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Esther & Zara's Story

‚ÄčThe Sholom Fund

I was studying English Language and Literature at Aleppo University when the Syrian Civil War erupted in 2011. I was a hardworking student and loved to complete my education. So, I stayed and did my best to finish my courses and get my degree, Bachelor of Arts. Right before graduation, I only had 3 courses to complete so that to graduate and get my degree, the Civil War escalated in Aleppo and the situation seriously deteriorated and the war inside the city and its suburbs intensified. At first, I tried to stay and finish my only 3 remaining courses, but the situation got worse and I came to realize that I had no choice but to abandon my education and flee to my hometown, Kobani.

I and some girls from Kobani rented a car and attempted to escape Aleppo. During our escape we crossed a very dangerous neighborhood and were forced to stop as the shots hit our car. We were frightened to death and were forced to hide and spend the night in an abandoned house. That was the longest and the worst night in my life. We waited till the fighting ceased for a while and we resumed our attempt to escape and flee from Aleppo.

That was the first time I fled due to the Syrian Civil War.

I left Aleppo and joined my family in Kobani. During this period, I suffered and went through depression and trauma for what I experienced in Aleppo and for abandoning my education. However, I did not realize that my life was about to change forever and go through another storm. In September 2014, the Islamic State besieged Kobani Region and waged a genocide campaign against the Kurds of Kobani, labeling the Kurds as infidels to be killed for their apostasy.

The Islamic State made it very clear in their campaign of genocide: capture and execute the men, enslave girls and women as sex slaves, loot everything, and burn and destroy what could not be looted. They wanted to do to the Kurds in Kobani what they already did to the Kurdish Yazidis in Shingal, Iraqi Kurdistan. To that end, the Islamic State gathered and grouped its fighters from all over Syria and besieged Kobani from all sides except to the North where Kobani is located on the Turkish border. The battle of Kobani was the most brutal campaign in the entire Syrian Civil War.

The Kurds had no choice but to evacuate the entire region and the city. The entire population of Kobani region and Kobani city packed their bags and fled on feet to Turkey within hours. I, my younger sister, and my aged parents packed our bags and fled on feet to Turkey. I joined the exodus and the exile of my people. On that day I reflected on that night I spent in Aleppo when I attempted to escape and realized that it was not the worst night in my life; the worst day of my life was the day I joined my family and my people and fled on feet to save our lives.

That was the second time I fled due to the Syrian Civil War.

My people sat down on the Turkish side of the border and watched their houses, their neighborhoods, and their city burned down and ruined before their very eyes. Many refused to be allocated to the refugee camps and stayed on the border so they could be near and close to their hometown. Many of them suffered heart attacks and died on the border due to the extreme trauma. Within weeks, the entire city was destroyed and reduced to rubble. The entire population of Kobani became homeless and dispossessed refugees overnight. They watched from the border in Turkey and lamented the loss of their home, as the Hebrew lamented Zion in their exile in Babylon.

I and my family went to a Turkish village in Sanliurfa Province and lived in a tiny tent for some time in Turkey. It was terrible and unbearable. After learning that our house and our entire neighborhood were destroyed to the ground and that we lost our properties and everything, we decided to move to Iraqi Kurdistan to join my 2 brothers. In December 2014, we entered Iraqi Kurdistan and were documented by UNHCR and became homeless refugees.

That was the third time I fled due to the Syrian Civil War.

I and my younger sister tried to find any jobs to afford a living and survive in Iraqi Kurdistan. The situation was difficult and terrible as the Islamic State already devastated Iraqi Kurdistan and committed genocide against the Yazidis in Shingal. The economy was ruined. In this dismal situation, I worked so hard and took care of my family after my brothers left and smuggled through the Mediterranean Sea and claimed refugee status in Germany in 2015.

In 2016, I met Zara and got married. We skipped the wedding because we could not afford the cost and because our families were dispersed in the exile. Zara's family, his widowed mother and single sister, were refugees in Turkey and unable to join him in Iraqi Kurdistan. We married and I moved from Erbil and joined Zara in Sulymaniyah. I have been documented by UNCHR, with Certificate of Asylum Seeker, from 2014 to the present date (2013~2019).

