Kurdish refugees pick up pieces of their shattered lives

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While some Kobane refugees this week returned home, thousands who fled this Syrian city remain in refugee camps and elsewhere in neighbouring Turkey.

They were displaced last September when global terror group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) invaded their city. ISIS has laid claim to parts of Iraq and Syria in its mission to create an Islamic empire.

Kobane refugees, predominantly Kurdish, have sought refuge in villages along Turkey’s border with Syria and also fled further inland.

Kurdish-run municipalities in Turkey have mainly received them as these towns are near Syria’s border. The region is known for its large Kurdish population.

Porsea Hasan, 17, left, was close to tears when she recalls what happened to her family in Sengal, Iraq. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Porsea Hasan, 17, left, was close to tears when she recalls what happened to her family in Sengal, Iraq. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Another group of Kurdish refugees are from Iraq where ISIS has laid claim to part of that country, along with Syrian towns.

Kurds from the Iraqi town Sengal are housed at one refugee camp in Diyarbakir, Turkey. These Kurds follow the Yazidi religion linked to Zoroastrianism and ancient Mesopotamian religions.

At this camp, young people are being encouraged to retell their experiences through therapeutic theatre.

Theatre teacher Baran Demir says he prefers to use comedy as a means to deal with the seriousness of their experience.

Nowrooz Omer, seated right, runs sewing classes for young women who make clothes and other items in a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Nowrooz Omer, seated right, runs sewing classes for young women who make clothes and other items in a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

“We are doing improvisation work with the intention to build up theatre skills and produce a play. The play will be about what the people from Sengal experienced in relation to ISIS,” said Demir.

“It will address their trauma but also touch on their social life at home. I chose comedy to lighten up their situation a bit.”

Demir said while theatre was a form of theatre it could not “take away any trauma that you experienced in the past”.

“But using comedy encourages that. Theatre helps us know who we are and remember our past. We needed to get the kids to come into group work together to be able to do this,” he said.

Demir said he had worked with young people and theatre projects in other refugee camps and also in Kobane.

After theatre class, students return to their family tents where they are staying for an indefinite period as ISIS fighters still battle in Iraq.

A tent in a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, where Kobane's residents have sought shelter. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

A tent in a refugee camp in Suruc, Turkey, where Kobane’s residents have sought shelter. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Porsea Hasan, 17, is close to tears when she recalls what happened to her family in Sengal.

“There was fighting and as a result of this we had to leave. We left our village before they (ISIS) reached our village. They (ISIS) first took the other villages. Then they invaded the city,” she said.

“Our relatives called us and told us quick they are killing our women and children. The Iraqi Kurdish fighters also have us a warning. That’s when we ran away.”

Her mother Bere Khadr said: “When we heard that, we took all the women and children in cars and left. The men stayed behind to fight.”

Porsea added: “Every time we talk about it, I remember and then I cry.”

She said theatre class was not a “way to treat it (the pain)”.

“We see it as a way to forget. We try to forget it, get busy and have some fun.”

Dilshaad Matro, 15, also finds it difficult to retell what happened to them.

“When we saw Kurdish fighters leave our city, then we fled. We heard that they (ISIS) kill everyone who comes in their way,” said Matro.

“We left with nothing. We were 33 people in one car. When one person returned later to see what happened, everything was destroyed.

“They (ISIS) took everything. Our cars and everything in our houses were gone.”

Matro said his family of eight people has been living in the refugee camp tent for the last six months.

“It is hard to live here. I don’t think it’s normal for a 15-year-old to live like this. And it is not normal for a baby’s head to be cut off,” he said.

“We just want to live in a place freely and have a better future.”

Rows of tents at another camp in Suruc, Turkey, where Kobane's residents are waiting for calm to be restored in their home city. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Rows of tents at another camp in Suruc, Turkey, where Kobane’s residents are waiting for calm to be restored in their home city. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

The camp has only one doctor, Mustafa Ubay, who said he was unable to assist all the patients on his own.

Further afield from Diyarbakir, in Suruc which is closer to Kobane, thousands of refugees also remain in camps.

They are finding ways to make their situation more bearable. Nowrooz Omer, for example, runs sewing classes for young women who make clothes and other items.

Nowrooz said: “Life in the camp is not easy. We are not happy about what happened. But this (sewing) makes us happy.”

Ajda Arda, who manages one of the refugee camps in Suruc, said they needed “doctors, food and water”.

“People are in this camp all this time and they still have fears. We need psychologists to help them deal with their situation,” said Arda.

Diyarbakir’s co-mayor Firat Anli said there were “thousands of refugees who want to go home”.

He said his city had “around 3,700 Sengalis that live in camps and 20,000 from Kobane”.

“We have tried to give them aid from our hearts. We have done this without international help or the national government (in Turkey). The local municipalities are doing this work,” he said.

“Even though Diyarbakir is poor, 95% of our population has contributed with humanitarian help, a feeling of solidarity and giving money and food to refugees.”

Anli said his local government had pledged US$15-million to date to assist refugees.

“We have spent this on three meals a day for refugees, on tents, a school, toilets, clothing and health facilities. This includes spending towards reconstructing Kobane,” said Anli.

“We have also constructed drinking water pipelines for refugees from Kobane who now live in tents in Suruc.”

In Suruc, Mustafa Dogal who works with the local government’s diplomacy unit, said it “has been really had for everyone”.

“We have had help from Kurdish people from around the world. We need to help the people from Kobane,” said Dogal.

“Over 80% of Kobane has been demolished. Soon after the liberation of Kobane, people who were living in the camps could not wait to go back home. People didn’t care about the demolition of their houses.”

The liberation Dogal refers to relates to the battle that Kurdish fighters won against ISIS, along with US-led coalition airstrikes, to push the terror group to the city’s outskirts.

Dogal said: “Up to now, 40,000 people have gone back. But we can’t let people go back to the centre of Kobane.

“The buildings have been destroyed and there are still some bombs that have not exploded yet. It is dangerous for people to go into those areas.

“We need the international community to help clear the streets of those bombs and mines that have been left behind. It’s a big project and we can’t do it on our own.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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