can translate our work voluntarily into Kurdish, that would be really helpful as well and we'd definitely be interested in expanding through it.

Question: What is your plea to the Arabs? What is your plea to the Kurds?"

My plea to Arabs is that frankly they should wake up and start focusing their efforts into ethnic minorities who, throughout their history, never really received any support from us. To this day, a lot of Arabs have days to remember other injustices, but when is the last time you've seen Arabs really put Kurdish human rights into the limelight and treat it as a mainstream concern? It seems that since Arabs generally cannot gain anything by being supportive of Kurds, they don't bother, and treat it as an issue that only Kurds can solve. In reality, Kurds cannot really do it without the support of their Arab, Turkish and Iranian brethren. Ensuring their human rights should be a top priority considering the fact that they've suffered genocide and are still visibly abused throughout the region merely for their ethnicity. Their cultures and histories are being stifled and censored, and this is something that as Arabs we need to work on reviving, for their sake but also for ours. It's too unfortunate that even if thousands of lives were perished in our watch, Kurds are still largely ignored. My plea to the Kurds is to accept our friendship, our efforts on their behalf, and to realize that there are many Arabs who truly respect them.


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