Thursday, March 15, 2012

Issues related with religion pushed Kurdish student to shoot his American teacher, says father of the student

Father of a student of who shot his American teacher dead before putting a bullet in his head says that there were issues related with religion between his son and the teacher that led to the tragic incident.

In this interview with Rudaw Newspaper, the father of Bayar Sarwar who shot Jeremiah Small earlier this month says the American teacher was trying to "convert" his students and his son (and that he had actually succeeded just five days before Bayar shot him) that's why there was an issue between Bayar and Mr Small. He also says that Bayar's mother had visited the school several times to see Mr Small to talk to him about the issue but Mr Small "was never ready" to talk to her about it every time on a different excuse.

Following the incident, Kurdish officials rejected any religious motivation behind the shooting.

Read the article below as it is on Rudaw:

Exclusive Interview With Father of Student Who Shot His American Teacher
Sarwar Yahya Rasheed, known as Dr. Sardar, an alias from his days as a Peshmarga, is the father of Bayar, the 17-year-old student who shot his American teacher Jeremiah Small before turning the gun on himself on March 1 in Sulaimani.

Dr. Sarwar agreed to an interview with Rudaw to tell the story of his son and the English Christian school he attended before his death. Dr. Sarwar is married into the family of Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq, but in this interview he maintains that he has never exploited his connections with the president for personal advantage.

The Sarwars lived in Iran until 2003 when they moved to Australia and became naturalized citizens. Dr. Sarwar said that his son Bayar was born in Iran and finished elementary school in Australia.

Rudaw: At Jeremiah Small's funeral ceremony in Sulaimani, you said the problem (between Jeremiah and Bayar) had been there for quite a while. What did you mean by that?

Dr. Sarwar: At the funeral, I told everyone, including the Americans, that Jeremiah knew very well that there was an ongoing issue. Before the incident, Bayar's mother and some of my relatives told me that Jeremiah taught a class that was not necessary to teach. He was teaching evangelist classes.
We told the Americans that we knew the school was supported by a church. We were OK with that. And we told them that we did not mind our children studying Christianity. We agreed to our children studying Christian Science, but we did not agree to our children being brainwashed. We do worship God. We do not worship deities. We are from a religious family. Unfortunately, the school did not take our concerns seriously.

Bayar's mother went to see Jeremiah a few times (to discuss the issue), but she did not manage to meet him. Each time there was a different excuse. One time, she was told Jeremiah had a headache so she could not see him. The teacher was avoiding Bayar's mother.

Jeremiah used to take the kids to various places, to picnics, on hikes, visits, etc. Bayar once told me, "Dad, this teacher has converted many of the students to Christianity." I told him, "Son, do your studies and do not mind others' business." I told him, "Others are free to do what they wish. You have only one year left at this school. You will be done with this place soon."

It seems like Jeremiah had recently pressured Bayar to convert to Christianity. I say this based on some information I have received from his friends and relatives in the school. My son Bayar had also given up. He converted to Christianity on Feb. 25, without telling me. I found this out after his death.

Rudaw: So it is true that Bayar converted to Christianity just five days before the incident?

Dr. Sarwar: I was told he had converted to Christianity. But Bayar never told me anything like that. His teacher did not tell me anything about that either. My son was a kid. He was underage.

At the funeral, Jeremiah's father (Dan Small) said he had encouraged his son to do what he was doing. Jeremiah's father said, "A day before the incident, Jeremiah gave me good news about your son." That sentence was not translated to Kurdish at the ceremony. Jeremiah's mother also said, "My son came to this country to shout 'I am a follower of Jesus and I want others to follow me.'"

Rudaw: You said Bayar's mother visited the school several times. Does that mean you knew your son had problems at school?

Dr. Sarwar: We felt there was a problem. Often when he came back from school, he was worried and sad. He was doing well in his classes, except for Arabic where he still had a grade of 85. He was one of the best students in his class. The school failed to solve my son's problem with Jeremiah, who was also a victim. This was the problem.

Rudaw: Did the school know about the problem?

Dr. Sarwar: They certainly did. Parents of other students had informed the school about the issue. But I do not know why they could not or rather did not want to solve the issue. For the incident, I blame the school and myself. I should have responded to the situation a long time ago. But in no way did I expect anything like what happened to happen.

