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Rahima Abdullah’s “Olive branch” – Young writer publishes book shedding light on the suffering of Afrin civilians under the Turkish invasion

Ever since the start of the Turkish invasion on the 20th of January, which ended with the capture of Afrin city on the 18th March and left hundreds of children, women and men dead, around 150 000 civilians fled the enclave, while, according to the reports provided by the UN, around 143 000 inhabitants still remain in the area.

Submitted to Enough is Enough. Written by Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

Until recently, Afrin managed to remain one of the very few areas mostly untouched by the destruction brought upon by ISIS. Afrin has allowed room for a much more rapid development of the ideas concerning women’s liberation. It can be argued that, throughout recent years, the women in Afrin have been able to establish themselves at various levels, such as culture, work or any usual day- to-day tasks for that matter, thus allowing for the flourishing of human rights for all other members of the society since, according to the principles behind the Rojava revolution, women’s liberation
represents a gateway for freedom of all other social groups.

However, what can be seen in Afrin today is a far cry from what Afrin used to be only months ago. The fall of the city on the 18th of March, Turkey backed militias have installed their authority within the canton by brute force, bringing back the mentality of the Islamic State while the plight of the civilians remaining in the city largely fell on deaf ears.

The stories of those civilians can of recently be read in the book titled „Olive branch“ by Rahima Abdullah, a 17 year old, Afrin born author currently living as a refugee in Denmark where she also created two short films the plot of which explores various aspects of the armed conflict she has witnessed (one focusing on the civilians, and the other on YPG/J). Because of the hard circumstances brought upon them by 7 years of civil war, the young writer left Syria with her family 3 years ago, long before the Turkish invasion was in sight.

However, many of her relatives still remain in Afrin and remain forced to endure the violent authority of the occupiers who have brought back many of the policies previously associated with ISIS.

According to Rahima, even her „10 year old cousin in Afrin now wears a hijab because she is afraid of [violating the rules imposed by] the Free Syrian Army.“ Not only that, but she notes that her „grandfather and grandmother are talking to [the family members abroad] on the phone in secretbecause the soldiers of the Free Syrian Army threatened that they will punish them if they spoke on the phone or sent   from inside Afrin to anyone.“

Due to the aforementioned circumstances, Rahima Abdullah decided that it was high time that the voice of the civilians trapped in Afrin finally becomes heard. Despite her own difficulties in life, she decided not to lose hope, become the voice of the voiceless, articulate their pain and use her writing to fight for justice and human rights. As she has on occasion stated on her Facebook profile „It’s a fight, and I’m gonna take that fight. This is my fight for humanity, freedom and life. My dream is that one day we can live together in a democratic world regardless of religion, race or gender. This is in
itself a struggle and I want to participate in this struggle. My struggle is for humanity, freedom and life.“

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I talked to Rahima in order to find out more about her book „Olive branch“, the situation in Afrin and her future plans and goals regarding her activism in the context of writing. Here is what she has to say:

You are only 17 and are not only already a published writer, but also an author of a book exploringrather traumatic, heavy topics of war, invasion and destruction which is certainly something many persons your age have no experience with. Could you tell me more about yourself and the path that lead you to the point where you are now?

I’ve never felt like I’m 17 years old. I feel much older than I am now and I feel that I have many responsibilities towards my people, compatriotism and humanity in general. That’s because I’ve experienced the war and lost my childhood because of it. I have experienced a lot of pain in my life, therefore, I understand the people who are currently living in war zones and I would like to do something for them.

When I was in Syria, what I needed a so much was someone to write about my story, but I could not find anyone. I always sat alone in my room and wrote about my grief and my uncertain destiny. My notebook was my only friend. Now I want to be the one to write about and share stories of innocent people.

You are yourself from Syria, a country with not many areas left untouched by 7 years of conflict. Until recently, your home town, Afrin, managed to remain one of the rare ‘safe havens’ in the Syrian north, thus also allowing for the flourishing of progressive ideas of radical democracy and women’s liberation. Could you tell me what was going through your mind on the 20th of January when the Turkish invasion broke out?

From the first day I came to Denmark, I always had hope because I thought my family, friends and my people are doing well in Afrin.

I always thought that if one day I would return to Syria, I'll have a house and will be able to live my life in peace in Afrin. But on the 20th of January I lost all hope. It was a really hard day. I was very afraid to lose some of my family in Afrin. Afrin was a place where the freedom of women was encouraged and human rights were flourishing, but on that day I felt that someone had come to destroy that beautiful place and destroy all that the Kurds had built during the years of struggle for freedom and security.

I was also really sad because the fighters of the YPG and YPJ, who were in Afrin, did not deserve to be considered terrorists and killed while being left completely on their own, without anyone’s support. They have fought for many years against the Islamic State. They were the ones who saved the world from the Islamic State, therefore, I and all Kurds expected that the world would help them and protect them from the Turkish attacks, but unfortunately the world remained silent.

Your book follows seven different stories of people caught within the ongoing Turkish invasion with some of the stories being rather personal and following the experiences of your family members in Afrin. Could you tell our readers more about the stories present in the book?

