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Kurdish-American Northern Virginia Man Shares His Family’s Story

| January 2, 2020 | 0 Comments | Community, News

Mehmet Ayaz wears the scarf of the female Kurdish group of Syrian Democratic Forces who fought against ISIS. He said the woman’s group was ISIS’s biggest fear since they believed that a man killed by a woman would not be welcomed into heaven.

Mehmet Ayaz is a Kurd has who lived in the Kurdish region of Turkey for half of his life. Today he is a Manassas resident and an American citizen. He wants to make American citizens aware of the dangers the Kurdish people face since the U.S. has withdrawn its troops from the Turkish-Syrian border.

Ayaz, 40, moved to the United States at 22. He studied criminal justice and counter-terrorism at Georgetown University, and he recently completed a program at Georgetown in which he studied Kurdish issues. While he was not allowed to speak Kurdish growing up in Turkey, now he is now rewarded for it through his work.

Ayaz remained in contact with his extended family in Syria as they flee deadly violence. Their messages and phone calls tell him they are always on the move, avoiding fighting and bombing aimed at Kurdish civilians. The bombing continues despite the U.S. calling for a cease-fire, and it began as soon as the U.S. announced it was pulling out of the region.

Ayaz and his large extended family are ethnic Kurds residing in the Kurdistan regions of the Middle East. The Kurdish people have been without a country for 100 years all while remaining on what once was their own land. As nations were carved out, they found themselves living under Turkish, Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi rule. Those nations have treated them worse than second-class citizens, offering little protections even for their human rights.

Growing up as a Kurdish child in Turkey, Ayaz had to denounce his Kurdishness and pledge alliance to Turkey. Worse, the Turks tried to erase their culture. His father was jailed for 10 years for the high crime speaking Kurdish in public. “I had to deny that I’m Kurdish…sacrifice my existence to Turkish existence.”

The Turks did not allow parents to give their children Kurdish names. And Kurdish citizens could not wear red, green and yellow, the Kurdish colors, as to do so could get one jailed or lynched.

As a Kurdish person in hostile territory, the alliance between the U.S. and the Kurds against ISIL and Islamic extremists in 2014 proved beneficial. It offered them protection and gave them hope. It forced Syria to tolerate the Kurds living within their nations and kept them from being under attack.

“Since 2014, the U.S. fought with Kurds against ISIS. Kurdish people lost 11,000 men and women trained and armed by the U.S. They are allies. We, the Americans, only lost six.” Ayaz lost 15 cousins in those conflicts, one of whom was very dear to him.

The U.S. and Kurds as they were already allies. The U.S. helped the Kurds in 1992 with a neutral zone from Saddam Hussein in the Iraq War. In return, the Kurds were under U.S. protection.

Things were improving for Kurds with the U.S. at the boarder, but the U.S. found itself in a precarious position. Turkey believes Kurdish militia groups in Syria so near the Turkey boarder poses a threat to them. And the U.S. is also allied with Turkey, a NATO member. With the Kurds, the U.S. shares an adversary, the Syrian government.

On Oct. 6, after talking to Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, President Trump announced U.S. troops would abruptly be pulling out of Syria. That is when everything fell apart for the Kurds in that region.

“U.S. pulled out of Syria, the next day Turkey came. The hurtful part is the U.S. told the Kurds to destroy their posts, their trenches.” Ayaz said it was “sneaky,” and un-American, “making your allies vulnerable to the attack.”

Despite the U.S.’s call for a cease-fire, that did not happen. The current situation is horrid, and unimaginable for Kurds, according to Ayaz’s who receives first hand, real-time information from his relatives in the Middle East.

“Civilians are being attacked with phosphorus bombs. Their skin is melting because of these bombs. There are a lot of human rights violations and war crimes,” he said.

Ayaz said Kurds feel “abundantly” betrayed. They did not think the U.S. would ever act in this way. It never acted this way under other administrations.

“This is not America that we know. Kurds are still waiting to have some hope. “There was stability.” Now, ISIS fighters are escaping prison and regrouping. Others are filling the void the U.S. left open. “Russia is the big winner here,” said Ayaz. “They are the decision-makers.”

He understands the U.S.’s desire to stay out of century-long conflicts, but he also argues it is in the nation’s best interest to secure the region against ISIS and other bad actors.

For those who associate Middle Easterners with Muslim Extremists, Ayaz assures them, that is not the Kurds. Kurds have dedicated themselves to fighting terrorism and extremism.

“The Kurdish people are Muslims, but they are secular. They do not want to establish a religious state. They are not looking to impose Islam on you,” Ayaz said.

And it might seem like a small region, but the population of the Kurdistan regions is larger than the population of Canada. There are 20 million Kurds in Turkey alone.

Ayaz wants to tell everyone he can and hopes that people in power can move to protect the Kurdish people. His uncle tells him about being bombed, their fear, and staying on the move.

He is meeting with state and national leaders who agree to talk to him and letting them know how dire the situation is for the Kurds.

Ayaz said he is grateful to have a chance to tell his story and would appreciate anyone who could get him an audience with people such as congressmen. He will continue to speak out on behalf of his family and values his first amendment rights.

“Because I know I have rights here, and I can be criticizing the president, and I will not fear to go to jail,” said Ayaz. In Turkey, a single comment on social media that is not supportive of the president or the military could land you in jail.

A chance to tell his story:

Mehmet Ayaz and I met at Jiranis on Nov. 4, so I could interview him. It was the day before the Virginia elections. We soon learned that Senate and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders would be holding a rally to mobilize Democrats at that location.

Ayaz, who was eager to get the word out about the Kurdish people, decided to stay and try to speak with Sen. Sanders. We were told it is possible, but unlikely, as Sanders would quickly be moving through the room. No one could guarantee him an audience with the Senator.

Hours later, after the rally, Ayaz did get his 10 seconds face-to-face with Sanders. Ayaz told Sanders his cousins had killed by ISIS and his family is fleeing violence in Turkey and Syria. He asked for his help protecting the Kurdish people.

“I will not betray them,” Sanders said, referring to the Kurds.

Short Conversation with Bernie Sanders at Jiranis. FullSizeRender

While Ayaz Mehmet’s story does correlate with our research, Bristow Beat admits there is a long history of conflict in this region. This is one man’s account. As with any personal story, and especially one so politically fraught, there are other sides not represented in this article. We did not speak personally with Mehmet’s relatives. 

© 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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