Rudaw: How did you hear about Bayar's conversion to Christianity?

Dr. Sarwar: All I have heard is from the diary book of one of Bayar's friends. On Feb. 25, in a hotel in Sulaimani, Bayar said, "I was the only one left. Now I, too, am converted to Christianity." That day, when the teacher left Bayar and his friends, Bayar told him, "I will find a solution for you." I asked his friends, why did you not tell me about that? They said they did not know Bayar meant killing the teacher. This subject is a very sensitive issue; please make sure your newspaper does not misuse the story for your own interests. However, through this newspaper I want to thank the people of Sulaimani. Bayar loved Sulaimani city, believe me. When I was in Australia, Bayar used to call me often just to keep me updated about all the developments in the city.
I apologize to the students in Bayar's school and their families. I know the incident has worried them and disrupted their studies. This is especially true of the female students.

One more thing, which is very important for me to say, is that we have no problems with Christianity. My ancestors in Kirkuk were the ones who gave their lands to Christians to build their church in the city. Kirkuk and Sulaimani churches said in a press release that this kind of conversion is not acceptable in their churches. They do not want to pray for the victims in their churches. But whatever happened is the past. There are no disputes between the Christians and us. I ask the Islamist political parties and Muslim preachers to avoid using the incident to encourage people in certain directions. If anyone does anything in that regard, we will consider it an act against us. Many people have converted to Christianity, there are thousands of Europeans in our country and there are many Christians serving this country. Let's deal with the issue carefully and not do something that could break their (Christians') hearts. The Christians are our brothers. I have often praised Kurdistan and Iraqi Christians. But Jeremiah's group is a splinter group group who is brainwashed. I would not say equally, but to a great degree I am saddened by Jeremiah's death as I am for my son. Jeremiah was also brainwashed.

Rudaw: You apologized to the students and their families, but did not apologize to Jeremiah's family and did not talk to them?

Dr. Sarwar: I did talk to Jeremiah's family, on the same day, in the hall. And I think I did apologize to Jeremiah's parents. Or I might have forgotten to apologize to them, due to the emotional and psychological conditions I was in that day. But, I think I did apologize. However, if I have not apologized, then I would like to take advantage of this opportunity and apologize to them through your newspaper. I ask God to help them overcome the sorrow. And I hope for the school to resume its classes as soon as possible.

Rudaw: When did you first meet Jeremiah's family? What did you tell them?

Dr. Sarwar: I met them at the burial ceremony. I told them what I said on the podium. I hugged his parents and told them both of our sons were victims.

Rudaw: In their investigations, what did the Americans tell you?

Dr. Sarwar: There have been no investigations by the Americans. Some of the Americans told me that they could ask for the expulsion of some of the teachers from the school. The Americans' reaction to the situation is to be praised. They came to Bayar's funeral procession to express their condolences.

Rudaw: Some Western media outlets said the killer of the American teacher was a member of the Iraqi president's family. What was Talabani's reaction to this situation?

Dr. Sarwar: Talabani was on a trip abroad for health issues, but he asked for a meeting with Bayar's mother before his trip. Bayar's mother is his niece. My wife and daughter went to see him. I did not go with them. Talabani cried for Bayar. When Bayar was younger, Talabani used to see him often and he loved Bayar. However, Talabani did not say anything special to my wife and daughter. He just met them to express his condolences.

Rudaw: You said your family lived in Australia. Was Bayar mainly raised in a Western or Eastern culture?

Dr. Sarwar: The first five to six years, Bayar was brought up in Iran. That of course was an eastern Islamic culture/education. Then we lived for two and half years in Australia. We came back to Kurdistan because I wanted to raise my kids in Kurdistan and the Kurdish culture. Therefore, I can say Bayar and his sister have been fully brought up in a Kurdish culture.

Rudaw: It is said that Bayar claimed to be a member of the Anti-Terrorism Squad. One of his maternal uncles is the head of that organization. How were Bayar's relations with his uncle?

Dr. Sarwar: Bayar loved his maternal uncles. His uncles had very good relations with my family. His uncles were doing more for Bayar than I had done for him. We have good relations with Bayar's uncles and I consider them my brothers.

Rudaw: But it is said that Bayar had claimed to be a member of the Anti-Terrorism Squad.