One of the stories in my book is about my 19-year-old cousin. He lost the ability to walk because some fragments from the explosion hit his feet and reached his nerves. Another story is about my grandparents who lost their house in the bombing.

There is also a story about a 14-year-old girl who was raped by a fighter of the Free Syrian Army after they managed to occupy the city, and a story about an Armenian family who died because of a bomb that hit their house.

The other stories also follow lives of different civilians who, in different ways, became victims of the Turkish invasion.

In the conclusion to my book, I wrote a little about the dictatorship in Turkey – especially about the Kurdish and Turkish journalists who are now in prisons accross the country because they have written against Erdogan.

One of the stories titled „Body Without Soul“ revolves around a fairly recently martyred YPJ fighter Barin Kobane whose body has been horrifically mutilated by the Turkish forces in a video postedon various social media. What is the reason behind considering her story specifically important andwanting to include it in your writing under the aforementioned title?

I used the story of Barin Kobane becuase I believe that the heinous crime committed by the Turkish backed Free Syrian Army fighters against her and her body is not only caused by their hatred for the Kurds, but also because of their hatred of free women. This is a proof that they carry the ideology of the Islamic state in their minds and thus pose a threat to the whole world.

I chose the title “Body without soul” for the story of Barin Kobane because even after Barin was already dead, the Free Syrian Army did not leave her body, but chose to burn it and cut off her breasts in a sadistic display of violence.

You decided to title your book ‘Olive branch’. Aside from the aforementioned being the official name of the Turkish military operation in the Afrin Canton that resulted in deaths of numerous civilians with even more being forced to become refugees, the branch of an olive tree also carries a more symbolic meaning. Was that also something you had in mind while choosing the title of your recent publication? In what way?

I chose the title ‘Olive branch’ intentionally for my book. Olive trees are something very sacred to the people of Afrin, which is why many were infuriated when Erdogan called his inhumane military operation ‘Olive branch’.

I tried to bring the symbolism of olive trees back to its original roots and use the name ‘Olive branch’ for something positive that has a good purpose.

I thought that my book deserves this title because its purpose is to convey the voice of the innocent and tell the truth of this invasion to the world.

You yourself are currently a refugee in Denmark. This concept of a ‘refugee’ today often presupposes a sort of a dual identity – one left behind, and one newly acquired – while simultaneously not belonging to either of them. Since your writing contains rather personal accounts of life in Afrin, do you also see your book as a way of raising awareness and tackling the issue of identity loss and indifference towards the cause of their struggle refugees are confronted with upon arrival to a foreign country?

I believe that my book will help to better understand the situation of the refugees.

For example, I met many Danish people who told me that before they met me and read my book they thought that all the refugees were poor before coming to Denmark. They believed that the refugees came here because of money, but I told them that we came here because of the war and the injustice we were subjected to. We had money in our home country, but we did not have any security. I told them my father was a doctor in Syria and my mother was a teacher and that our lives used to be very good.

Therefore I think my book will also encourage the Danish community to understand more about the situation of the refugees, and why they really fled their homes to come here. This can help to break stereotypes and combat racism by giving the people a way to sympathize with refugees.

The best thing is that there are many in the Danish community who support me and there is democracy here in Denmark, so I can write everything I want.

What prompted you to choose literature over other forms of activism as a means of making your voice heard in the context of speaking out about the struggle of the Kurdish people? What was the main goal you tried to achieve by publishing ‘Olive branch’?

I chose the pen because I believe that the pen is capable of changing people’s thinking and opinions. In addition to this I love writing tremendously. I have been writing since I was 8 years old.

When I was 13, I wrote for one Kurdish newspapers in Afrin. I published articles and letters about my feelings and thoughts about the war I experienced as a child.

Through my book ‘Olive branch’, I want everyone to show that the soldiers who died in Afrin were not terrorists. I want everyone to remember that. They were the ones who gave everything to save the world from the Islamic state. I also want to shed light on the crimes committed against civilians in Afrin that are still being widely ignored by the rest of the world.

I want to prove that these are still the soldiers of the Islamic state, with the same mentality, but they came today under the name of the Free Syrian Army. They came to retaliate because the Kurds fought against them.

Since publishing a book such as ‘Olive branch’ is already an admirable achievement for such a young writer and clearly illustrates your ambition, I am sure this is only the beginning of your work as an activist writer. What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to achieve?

My book ‘Olive Branch’ is my first step in this field.

Stories of some people I wrote about in my book have yet unknown endings. I am also eager to know what will happen to them, will NATO help them and rescue them from the Turkish occupation or will they die. I will write another part of my book when I find out how it all ends. Now I am working on translating my book into Arabic and soon I will try to translate it into English.

I plan to continue writing and to write many more books in future about any injustice that any person might be subjected to anywhere in this world because my dream is that one day we will all be able to live together in this world regardless of religion or race.

I dream that I will be the voice of the truth and the innocent.

Author: Katarina Pavičić-Ivelja

Biographical Statement: I am a Croatian journalist interested in political topics and various human right’s issues as well as an array of topics concerning feminism with an emphasis on the women’s liberation in Rojava.


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