I want to tell about my dismal situation in Iraqi Kurdistan by referring to an event. In summer 2018, some friends invited me and Zara to a public park with a small zoo. I was so excited to go and see the animals. I and Zara love the lions so much. On arrival, I told my friends that first I want to see the lions. So, I and Zara went to the zoo located in a small corner of the park. To this date I feel so terrible when I remember how the lions, a lion and a lioness, were put in a tiny dirty cage with a roof of iron under the heat of the summer sun. I looked into their eyes and saw depression, stress, and loss. I waited longer than I intended observing them these majestic animals and their dismal situation; how on earth such beautiful, powerful, and fearless creatures are reduced to the most depressed, powerless, lost, lifeless, and static creatures. They seemed without senses; not seeing, not hearing, not listening, not feeling. At that moment and later, I saw myself in these caged and depressed lions. Their dismal situation reflected mine. Once they were free and brave roaming their savannah home and now they were put into a tiny dirty cage.

Zara's Refugee Story

My husband, Zara, was writing his thesis for Master of Arts in American Literature at Aleppo University in 2011. He was at the final stage to complete and present his Viva Voce. The title of his thesis: "The African American Voices in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury; Light in August; God Down, Moses; and Absalom, Absalom!" It focused on the race and narrative in William Faulkner's fiction. On the one hand, it tackled the racial narrative of how the African American characters were silenced without having their own voice. On the other hand, it shed the light on the brief moments when the African American characters had their own voice and dramatized their own agency and defiance in the racial narrative. The violence of the Civil War escalated and the situation became so volatile and precarious in Aleppo during the final stage of his thesis. The government forces and the opposition forces were both committing violations and targeting the civilians. There were heavy fighting and constant bombing. For being the only son in his family, without father and brothers, he could not risk his life to stay and complete his education.

Ultimately, he was forced to flee and abandon his study at Aleppo University and joined his family, his widowed mother and single sister, in his hometown, Kobani. Thereafter, the Civil War spread over the country and the violence intensified around Kobani as different war factions fought over the control of the territory. The local militia began to forcibly conscript the males to fight and protect their territory. Once again Zara was forced to flee and left his mother and sister behind for his own safety. Zara told me he crossed the border on feet to Turkey and then entered Iraqi Kurdistan and was documented by UNHCR in August 2013. The UNHCR has issued him "Certificate of Asylum Seeker" and he has been in Iraqi Kurdistan from 2013 to the present date (2013~2019).

In September 2014, the Islamic State besieged and assaulted Kobani. Zara's mother and sister joined the exodus of the Kobani people and fled to Turkey on feet and were documented by UNHCR. They have been in Turkey from 2014 to the present date (2014~2019). Zara's house and properties were completely destroyed to the ground during the Islamic State campaign and his family also became homeless and dispossessed refugees. Zara's entire neighbored was ruined and reduced to rubble during the siege and the fighting. The most tragic thing is that Zara lost the only photos he had of his father in the rubble. His father passed away when he was 3 years old. He only knew his father in the photos.

Zara has been separated from his mother and sister since 2013. The Syrian refugees are not allowed to travel and visit each other because they cannot obtain travel documents and travel permits. Zara could not join his family in Turkey because smuggling from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey is very dangerous and risky and his family's fears about his safety prevented Zara to smuggle into Turkey. They live separately in different countries. Zara thinks of his family 24/7.

Zara always tells me about his exodus and exile in reference to the movie "Exodus: Gods and Kings" (2014) in the scene Moses is exiled and he is allowed by the Pharaoh's guards to say goodbye to his mother, Bithiah, and his sister, Miriam, in the desert, before they go separate ways, while this dramatic oriental soundtrack plays. Zara has played and replayed this scene hundred times and watches the movie again and again whenever he misses his family.

In conclusion, as Syrian refugees, we have been trying to survive and afford a simple living due to the lack of any aids from UNHCR, UN and due to the lack and scarcity of jobs. My husband works so hard so we can maintain a simple living in Iraqi Kurdistan and also manages to save and send some money to his mother and sister in Turkey. We have lost hope to complete our education and we have no chance to pursue our education due to our hard circumstances. As married couple, we are unable to start a family and have children because of our dismal situation and our fears and uncertainties. It is terrible to live in fear and be preoccupied with all uncertainties on daily basis without any future prospects. This dismal situation has caused us extreme paranoia and trauma. Iraqi Kurdistan is not a safe region and the Iraqi Kurds themselves are fleeing and claiming refugee status in Europe and elsewhere. Nowadays, Turkey and its Syrian Arab allies threaten and attempt to invade and take over Kobani again. The situation is dangerously volatile and precarious in the Kurdish Region of Syria and the people of Kobani are still living in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan without any possibility to return back after they have lost everything and due to the threats of invasion by Turkey.