Roniyar Hadjji, activist:
»His exact words to me were that if I were arrested again, I would disappear forever«
KURDWATCH, July 31, 2015—Roniyar Hajji was born in 1981 in Halincê, a village near ʿAyn al‑ʿArab (Kobanî). His family later moved to Aleppo, where Hajji went to school. His father, who is also known as a poet under the pen name Dilsoz, was one of the first people in Aleppo to join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). When he began to criticize the politics of the PKK and Abdullah Öcalan, whom he knew personally, the PKK planned his assassination. Moreover, his son Roniyar was supposed to be kidnapped, but the PKK accidentally picked up a classmate instead. The family subsequently left Aleppo for Damascus in 2000. Roniyar Hajji tells of the beginnings of the revolution in the Syrian capital and his problems with the PKK.
KurdWatch: Were you safe from being persecuted by the PKK once you had moved to Damascus?
Roniyar Hajji: We tried to live discreetly. I went to school in Damascus and also studied pharmacy there. Later I owned two pharmacies in the suburb of Qudsaya, and we lived there as well.
KurdWatch: When did you start doing political work?
Roniyar Hajji: I became politically active at the beginning of the Syrian revolution.
KurdWatch: What did you do and with whom did you work?
Roniyar Hajji: After the events in Darʿa at the end of March 2011, we started demonstrating in Damascus. About three hundred people took part in the first demonstration. We were seven friends who decided to go along. We weren’t a part of any political group.
KurdWatch: Did the demonstrations cause problems with the regime?
Roniyar Hajji: Yes, many people were arrested at the second demonstration. I was already picked up from my workplace at the pharmacy the day after the first demonstration.
KurdWatch: Who picked you up?
Roniyar Hajji: The Qudsaya police. I knew the head of the police station. When he saw me at the station, he said that I should deny having participated in the demonstration. He told me that if I did so, he would make sure that I was released. And that was indeed the case. After that the demonstrations continued to take place almost weekly. I took part in all of them. I was arrested a second time. This time I was taken to Harasta, to the Criminal Division.
KurdWatch: Who arrested you?
Roniyar Hajji: I don’t know. When I was arrested the second time, they once again picked me up at the pharmacy. They hit me right away, bound my eyes, and then took me away. I was interrogated for five days. On the fifth day, I was presented to Captain ʿAmr. His exact words to me were that if I were arrested again, I would disappear forever. He then called my father to pick me up. I couldn’t walk anymore, that’s why my father had to pick me up.
KurdWatch: What did they want to know? Were you tortured?
Roniyar Hajji: They wanted to know why we were demonstrating, who was organizing the demonstrations, the names of the participants in the demonstrations, etc. At first, during the first four days, I was also tortured. After the captain spoke with me, they stopped torturing me. This captain was really ok. He broke from the regime shortly after the beginning of the unrest and defected to the opposition.
KurdWatch: Did they have proof that you had taken part in the demonstrations?
Roniyar Hajji: Yes, they showed me photos of myself demonstrating. After my release, of course, I continued to demonstrate. At that point we took to the streets every day. Now I was in al‑Hamah, a suburb near Qudsaya, almost daily. I was arrested again, and this time I was brought to the prison in ʿAdra.
KurdWatch: Were you interrogated first?
Roniyar Hajji: No, they took me directly to the prison.
KurdWatch: When was that?
Roniyar Hajji: In May 2011. Three days later I was presented to the judge. The judge was named ʿAbdulqadir Ibrahim. He claimed that I had fired a pistol and tried to kill people. I said we had only demonstrated and called for the fall of the regime. He then screamed at me and said that I should keep my mouth shut. Who was I to say such a thing? I said that I was a Kurd and could not accept their injustice. I was then hit from behind and led away. After three days in prison, my father was able to arrange for my release through bribery. Afterwards I continued to live in Qudsaya. Until August 2011 there were hardly any government troops there. The city was effectively under the control of the Qudsaya military unit. This unit was comprised primarily of young activists, who were also armed. At some point they had been forced to arm themselves, because the government had started shooting at peaceful demonstrations. The government troops had tried to advance into Qudsaya multiple times. But each time they failed. Then they surrounded Qudsaya and shelled it with missiles for twenty-four hours. The government gathered a huge crowd at Sahat al‑Haras and used them as a protective shield during the advance. Forty-seven people died that day. They also used airplanes and tanks in order to capture the city.
KurdWatch: When was that exactly?
Roniyar Hajji: In October 2011. My apartment was also hit by a bomb. It was very early in the morning. My father was in Italy. My mother, my wife, my three children, my siblings and I were home. Everyone managed to escape the house in time. Except for my wife. She was buried under the rubble. We then decided that we couldn’t live in this country anymore and we left Syria. I continued to be politically active in Turkey. Initially, when I was still in Syria, I supported the Syrian revolution in general. I primarily helped organize demonstrations in Damascus, and I actively took part in them. We all had one goal—the fall of the regime. In Turkey, I became increasingly focused on the situation in the Kurdish regions. By then, the PYD had taken control there, and its actions were not any better than the regime’s. That’s why I was critical of the PYD time and again.
KurdWatch: Did the PKK or the PYD play any role in Qudsaya?
Roniyar Hajji: No, not in Qudsaya, but in the Kurdish regions. Shortly before I left Syria, I was in Kobanî. The regime had also handed Kobanî over to the PYD. Since I wanted to leave Syria, I needed personal documents, and since I was registered in Kobanî, I had to have the documents issued by the registry office there. The PKK was in control of everything. Including the registry office and all other offices. I had to pay to have my documents issued. I also had to pay to have them provide my military book.
KurdWatch: Were there other problems?
Roniyar Hajji: No, absolutely not. On the contrary, someone offered me a piece of land for a very cheap price and said that I could live well here if I grew pot.
KurdWatch: When did you leave for Turkey?
Roniyar Hajji: At the end of 2011. After my wife’s death, I wasn’t doing well mentally, and I wanted to get my children out of the country. But it was also very difficult in Turkey, and so I decided to continue on to Germany. I arrived here in January 2013.
KurdWatch: Are you recognized as a political refugee?
Roniyar Hajji: Yes.
KurdWatch: What are you currently doing in Germany?
Roniyar Hajji: I can’t work as a pharmacist yet, but I am politically active. I’m still involved with the situation in the Kurdish regions. I can see that the PKK is not there for Syria’s Kurds. They just want to increase their party’s power, and they commit human rights violations daily. They are establishing a brutal dictatorship. I am working against this. Therefore I repeatedly receive threats, even here in Germany.
KurdWatch: What are the threats like?
Roniyar Hajji: They say they know where I live and that they will visit me if I continue to spread lies about them. They say they will beat me or kill me. They have also already tried to ambush me in front of my apartment.
Berlin, March 14, 2015