On Names, Disguises, and an Encounter with Daish/ISIL

“I began keeping a diary when I was 10. Because my parents’ decision to move from Damascus to Aleppo that year made me very upset. It was 1976. I jotted my feelings into a small notebook. The suffering triggered it. I have been never a regular diarist. I started writing a few years ago when all these people around me were dying or getting injured because of the war. We lived under constant threat of being bombed or killed so I returned to my diary after many years. It probably remained in our collapsed house in Aleppo, I have no idea.”

“My name in Kurdish means rose. My mother named me. It is a special type of rose, that is found only in Syria known with its distinct scent.” While going through the draft, Rose renamed all the family members as well. She was very excited to read her own story in English and having control of it, adding some explanatory sentences while taking passages out here and then.

When I asked her about the challenges of being a Yazidi/Ezidi, she took out a headscarf from her large purse.  When we interviewed in Spring 2016, she worked as a full-time teacher in a school in Istanbul set up for Syrian children. The director was a conservative Sunni Muslim who ostensibly prayed in his office and encouraged all the teachers to read the Quran and pray. On her way to school, Rose put on a headscarf and disguised herself as a Muslim woman. In the refugee center, where we met and where she attended several workshops and training programs, her Yazidi identity was also hidden. She once wanted to test her colleagues at school by making a few comments on “poor Yazidi women who got killed or made into slaves in Iraq”. She asked “Why are they being treated this way, what is their fault?” The answer was “Because they are not Muslims. They deserve to be killed.” Simple as that! Fortunately, she found a job at an international NGO as an interpreter and field worker where she no longer feels the need to cover her identity.

[...]

“One day in Syria, Daish (ISIL) stopped the public bus that I & my husband were in, and I was the only woman in it. All the people were pushed out. I was very afraid, they’d kill us if they learned we were Yazidis. My whole body was shaky. Daish doesn’t want any woman in public. Amir, their boss, had the final word. They hate the Kurds. We had a mixed crowd of passengers. The driver said we were all Arabs. I made up a village name so they cannot guess that we are Kurdish. Four hours long, we waited and waited. Finally, the Amir arrived and asked me why I was out. I told him that my father was sick, my family was waiting for me blab blah… The driver was reproached as well commuting on that route. They did not check our IDs. I will never forget that day.”

[...]

"I learned from my father to be strong. I always remember his advice, in times of difficulties in particular, I must be strong. He repeated this many times. Before he died, he called us beside his bed. I was a 19-year-old freshman and he was only 42. I also learned to be generous to the person who visits my house. Even if I have no money, I want to offer my guest something. I’d be embarrassed if they leave without eating anything. Furthermore, if anyone comes to my house and talks about their personal matters, I never share them with anyone else. It is very shameful if I do. So many people confide in me because they know that I won’t utter them to another soul. In Turkey, I don’t have many friends but I still listen to my colleagues’ problems or stories in general, and I keep them all to myself."

 

Lifelines: Syrian Womanhoods in Transition | Ozlem Ezer | Berkeley CMES