When my son was born, we named him Avan. It means prosperous and thriving and I hoped the name would reflect the path his life would take. Now it’s a year later and I think — how could you have given him a name like that? How can anyone have any hope amid all the devastation and destruction in my sad country?
I am a Kurd from northern Syria and I have been photographing this country’s war for years. I have seen death, destruction, despair, suffering. But then I would always come back to the safety of home. We had self-rule and since we, together with American forces, defeated the Islamic State group’s “caliphate” in the region, we had dared to dream that our lands would remain peaceful. That’s no small feat for a landless people who have been caught up in power battles between the giants of their region for centuries.
There was even a time when I actually thought there was a bit of justice in this world. It was whenever I would photograph women fighting the Islamic State jihadists. Some of these women had been IS slaves and now they were facing and defeating them on the battlefield. It seemed just. But I was wrong and hasty. The past few weeks have turned our world upside down. I no longer feel there is justice in anything. Everything has become absurd and meaningless. The recent days have taught me the truth of this universe — that it revolves in an indifferent hell.
We Kurds have been in a state of shock ever since US President Donald Trump ordered American troops to withdraw from our area.
These troops had not only been Kurds’ partners in defeating the Islamic State group, they were a deterrent for Turkey, which has been fighting a Kurdish rebellion for years and which wanted to send in troops to northern Syria to establish an area free of our fighters.
Following Trump’s decision, Turkey sent in troops and since then, the Kurds don’t have much time to think about anything but defending their areas so their cities will not fall easily. We saw that America did not keep its promise when it evacuated and even destroyed some of their own defensive positions on their way out. It’s like America helped weaken us so that we would surrender to Turkey without a fight. But the Kurds feel they should fight until the bitter end, so they would not live to see the shameful fate that awaits them if they lose the battle against Turkey. They no longer trust anyone but themselves.
We gave thousands of our sons to eliminate terrorism. And our partners, the Americans, left us to face Turkey alone. The Kurds see US President Donald Trump as a trader who will sell them out in the blink of an eye for money. They think he is an insane and capricious man whose mood changes from day to night. He was not sincere in his promise to protect his partners in war. Trump betrayed us, as has happened with us throughout our history.
We have been here for centuries and we know that the great powers in the Middle East are ruthless to other ethnicities, that they will either be slaughtered or be forced to be Arabised or Turkicised, as were the ancestors of their enemies.
Before, I would photograph battles happening elsewhere and then return home to rest. But now I come from witnessing battles and bombardments to my home, where I find the same fate, the same fatigue, the same absence of security and safety. Fear accompanies us even in bed.
The other day I returned home after covering the fierce battles in Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain). I opened the door and my son was crying because he heard our city being shelled. It was the first time he heard such things since he was born. It terrified him. He could only fall asleep while lying on my chest, as his tears dried on his cheeks. I kept looking at him during the night. He woke up crying, then went back to sleep, terrified.
I wish him happiness. Perhaps fate will be kinder to him than to us and he will know how difficult it was to live through the Turkish attack, which destroyed our dreams of living on our land, freely singing the sad epic songs of our fate.
I never imagined I would be covering battles like I did, from Kobane to Raqa. And now war has reached my front door, which may be destroyed in the coming days by air strikes or artillery.
I honestly never thought the world would turn a blind eye to what is happening to the Kurds in Syria. It is difficult to take photos of people dying, their hearts broken because they die knowing their country will be occupied and their headstones will be destroyed, like it happened to the Kurdish graves in Afrin, a Kurdish-majority area further west in northern Syria that Turkey seized early last year. There won’t even be headstones to bear witness to the Kurdish presence on this land.
We are living in disappointment as we walk to our fate.
History will never forget what happened to us because it keeps repeating itself. It is filled with defeats and disappointments and it feels like winds that carry heavy dust and make it difficult to breathe.
Every time I go somewhere, I tell my wife to take care of herself and our son because I may not come back. She always says, “why are you speaking of death” and starts crying. These painful memories will remain forever.
There are always scenes that stand out in your mind when you cover war. And so it is this time around. A woman dancing at the funeral of her brother. She danced and tears streamed down her cheeks. A girl crying over the grave of her beloved. A father and mother burying their son, covering him with dust, knowing that it is the last farewell.
The other day, I saw a mother searching for her son’s body among the wounded and the dead who arrived at the hospital. She was looking at all the faces of the dead, hoping to find her son. Eventually, she just collapsed. She was panting and calling his name. Afterward people told her that her son was dead and that they were unable to find his body, that it had shattered into bits following an air strike on the border town of Ras al-Ain.
Often as I take photos, my eyes fill with tears. Perhaps because I share the same fate with the people in the viewfinder.
I had a lot of wishes and dreams that I hoped to fulfill. But now everything around me speaks of disaster. Wishes and dreams have dissipated with the winds of dawn.
I write these words as a cold breeze wraps itself around my fingers and an unknown fate is awaiting us on this land where I wanted to live all my life with my family.
Original: AFP, Freelance photographer based in Qamishli, Syria.