Escaping Saddam’s Chemical Bombings: Memories of a Child Refugee

One of the earliest memories I have as a child is my parents pressing a soaked scarf, ripped into several parts and shared with my cousins against our faces so that we would not inhale the falling chemicals that Saddam was using to kill us. We were only children, 3, and 4 and 5. The eldest one of us was 13 I think. Even then we understood the meaning of war because instead of seeing shooting stars at night we saw bombs falling. They lit the sky, who made no effort to resist, and when they fell the earth shook so tremendously, so outrageously; as if even God was conspiring against us, angry that we had survived. So when the chemicals were used we knew they were falling because we were not meant to exist; guilty of the crime of being Kurds.

And we were only children.

Since I was born, Kurdistan has been bombed, torched, razed, massacred and erased again and again and again. And many more Kurdish children initiated into a traumatized identity. Our lives have been a series of refugee camps, series of mass exoduses towards survival, seeking refuge in regimes whose entire foundation and political identity is based on the oppression and erasure of our people. But they surround us, these sinister, unholy regimes. Everywhere we look, every corner of Kurdistan, there they are, waiting. Or we flee towards the West, whose policies fund the chemical weapons, the bombs, the new technologies, and the new wars that keep killing us.

Even in Australia, a million light years away from Kurdistan, when the Yezidi girls were taken we were shocked, sleepless, drenched in guilt, in collective shame and pain, our hearts twisting in hopeless wretchedness. Even when we physically escape Kurdistan it comes with us. It is always there with us. Hopeful. Expectant. Patiently waiting for freedom. Surviving against all odds, persisting and defying even God himself.

Sometimes I see little children here in Rojava, or I see the broken bodies of children removed from the rubble, I see them in the camps, or I see the mothers and fathers of Bakur (northern Kurdistan, occupied Kurdistan in Turkey) waving white flags so that Turkish snipers do not shoot them as they take the lifeless bodies of their children to hospitals- and I feel angry. An anger that sits on my chest like a physical pain of immense gravity, snaking its way around my soul endlessly. A prisoner of its mocking, taunting sneers that its all hopeless, hopeless. Angry because we keep having children and keep raising them in a world bent on our erasure, bent on removing any trace of us.

Maybe we have the children because we keep hoping for a better world, a better life, a better chance of survival for them. Perhaps we keep having them because we need a reason to keep resisting, keep fighting, keep staying, unbending, unwavering, unending despite all odds. Or maybe its just underdevelopment and lack of education and access to preventative measures, policies of cultural genocide imposed by the regimes whose colonies we are.

I dream of a day where the children of Kurdistan no longer say “mother, why are they killing us?” I dream of a Kurdistan that doesn’t have more refugee camps than schools. I dream of a Kurdistan that doesn’t have more flags than it has clothes for children; where the children learn math, science and innovation, not sit in the classroom of life, war and tragedy.

I dream of a free Kurdistan, who like the war child of yesterday has grown, proud, safe, educated; her heart filled with love and determination for other war children whose cries she hears every day.

Dr. Hawzhin Azeez

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