Screening of “Hawar – My Journey to Genocide” with Düzen Tekkal

16406471_1100209393420824_6160938578061688480_nThe World Affairs Council was delighted to host Düzen Tekkal at the Seattle International Film Festival Center on Tuesday January 31 for a U.S. premier of her documentary on the immediate aftermath of the ISIS attack on Iraq’s Yazidi minority. Tekkal is an award-winning German journalist and bestseller author of Kurdish-Yazidi origin. As a leading figure in the movement to get the Sinjar massacre recognized as genocide, she is bringing ISIS atrocities to the International Criminal Court with human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. The conversation was moderated by Pinar Ulumaskan, World Affairs Council intern and PhD student at the UW Jackson School of International Studies.

In the summer of 2014, Tekkal intended to explore her roots in the Iraqi Sinjar region but found herself in the middle of a severe violation of human dignity and rights. The Islamic State’s attack on the Yazidis left 5,000 dead, half a million displaced and more than 3,000 girls and women forced into sexual enslavement. “Hawar” is a vivid depiction of the immediate aftermath of these attacks. Tekkal, who is especially concerned with the healing process of women and girls who fell victim to the human trafficking practices of the Islamic State, has been helping many of these women seek asylum in Germany. Nadia Murad, who is one of the women that sought refuge in Germany with the help of Tekkal, was announced UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking last year.

Coming on the verge of a U.S. travel ban on nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries and the sudden suspension of the refugee program, Tekkal’s documentary was received by a very moved and engaged audience who approached her after the screening, expressed their pain and offered to support her endeavors in the U.S. The travel ban affected many Yazidis who fell victim to the Islamic State and sought refuge in the U.S. Tekkal, who is at the forefront of the reconciliation efforts between Muslims and Yazidis, made clear that she stands in solidarity with people that were targeted through this ban. She expressed her concern with any kind of discriminatory policies and practices that target human beings:

“My documentary is not just about the Yazidis. It is about human beings who become targets of violence and discrimination because of their religion, their ethnicity or their sexuality. Now more than ever, we need to embrace our differences and collective humanity.”

Tekkal discussed the hardships of conveying the extent of the atrocities that were and are still committed against the Yazidis. When asked about the great psychological burden of this mission, particularly, because she has been constantly receiving death threats from ISIS itself, Tekkal remarked that her role as a journalist helps her to step outside this realm and approach the topic of genocide objectively. She noted, however, that this is not always easy and that her protective walls of journalistic objectivity are continuously shattered. It is in these moments of fragility that supporters of her humanistic efforts enable her to gather an immense strength of character to rise to the responsibilities that she is carrying. Tekkal expressed her gratitude that German chancellor Angela Merkel is among those that have strongly supported her initiatives. In a recent meeting with the chancellor, Tekkal was especially moved by the caring and almost motherly approach that Merkel radiated. She is also experiencing a lot of assistance and help from several members within the German Federal Government.

Although the topic of her documentary, the ongoing genocide of the Yazidi people, is an especially grievous one, Tekkal managed to bring with her an attitude that reinforces her mission to transform a dreadful atrocity into hope and optimism for the future. She urges attendees to leave their familiar surroundings and to take on new challenges – for overcoming fears is a first step towards change.