From Kurdistan, With Love

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The story of an Internally Displaced Person, who lost home and all the belongings while fleeing to save the life of his family members during attack on their village by ISIL. Hussein narrates the horrible events, painful days and nights while running from one place to other, which finally landed them in a refugee camp’s small tent.   

By Zahid Jalbani

According to Iraq’s Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) – 2020 a total 5.62 million people have been affected from the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) war and became Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Of them 4.10 million individuals are in need and 1.77 million are in acute need of humanitarian support. These people are directly affected by 2014-2017 conflict, as their lives and livelihoods were uprooted and destroyed. The majority of the IDPs belong to the Nineveh Governorate because they were attacked from the Syrian border initially at Sinjar (Shingal Mountain) and then other parts of the governorates.

“How I can forget when in June 2014 ISIL launched their first attack on Mosul city (Eastern and Western parts) and reached in Nineveh Plain. At that time I was living in Karakosh district Hamdaniya when they reached border of Nineveh Plain. After taking control of Mosul they attacked Shingal (Yazidi’s majority area) on 4th August 2014,” Hussein, my colleague told while sharing the horrible events of the past, when he and his family became homeless due to ISIL attack.

“On 7th August 2014 I was sitting in my village with my family when suddenly I got a call from one of my friends, who studied together in college and university and was close to me. We also were together during my stay with army. Yes, after finishing college I served in army for one and half a year because it was made compulsory by Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi President,” he told.

“Yes, I was telling you that I received a call from my friend, who by then had joined them (ISIS) and became one of their leaders. He told that they will attack Nineveh Plain and Peshmarga (local force) will withdraw and they will take over all the Nineveh Plain. He however urged not to go away and don’t be panicked.”

“I will support you,” he had assured.

“There were 500 families in our village named Kabarli which is situated in district Hamdaniya of Nineveh Governorate. In 2002 I graduated in English from College of Education, University of Mosul and in 2005 I got job with ministry of education and started teaching in one of the intermediate schools which was situated in the very remote area. I was teaching English at that time and that school was under the Al-Qaida control. After spending sometime in that school I moved to another school which was in my own village. But after few days one of my relative called me from the remote area, 70 km away from my home. Commuting daily was difficult and challenging but I used my own car taking the other teaching staff with me. The school was closed, which I reopened and arranged everything along with stationary and teaching staff (5 teachers). Initially we were able to enroll 100 students (20 girls and 80 boys)”

“It was difficult to enroll more girls because of tribal system in that area. The local inhabitants felt ashamed of sending their girls to schools,” Hussein told.

“As the villagers were my relatives so I started visiting at their homes to mobilize them for sending their children to school but in that area the girls after finishing primary education either got married or just stay at home.”

Coming back to ISIL attack, Hussein said, “After receiving the call from my cousin, my body was shivering. I shared the information with my brothers and other relatives. I also confirmed from another friend about the same news. So we started gathering some basic things like blankets, non-food items along with some food items and started putting into my car.”

“We were very afraid of them as they could cause harm us (may be kill) as they had done with Yazidis. For them it makes no difference. They just want to kill the people, nothing else. My elder brother took it very light initially and said nothing will happen and no need to go away. But suddenly shelling started in district Hamdaniya near to our village at around 4:00 pm and few people got injured.”

“8-members of my family – my wife, 5 daughters (including one-year old twin daughters) and only son, started crying when I shared about the possible attack. My wife said let’s go because the life is important to us. And we left our home at 4:30 pm along with two brothers. Initially I planned to go to the village where I had been teaching. We reached the village and my relatives welcomed us by providing a home. We had to cross the Khaza River where we felt safe having crossed red zone.”

“We stayed there for few hours till mid night. I called my nephew who was working with Peshmerga and was in direct contact with them. He said everything is calm except some shelling. Around 2:00 am in the mid of night he again called me and said go away preferably Erbil which could be the best option for you (it was safe). My kids were sleeping and my wife helped me to put them in the car.”

“It was a mass wave of the IDPs as everyone was trying to leave the area to move in the safe area,” shared Hussein.

“I remember my little daughter. She was looking at the back side of the car and kept crying. I asked my wife to keep her calm and don’t make her cry because it was the road which was very full of vehicles and peoples. Finally we reached Erbil at 7:00 am in the morning through 100m road (name of road) which was full of IDPs and cars. Everywhere you can find some families sitting.”

“Reaching Erbil was like end of my life because there was no place to go. Even I looked around to rent a house for my family but everyone was replying ‘no we don’t have, we don’t have empty house, please go away.’ said Hussein with gloomy face. “Even for the unfinished buildings they were asking a lot of rent (not less than 500 dollars). Finally I managed to find an unfinished house wherein I moved my family and stayed for two days.”

“Kurdish people supported us with food and other necessary things and exactly after two days, local police came to us and asked to move inside the camp areas.”

“They led us to Baharka camp (one of the IDPs camps). It was very difficult for us to stay in camps. We never ever thought to be in camps. We left behind our house, our belongings, almost everything. They gave us one tent (3×5 meter size) around 15-16 sq. meters wherein we had to live with 8-family members. There were communal latrines which we never used before.”

“When you see your wife and daughter going to use these communal latrines, you can imagine the feelings of mine,” shared Hussein.

“On first day, Barazani Charity Foundation (BCF) staff came and they registered us as IDP in the camp. One of the community mobilizer asked me what’s my education and what have been doing etc. and I told him that I am English graduate. Then he immediately asked why are you sitting here and can you join us and offered a job.

“You know, initially I didn’t believe him because on the first day I had been offered a job. For me it was a kind of hope in my life and I went with him to the camp manager (who is the best friend of mine now). Who asked me how my your Kurdish, English and Arabic language skills (I speak Sorani Kurdish) and politely he asked can you join us and I was shocked to hear that he offered me 500 dollars monthly (it was back in August-2014). I told him that I have only one condition I want to move my family to city. In the response camp manager said they will support in finding out house and will provide with car if needed.”

“The same day, same hour I got the job and started working with them as community mobilizer and after 4.00 pm the same day I went to city (Baharka city 10-15 km away from Erbil city) to find out a house. Within 2-3 days I was able to find a house for my family with 500 dollar monthly rent and I was so happy.”

“I had to pay rent from salary while rest leaving on God who was to support me in this difficult time,” said Hussein with smiling face. “I was very happy and shared with my family and then we moved to the rented house. The house was empty and slowly and gradually we started bringing things like pillows, bed sheets, kitchen items etc.”

“This is how we started. I worked for BCF for about 1.5 years; then I kept working for different organizations and in 2016 I joined RNVDO as CCCM Manager.”

“Yes, we often miss our village where we grew up with wonderful childhood. How can I forget those amazing memories? We went to our village for just a visit and I have rehabilitated my house and finally settled here in Erbil with my own house,” shared Hussein with confidence and smiling face.

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The writer is currently working for an international non-government organization at Erbil, Kurdistan. He writes regularly for Sindh Courier. He has shared the story and photos of his colleague Hussein with latter’s consent.   

2 thoughts on “From Kurdistan, With Love

  1. Very inspiring story i learned many things from the story. I hope in future i will learn a lot of things from this page

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