Poetry in Exile

Yasin Aziz

By Yasin Aziz:

‘The refuge we all seek is protection from forces which wrench us away from the security and comfort, physical and mental, which give dignity and meaning to human existence’ Aung San Suu Kyi

Exile from country, family, social life, the atmosphere one is used to for many years: the warm social relations, the devotedness of the family and social relations; the music, the folk songs, the national and religious ceremonies; the evenings’ causal chat at the door with neighbours, and friends.

One had to leave from where one was respected, valued and had a place in the society.  One had to leave from where one was confident, content, even in love with bits and pieces of social life, gatherings, traditional bread, food, sweets; in love with sceneries, landscape, birds, and colours. It was where you can pay respect to anyone or any gathering without ever being seen as a weirdo like in a foreign country.

One had no choice, but to leave the volatile situation of war.  With so much uncertainty of what was to happen in the following days on the move.  At the time, no one would think of leaving until one had to, as there was no thought of living in exile until it grabbed the back of one’s neck.  As it was the only choice left, either to go to war or leave.  There was no other way: in the battlefield a certain death, or towards the unknown in Exile, that is the other way of leading a forlorn way of life.

On the way, we, as the two unarmed young men with ‘a group of 24 gunmen’ had to go, climbing the rugged mountain terrain, the battlefield arena between Iraq and Iran in 1982.  We stayed a few days at the Surein Mountain base, Gulakhana, at the hilly feet of the Surein mountain with its towering enormousness and defiance, overlooking Iraqi army barracks of the Sharazour plain.   One dark early morning at 3.30, we woke up to get ready.   A few gunmen / peshmarga hurriedly made some fried bread.   We felt the terrain, as if pieces of copper and iron flakes like flat rocks clashed and cluttered under our feet, as we took steps, blindly accompanied by the dark heap of the mountains on our left.  We were going towards the peaks of the Dzli, along the Hawraman Mountain towards the Iranian border further north.

As the day broke, we were above the Khurmal town, bare and treeless. Down opposite us was the town’s army barracks. We had to hurry up as the Iraqi army could shoot all of us if they were not too dozy. I saw my friend stopping to adjusting the zip of his shoulder bag  and I said, “Look, that is the army barrack facing us with their tanks and heavy submachine guns. What are you doing? Hurry up, let’s go!”

At the time, this trip supposedly was for a few years ‘until the war finished.’    It never crossed my mind that I would spend most of my life in exile, and exile would become our destiny and the way of life.

There was about eight hours of going up and down for us, the 24 gunmen and the two unarmed.  At about half way, a few hours before reaching the summit of the 9000 feet high mountains, there was a narrow path bending round an enormous mountain peak. Before we turned round the bend, we all had to sit and wait for some instructions.  Just before this, we had to pass an Iraqi army post on the hillside from our right. Someone in the group, a senior Peshmarga, said, “This is where it is the most dangerous part of our trip to reach the border crossing and the summit; the crossing line between Iraq and Iran”.  From where we sat, round the bend there was an Iraqi army post on a hillside opposite, overlooking the narrow path we had to pass.  The path was about just 30 yards away from the Iraqi army post.  The Iraqi army could shoot all of us if they wanted to, but there was no alternative route to pass. ‘Oh God, this is it, either we make it or we will be killed’  I thought.

The senior Peshmarga seemed to be anxious, as he suggested that the two unarmed men should go first. We looked at each other, and said nothing.  We had no choice but either to pass that dangerous spot or go back home.  We would not say ‘No’ as in our culture a man should not look scared.  Soon someone else shouted, “No, No! Those two are unarmed should not go first. Another two who are armed should go”.  For us, that was a slight relief; even though the danger was not over yet.

The two gunmen passed, no shooting was heard and that was encouraging for us.   It was our turn then. We went with our shoulder bags slung on our right, and tried to walk as normally as possible; we just walked past the army post and thankfully they did not pull the trigger.  It was just in the space of a few minutes to pass the most dangerous test of my life.  When we reached safety, and anxiously waiting until the rest passed, quite relieved, as no one was shot.  After we had passed the danger of being shot, we went down to a rocky valley and sat around a water spring to eat some fried bread. On our way through this rocky valley, that was called ‘Mlakhurd’, it looked as though on both sides there were walls of rocks going up high until they kissed the pale blue morning sky.

As we thought we had gone past danger from the Iraqi side, along the way now we spread out leisurely; most of the gunmen were shooting at shrubs trees and rocks, as though they were testing their shooting prowess, and showing off.  One of the gunmen who was walking with me was Omar, from the nearby Khurmal town and one my cousin’s friends. He gave me his Kalashnikov and said, “You can have a go too”.  It was as if he wanted me not to feel left out from the shooting gang.   I shot a shrub on a rocky height on our right, but did not really care if I hit the target and nor did Omar.

For hours, we were going up and up with no end in sight.  It felt and looked like so many mountains thrust on top of each other.  I kept looking up, and hoping, that would be the last.  “No brother, you should not look up. There are many more mountains we have to climb”, my friend Omar kindly said.

Someone in the group from further back called out , “No one should eat Ballaluk, that sweet berry”. He warned us not to eat too much, as it would dehydrate us and there would be no water spring until we reached the summit.  When we had almost reached the summit, there were Iranian troops in position for an ambush and ready to shoot us because they had heard the shooting and thought we belonged to the Iraqi forces. But  a few of us who got there first managed to let them know that we supposedly were their friends not foes.

As we were about to reach the summit at 11.20 am, I turned to my right to see my town Halabja which seemed as though covered with a hazy yellowish dust.

We were so exhausted and thirsty.  We all lay down under the shade of a few weeping willows and drank from the cool and sweet mountain water spring.   I turned to my left and, on one of the green peaks, despite the everyday bombing, shooting, and killing, a little partridge was carelessly singing…qaka ba qaka ba qakab qak It looked content and in the right mood, with the green patch and the refreshing breeze.

At the summit, we met Iranian republican guards who checked our passports and papers. They sent us to another group of gunmen on the other side of the Iranian border who gave us some bread and watermelon, and then sent us, in the back of a Toyota pickup car, to the little town of Marivan.

The Toyota pickup car drove off and for the first time we were covered with the thick dust of losing our dignity and pride, and then the life of asylum seekers in Exile began…

Ten years later, in 1992, I wrote:

The Little partridge:

I was climbing the mountains, when you were on the green summit,

I was drenched with sweating in mid June heat, when I saw you

And heard you singing, I confess,,,,,  I felt a sense of defeat.

As I was leaving, you were still there. I felt wretched, miserable, and sad

You did not care.

Oh, the little partridge, at the time, I did not make out your sweet song.

I did not know leaving the country and you, would last so long.

It is now ten years since; it took me so long to understand your warning message.

*Ballaluk: a grown wild shrub in summer with fruits like tender soft colourful beads, yellow, orange, red and black.  It has a bitter-sweet taste grown and is grown between mountain rocks. 

Yasin Mahmoud Aziz is from Halabja and lives in the UK.  He is the author of ‘Dum Dum Castle’ and two books in Kurdish and he is planning several more books. ‘A Few Days Life of Revolution in Halabja’ is due to be published in the coming months. Email: yasin2111@hotmail.com

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 https://kurdistantribune.com/poetry-exile/trackback/