My name is Amir Ashour, and I’m a gay guy from Iraq. I was born in Zayouna – Baghdad in 1990, I went to school in Baghdad before we moved with my family to Sulaimaniyah were I continued my education. My dad is an Arab Shiite, and my mom is a Kurdish sunny. As you can see, I have different Iraqi identities within me, but despite that I never felt safe living in Iraq because of my sexual orientation, and the activism I do for LGBT+ individuals. Whilst not officially illegal, being gay is societally taboo, and it reached a point where I had to leave Iraq when I was 24. I sought political asylum because I wanted to stay alive and continue working for human rights.
When I saw Karar’s pictures, and read the story about him being killed, I couldn’t help but imagine myself if I had stayed in Iraq, and started asking myself a lot of questions. Would I be alive if I was still in Baghdad? Would anyone care if I was killed? Would my life have any value? Or would I just be another Karar who has been killed because he decided that he wants to style his hair in a certain way? Or love someone from the same gender as he is? Do we really want to live in a society where these reasons are good enough for us to use to justify someone’s killing? Are we so used to violence now that we don’t even care to react?
What makes the murder of Karar even scarier is that it was not the first, and will not be the last that people with different gender expressions or perceived sexual orientations will face. Members of the LGBT+ community have been facing killing campaigns committed by armed groups and even government affiliated groups at least once a year since 2006. According to several international reports, hundreds of cases were documented. Neither the Iraqi nor the Kurdish government have held any person for the killing of an LGBT+ person. It’s often covered up with another story, and neglects the main reason why those people have been killed. Even the society as a whole has failed until recent years to stand for those individuals.
Since I started IraQueer two years ago as the first and only human rights organisation focusing on the LGBT+ community in Iraq/KurdistanRegion, we’ve been receiving a large number of messages from the LGBT+ community who share their stories with us, who tell us that they are kicked out by their families, have no jobs, and have no support system. Many of them are even wanted to be killed by extended family members or other groups. We’re pushed to be more invisible and isolated, and we’re unable to stand for ourselves publicly by our own! People who believe in our rights must speak up and defend us.
The collapse of ISIS is a defining moment for Iraq and Iraqis. Not only because it means the end of a terrorist group that actively violated every citizen’s right living under them, but also because after that we as a nation need to make a decision, are we going to continue using their ideologies of rejecting everyone who’s different from us, and taking violent actions against people we don’t understand, or are we going to create a society that will actively make sure that all individuals are recognised, respected, and protected regardless of our personal views?