I Want to Live: Documentary Film on Kurdish Refugees from Rojava in Kurdistan

Film Diary, Film Review, Update & News
I Want to Live ©Karzan Kardozi

I Want to Live Karzan Kardozi

Here are some still from my documentary feature film on the life of Shndar;  A Kurdish refugees from Rojava in West Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) now living in South Kurdistan in a camp. He fled the the recent ISIS attacks upon Rojava, he is 16 years old who has Thalassemia and must have immediate treatment. He live in a camp with his father who is deaf and mute, work as a laborer when there is a job outside the camp, because of his Thalassemia, he has to get blood transfusion every month in order to live.  The film is about him, his daily life on the camp and outside of it, and also the life inside the camp. The film is slow paced, rather Arty, more visual and very little dialogue driven. More than being a film about the life of refugees, it is a meditation on life, death, war, peace, and tolerance.


I gave this Interview about the film to Suna Alan on how the films was made:

When and which camp in South Kurdistan did you shoot your documentary ‘’I Want to Live?

For the final project of my Master degree, I was required to make a film, and I went to back to Kurdistan in the Summer of 2014, I shot the film in the span of one week at Arbat Camp outside Sulaimani. I did the producing, directing, cinematography, editing of the film. At a distance of only 40 minutes from the city of Sulaimani is Arbat Camp in the town of Arbat, the camp had more than 700 Kurdish families from Rojava. Despite having the permit, on my visit to the camp I was denied the access to the camp, I was told to meet personally the head of the security of the camp, and it took me two days to meet him, at first; he was against allowing a camera into the camp and giving us access for many days and nights, but after a lengthy talk and my explanation that the film was for a Western audience and part of a Master degree program, he was more than happy to allow me to film, wanting a Western audience to be informed about the life of the Kurdish refugees in the camp, I was giving permission to film for eight days and nights with full access to all the areas inside and outside the camp. On the same days I visited the camp to find a subject and a narrative to follow. I was confident that by walking around the camp and talking to people, I would find many stories and subjects to film, my original plan was to have three different narrative on three different subjects; a young boy, a women and a man. While walking around with a guide, as he was showing us the different area of the camp, in the school, we meet a little boy of 16 by the name of Shndar, right way I knew my film will be about him. Unlike many people in camp who only spoke the Kurmanji dialect of the Kurdish language, Shndar was fluent on both Kurmanji and Sorani dialect, at first he was shy to talk to us, but after talking to him for a while and walking around the camp with him, he became a friend to us and was more than happy to be filmed, on the same day, we visited his tent, talked to his parent and got their permission to film him.

How were the conditions of the Rojavan refugees in the camp in general during your shooting?

I tried to become one of them while shooting the film, and we would go around all over the camp with the camera, so the people got used to us, after a few days, we were like someone who lived inside the camp, just a normal person, they did not look at us as outsiders, and you can see that in the film, they behave naturally in front of the camera. As for life in the camp, you can see it in the film how life is, I don’t need to comment on it, the film does.

What is the main subject of your story?

The story if not mine, it is the story of Shndar, a little boy from Rojava who has Thalassemia, and he must have a surgery very soon, or it is too late. I wanted to see life the way he does, so it is his story, the camera is there to capture it.

Why did you choose to tell the story of a refugee boy instead of the refugees in the camp in general?

Well, for one reason; I do not like to generalize, you see that everyday in the News and Documentaries, in which people become just a mere number or a group, they lose their individual identity, I wanted to show, that among these Refugees that you hear about everyday mentioned, they each have a story and life that is precious to them as it is to everyone, and they are not just a number.

6. What are your messages via your film?

I really do not have any message, I’m not a filmmaker that want to manipulate or sell an idea or ideology, I want to show life as it is, and it happened that in this film, the life is that of a Refugee boy, a Kurdish Refugee boy who has no home, no country, nothing to call his own, not even a healthy life. I let the viewer make up his/her own interpretation of whatever the message of the film might be.

Will you have any other film project on Rojavan refugees in south Kurdistan?

I hope so, this was my last Documentary film, I wish in the future to make Fiction film, and Rojava will always be part of my future plan.

Here are my notes on the Production:

Day One:
I took the task of Director and DP upon myself, for the simple reason that having a crew of more than two meant attracting the attention of the people in the camp, and the people would be uncomfortable in front of the camera seeing the large crew behind it, also upon meeting Shndar, I realized that he was a shy person that did not want attention nor eyes to be looked at him while in front of the camera, and having only a crew of two mean that we melted into the people of the camp as we became friend with many of them, and indeed that happened; within two days of shooting, they treated us as one of them. I decided the narrative of the film to be in the control of Shndar and his daily life. We would visit his tent every morning and would follow his daily plan, but I was not yet sure of what style to follow. The first day of filming took place in the school; I filmed everything in a formal and constructive manner, using long lens for rapid shift between different shot sizes, from extreme close-up to wide shots, I filmed everything in coverage, with the editing in post-production for each scenes and sequence in mind all the time. On the same afternoon, as we took a break, I looked into the footage inside the camera that was shot, and I noticed the realism in the scenes came from those wide shots that I let the camera run and did not force my own personal perspective or coverage style of the film. That is when I decided to film the rest of the scenes using Wide Angle lens, with the camera at a distance, and latter use editing in little manipulative manner. Choosing such style meant shooting lengthy takes and having a film that is slow in pace, but such style was best fitted for the slow life of the camp, I had to use it in order to capture the reality.

