Can you put us on the cover of Vogue?
I wonder if we should collect donations, buy some thousand Armani Privé suits from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection, dress up the Kurdish fighters in Syria, instagram it and hashtag it #VogueArmy. Then maybe we will catch the attention of the world, it will become trendy to save lives and before you can say Anna Wintour, the war in Syria is over.
Because we know that a mighty, prestigious institution like the United Nations and similar organisations devoted to peace or whatever automatic slogan is written over their door cannot or will not provide sufficient help for the mere sake of human lives if not political interests align in favour of taking action.
It is more than 3 years since the uprising in Syria began and there have ever since been desperate calls for outside help, fierce discussions about how to overthrow the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, which rebels to support and if one should really do it, then realizing that during the back and forth discussions these new guys, ISIS, took the opportunity to come in and pursue a different agenda than toppling Assad and establishing a peaceful and democratic country.
More than 162,000 people in Syria have died, 33% of them are civilians. 48% are in need of humanitarian aid, every 90 seconds a family is displaced within Syria and more than 2,8 million people have sought refuge in another country.
I am a Kurd in the diaspora. I am originally from Rojava (the Kurdish areas within Syrian borders) and I returned home from Qamişlo, the unofficial capital of Rojava just weeks before the uprising erupted in March 2011. Since then I have been staring myself blind at one article after another reporting from the war in Syria and the views of several political, military and civil factions involved in the uprising, each either vaguely or very specifically suggesting and demanding solutions on how to oust al-Assad, the number one enemy of the people.
Before the uprising started, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that an Arab Spring in Syria was especially dangerous for the region and would leave the country vulnerable to other powers’ exploitation.
I had no knowledge about politics in Syria and the neighbouring countries in the years before 2011 but that observation seemed true even to me. I was at the same time also aware that the uprising had to happen, the feeling was almost palpable whenever I came there on summer vacation for 2-3 months every 2 years since I was born. It seemed to me the only culmination to decades of oppression.
I have since thought about why it was palpable to me (my family reacted with nothing but an empty stare and “what can we do?”) and I think it is because as an outsider, I could see how miserable the situation was, and I here mean in the Kurdish areas. I could more easily than my family see that they had internalized discrimination and thought everything was fine. Whenever my aunt would say, I own this land and the house built on it, she would add, but any day the Syrian authorities can come and take it away from me. My cousin was in the top of her school, her goal was to become a doctor but still she said to me, even though I finish my education, there would be no job for me and if there is, it will be corrupted by the authorities. When we went to our farms outside Qamişlo, I saw strangers in small tents on the fields and when I asked whom they were, my uncle would shrug and say, just some Arabs who have settled down. I asked him why he did not tell them to leave but he would just shrug again and walk away.
I obviously knew that things were not great for the Syrians either. An evening in January 2011 in Damascus, I was walking past what I think was a court house and I took a picture of this huge, bullet-proof, white truck parked in front of the court when a lady passing me in the street grabbed my arm, pulled me after her and then a few meters away said in English: Dangerous, don’t do it again.
The way people spoke about the Mukhabarat (the military intelligence service of Syria) and the way they slapped my hand down when I pointed at a picture of Bashar al-Assad, made me realise either my family was extremely paranoid or al-Assad was Satan himself.
So ever since I was 13 and wrote a letter to my dad in Denmark, saying “the president is very mean” (my uncle tore it apart and threw it in the trash), I, with all the naivety that characterizes a kid born in a wealthy and peaceful European country, had been rooting for the people in Syria to rise up against this dictator and overthrow him so we could all live happily ever after in a democratic, peaceful Syria.
Fast-forward to January 2011, and the events in Tunisia were broadcasted on the small TV in my grandparent’s home in Qamişlo. I said to my uncle, this is it, now the revolution will begin in Syria too. He said no, Assad is not like the other dictators. He is more dangerous and people in Syria will never, ever rise up against him. Nevertheless, the uprising did happen. It has not ended yet nor does it seem like there is anything on the horizon that can put an end to it.
And I sit here in Denmark, year after year named the happiest country in the world, staring myself blind at the screen, looking at these articles about people within Syria calling for help, just someone, anyone to come to their rescue. Just a few hours away from the laptop and I am engulfed by the same numbing lull as everyone else who does not live in a war-torn country, and I forget the urgency of the man-made catastrophe and the worth of a human life 5,000 kilometers away. That is probably how they feel in the UN too, in the US, in those Arab palaces made of marble and gold. Why else has the Syrian war been dragging on for years?
We just cannot fathom it. I flew in a Syrian Airlines plane over Damascus in July 2012 and I was staring at the villages around Damascus, thinking: Someone is being massacred right now. In my head there were chants: Massacred right now. Massacred right now. Massacred right now. Yellow lights were flickering just kilometers beneath me and I tried to imagine, I think for empathetic reasons, for solidarity, maybe a girl my age is lying on her back, dying, looking at the flickering light of my plane, wishing it had been her so far away from the ground.
I wish someone would put her on the cover of Vogue. I wish someone would put us all on the cover of Vogue.
Dear Naila, this is a beautiful beautiful piece, that moved me to tears. Do you mind if I translate it in Dutch and post it on my website? Off course I will refer with a link to the original on this website.
Hi Ilke! Thank you for your kind words and yes, you can translate it. : )