Games that are a playing – Lives that are a living

By Shenah Abdullah: 

Syrian refugee children, Pic -

Refugee children, Pic –

It’s no use for the world talking about me and my people when I still have to wake up the next morning worrying about my sons and daughters missing and how to comfort their children. Everyone is responsible. What can you do to comfort my burning heart?” Words of a grandmother who has to wake up every day in her tent at one of the many refugee camps in the Kurdistan Region with a “burning heart”.

We read on and we add our two cents worth with an angry tone blaming this country, that political party and many politicians. Meanwhile some of the experts tell us it’s about hegemony, others argue it’s economic interests and strategic gains, while a third group remind us of the historical divisions and their consequences and a fourth group emphasize new plans for domination in the region. All the while, families all around continue to suffer the consequences. Fortunately, many who have escaped continue to live and laugh and are longing to return home. Instead of writing another factual piece which explains the events—where, how and why it is all happening, I shall attempt to do something a little different this time.

Games that are a Playing

Imagine a massive football field, which happens to be the home of thousands of people with different cultural and religious backgrounds, living and sharing a common space. Now imagine several such football fields in a region where most outsiders, and others on the inside, believe religion and ethnic divisions make it prone to violence. For reasons ‘too complex’ for our comprehension, these spaces are chosen for competitions between well-known super powers and their allies in this region and elsewhere—one field at a time. During these competitions millions of spectators all over the world watch and show their sentiments.  Some are in and around the field(s), some from different media outlets have come to capture the games as they unfold and others are relatives, friends and supporters of the people calling these fields home. Throughout history these matches have been played with different players, different balls and for different reasons. Some of these fields had rich grass and resources, some believed the locals had to be transformed, others argued the players needed some excitement and some others claimed the spectators were hungry for more.

In the past decade there have been many friendly and unfriendly matches played all over the world including the Middle East—where a radically new team (Daash) has entered the competition and new matches have been scheduled. This new team plays a ruthless game and attacks in all directions. Some say they were trained by the famous teams not long ago and are still provided for by one or two existing sides. Daash has been dominating the recent matches and have come to win with thousands of players from all over the world joining their team. While playing, they have devastated many fields they have entered and taken with them local females, spectators and killed many others who were in their path. They have also scored many goals on different grounds. They have done so with balls provided to them by some of the teams and clubs that are now trying to destroy them. The super teams are now afraid that Daash might expand their wins and play new games in U.S.A and Europe.

What happens when a new team supported by the super-teams runs out of control?  Think back and reflect a little. The rest of the teams get together, and after a lengthy meeting attended by the threatened teams, they decide to come up with a coalition team to eliminate the new threat—in this case Daash. This new coalition team means well. They are going to save the locals and the spectators—and themselves, but mainly the previous two groups because they are vulnerable. The new matches have it all—It’s called Shock and Awe with a new roar. Players from U.S.A, Britain, Germany, Australia, and many other international and regional countries provide new balls, protective apparatus and extra players to win against the gangster team, which in this case are known as “Jihadist terrorists”.  Everyone shudders when they hear about this new team and their tactics of play. They foul to kill without being red carded.

This summer, many matches in fields such as, Mosul, Zumar, Shingal, Makhmor, and many other smaller fields in towns and villages have been played. Hundreds of thousands of locals have been kicked out of their homes and are now in tents in different refugee camps in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the Kurdistan Region—which has received the biggest number of displaced people. Some of these games are over now and most of the fields destroyed, thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of people are made homeless. Hundreds of girls and women have been kidnapped and raped and many others are still missing.

In Kobanê, YPG and YPJ are Still Continuing

For the past twenty-six days a serious battle has been intensifying between Daash and two local groups YPG and YPJ in Kobanê. While the super coalition team ‘supported’ in the above mentioned areas in the summer and won most of the matches with new equipment brought from their supercenters, they have been largely uninterested in Kobanê. Spectators, relatives and friends of Kobanê have been screaming for assistance since day one, but for the most part, these cries for help have been ignored. To understand these games you have to read about the rules and the players involved. This shall be left to you. What happened to the coalition team’s desire to win on all fronts against their now archenemy, Daash? Why have they backtracked?

There is a regional team that we need to discuss a little; a team that has refrained from participating in any of the games so far.  Did you guess the right team? If you have guessed Turkey then you have won a free ticket. Turkey is a team with highly equipped and tactical players; players well trained by another super team, Nato. They have decided to remain among the spectators and watch outside of the fields. What’s more, most experts of these games are accusing Turkey of directly assisting and bribing Daash with equipment and funds. At the moment, the twenty-six day battle of Kobanê still continues and the Turkish side has surrounded Kobanê in full gear and is quietly cheering Daash, which continues to gain ground. Turkey sees the local groups (YPG and YPJ) as its archenemy and awaits their defeat and the fall of Kobanê. If Daash were to win, Turkey wants to establish a new buffer zone and take their subcontractors to transform the field and take control. Any doubts about the Turkish strategy?

