Hassan was a teacher back in Syria. His life changed when the war started and he migrated to Irak, but he still has the same mission. He now teaches geography to teenagers of the refugee camp, and asked me to paint the word “Future”, because the next generation of young Kurds is what he cares about the most. I painted the word on the local school here in the camp where students are about to begin their end-of-school exams.
Roshenk chose the word “Kurdistan”. She came to Kawergosk Refugee Camp 4 years ago with her family from Dayrik, a city in Syrian Kurdistan, when the civil war reached the region. Roshenk misses her hometown a lot, but she also somehow feels at home here because she is still in Kurdistan. Kurdistan is a large region of the middle east that stretches across 4 countries : Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Iraqi Kurdistan is an autonomous region seeking total independence. It has its own government, police and of course its own army, the Peshmerga, for who Roshenk’s husband Zakaria fights in Sinjar.
Zakaria is away on duty and Roshenk thought that having the word “Kurdistan” painted on their house would be a good surprise for him when he comes back.
“I’ve always fought for Freedom (AZADI in Kurmanji). During the arab spring I was demonstrating in Damascus for a free Syria. Things got ugly at one point as the Syrian army started firing machines guns around my neighbourhhod. I was on my roof with my daughters and I told them to get down. They were crying but I had to keep a straight face. One day my neighbour, who worked for Bashar Al Assad’s army, came up to me and said that I need to leave straight away because the army wanted to capture me because I was a freedom activist. I called my wife and took my 3 kids and some money, and we left Damascus by bus. Along the way, the police stopped the bus and checked our ID. My kids were all crying and I kept my cool. Somehow, the police checked my ID and let me go. We went to Rojava, the Kurdish region of Syria. But then trouble started in Rojava, bombs started to rain over us, and we had to leave the country and come here to Iraq. I don’t regret anything, freedom is more important than anything.” – Redwan, 41 years old.
“I choose to share the word “JIYAN” (=LIFE in Kurmanji). My family and I left Syria because we wanted to live. It’s as simple as that.”- Hani, 15 years old.
Fars chose the word “Qamişlo”. It’s the Kurdish name of his city, the capital of Syrian Kurdistan. Qamişlo was founded in the 1920s by Assyrians and Kurds who fled the Ottoman Empire during the Assyrian genocide. Today, a century after the foundation of the city, a large part of its population is now living as refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan in camps like this one, creating new refugee settlements as history repeats itself. However, Fars and his family are still hoping of returning to their land once the war is over.
ASTI (the word for “Peace” in Kurmanji) was chosen by Shidan. She is the mother of 9 year old twins Lava and Hossein. They used to live in Damascus where Shidan’s husband Kaniwar worked as a baker. Here in Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Kaniwar still works as a baker in a small shop on the main street. He has no hope of going back to Syria, he wants to carry on baking cakes somewhere in peace.
“I love Damascus, but we had to leave when the civil war started in Syria. We went to Dayrik in Syrian Kurdistan for a year, but then had to leave Dayrik too and come here to the refugee camp in Iraq. It’s not been easy but we’ve stuck together as a family and our love for eachother is what has helped us. No matter what we’ve been through, we’re a happy family. So I want you to paint the word “LOVE” on my house.” – Yafa, hairdresser and mother of 4.
Yasmine and Shivan (here on the picture with his sister in law) wanted me to paint the word “Salaam” (=peace) on their house. They are both from Syrian Kurdistan but didn’t know each other before migrating to Iraq. They met here in the refugee camp as they were neighbours, and married 2 years ago. Now they have a house of their own, and are wishing to build together in a peaceful environment.
Diyar, originally from Qamishli (Syria), wanted me to paint the word “Ambition” on his house. He told me that his ambition was to study chemistry. At the moment he’s finishing his schooling here in the refugee camp, but next year he will have to go to university in Erbil or abroad. He’s hoping to move to Newcastle (UK), where his aunt lives, but it’ll be several months before he is given the green light. Wherever he’ll be next year, Diyar will remain ambitious and will keep moving forwards.
Just arrived in Iraq, in the region of Kurdistan. I’ll be working here in Kawergosk refugee camp, painting the words that Kurdish-Syrian families will want to share!