With additional reporting by Zhyar Rawf
Jwnaid Murad walked down the dairy aisle of Las Market, the 1000-square-meter grocery store he owns in New Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. “150 years ago, Ottomans beheaded my great grandfather a little bit south of Erbil,” he said. “Now, history is repeating.” When Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring on October 9th, hitting border towns in Northeastern Syria with airstrikes, Murad watched in horror. The operation has killed at least 70 civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands in Northeast Syria.
Almost immediately, calls for a boycott of products made in Turkey flooded social media. “I saw a group on Facebook asking people to boycott Turkish products, and I realized It was the right thing to do,” Murad said. With the help of some of his 65 employees, Murad filled nearly 200 carts with the Turkish products on Las Market’s shelves, which comprised roughly 60% of the store’s inventory.
Murad sent some of the stock back to his vendors. The rest, including dozens of boxes of baby formula crowding the small office above his store, will be distributed to refugee camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. “Of course, this will affect my business. But after watching Turkey commit the war crimes they have in Rojava, I don’t care,” he said. “If I had to choose between starving to death and eating food produced by Turkey, I would starve.”
Fouad Kurdistani*, a shopper at Las Market, said the boycott includes more than goods. “Look at Turkish Airlines…no one is going to Turkey now. These planes are empty. I went to Europe last week, and paid twice as much for my ticket to avoid going through Turkey. They’re monsters, killing our children. We cannot give them our money.”
* an alias
University professor Dr. Kamaran Mentk spent days searching for carpets that weren’t’t made in Turkey. “Finally I found some produced here in Erbil,” he said, “but it wasn’t easy.” He believes boycott is a form of war. “It will make a difference, of course, because Turkey gains so much from the business they do in Kurdistan. This is nothing new for Kurdistan. We had a boycott of Iranian goods in 2009, for example. But I believe this to be the biggest…our people are united against Turkey by refusing to buy their products.”
Jwnaid Murad has already faced retribution as a result of his storewide boycott. He says one of the largest Turkish grocery suppliers has sent people into Las Market to demand particular Turkish products. “But the locals are supportive of my actions, and the government isn’t interfering,” he said.
“We don’t need Turkish products to survive here. Look at my store. We emptied more than half the inventory, and we brought new products locally and from other countries and refilled everything. It is time for the Kurds to take a stand. We must help ourselves, because no one else will help us.”