Kurdish activist Dr. Nemam Ghafouri dies from COVID-19 in Sweden

"My beautiful, brave and amazing sister," Dr. Nemam Ghafouri’s sister said. "You risked your life to save the mothers and children who were victims of Islamic State. Now you have left us physically.”
Kurdish medical worker and activist Dr. Nemam Ghafouri died from COVID-19 on April 1, 2021. (Photo: Facebook / Nazdar Ghafouri)
Kurdish medical worker and activist Dr. Nemam Ghafouri died from COVID-19 on April 1, 2021. (Photo: Facebook / Nazdar Ghafouri)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Doctor Nemam Ghafouri, the 52-year-old founder of a charity for Yezidis (Ezidis) set up after the Islamic State genocide, died this week of COVID-19 in Stockholm.

"My beautiful, brave and amazing sister," Ghafouri’s sister Nazdar wrote on Facebook on Thursday. "You risked your life to save the mothers and children who were victims of Islamic State. Now you have left us physically. ”

The Danish-Kurdish news website Jiyan reported that Ghafouri, a Kurd, survived Saddam's bombs and fled with her family to Sweden. Both her father and grandfather served in the Peshmerga forces under Mullah Mustafa Barzani.

“I was born in a cave in 1968,” Ghafouri told Harper’s magazine in 2016. Ghafouri’s family took her to Iran in 1974 and she eventually made her way to Sweden where she studied medicine, the magazine reported. 

The emergence of the Islamic State group and its violent assault on Iraq’s Yezidi-majority city of Sinjar (Shingal) in August 2014 led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of members of the community and a genocide in which scores were killed.

After 35 years, she dropped her stable life in Sweden to go to Kurdistan, Jiyan reported. After the genocide she helped Yezidi survivors and refugees from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

“Nemam was only genetically my sister. In reality, she’s a sister for all the people in need and displaced individuals in the four parts of Kurdistan,” Nazdar Ghafouri told Kurdistan 24 on Friday.

“She did not have [her own] kids, but thousands of kids cry for her now as if they have lost their mother.”

Ghafouri worked in the part of Syria predominantly populated by Kurds – who commonly refer to their region as Rojava – as well as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“I was born in the mountains during the war, so I know what it's like to be a refugee. That is why I know how to help refugees now,” she said in 2015.

“I guess I have been lucky to be born into a house of love in the middle [of] wars and bombs,” Ghafouri wrote on her Facebook last month.

“Global warming has changed it a lot but in my mom's memory nothing has changed: the sounds of water, the smell of greens, playful kids … all could suddenly mixed with smell and sounds of napalm and the deadly silence afterwards. We have come long, yet not far enough from [the] same danger,” she wrote.

Ghafouri told the news website Majalla in 2017 that before returning to Kurdistan she did charity work in other countries, including India and parts of Africa.

“In July 2014 I went down to Erbil, the capital city of Kurdistan, to do a 2 weeks’ mission in a camp called Kawergosk- which is just outside Erbil for Syrian refugees,” she said. “And at the end of my stay we heard about what happened in Sinjar and how ISIS had attacked the area after taking over Mosul.”

“So my friends and I said let us go and see what is happening. We were hearing really disastrous news about how people have been walking for 10 days in 50 degrees’ heat. We went there up to the border between Iraq and Syria, because people from Sinjar had taken the escape way to Syria and were then coming back over the Tigris river towards the Iraqi side.”

“When we got there we could not believe our eyes. It was an ocean of disaster and nobody knew how to tackle the situation. We immediately saw the need for rehydration. Luckily, we were doctors, and we talked to our colleagues in Sweden with an urgent call for oral rehydration tablets that contain the salts and minerals necessary for rehydration. We received tons and we started helping people.”

“Nemam was a selfless volunteer. Her job became part of her personality," Nazdar said.

With additional reporting by Halgurd Sherwani. Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly.