Credit: Victoria Chamberlin

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“BE BRAVE. YOU WILL HAVE YOUR HOME SOON.”

This was a message local children of the Kurdish diaspora wrote to children in Rojava, part of the northern area of Syria where Turkey has launched a cross-border military offensive displacing hundreds of thousands of Kurds and leaving them in grave danger at the hands of extremist militias.

On Sunday, the children and their parents gathered on the Mall and painted pictures and messages of hope on a large white banner with brightly colored paint.

“These are children who are our family, and who look like us that have no toys, homes or even schools,” said Raveen Kajjo a journalist who helped organize the event.

“Paint something you think will give a child like you hope,” she told them.

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Last month, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops to avoid a clash with Turkish forces, following President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan for an invasion. The result has displaced over 200,000 Kurds according to the United Nations, with many thousands more likely to be displaced as Syrian refugees of the ISIS conflict return from Turkey.

With a permit from the National Park Service, the banner was rolled out in the middle of the sidewalk connecting the National Gallery of Art and the National Air and Space Museum. Tourists had to make the choice to engage with the art project or deliberately walk around it, mirroring the dilemma the Kurds are facing now in trying to keep the situation at the top of American minds in an ever-changing news cycle.

The decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria was a shock to the Kurdish community. The United States had considered the Kurds trustworthy allies on the ground in the fight against ISIS, and their political ideals aligned well with the U.S. government. Kurds are largely secular and Muslim. They believe in pluralism, democracy, and equality between men and women. The YPG became the closest allies to the U.S. military in the fight against ISIS.

“I saw Tweets regarding Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops. I did not believe it,” said Omer Pacal, a Ph.D. student at George Mason University. “I was shocked with what I saw on social media and desperate reactions of the Kurds from around the world.”

Local Kurds organized Sunday’s event, called Color and Hope for Rojava, in an effort to keep what’s happening to the Kurdish people in Syria in the minds of Americans and policymakers in Washington.

“Because I’m an artist, I get tired of politics,” said Lukman Ahmad, who is also a broadcast journalist. “I think if we can bring a different message through children, to the American people, that is going to be more effective.”

Ahmad was born in Rojava, Syria and left the country to seek asylum in Istanbul. A Kurdish artist, Ahmad wasn’t safe under the Assad regime. He came to the United States in 2010, where he remains active in the Kurdish community in the D.C. area.

Kurds are the largest stateless ethnic minority in the world, and the diaspora community in the D.C. area still have family in southwest Asia, with the largest concentrations in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Armenia.

Conversations about the conflict facing the international Kurdish community is happening at dinner tables here. Although young children may not understand the complicated geo-political issues underlying the issue, they can empathize when a grown-up tells them there are children like them who have lost their homes.

Shahed Alavi and his wife brought their 6-year-old daughter, Rooni. Alavi came to the United States in 2008 from Iranian Kurdistan where he was a journalist. He came here for a new life with free speech.

“We hope this will keep the Kurdish situation alive,” said Alavi. “These are children who are starving and in harm’s way. We can’t forget them.”