By Hedwig Kuijpers / https://medium.com
At last, after two years of appealing by Iran-based Human Rights watchdogs, the silence on the fate of Asrin Mohammadi – lovingly nicknamed Sonia by her parents – is broken. Yet, the news of her death as published by PJAK raises new questions on her case.
The 13-year old girl from Sardasht disappeared in August 2017 near her parents’ home in the outskirts of a small village in Sardasht. Asrin was in middle school at the time she disappeared. On April 19 2020, activists of the Iranian Kurdistan Human Rights Watch concluded their investigation and published a shocking report around the circumstances of her disappearance. Asrin’s home had been in the outskirts of a village in Sardasht, a place regularly visited by PJAK militants. Neighbours had seen Asrin talking to them as she played outside in the fields that surrounded her home, though they failed to warn the parents before her disappearance.
Asrin’s father – angered by the kidnapping of his 13 year old daughter – has written an appeal that has been sent to IKHRW and various other international human rights organisations. It stated: “I, Hassan Mohammadi, resident of Sardasht, want to issue a complaint against the PJAK, who in August 2017 kidnapped my daughter Asrin Mohammadi – nicknamed Sonia. Despite visits by me and her mother to campsites of this group, my daughter has not been seen, neither has she returned home. Therefore, I ask for the security services of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Kurdish Region Government, and international organizations, to reach out and help return Sonia, a middle school pupil. “
Unfortunately, none responded to his appeal. Asrin’s father has left Iranian Kurdistan for Qaladizah, a pro-PJAK hub in the Qandil region in North-Iraq. He has attempted to learn more there about his daughter ever since.
Local attorneys and experts that volunteer for the Iran-based Human Rights Watchdog IKHRW have investigated the disappearance of Asrin Mohammadi among a dozen other minors recruited by PJAK in the same timespan. Through local sources, they were able to confirm that after recruitment, this group of youngsters was taken to a training camp in the Qandil mountains in the Iraqi-Iranian border region.
Unfortunately, several recruits have lost their lives in the winter of 2018 due to heavy snowfall and the collapse of the cave they were staying in. It was at the time unclear if Asrin was among those killed.
The point is, PJAK and PKK release the deaths of Iranian-Kurdish members of its organisation with immense delay, they tend to wait until Turkish airstrikes hit the region to declare the dead that died of other causes, or simply declare their recruits killed in battle somewhere in Turkey (because if one dies in Turkey, this is very difficult to check for Iranian families).
Reports of internal issues, suicides, murder, avalanches, drownings and different causes of death reach the local NGOs regularly, as PJAK escapees that return home to Iran tell their stories to local NGOs and authorities. As these NGOs try to draw attention to a specific case, PJAK declares them dead.
The same thing happened to Asrin Mohammadi. Asrin’s mother released a video statement in which she explains that she has visited PJAK campsites multiple times. They would not show her her daughter or give her exact information about her whereabouts. When human rights watchdogs started campaigning for her, PJAK casually told her mother she was killed in Shirnak, or somewhere else in Turkey, though it was not officially announced. Both IKHRW and her family kept pressuring PJAK to give more exact information.
PJAK, under pressure, issued a statement saying Asrin was killed in the Turkish airstrikes in the Asos mountains last week. They included this heavily photoshopped image to their announcement, trying to make her look older.
Asrin’s mother says their feelings for the Kurdish cause have been abused by PJAK, as they used them to kidnap her 13-year old daughter. She shows a photocopy of her birth certificate to prove her daughter’s age. Asrin’s mother claims that both her husband and her other daughter have fled the village, as PJAK pressured them not to speak out.
She states that she has learned from different sources that her daughter tried to run away and leave PJAK, and was shot dead upon fleeing. PJAK does not allow its members to return home or resign, the only way to save themselves is running away. Unfortunately, Asrin got caught and killed, as many had before. A very tragedic ending to a far too short story.
I once again want to request all Human Rights watchdogs that work in the region, that work against the recruitment of child soldiers, and both the Kurdish and international communities to appeal for a halt to the recruitment of minors under 16. The PKK and its Syrian wing YPG/YPJ are already closely monitored, but due to several political reasons Iranian Kurdistan remains underreported and thus easy recruiting grounds for the organisation’s Iranian wing PJAK. Iranian-Kurdish children matter too. They need to be protected against organisations that recruit child soldiers.