Dr. Sarwar: What anti-terrorism? It is true his uncle is the head of that organization, but how could he be a member of that organization without my knowledge? First of all, Bayar was only 17 years old. How could his uncles accept him as a member? They had an uncle-nephew relationship. They did not have much of an age difference which is why they were good friends. After Bayar's death, his uncle has been hospitalized three times. He is very sad for Bayar.

Rudaw: You said you are a dentist and this is a civilian job. Where did Bayar get his pistol from? Where did he learn to shoot? Shooting and aiming with a pistol is not easy if one is not trained for it.

Dr. Sarwar: When we moved back to Kurdistan, we were told that we needed a gun if we wanted to live here. My wife is Talabani's niece. There are all kinds of things that we may face due to our relationship with Talabani. Many times, my children and their mother had been told in the market to go home immediately due to threats to their safety. Therefore, we had a weapon in our house. Bayar was 17 years old and this is not too young an age to figure out how to use a weapon. He knew all about weapons. He learned how to shoot when he was 15 years old. But we never thought he would take a pistol to school. If he had ever done so, he must have done it without our knowledge.

Rudaw: So the pistol he used was your pistol?

Dr. Sarwar: I think, yes, it was our pistol. I have not gone back home yet, so I am not sure. It has not been determined whose pistol it was. But it's no secret that I do have a pistol. I trusted my son. He was my backbone. I gave him permission to learn how to use a weapon. We all know that in our country there are people way younger than him who have guns in their possession. We never had any issues with guns until the time of the incident.

Rudaw: Did Bayar have a criminal record? Had he ever created problems in the past?

Dr. Sarwar: As for big problems, I have not heard of any. He has had quarrels with his friends, but he has always made up with them afterwards.

Rudaw: How do you assess the conclusions of the investigation?

Dr. Sarwar: We have not seen the conclusion of any investigation. I believe Bayar's mother and I know better than anyone else what happened. I thought Jeremiah was just a teacher, but only recently I found out that he was converting others to Christianity. He was a missionary.

Rudaw: Have you asked Ministry of Education to review their policies?

Dr. Sarwar: That is not something I alone can ask the Ministry of Education, but most people have that same demand. The ministry has to provide social workers for schools. Schools are supposed to educate our kids but sadly, in Kurdistan, that is not the case. Education is ignored in our schools. There must be social workers and the social workers must investigate problems and solve them when they occur. Last year, Jeremiah took our kids to Piramagrun Mountain (northwest of Sulaimani) for a picnic. They were supposed to come back at 2:00 p.m., but he had the kids with him until midnight, and we had no news of them until that time. Jeremiah later said they had lost their way back and only Jesus could show them the way home!

Now I doubt what happened that night was what Jeremiah told us. Jeremiah is now dead and I do not want to bring this subject up for discussion. But, again, I doubt what happened that night. He went to the mountain peak and shouted "only Jesus can show us the way home." I think he did that on purpose to leave an impact on the minds and psychology of the students.

Rudaw: Do you blame the school principal for what happened?

Dr. Sarwar: Yes, I do blame the school and our education system in general. The Ministry of Education should not be corrupted, even if other entities of the state are corrupt. If the principal of the school had not been aware of the issue, I would not blame him for what happened. But the principal knew about the problem.
Rudaw: You have seen Jeremiah. Did he ever visit your home?

Dr. Sarwar: No, he never visited us at home. I had seen him only once. I shook his hand and nothing more. But I was told Bayar and other students had gone to his house.

Rudaw: What is the latest update on the issue?

Dr. Sarwar:  Nothing really. We are finding more and more about how determined this teacher was in converting the students. That is something that was not necessary. We did not know about it.

Rudaw: What do you tell parents who send their kids to the same school?

Dr. Sarwar: Parents should not ignore their kids. More precisely, they should not ignore the religious aspect. Christians are our brothers, but the Christians I have known are very different from those who work at that school. The latter bring danger. They are more dangerous than al-Qaida. Therefore, I warn the parents, if the school system remains as it was, they should not send their kids to that school.

Rudaw: When the story broke, what came to your mind about the disputes between your son and his teacher?

Dr. Sarwar: At the time, I was shopping for my clinic. First, the story was that my son shot Jeremiah. I was not told he had committed suicide. But yes, when I heard the story, the dispute played in my mind like a video on a tape.

To read the original article on Rudaw click the link below: