As seen in our Newsletter
September arrived. Facebook tells me what a wonderful summer it was. Adventures, food, travel, beach, ocean, all part of summer. Pictures of families, trips, flying here, going there. And so it should be. When life is as it should be. Just here in Iraq, it is not. August begins on June 31st. And it’s only coming to an end now, in the middle of September. Anything between those dates is August. Basically August is a twelve week month each day being harsher than the previous. A tenseness creeps in on June 31. Similar to a World War II London fog, it quietly lands and covers and then sticks. Until it chooses to leave, well, you’re stuck with it. Learn to function in fog. Fog claims victims. Like our summer. By July 15th, “things” are walking in the camp at night, up and down the section rows, opening tent doors and going inside. “Things”, call them demons, call them monsters, call them apparitions - they are out there causing terror to the inhabitants of the camp. They come to choke and to smother. There are those who see them, and those who feel them. There are those who scream and scare them off, there are those who physically fight them. Such are the terrors of the camp night in our prolonged August. As for the terrors of the day; a dramatic increase in attempted suicides, of threatening to commit suicide. Way more fainting for prolonged periods of time. Women, in particular just drop to the ground like a leaf falling from a tree and are “out of it“ for up to 15 minutes. Once a day, four times a day... it’s part of August. Until 2014, August in Sinjar had been stifling hot, an element of cool air drifting in close to midnight by which time all the mattresses were lined up on the roofs for sleep, the sound of neighbours chatting gradually diminishing. It was a month of plenty, of plums and figs, and wheat, of preparing goat cheese with herbs to be stored in the soil for winter. A month of weddings and parties and preparations for the autumn feast days.
Then a collective scream and life ended. White Toyota pick up trucks stormed in carrying men wearing black, captivity, enslavement, conscription and mass graves began. Every aspect of genocide was fulfilled in this well coordinated conquest of the Yezidi community by the Islamic State.
August 3rd 2019 marked five long years to the day that the soul of the Yezidi community was torn asunder, not for the first time and many believe, not for the last. August 15 marks the fifth memorial in Kojo village, a tiny village of 1700 where nearly all the men were systematically shot in mass graves, the boys recruited and the women driven to the slave markets. Kojo a symbol of massacre, home to eleven mass graves. Kojo where young men are now busying interring the bones of their friends with whom they played football, into graves that they have dug on the former football pitch.
August is a brutal month. The outside temperature hits the 50c mark, inside the refugee tents it can reach 60c in the hours without electricity for the worn out, groaning swamp coolers. There are fires in the camp, fires in the village, fires on the mountains, fires in the fields. They too begin in July and increase their ferocity until August 15 has passed, then just disappear leaving the ashes of devastation behind. The past few months leading up to our long August have been bittersweet with children, teens and women being discovered by the army of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Baghouz and Idlip, Syria and brought to the safety (and surviving families) of Iraqi Kurdistan, many brainwashed, broken and victims of a methodological process of dehumanisation. Those still searching for their loved ones, gather around them holding pictures, desperate for information, rejoicing in return for one who was “lost“ yet praying for their wives, their children to be found. Smiles with tears. Despair and frustration with a glimmer of hope. The eternal “Maybe tomorrow “... Such is the backdrop to our summer.Events and ceremonies commemorating the atrocities of August are gruelling to say the least and are accompanied by breast-beating, weeping, the wailing of mourning and grief, fainting and screaming. I begin thinking and pondering how to give honour to this day, this month, on June 31. By July 15th we are busy preparing for how to commemorate without being sucked into the atmosphere and corporate expectation of death. How to remember those in captivity and pray for them without the invisible chains enslaving our emotions... How to remember those now scattered bones in mass graves without the grave swallowing us as victims. How to protect those in our care, some 400 youth and women from regressing as the tsunami of grief peaks. Slowly the template wove itself into being. Over the past five years, I have heard one phrase repeated endless times. “We have no friends. No friends but the mountains.” One can not deny the silence and apathy of the world at large, but in these past five years, friends have come to the Yezidi community. 3rd August 2019, five years later, it was time for the voices of the friends to speak out, to offer prayers, words that would encourage the faint, to build up, to strengthen the weary, to assure the questioning, to edify and remember. Words, full of love, tenderness, care and promise that would bring salve to bleeding wounds, and hurting scars. A gentle message from the four corners of the globe.