Family’s agony as Syria Kurd sets himself on fire outside UNHCR in Geneva

HASAKA, Syria – Ali Basheer Wazeer, 31, doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire outside the headquarters of the UN refugee agency in Geneva on Wednesday. Swiss police believe it was an act of protest at the world’s response to Turkey’s invasion of his native northeast Syria.

Mahbouba, Ali’s older sister who lives in the Kurdish-majority city of Hasaka in northeast Syria, was distraught when she learned of her brother’s act of protest, which has left him with burns to 80 percent of his body.

“We want to be given our rights. We are also humans,” Mahbouba told Rudaw at her home in the embattled Kurdish region.

“We need our rights, for us to have a country, for our youth to no longer fall martyr, for our homes to no longer get plundered, and for our children to no longer get killed.”

Ali survived the incident but was severely injured. He was flown to a nearby burn trauma unit.

Three years ago, Ali was a fighter in the ranks of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for greater cultural and political rights for Kurds in Turkey.

With his mounted machine gun, Ali served on the front line against the Islamic State group (ISIS). He later fled to Europe and claimed asylum in Germany, where he is married with two children named Rubar and Hozan.

Ali’s elderly parents still don’t know what has happened to him.

His uncle Adeel, who also lives in Ali’s home city of Hasaka, was in close contact with his nephew while he was serving with the YPG.

He is furious with the international community, who he accuses of abandoning the Kurds, leaving their sons and their land to face an uncertain future.

“Ali fought in all the battles in Hasaka, Qamishli, Sari Kani, and Alouk,” Adeel said. “Ali fought in all the battles. Any battle that took place in our province, you could find Ali participating it.”

“My message for the international community is that if you claim yourself to be democratic, that you care for human rights, then come have a look at Sari Kani. Let them come to the hospitals, to see how our children have been burned with chemical weapons. Or is it that you are just liars?”

Adeel was referring to the case of Mohammed Hamid Mohammed, a 13-year-old Kurdish boy from Sari Kani who was reportedly burned by white phosphorus – a banned chemical weapon – allegedly used by Turkish forces.

Photographs of Mohammed’s injuries and his face contorted in agony have been widely shared on the internet, provoking outrage and condemnation. Turkey has denied using chemical weapons in its offensive. The UN is investigating.

The family says Ali called them before the incident in Geneva, telling them he planned to return to northeast Syria to rejoin the YPG. They also say he was on hunger strike for 10 days in the lead up to the incident.

Ankara and its Arab Syrian proxies launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9 with the stated aim of pushing the SDF back 32 kilometers from Turkey’s southern border.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to resettle up to three million Syrian refugees currently hosted by Turkey inside this ‘peace corridor’. Critics say the move amounts to ethnic cleansing of the predominantly Kurdish region.

Protests against Turkey’s incursion and the US decision to withdraw troops from the region have been taking place in cities across the globe, especially those with a large Turkish diaspora.

With reporting by Halkawt Aziz, translation by Mohammed Rwanduzy
"Everything that has ever happened to us is there to make us stronger."
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