WASHINGTON / HASAKAH, SYRIA - A Kurdish family in Syria’s northeastern city of Hasakah is anguished by news that 31-year-old Ali Wezir set himself on fire Wednesday outside a United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland.
Wezir, a Syrian Kurdish refugee residing in Germany, suffered burns on 80% of his body after setting himself on fire at the headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
His family says it was an act of self-immolation to draw global attention to Turkish attacks on the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria.
“I spoke to him two days before his action, and he kept saying he wanted to come back [home],” his sister, Mehbuba, told VOA.
“Since the day Turkey attacked, he was not eating nor sleeping. He became very thin because he was worried. He was saying he would come back. He could not bear sitting there and watch Turkey attack his country,” Mehbuba said, adding that her family learned of Wezir’s act through a Facebook post.
Silvain Guillaume-Gentil, a Geneva police spokesperson, told reporters that Wezir was airlifted to a hospital in Lausanne once the flames were extinguished.
“Given his state, it was impossible to ask him about his motive, but we imagine that it was the political situation,” Reuters quoted Guillaume-Gentil as saying.
Expected to survive
Wezir’s family said he is expected to survive the severe burns but will remain in critical condition for 72 hours.
Wezir’s brother Dilawer told VOA that Wezir was particularly disturbed by the graphic images on social media showing children who had suffered burns, allegedly resulting from Turkey’s bombing campaign in northeast Syria.
The U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) earlier this week said it was investigating allegations Turkey has used phosphorus bombs, which Ankara denies.
“My brother showed everyone how Kurdish kids in Ras al-Ayn are being burned by phosphorus chemical weapons. He set himself on fire to break the silence on the Kurds being killed,” Dilawer Wezir told VOA.
Referring to thousands of fighters from the Kurdish-led SDF group who lost their lives in the war against Islamic State (IS), Dilawer Wezir said many Kurds feel betrayed.
“When we say 11,000 martyrs and 25,000 wounded who sacrificed against IS, it was not just for Kurdistan. It was for the entire world, because if it wasn’t for this force, IS would have gone into Europe and destroyed there, too,” he said.
Turkey’s military incursion
Turkey’s military and its allied Syrian militia on October 9 started a military incursion into northeast Syria, targeting the SDF after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw most U.S. troops from the country.
The U.N. estimates hundreds were killed and nearly 180,000 people were displaced before the U.S. and Turkey negotiated a cease-fire agreement was negotiated last week.
Turkish officials said their goal is to pursue a Kurdish armed group known as the Peoples’ Protection Units, or the YPG, which Ankara views as a terrorist organization.
The United States, however, has considered the YPG an ally in the fight to remove IS from a wide area of Syrian territory, including the IS self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa.