Submitted by Florence Stemo
Suppose you were suddenly forced to flee from your home and your country because of war, famine, or persecution. Where would you go? What would you take? How would you feed your family? These questions, far removed from our comfortable Canadian existence, are paramount concerns for millions of people around the world – refugees – who, because of their race, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, have fled persecution in their own country to seek safety in other countries. Some refugees find safe haven in a community in which they can begin to rebuild their lives, but millions live in crowded refugee camps, bereft of property and rights, short of food and medical supplies, fearful every day for their lives and for the lives of their children.
In recognition of Refugee Rights Day in Canada on April 4th,the Rimbey Group of Amnesty International and The Church in the World (a community and world outreach group within the Rimbey United Church) will co-host an evening with Dr. Saren Azer, a Kurdish refugee who came to Canada in 1994.
Kurds, approximately 40,000,000 in number, make up the largest nation in the world without a country to call their own. Instead, they inhabit the territory called Kurdistan, a part of western Asia ruled by Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Dr. Azer grew up in the Iranian and Turkish sides of Kurdistan. He was working with Doctors Without Borders during the Persian Gulf War, and was part of the first medical team into the Kurdish city of Halabjo when it was chemically bombed by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1988. Dr. Azer was a member of the Kurdish Writers’ Union, and as a result of having his work published in the Kurdish language; he was arrested and tortured by the Iranian regime. Because Dr. Azer was a prisoner of conscience (having expressed his opinions in a peaceful way rather than using force), Amnesty International (AI) took up his case. Dr. Azer will be forever grateful for the help he received from AI at that time; and he has been an active member of that worldwide human rights movement since his arrival in Canada.
Dr. Azer is currently a resident physician in internal medicine with the Calgary Health Authority, and a medical scientist exploring the causes of respiratory disease. Since his arrival in Canada in 1994, in addition to his studies, research, and medical work, Dr. Azer, raised a Muslim, and taught by his father to respect other religions and races, has devoted himself to promoting peace, human rights and interfaith dialogue. In 1999 he founded the International Society for Peace and Human Rights, a non-profit organization which is involved in promoting peace and justice in various areas of the world.
Dr. Azer is now a Canadian citizen with strong ties to his Kurdish origin. His presentation in Rimbey will focus on his 2007 visit to his homeland. Equipped with medicines and supplies from Health Partners International Canada, he spent six weeks visiting refugee camps and villages, treating sick and impoverished Iraqi Kurds along the borders of Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Revisiting the city of Halabja, he witnessed astounding rates of respiratory disease, cancer, eye disease, and birth defects – the aftermath of the chemical bombing the city received in 1988, which killed 5,000 people at the time and has caused many thousands of deaths since. Dr. Azer found the health system sadly lacking, struggling with inadequate facilities, personnel, and medical supplies. He has pledged to return to Kurdistan to help those people the world seems to have forgotten.
He will be speaking about his medical/humanitarian mission in Kurdistan at the Rimbey United Church on Saturday, April 5th. Accompanying him will be his Alberta-born wife, Alison, and their two small daughters, Sharvahn and Rojevahn. Lynn Foster, a Canadian friend of the Kurdish people and Dr. Azer’s assistant during his mission, will also be joining us. The evening will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a buffet supper of soup and bread in the lower hall (elevator service available). Those who do not wish supper are welcome to join us for Dr. Azer’s presentation at 6:30 in the church sanctuary. There will be no charge for the evening; however donations will be gratefully accepted for this worthwhile cause, and all donations will go directly to purchase much-needed medical supplies and equipment for Dr. Azer’s mission.
This evening will be an opportunity to meet a remarkable new Canadian, to learn about Kurdistan and its people and to give a gift and know that it will be of direct benefit to someone who desperately needs help.