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The Walking Past: A Refugee’s Story

kurds mountains turkey refugees war

The story below was written for The Kurdish Project by Abdi, a teacher who has lived and taught in several refugee camps along the border of Turkey and Iraq. Abdi wrote the story in response to the question, “how has the Sykes-Picot Agreement affected you and your community?” Submit your own story with The Kurdish Project as we commemorate 100 years of the Sykes-Picot Agreement here.

The Walking Past: A Refugee’s Story

By Abdi

This is the ninth; the ninth time we have been displaced from our camps. Every time with a new beginning; the beginning of torture and difficulties.

It is very strange to be displaced on your country. To be removed from your country that has been divided into four pieces and invaded by four stranger states.

This tragedy is different from others. Twenty-two years of escaping and changing camps has a deep depression on all inhabitants, on all refugees. Every type of psychological and physical sickness can be seen in our camp. Many tragic events have happened and have destroyed sociological and cultural background of our lives.

Leaving Turkey

Most of the refugees who lived in Makhmoor originally lived in Turkey, but were forced to leave by the Turkish government during 1990s war between Kurdish fighters and the Turkish Army.

The Kurds settled at the Turkish border with Iraq and made a camp. After a long struggle, they were given a political identity by UNICEF. Over the next few years, because of geographical difficulties, the Kurds were divided into two different camps: Biher and Sharanish.

kurdish refugees iraq war turkey 1991

Kurdish people wait on the Iraq side of the Khabur River frontier with Turkey hoping to be allowed to cross to safety in Turkey. At this time the Turkish military would not allow any Kurdish refugees to cross. (Richard Weyman)

Because those camps were near the border of Turkey-Iraq, many times the Kurds at the camps were faced with attacks of Turkish Army’s planes and many people died in those attacks. As the result of that reality, the Kurds were forced to leave the camps because of security problems.

A New Refugee Camp

It was the aim of UNICEF to bring the refugees to a new camp. The new camp was called Atroosh, and was located in a place under the authority of PDK (also known as the Kurdistan Democratic Party or KDP). But when there was a fight between the two Kurdish parties in 1995 — PKK and PDK— the refugees were faced with many tragic events.

Because of ideological differences, PDK attacked the refugees and killed many people including children and women. UNICEF was forced to leave that camp and it was surrounded by Peshmerga of the PDK. They laid siege to the camp for three months. As a result of the siege and humanitarian embargo, thirteen children died because of starvation. In one year, 60 refugees were killed by the PDK. So we decided to empty the camp.

At the beginning of 1996, we had moved to a new camp which was called Ninowa, near the border of Saddam. In that camp the attacks of Turkish army and Peshmarga didn’t stop. Many civilians were killed in that camp, too. No international or national humanitarian organizations helped us. We were left alone with a difficult situation. After that, because of PDK’s attacks, the refugees escaped to Saddam’s regime and had taken up refuge in a place full of mines, in Nahdaran.

Mahkmoor Refugee Camp

After five months in Nahdaran, we decided to move a new place which was called Mahkmoor. We lived in Mahkmoor for 16 years. We built schools, houses and other civil organizations. The students who studied at our school went to university. Many of them had graduated from colleges.

reza iraqi kurdistan refugee camp art photography project

World-renowned artist, Reza (center), teaches refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan how to use cameras.

But now Mahkmoor is empty, and all of our schools destroyed by ISIS. Makhmoor is not the last of that link of displacement. While everybody hoped it would be the last one, a new tragedy has begun.

This time the cause of this tragedy is well-known: ISIS! The terrorist and barbarian group which fights against humanity and destroys the reality of the Islamic religion.

Using the name of God, they kill innocent people and make genocide on the society. Because of that danger and the attacks of this terrorist group, we were forced to leave Makhmoor camp. Thousands of children and wives and older people were at danger and at the at door of a genocide at the hands of ISIS.

Leaving Makhmoor

As the result, after the attacks on Makhmoor district and invading of some villages, we have to leave the camp. In the middle of the night, we began to go to Hawler (Erbil). Nobody could bring anything. Just rescuing themselves. By morning, nobody was at the camp.

Now there is nothing at Makmoor; no place, no opportunity, no water and we are waiting next to roads, in parks and on hills. Children, women, old people and so on; they have left everything behind.

In reality, when there are such dismal events in a place, humanitarian organizations help them. Although we have been given the political identity of “refugees,” and UNICEF is responsible for these kinds of people, they don’t worry about our situations most of the time. Again they play the role of the three monkeys—see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Fifteen Thousand Homeless Refugees

Because of that, now, about fifteen thousand people have been forced to leave their camp, and they live on roads and in parks. Mahkmoor is a refugee camp which includes about fifteen thousand people; most of them children and women. Three thousand of them were students who studied in eleven schools including Secondary and High School. Now, no one go to school or study anything.

eid al-adha harsham refugee camp

The UN settles less than 1% of those looking to be resettled.

Our students are in the parks, in mosques, on roads and they have not any future. The problems have risen to climax. Now we are in district which is called Hagiawa, near Ranya up to Sulaymaniyah city. Everybody is in mosques! Now, mosques are the home of people. 200-300 people live in a place without any hygienic standards of life. Men and women sleep in the same place. They eat the same food. There are no health services as they is needed. Everywhere is full of sick people.

The rights of people, equality, and responsibility have been forgotten by international organizations, UNICEF and other organizations. They have forgotten Makhmoor and its people. The autumn is coming. We are at a region which is near mountains. It is going to rain and snow. There is no house, no place to move into. Three thousand students need school and studying with their mother tongue. But there are not any school or any place for education.

KRG in Difficult Times

The KRG (Kurdistan Region Government) doesn’t help us because they are in difficult times, too. They don’t have enough experience organizing refugees and solving these problems. Because of that, if our problems continue, it is very clear that a new tragic situation will happen.

UNICEF, KRG, and other international organizations are responsible for this situation. Because they have the responsibility of helping people, solving problems, rescuing people from dangerous situations and fighting for a better life of refugees.

Many pacts have been signed on those rights of displaced people. There are many national, international and universal rights of refugee people. The above-mentioned organizations are responsible for doing that. On contrary, the humanitarian consciousness will judge them.

Political Problems

Our problems are mostly political. As immigrants we have been forced to leave our villages by the Turkish army and the Turkish government. Our problems are a lack of freedom. We struggle for our identity, equality and the rights of democratic citizens. National and international organizations have the responsibility to help us and solve the Kurdish problems in a peaceful way.

But nowadays, it is very clear that they don’t pay attention to this problem and there is not any work being done to end this tragedy. During the 22-year migration of Makhmoor’s people, the most important needs of those people haven’t been addressed. The worst thing is that there are no signs that help is on the way.

Now thousands of refugees are homeless and helpless. It is very clear that Iraq is in chaos. In Shingal, Ninowa, Falluja, and so on; there are many tragic disasters all over the country. Their problems mostly are the problems of first aid, starvation and sedentary. But our problems are political. Weeping after tragic disasters is meaningless.

This story was written by a Kurdish teacher named Abdi, along with grammatical edits made by The Kurdish Project editorial team. If you would like to share how the Sykes-Picot Agreement has affected you and your family, please write and submit your own story here.

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