Backgammon in the Ruins of an Old Palace of Saddam Hussein’s: Bezav Mahmod and the Image of Kurdistan

Once, long ago, my mother fled a genocide (the Al Anfal campaign). She fled on foot over massive Kurdish mountains carrying me on her back and my little brother in her stomach.

My grandparents, Kurdish villagers/farmers, were faced with brutal oppression. They were forced into the Kurdish struggle, taking up arms to resist the annihilation of their identity. For 50 years they lived with war and the struggle of the Kurds. My grandfather Selman Mahmod Bamernî became a peshmerga at an early age. He was involved in many bloody battles and lost many comrades in the process. He was seriously injured twice, and twice placed in Iraqi prisons. He was often separated from his family, once for over five years, so long that, when he came back, his youngest children did not recognize their own father. He has devoted his life to the Kurdish struggle. A humble person with honor, compassion and an absolutely wonderful sense of humor. He has made many laugh heartily in his day.

My grandmother Mîryem Taha had to raise her children in war-torn Kurdistan almost completely by herself. Even if she didn’t actually fight she was devoted to the Kurdish struggle; there is much that she sacrificed for it. When peshmerga rebels passed through their village she would cook them all the food she had, leaving her own children hungry even if it hurt her deeply to see them suffer. The peshmerga needed all the support they could get to continue the armed struggle against their oppressors. For 50 years they lived with war and the struggle for their existents. It’s sad to see these fighters getting older and older. You have to appreciate the time you have left with them, meet the elderly, listen to their stories, and save those stories while you still can. Many harbor amazing stories that must not be lost.

My grandmother: “I saw smoke rising from the roof. I started shivering. Our house, our beautiful house was burning. The house that we had built, brick by brick with our own hands. Our home, our pride was burning down. While I stood there in shock a peshmerga warrior yelled to me, ‘Take cover!’ And the bombs started raining down from the sky.

2012, Stockholm. A short-term housing for refugees. The two children playing were forced to flee the Syrian war. The little boy to the left lost his mother in the war. She was kidnapped by unknown men and hasn’t been heard of since. The girl on the right was sent with her family shortly after this picture was taken to France, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation; the law states that the first country the asylum seekers arrive to is also the country that is responsible for their specific asylum case.

Refugees from Chechnya. Tamila’s husband is believed to have been killed by the Russian military due to his political activities. After Tamilas’ husband was killed she fled to Sweden because she was afraid for her life and her children’s. She fled to Sweden with her son and her daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome. Her asylum application was denied by the Swedish government but, rather than be deported back to Chechnya, she now lives hidden away, somewhere in Sweden.

Domiz Refugee Camp, South Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). Over 50,000 refugees live here. Most are kurds who fled the war in West Kurdistan (Northern Syria). Many of the refugees can’t afford their own weddings, so the Kurdish government (or KRG) organizes mass weddings like this one, where around 50 couples got married.

The refugees in Domiz include Renas, who fled the Syrian War 1-2 years ago. He is a musician, and his dream is to one day play in a professional orchestra. They also include this boy dressed as Superman.

The Syrian-Turkish border, near the city Kobani. Turkish soldiers block the passage of Kurds worried about their relatives in Kobani. Many refugees from Kobani and Rojava have taken up residence at the Suruc refugee camp, in the same area. Evlin From Kobani is one of the victims of ISIS terrorists onslaught on the Kurds.

My oldest brother, born in 1981, became a refugee at the age of three months. My sister, born in 1983, was born a refugee. So was I, 1986, and my little brother, in 1989. This newborn baby is just like us. Since the Kurds were divided by borders they have suffered from war and persecution wherever they have lived.

From Hêwler (Erbil), where the Kurds give stray dogs food and shelter, to North Kurdistan (Eastern Turkey), where Kurds can wave the LGBT flag on Nowrouz, and from North Kurdistan to South Kurdistan (Northen Iraq), where they’re playing backgammon in the ruins of an old palace of Saddam Hussein’s, Kurdistan lives in its people.