Kudos to Zinar Ala for his one-man campaign against the regime in Syria for its treatment of Kurds and Kurdish prisoners. Zinar, a Kurd from Efrîn in his early 30s, now lives in Spain where he recently received political asylum. Zinar has been in jail himself in Syria…for celebrating Newroz. He currently runs two blogs: one in Spanish and one in Kurdish. He writes for Avesta. And, as you’ll see from his story, he’s an avid human rights activist.
Back in late October more than 150 Kurdish political prisoners in Syria began a hunger strike. There are more than 300 hundred Kurdish detainees who suffer tremendously from the harsh, inhumane conditions in the infamous ‘Adra prison, located just outside of Damascus. The prisoners went on a hunger strike to demand better conditions and some basic rights.
According to Defend International, they’ve been without food now for a month. They are suffering severe migraine attacks and debilitating weight and fluid loss. The Syrian Government has not taken any step to engage in dialogue with the detainees nor to pay heed to their requests.
So as a gesture of solidarity with the Kurdish political prisoners detained at ‘Adra, Zinar began his own hunger strike on 21 November.
‘The first day of the hunger strike was the toughest, but eventually my stomach stopped growling as it got used to not having food. I had already experienced a two-day hunger strike, back in 1999 to protest the detention of Abdullah Öcalan.’
He’s doing this out of solidarity and also from a deep-seated passion for human rights. But he’s also doing this to bring attention to the conditions under which Kurds live in Syria. As one small example he says that Turkey now has a TV channel (TRT6) that broadcasts 24 hours a day in Kurdish. Meanwhile, Syria has never broadcast anything, ever, in Kurdish. Says Zinar, ‘It pains me greatly that my nieces and nephews are forgetting their mother tongue. It pains me greatly that they don’t even have one hour of cartoons in Kurdish.’
Shortly before 9am, the fourth day of his hunger strike, he gets ready, placing one placard over his chest and one on his back, and a chain with pens on it around his neck. Then with his bright-yellow signs and clipboard, he posts himself outside the door of the Syrian Embassy on Plaza de Platerías Martínez, just off Paseo del Prado, in downtown Madrid.
The temperature that morning was a cool 9C (48F). The sun wasn’t reaching down to the street level and Zinar was feeling the chill. So he paced up and down in front of the embassy, as much he says, ‘to keep warm as to show off the signs to the passersby.’ He would smile at the pedestrians and say ‘a signature, please.’ He only stopped to actually collect a signature.
He didn’t move for six hours from the vicinity of Plaza de Platerías Martínez. He says he didn’t carry any water with him for ‘fear of filling my bladder and having to go to the bathroom.’
After two hours in front of the embassy he caught sight of the embassy officials and agents in the doorway and also behind the window talking to each other and looking at him.
Eventually the Syrians decided to send three agents out to the street. They went up close to Zinar, two of them pulling out their cameras, to which he responded by turning his back on them. So they surrounded him. After a few seconds of giving his back to their cameras and looking out at the Prado, he decided to face them directly. They lightened up a bit, but without smiling, and starting taking photo after photo of Zinar. From above, the ambassador and someone else observed the scene. Zinar felt completely disgusted by this and what they were doing. Also he said, his heart was pounding furiously in his chest. Fear had returned.
Before the agents paid Zinar a visit on the street, a Spaniard stopped to give him a signature and said to Zinar, ‘You’ve got balls being here. Be careful!’ Smiling, Zinar replied, ‘Spain will protect me!’
Later on the embassy sent a woman out to find out about Zinar. She went up to him, showed a lot of interest in his campaign and who he was. Zinar thought to himself, ‘for the first time I am being interrogated by a woman!’ He asked her for a signature. She said, ‘I don’t want to get involved in such things.’
He said: You’re coming from the embassy, right? She said: No, I’m a neighbour. I live in the same building.
At the end of their conversation she asked him for a copy of the letter that’s going to the Spanish president, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. And she asked his what his name was. He told her to Google ‘Zinar’ and she’d find out anything she wanted to know.
‘What do these people want from me?’ he mused. ‘What can they do to me?’
A Kurd who had experiences with this before told him that the Syrians would now be sending tons of faxes and mail back to Syria. He asked, ‘Why? What will they do with them?’ Frankly, he said, he had no idea.
Anyway, the signatures. In 6 hours he was able to collect almost 50 signatures. Some of them cost him 20 minutes of conversation and debating. A lot of people passed by and read the sign on his back and said, ‘Syria!’ Some read the letter and didn’t sign and said, ‘I have to learn more about this. I don’t know much about this topic.’ Others came up to him with a pen in their hand and signed, knowing already something about the crimes of the Syrian regime.
He gathered signatures from people from Morocco, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, Equatorial Guinea, and Tibet. He gathered words of advice from passersby. And he passed six very enriching hours that provided him with an unforgettable experience.
Later in the day he headed off to the area by La Puerta del Sol and was able to collect 55 more signatures.
If you want to read his original blog posting about this (in Spanish), you can go to his blog.
Thank you, Zinar, for what you do. And thank you for letting me share your story.