On the Cover of the Conflict

On the Cover of the Conflict

- in Portrait
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Photo Jens Hansen

When the Kurds are persecuted in Iraq and Syria, Taffa Taha can’t be passive. The strong love of Kurdistan has taken her back to her homeland.

Photo Jens Hansen
Photo: Jens Hansen

Iraq and Syria are in flames. The terrorist branded organisation IS is instigating fear in the population, who doesn’t share their opinions and beliefs. While an increasing number of regions in the countries are falling under the control of IS, the rest of the world is just watching.

In Västra hamnen in Malmö, a continent away from the terror, we find 20-year-old Taffan Taha. The cold October weather has arrived and she shivers. Taffan Taha is just revisiting Sweden temporarily; in a couple of weeks it’s time to return to the Iraqi part of Kurdistan. She feels the nervousness and the stress in her body before the journey and she has spent the night at the hospital due to gastric catarrh.

In one hand she is holding a chai latte and in the other her Iphone. It has been ringing a lot lately. There are a lot of journalists trying to chase her down to get an interview. In the media, she is the young Swedish girl who is going to do something remarkable, namely going to one of the most unstable areas in the world.

Last year Taffan Taha gave up her dreams of becoming a lawyer. She left her studies in Lund and headed to the city of Sulaymaniyya in the Iraqi part of Kurdistan, a safe area compared to the rest of Iraq. That is her permanent place of residence where she spends her time studying media and journalism at university.

Besides being a student, Taffan Taha also considers herself as a Human Rights activist. She spends a lot of time working for women’s rights by holding lectures on the topic and writing provocative debate articles. She often writes about female genital mutilation, a topic that is completely unacceptable in Kurdistan.

All the visits she made to her homeland while growing up became an eye-opener. In Kurdistan, Taffan Taha got to experience all the injustice women living there experience everyday.

“I experienced things such as the fact that I wasn’t allowed to play football with the boys, or swimming in bikini. At that age, it was difficult to understand why. It made me want to get involved in these kinds of issues and understand why women are treated differently.”

Taffan Taha moved to Sweden when she was two years old, and she grew up in Sweden with a secure and supporting family. But, even though she has lived in Sweden almost all her life, the love for her homeland, Kurdistan, is bigger. It’s a love that has been growing over the years. The regular trips to Kurdistan with her family have brought her closer to her Kurdish identity.

“The racism in Sweden has increased immensely, which makes me feel more like a foreigner than a Swedish person. I have become an outsider. But, my involvement in Kurdistan during the past years has brought me closer to the country and it makes me feel more Kurdish than Swedish.”

The enormous attention around her in newspapers and TV doesn’t bother Taffa Taha. On the contrary, it is something she sees as an advantage for her career.

“My dream is to work in media. To get this much attention at my age is just good.”

But she also wants to take the opportunity to give attention to other activists who work everyday with the same questions as she does. Recently, she was nominated for “Malmö-resident-of the-year” by the newspaper City because of her involvement in helping refugees on-site. But she didn’t want the award.

“I asked if I could give the nomination to someone else who does a fantastic job. There are other activists who are doing a great job and who deserve to be recognised”.

Taffan Taha starts to talk about Kobane, the Kurdish city in Syria, which is threatened by the Islamic State. Not being able to go there and help hurts.

“I’m just crying and crying. I’m going to Duhok and Suroc in order to contribute with humanitarian work by visiting refugee camps and sending necessary supplies. It’s not far from Kobane but it’s the closest I can get.”

At the same time, she gives her full support to the Kurdish military forces in Iraq and the, by the EU, terrorist branded organisation PKK who continues the fight against IS. To become a peshmerga, Kurdish for ‘the one who face death’ and take up arms is nothing she precludes. But it’s as if Taffan Taha just realised what she said.

“Don’t do what other journalists have done!

I’m fighting for an independent Kurdistan without taking up arms. In interviews I’ve been talking very little about peshmerga and mostly about my involvement and the work I’m doing in order to help refugees.”

She dislikes that in spite of all the hard work she does, she is portrayed as the girl who wants to go to war against IS.

From Sweden, there are several people heading to Kurdistan to help and be close to those who have been affected by the atrocities of IS. The will to do so probably exists among even more people. Looking for a symbol, Svenska Dagbladet, Sydsvenskan and Jenny Strömstedt on TV4 has chased the young girl from Malmö who wants to approach the front line.

At the same time, there is a great number of Swedish Kurds with more knowledge, experience and a larger circle of contacts. These people are also important in the conflict, but media has not focused on giving these people as much attention. Because Taffan Taha has become the cover girl everybody wants.

Taffan Taha leaves the chilly Västra hamnen and gets in the car with her sister. Tonight, as every other night, she will be following what happens through SVT and Kurdish TV-channels.

While the world watches how Iraq and Syria are in flames, Taffan Taha’s frustration grows bigger. She and many of her fellow Kurds feel that they have to go there. She can’t stay in Sweden and just watch.

Taffan Taha
Age: 20
Has studied: One semester of law in Lund.
Does: Studying media and journalism in the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyya. Devoted Human Rights activist.
Currently: She is travelling to Iraq to help refugees affected by the atrocities of the Islamic State.

Text: Beri Zangana
Translation: Mia Söllwander
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