The following interview was conducted by The Kurdish Project with Richard Campos, a veteran of the Iraq war. Submit your own story to The Kurdish Project here.
How were you first introduced to the Kurdish cause, and why were you compelled to take action?
My first introduction to the Kurdish people was back in 2003 during our invasion of Iraq. Our first duty mission was in Hawler (Erbil) at a small air field near the city. I learned quickly about the Peshmerga soldiers, and they appreciated our presence there, unlike the population near Baghdad. My personal opinion – the only success of the Iraq war was Kurdistan therefore my urgency to help the Kurds runs deep.
You’ve traveled to Kurdistan six times in the past five years. What has been the purpose of each visit? Why is it that you keep going back?
My first visit was to a women’s shelter back in 2011. I spoke about the importance of respecting women and I also spoke of the sacrifices of the brave men and women of the military which was to give everyone a second chance of freedom and I gave a small contribution to the shelter.
The following year I visited with Dr. Mohammed Ishan to talk about a soldiers memorial. If built, this would bring our countries even closer.
My next visit was the following year. The Syrian war had begun causing IDPs and refugees to live in camps all over Kurdistan. I visited Camp Kawrgosk and brought Baby Diapers and Baby Formula and Feminine products as well as Medicines for the Camp Doctor. Then the butchers – Daesh or ISIL – began their path of destruction so on my next trip, it was suggested to me to do a documentary, specifically to tell their story from a veteran’s point of view. So I brought with me a team of video specialist to document and film from people living in abandoned buildings and an unfinished mall In Ankawa and make-shift camps.
For me and my team, the Yezidi people need the most help. They have my utmost attention, and they are why I go back. Helping the Yezidis is my way of countering the evil that is ISIL.
During your last visit to Kurdistan, you visited a refugee camp as part of a ceremony to pass out dresses made by Yezidi women and girls. Tell us more about the ceremony.
I wanted to do something very special for the Yezidi women of this camp, named Camp bajed Kandala #2, which is near Dohok. After discussing my wishes with my dear friend Dr. Nemam Ghafouri – a Heart Specialist who works at the camp – she said it would be great to have white shawls and dresses made at the camp by the Yezidi women and this would bring back some dignity and pride and respect.
I instantly agreed – I loved the idea. I later purchased five sewing machines and white fabric. Dr. Nemam informed me that the camp was all abuzz, and that there were very excited smiles on everyone. After Dr. Nemam told me some horrific stories about Daesh coming to the Yezidi villages physically ripping of the white Shawls and dresses and leaving them naked, we knew we have to do this and have a ceremony on International Women’s Day, another way of countering the evildoers. It was a day once again I will never forget. It was an honor to be present. And some of the ceremony was filmed and it’s included in the movie.
In your opinion, how can American individuals and organizations best help the displaced in Kurdistan, whether Yezidi, Kurdish, or otherwise?
American people are extremely giving, however it must be brought to their attention by people like myself or groups that have been there and can be willing to go and speak to large organizations that are not involved as of yet. My hope is that the documentary will do that. The goal is to show this in as many theaters here in America and abroad as possible. And not only in theaters but also churches and universities and large organizations and media outlets large and small.
“The Longest Road” is an incredibly powerful documentary about the plight of displaced persons in Kurdistan. How did you get involved? How can Americans support the documentary?
Hopefully it is an incredibly powerful documentary. Hopefully this will be the first step towards bringing the Yezidis home, the camps are deteriorating. They say that for some, they’d much rather live in ruins than the camps.
All proceeds from the movie will go to rebuilding schools and infrastructure in the villages that have been liberated. I got involved to counter the evil monsters, Daesh, and Americans can support simply by going and seeing this documentary. We have begun to promote the movie by any means possible. Our first premiere is on September 10th and 11th in Orange, California. You can watch and share the trailer at longestroadmovie.com
If there were one thing you’d like Americans or westerners to know about the Kurdish people, what would it be?
That’s very easy to answer. They love Americans and America, they are very kind and humble and hospitable and very brave. And would make a great ally. Thanks for allowing me to tell my story.