By: Vy Nguyen
Though I am an ocean and thousands of miles away from Kurdistan, its sounds, sensations, and people are still ever-present in my mind. This month, I spent some time in Kurdistan, Iraq, in the cities of Erbil and Dohuk, visiting with Week of Compassion partners and the people with whom they work. The stories and experiences replay over and over in my mind. Each time Iraq appears in my news feed--multiple times per day, as we received updates about the city of Mosul and the ongoing battle with ISIS--the alerts are more than just headlines. I feel the heat of the desert, see the faces of women sharing their stories, and remember the layers of pain and grief that lie behind each of those headlines.
New York Times, 20 June 2017: “Major Sajjad: The Battle for Mosul--’God Willing, Iraq will be their graveyard’” by By Ben C. Solomon and Taige Jensen
The road that took us into one of the refugee camps goes straight through the city of Mosul. 20 miles from the active war zone, we turned. Leaving the major highway, we made our way onto side roads that would take us north, around the city, around the ruins, around the fighting. From a bridge, we saw trucks, continuing straight along the highway, heading into the heart of Mosul. The thought came to us, from our place of relative safety: “why would you go into Mosul, from where so many have fled?”
The Wall Street Journal, 20 June 2017: “French Journalist and Iraqi Colleague Killed in Mosul Mine Blast” by Noemie Bisserbe
Taghread* has fled for safety three times in 12 years. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Taghread fled to Syria, seeking safety. With the escalation of Syrian Civil War, she returned to Mosul--still unstable, but home. Her homecoming was short-lived. In 2014, ISIS invaded Mosul, and Taghread fled once again. Even given the horrors she has seen, Taghread considers herself among the lucky. Many of the women in the camp did not come in 2014. They made their way to the camp after escaping ISIS captivity. Huda* was among those who were kidnapped, raped, and sold as sex slaves. Her husband is now fighting ISIS, so no other woman must experience what his wife endured.
UNHCR 20 June 2017: “Statement by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi on World Refugee Day 2017”
The wind offered no relief from the 110 heat. It whipped the canvas sides of the tents that stand row upon row, each branded “UNHCR,” which stands for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and it made the sand swirl and sting our ankles, hands, and faces. Despite the heat, children run and play soccer, inviting us to join. The heat, I realize, is safer than the bombs.
BBC News, 20 June 2017: “Mosul battle: Fierce fighting as Iraqi troops push into Old City”
The simple headlines that flash across my phone or computer screen cannot begin to capture the experiences of this place, of these people. The photos, the b-roll on cable news, the soundbites cannot begin to express the pain or the loss, the resilience or the spirit of Taghread, Huda, and the thousands of people displaced by this conflict. They are not just news flashes to me anymore; they are real, strong, and courageous individuals, trying to rebuild and repair their communities and families together, one day at a time.
*All names have been changed for safety and privacy.
In recognition of World Refugee Day, we have several short video reflections from the visit to the camps with refugees and internally displaced persons in Kurdistan (Iraq).