Yazidis: “Kurds have protected us; if we are going to die, we will die together”
“We are waiting for our fate”
We wake up to a hot day. Fall has not arrived to Silopi as of yet. With its unpaved roads and non-working trucks left on the sides of the roads, Silopi seems to me more poor than usual. Before going to the camp of the Yazidis, we pay a visit to the Municipality. Mayor Seyfettin Aydemir and Co-Mayor Emine Esmer welcome us at the Silopi Municipality.
Emine Esmer begins talking, “The institutions that have come here have not shouldered the responsibility. The Yazidis have been staying here for one and a half months. We got them back here from the bus terminal. We first made them stay in disaster houses, and then we opened a camp. We created a new, living space for Yazidis on a land of 30 decares. But we do not know what we are going to do tomorrow, when the winter will begin. There should be a station at the border. There are 2.500 Yazidis in Silopi.” Half of those 2.500 Yazidis stay at the camp, while the other half are staying as guests at the houses of Silopi. People of Silopi, who live under poverty, have succored the Yazidis from the first day. They share everything they have with the Yazidis. The Municipality has launched a card system for those staying at the houses. With those cards distributed by the Municipality, they can buy dry food free of charge.
I learn that there are some among the Yazidis who want to return, but that number does not exceed 10 persons per week. Emine Esmer says, “They have gone through a serious rupture. It is really hard for them to recover.”The municipality is developing a temporary housing project for the winter. They plan to launch a campaign and to raise the necessary funds from civil society and the people. However, it is also obvious that the problem of housing is beyond the capability of civil society, a small municipality, and the poor people of Silopi. When I ask them whether they have talked with the government about that issue, everyone in the room tells me that the Turkish government has done nothing. When they tried to address the issue with the government, they were told, “Tell them to go to the camp in Zaxo.” In fact, the camp in Zaxo is not large enough even for the Yazidis that arrived there. Most of the Yazidis stay in unfinished constructions in Zaxo.
I learn from the coordination center of the Municipality that the total number of Yazidis that took refuge in Turkey is around 30 thousand up to now. There are 2.500 Yazidis in Silopi, 7.100 in Şırnak, 2.250 in Roboski, 3.500 in Batman, 5.055 in Diyarbakır, 6.245 in Mardin, 2.730 in Viranşehir, 1.500 in Cizre, and 500 in İdil and those numbers are increasing day by day. Executives in the Municipality state that at the moment food, clothing, and health services are the three primary needs, but also repeat that the most important problem is to provide temporary housing in winter time. Mayor Seyfettin Aydemir expresses his concerns: “They come here only with the clothes they are wearing. The tents will fill with water during winter time.” The Municipality has almost stopped all of its other activities and has focused only on Yazidis.
Passing through unpaved roads, we arrive to the camp site, which is built on a place used previously by the Municipality for putting water tanks. The camp has been built on quite a green land. 1.100 people stay in 111 tents in the Silopi Yazidi camp. 99 of those tents have single rooms with sufficient space for only one family, while the others are larger tents. Washed clothes are hung on the lines put between trees. Rubber beds can be seen inside the tents. There are lots of children. Three meals a day is being served in the camp. Separate meals are prepared for the 49 diabetic patients staying in the camp. Voluntary doctors work in the camp. I learn that a small child, whose father was chopped up in front of his eyes, had a nervous breakdown yesterday, and his legs were paralyzed. Therefore he was sent to a fully-equipped hospital in Diyarbakır.
Health care is an important problem. No regulation or decree has been issued by the Turkish government in order to allow Yazidis to access health care services in hospitals free of charge. In some hospitals, they can benefit from health care by declaring their identities as Syrians. However, after many doctors rose against the situation, Governors in some provinces and districts opened the way for Yazidis to benefit from health services free of charge. Yet, a legal regulation is still needed to address the problem.
A young person in the camp said, “We were collecting humanitarian aid for years for Rojava; now we are doing the same for Yazidis.” They have opened a tent for children and soon they will be able to receive education in the camp. Moreover, there is preparation going on for opening a nursery in the camp for younger children. I ask this young worker, “Then you think that they are going to stay here for a long time?” He answers, “We accepted them not as refugees, but as our guests.”
Yazidi families are usually large families with many children. I visit the tent of a family of seven. One of the women sitting on the floor begins talking by saying, “We spend the day sitting and thinking.” They came from Sinoni district in Şengal. They first arrived in Zaxo, and then they came to Silopi. Two members of their family were caught by ISIS; the others managed to escape. The son of the woman says, “Our Arab neighbors betrayed us. We won’t return there unless there is a guarantee for state protection.”That is something I have heard often from Yazidis during the last couple of weeks. Everyone wants state protection for returning. I ask another woman sitting on the floor what she thinks for the future. “We wait,” she says. I ask, “You are waiting for what?” She answers, “We are waiting for our fate.”
Cizre: checker boards made of broken pieces of wood and stones
We leave Silopi and arrive in Cizre. In Cizre, the Municipality has moved the Yazidis to the construction site of a new industrial area to be opened in 2015. 2000 Yazidis stay in this industrial area.
This industrial complex has been built in phases. Each phase is separated into two flat divisions in themselves. There is still no glass on the windows. Their blue iron bars are filled with sheets and blankets that are hung. Young Yazidis are cleaning the place with the workers in the camp. Small water tanks are put in some places; in other areas there are old air conditioners. Children lie on the rugs and blankets that are placed flat on the floor. Two divisions are spared for storing the aid being received. People take what they need from those divisions. There are refrigerators and televisions in several places. Each phase of this industrial complex has turned into an ordinary street; children are playing in them.
A room is designed as the room for women’s education. The photographs of Sakine, Leyla, and Fidanare hung on the walls. I learn that the Democratic Free Women Movement (DÖKH) will start training women in the camp soon.
I enter one of the rooms. There are around 50 people in that room, which is shared by 6 or 7 families. Children lie on the rugs. While the children play with my telephone, I begin to talk with the women. They have been here for 20 days. They arrived here clandestine by passing the Zaxo River. ISIS members chopped up the babies and abducted the women in their village. I ask them about the future. “We do not know anything about our future,” they say. I ask, “What about returning?” They reply, “We do not have a house or a garden anymore. They burnt our houses. Where are we going to return?”
The most favorite game of the children staying in the Cizre camp is checkers. They play with boards they made by using pieces of woods and stones. Before leaving the camp, I also join their play, and of course I am beaten! I guess a few proper checker boards could never be more meaningful anywhere else. When I see the situation of the children, I wonder where the civil society organizations in Turkey are. Civil society organizations working on children, women, rehabilitation, and health services should immediately come to this camp and start activities. This situation is a real disaster, and it is beyond the capacity of the poor civil society organizations in the region to manage on their own. I leave those children in Cizre, who managed to forget what they had gone through for a little period of time by playing checkers, and begin my journey to Midyat.
“If we are going to die, we will die together”
Most of the Yazidis in Midyat have been placed in the camp built for Syrians a couple of years ago by AFAD. 7.000 Arabs and 2.700 Yazidis are staying in the camp. I cannot help but wonder who gave the idea to make Yazidis stay with the Arabs; the people they are most afraid of.
We will go to Bacin village, which is the initial stop of Yazidis arriving in Midyat. Bacin is an old, Yazidi village. The village was evacuated during the 90s, and the villagers moved to Europe. After 2000, some of the villagers from Bacin returned from Europe, and for years they have been trying to rebuild their village. Most of the villagers escaping to Midyat arrive first to this village. Then they are dispersed to other provinces or camps. Both the Municipality and the local people help those staying in the village.
When we are traveling to Bacin, my friend Yaşar Kaygısız, who is the founder of the Assyrian, Chaldean, Arami Association, notes that since Yazidis are nomads, they can only live in a village. “Taking Yazidis to big cities and making them stay in tents is not a solution. Yazidis do not eat cheese, they eat yoghurt. Their yoghurt should be village yoghurt. Living environments fitting to their own cultures are needed,” she adds. When I am listening to what Yaşar says, I think how wonderful it would be to open the villages evacuated during the 80s and the 90s for the settlement of these newcomer Yazidis. Those villages belonged to Yazidis for centuries. During the 90s, village guards were allowed to settle in some of them. Those villages are the birth rights of Yazidis, like the milk of their own mothers!
We come to the huge pavilion at the entrance of Bacin village, built a few years ago. 110 Yazidis are staying in that pavilion. With the Yazidis staying at the houses of the villagers, the total number of Yazidi in the village adds up to 150.
We enter the pavilion. Pickup trucks of the Mardin Artuklu Municipality, used for carrying aid, are standing in the garden. Yazidi babies are sleeping on mattresses put on the porches of the pavilion. When we enter inside the pavilion, we first come across an older Yazidi woman. Nothing is known about her. She has no relatives. At that age, she has arrived here by walking on the mountains for days and has been living here for 20 days. In the large living room of the pavilion, beds and mattresses are put on the one side and tables and chairs on the other. From the activity I observe inside the pavilion, I understand that it is meal time. Today there is chicken, rice, and stew on the menu.
Most of the Yazidi staying in the pavilion are from the Sinoni district of Şengal. YPG (The People’s Protection Units) members saved them and took them to Zaxo by helping them pass through the river. “The guerrillas gave us all of their food stocks. They have nothing left”, a Yazidi woman says sadly. The Yazidi man sitting next to her adds: “They have been slaughtering us for 300 years. This is the 74th massacre.”
Humanitarian aid has arrived from Germany for the Yazidis, Brother Kadri, who is also a Yazidi, is responsible for coordinating the pavilion. He says, “We have been collecting aid in Europe for Kobane for some time. Now we are doing the same for the Yazidis. But we are going to return to Germany in the winter, and we do not know who is going to look after them here. I wish we lived here instead of there. I wish to die here. I wish the Kurds and Yazidis had helped each other like this for centuries. We finally managed to come together in the end.”
My eyes become wet. Brother Kadri comes to our car to say goodbye. He touches my heart with the sparkling hope in his eyes:
“We have seen massacres, but we are happy nevertheless. Kurds stood on our side, they protected us. From now on we know; if we are going to die, we will die together.”
September 24, 2014, Diyarbakır, Amed
*As published in T24 on 24.09.2014
*As published in T24 on 24.09.2014