TURKEY: Syrian Kurds in the Purgatory of Refugee Camps

Suruç, Turkey – He looked up at me; brown eyes, with dark long lashes. He stuck his finger in his mouth and sucked on it, as he shyly stared at the strangers with their big camera contraptions.

When the children discovered that we would let them look at the photos we were taking, they crowded around, leaning on us, staring and giggling as they saw their own images. One boy reached out a hand and began pressing buttons on my camera, pushing on doo-dads, and spinning this and that – it took me several minutes to reverse it. I could not look anywhere without one of the boys jumping up and down, trying to get us to photograph them again, so that they could look over our shoulders as we crouched to show them our latest masterpiece.

I was completely unprepared for the sheer number of children in the camps.

Dozens of them ran around us. They pushed and shoved until one littlest one was shoved by an over enthusiastic playmate, pushing him to the ground and scraping his arm against the gravel.

His mouth opened and contorted into pain, then came the gradual sound of a wail, growing and softening like a siren. I let my camera dangle at my neck, as I crouched to pick him up, place him back on his feet, and wipe his flowing tears.

He was lighter than I anticipated, his bulky winter clothes masking the malnourished state underneath. I could feel his ribs beneath his sweater. He touched his forearm as he cried into my sweater, lifting his sleeve to make sure there was no damage, and running my fingers to see there was no tenderness. He was momentarily soothed, and stared at me with wide-eyed curiosity, and placed a dirt-covered hand on my face. I ruffled his hair in response, and he finally smiled.

Then his mother called him and he ran off for her comfort.

Clothes hung on the chain link fence that enclosed the refugees in the poor encampment, and women in drab scarves and loosely fitted clothes did their laundry in a plastic bin. I didn’t have the heart to mention that it would rain soon, and the clothes weren’t like to dry that night.

This Refugee Camp was populated by Syrian Kurds. It’s inhabitants are mainly women, children, the old and the injured. Most of the young and able bodied were, I later discovered, were still in Kobane, Syria, where the heavy fighting and airstrikes have leveled parts of the city, and Daesh continue their rampage to commit genocide on anyone who is not, what they deem to be a good Muslim.

When the wind dies down, someone claimed you could still hear the sound of explosions from the other side of the border – several journalists are parked on outlying hills with tele-photo lenses, ready to take images as the city crumbles. And each and every day, families come over the border, fleeing the war, leaving behind all that they possess to live in tents. The ones that live in the encampments, though, are lucky. Sometimes families wait for months before getting the UN, and Turkey government-sponsored shelters, as they have reached capacity again and again, as more and more terrorized Syrians seek refuge in Turkey.

History has not been kind to the Kurds – they have been exiles in whatever country they live in, an unwanted guests inhabiting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, a region collectively termed “Kurdistan”. They are the largest ethnicity without their own country, and the countries they inhabit routinely persecute them. In recent history, Saddam Hussein committed genocide against the Kurds, using chemical weapons to wipe out entire villages and slaughtered at least 100,000 in oil-rich Northern Iraq during his Al-Anfal Campaign in 1987. Now, another threat originating from Iraq seeks to wipe them out again – this time, they call it Daesh. Most of the world calls them the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Or the Ismalic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Years before I had asked a government analyst, who specialized in the Kurdish region, why they were so despised as minorities in the countries they inhabited. He explained it to me this way, “When I was in Iraq, they said that next to an infidel is a Kurd a good Muslim.”

Now, they are on the front lines on the war against Daesh, a terrorist organization so brutal that it is universally condemned. As one young, injured fighter said, “Our choices were to fight, or die.”

3 Comments

  1. Tabitha says:

    The way they reacted to the cameras is EXACTLY the same way the kids in Guatemala reacted. They just loved getting their photos taken and seeing the photos. Especially when I took them on my phone, because they loved getting to play around with some of the editing functions. Even not speaking their language, we were able to bond with them over something so simple. It was incredible.

    The ISIS situation scares me more than I’m often willing to admit. Their influence goes well beyond the actions they are taking in Iraq and Syria, into twisting the minds of Americans, Canadians, and other nations, people who become radicalized and take action against the very people they have spent their lives with.

    I know war isn’t the best answer, but I know that something more needs to be done. To know that this kind of genocide is going on by a group that is encouraging it worldwide, something else needs to happen. But the question I ask is, how do you stop a militant group of terrorists without responding in kindness through violent actions? Is it even possible? How do we save these people from being persecuted, through doing more than simply providing food and shelter while their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are being killed mercilessly just across the border?

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