A Human Tragedy in the 21st Century - Yazidi Refugee Camps in Turkey

Belfast Photo Festival 2015


They are a mostly-Kurdish speaking ethnic population. Their belief system has roots in ancient Mesopotamian religions and Zoroastrianism.  They have a hierarchical social structure made up of three castes: the sheiks, the murids and the pirs. Marriage between the castes is not permited.  Marriage outside of the faith is grounds for "excommunication". This is a society that beliefs in the inifinity of the world and the nature. They believe that God, who created the world, would never destroy it. They pray three times a day, facing the sun. Wednesday is the day of rest. They believe that the first man was created on a Wednesday.

Today, there are an estimated 800 000 Yazidis in the world. 650 000 of the entire population lives in Northern Iraq.

They are experiencing what they consider to be their 74.genocide.  This is because they have a different belief system. They have been subjected to violence and genocide at all ages because they did not want to renounce their faith.

They were forced to flee their homes after fighters for the Islamist group ISIS invaded their territory. Many took refuge on Mount Shingal. Mount Shingal is considered holy ground. Later they were passed through a secure corridor created by fighters and brought to the Turkish-Iraqi border. This secure corridor saved 30000 Yazidis from a certain death. Individuals I interviewed at the camp I visited were first placed in Sirnak, then at a camp in the rural Besiri district of Batman. Their basic needs are met at the camp, but their future remains uncertain.

Funding for the camps where Yazidis are accommodated come from municipalities run by the BDP. Their budgets are limited. Any donations are sent to people in need through a central coordination center. The donations have to keep on coming. Soon, the approaching winter will make the situation even worse.

Children at the camps continue to receive an education thanks to the efforts of volunteer teachers, defiant in the ugly face of war. Two types of schools have been organized: Pre-school and primary education.

I interviewed quite a lot of people. I asked them about their lives at the camp, about how they came to be there and what their expectations were from the future. What they all have in common is their unwillingness to return home. They don't want to be reminded of what they have been through out there. All they want is to live and practice their faith peacefully in a free and democratic country that will have them. Someone told me that his father was taken prisoner by Arabs. What hurts him the most is that the captor was an old friend of his father's. They say Sunnite Arabs arenít any different from ISIS. One of the girls I interviewed told me that even before ISIS, they could never go out to the marketplace without their fathers and brothers accompanying them.  During another visit, they told me the story of the baby sleeping on someone's lap. Its mother was captured by ISIS while its father joined the YPG to fight. It was an aunt who took in the surviving baby.

As you listen to these stories, you don't even want to imagine what has been happening, let alone imagine yourself in their shoes.

People tell you a lot of stories during live interviews. However, what struck me the most was the words of 17-year-old highschool junior Halime:

"I studied for 10 years. Look where I am now."

A sea of shattered dreams, a future full of uncertainty and a wait full of hope.



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