Meanwhile, the entire world watches men, women and youngsters from Kobanê nearing exhaustion and defeat. Even though people of Kobanê are unequipped, still both men and women of all ages continue to fight for the survival of Kobanê and its people. They have been praised around the world, except in Turkey, for their fearlessness. You have surely seen pictures of courageous women from YPJ, who are fighting shoulder to shoulder with their male comrades from YPG. Men and women are equally holding their ground and refusing to let their home fall to Daash.  This has been well documented in all media outlets. Unfortunately, the majority of people still see these women along lines of gender norms forgetting to understand that these men and women have been trained as equal comrades outside of traditional gender roles. The YPJ and YPG Guerrillas are symbols of a movement unique in its treatment of members, readiness to protect innocent people in harms way and collective comradeship.

Together in Solidarity

Writing about the tragedies unfolding on the ground in this region metaphorically is a way to distance this writing from the rest of the narrative. To most of us, these recent events are just another political game between the many parties involved. What happens to people’s livelihood, their homes and children is of little significance for the players, be it right, left or center. Those who have been subject to political and economic games have little faith in the players involved, but they continue to cry for help because, in cases of life and death, there happens to be no other alternative. The most critical of the critics have been forced to bite their own tongues and call for assistance from powers one never imagined they would’ve asked. Visit any refugee camp anywhere and hear the stories told by survivors and you would understand why another tragedy must be avoided. Everyone knows who is involved and why they play such ruthless games, but to distance oneself and remain silent is of no use to the people suffering on the ground. We must swallow our pride and do something for the children, their mothers and everyone else caught in this cyclone that keeps on gaining momentum, day after day, and affects everyone and everything on its path. Another massacre must be avoided.

International coverage and assistance has not been lacking—what is lacking is allowing the different groups involved and the people affected to choose their own destiny. The solution(s) to the problems on the ground do not come from politicians and regional and international powers (they are they enablers of these conflicts in the first place). Even though we all hate to admit it, and as ironic as it may sound to all of us, these same powers happen to be the ones capable of slowing down the momentum of the cyclone. We both curse and call on them, despite all our understandings, for the sake of those who can still be rescued. But the real solution still needs to come from locals on the ground who know the ins and outs of their environment, the groups affected and their own fate.

Another alternative is solidarity movements by people all over this region and around the world with the locals. Demonstrations in solidarity with people in Kobanê and other places have been on the rise and people have been the real change-makers. Turkey, unfortunately, is the only place that has shot and killed protesters in the past week for showing support to their brethren. The numbers of dead Kurdish protesters in Turkey are on the rise after they have demonstrated their anger towards the Turkish authority which, they argue, has failed to act. Millions of people will continue to stand together for Aşti-peace.

Lives that are a Living

Aşti Mural by aptART (Awareness and Prevention Through Art) in Domiz-I Camp in Duhok

Aşti Mural by aptART (Awareness and Prevention Through Art) in Domiz-I Camp in Duhok

Fortunately, most of the cities, towns and villages affected by these recent waves of atrocities, as well as the refugee camps occupied by the survivors, are still full of life and buzzing with activities. People continue to continue—the adults work hard and the children provide hope. No one is willing to give up and no one is ready for defeat, because to them, living is a survival story in itself. Visiting several refugee camps frequently in the past two months, and meeting many different families from diverse religious and ethnic groups, has shown us how resilient and hopeful each one of these families and individuals remain. They have picked up the pieces and made their tents and small concrete spaces homey. They are comforted and assisted by their families, relatives and newly-formed friends on a daily basis. Adults and children alike talk of their homes and the lives they have left behind with enthusiasm. Each speak of the name of their village, town and city with a dignified tone and describe the local scenery and how they lived not long ago. They are longing for the day they can return home and start anew. In the meantime, the camps are full of sounds, smells and living. The bigger camps in Duhok are like mini cities with shops, restaurants, schools, clinics and even a wedding hall. The residents eat, shop and participate in similar cultural events as they once did in their hometowns in Dirik, Qamishlo, Kobanê, Efrin, Shingal and Bashiqa. They know things are not the same but they are doing their best to make these temporary homes comfortable.  Despite all the pain and hardships they have endured, the adults leave in search of work to provide for their children—and the children make the adults feel alive. There are awareness murals painted on the children’s soon to be opened school walls by two hardworking Americans.

Children and adults alike welcome the colors in their camps and thank the two devoted women for their love and caring. The women are reminders of good Americans who want to paint a different picture; one of peace and coexistence like days gone by. Different NGOs work in the camps and have opened multiple centers to accommodate people’s needs. Together, everyone tries to make things look better and livelier. For the most part, they have all succeeded and brought smiles back to people’s faces and have made new friendships. There still remain a lot of people who are in deep pain and ache from a “burning heart”—but even they can’t escape laughter here and a little bit of activity there with their little ones.

Sitting with grandma while the eldest granddaughter is making food, the youngest girl in the family says something naughty and unexpected, for a four year old, which makes grandma laugh wholeheartedly. “She is our little light and happiness. I live for these children.” The men and women fighting at the moment in Kobanê must want to live and see another sunset and laugh with their families too. As a wise PKK guerrilla once said, “You will not find one male or female comrade amongst us who is in love with weapons or war. We all love life!”

Shenah Abdullah is a lecturer and researcher in social anthropology living and working in Sulaymani, Southern Kurdistan.

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL