Sirwan appeared to be about 25 years of age, attractive in traditional Kurdish attire – a dark tan shirt with matching pants, a broad black waistband, and white shoes. He had read our Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) statement in Kurdish during a rally in Suleimaniya a few weeks earlier.
He brought to our office a report he had written on the conditions of Iranian refugees living in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan. He spoke of the desperate medical and nutritional needs of more than 800 struggling families forced from Iran. He talked of many dying, some returning home to live their final days in a familiar setting.
He wondered if we could arrange a meeting with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) agency in Erbil to introduce these issues and advance a plea for emergency assistance. We agreed to try, and also offered to accompany him on a visit to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) here in Suleimaniya.
He then talked about growing up Kurdish in western Iran, being recruited at age 17 by a Kurdish resistance party in Iran and taught to kill targeted Iranians. He told of specific assassinations he had been involved in, including following directions to kill the father of a close friend. He talked of friends and other soldiers killing themselves, unable to manage the images that haunted them after shooting others and seeing blood splash against the wall. He told of being passionate for and excelling in this activity and eventually attaining a high rank in the party, having multiple guards with him always. He spoke of how he had trained others to kill and to make bombs.
Then he explained why he decided to leave the party and try to influence Kurdish youth in Iran not to resist Iranian oppression the way he once had. He talked about forming, with a few others, a new alliance committed to nonviolently resisting his people’s suppression. He explained that very young people without much to do are easily persuaded by the violent parties’ recruiters. He informed us of a letter he’d received from a Gandhi foundation commending his decision, applauding the courage it required and affirming nonviolence’s effectiveness in accomplishing revolution.
He explained how resisting parties complicate the lives of persons who forsake their membership. He talked about how, in addition to reporting on the circumstances of Kurds in Iran, he is now also taking the risk of promoting the alternative alliance. He thanked us for listening to him and offering to help him meet with UNHCR and ICRC officials, then left our office for another appointment.
It is one thing to sit in a comfortable, safe environment and talk about the courage needed to embrace nonviolence in the context of active armed conflict.
It is a different thing entirely to commit to nonviolence when the choice means not only openly exposing oneself to unpredictable consequences by passionately working for peaceful revolution, but also breaking allegiance with a violent company that actively pursues traitors.
Sirwan is a courageous man, a hero for us all.
(c) Garland Robertson is writing on behalf of Christian Peacemaker Teams - www.cpt.org