The Rest of Filming:
We filmed 4 days and one full night in the life of Shndar and the camp, and spent another 2 days recording his voice-over. Each day we would follow Shndar, he would tell us about his daily plan, and we would arrange shots to be setup as we followed him around, most of the time I filmed him without his knowledge, for I realized that by doing so, he behaved in a normal and realistic manner, same was true with the scenes that were shot with the people in the camp. To give an example; Shndar would tell us that sometime in the morning he would visit the children playground, I would ask him to take us, we would walk to the place, I would setup the camera and let it run, then I would tell Shndar to walk to the playground, at the first two takes, he would act as in a fictional film, swinging his legs and body as he walked, very theatrical, instead of telling him to do it again, I kept the camera running, telling him that we filmed everything and it was all good, let him take a break, then I would ask him to walk to the playground and wait for us to join him, or I would tell him that we had to do one more take just for sound, only then, when he thought that the camera was not filming did he gave a realistic performance. Everything was captured in such realistic manners, not a single shot in the film was staged, there was one shot that I filmed but not used in the film that I staged in a fictional manner; the scene was of Shndar visiting the Doctor in the camp, they both watch a French song on a laptop, I staged that scene and filmed it, but later during editing, I realized that it was rather weak, and I did not use it in the final film. Choosing such style and directing approach for the film with only two of us as a crew meant that we moved fast between places and we encountered many surprises, some of the best scenes in the film is shot in that manner, for example; the scenes in the cucumber field, as we started filming, it rained, the cloud came, and Shndar felt such happiness in being in the field, away from the tents, under the rain, he was laughing from joy. Summer rain in Kurdistan is very rare, and I knew it would not last more than half an hour, so we had to shoot every single second of it, as I ran from one place into another to film each scene.

I filmed a total of 20 hours of footage, and it took me almost a month to captured the scenes that I wanted to use in the film, the war with ISIS on the borders of South Kurdistan and the flooding or refugees lead to electricity power shortage which gave me little times use my computer to capture the footage. I captured a total of 6 hours of films and lined them up as a rough cut, then I had to start chopping them to pieces, and it hurt, because not only did I had to eliminate many shots in the film, but I had also to trim the rest of the shots that ended up in the film, despite wanting to have a very slow pace film that made the audience live in the camp for with Shndar and these refugees, to take them and making them experience the life in the camp, into a world far from their comfort zone, but I had no choice than to be realistic to cut down the film to 1 hour and 45 minutes in the end, some scenes in the film suffers because of that, if I had filmed a long take of 4 minutes during filming, it meant that I wanted it to end in the film in such length, but on the editing stage; I had to trim it down to 30 second or 45 second, only then could I have shortened the length of the film. More than wanting to slow down the pace of the film, I also used different pace to shift between sequences; Day One is fast paced, because it fit the narrative, Shndar is in School and visit the Bazaar with his brother, both place are crowded and life in them are fast. Day Two is very slow, because Shndar walk around the camp, watch TV in his tent and goes to picnic, all are less crowded places and the pace was indeed slow as time seemed to slow down. His visit to the cucumber field is edited in a poetic style, and the final scene is the longest, because I wanted the audience to feel every second of Shndar taking the shot and the pain as he is in bed for 6 hours waiting for the medication to end.

Voice-Over and Sound Mixing:
It took us two days to record the voice-over, I recorded all the sound in secret; I ran the camera and we sat in the tent with Shndar asking him different question about life in Rojava, his sickness, the family becoming refugees in Kurdistan, I asked him about everything; from nature of War, to love, to hate, to religion, to music, etc. At times I would ask the same question in different manners as to get his view on a subject, and all the time the camera was recording, the lens away from him, but the microphone right beside him recording the sound, a reason that his voice-over is so realistic and he seem to be talking to a friend rather than to a camera. The total voice-over of Shndar and us asking him questions was more than 6 hours in length, with 2 hours of his VO in the rough cut and I had to trim it down to around 20 to 30 minute in the final film. I did not use any sound effect other than what is captured in the scenes. For my fictional short films, I usually use many different outside sounds and effects, mix it into the film, but for I Want to Live, I only used the sound in the shots and did no manipulation of them for the exception of changing the volume when the VO come into the scene, for my aim was realism.
Color Correction: I used very little Color Correction during editing, I had to bring back the White Balance for a few shot, and I wanted the film to look grainy, I prefer a grainy image to a sharp one, some of the scene had to be grainy for I had no choice; such as the scenes of the camp at night, for it was impossible to light a whole camp, and it is rather more realistic to have a grainy shot than a blurry sharp one that is fixed in the post-production. More than having a grainy film, I also let some of the technical detail stay in the film to give it more realism; in some shots you could see rain falling on the lens, there are spot of rain left on the lens, I did not clean it up until the shooting of that day was over, even one can see a light reflected in one of the shots. I left them all in the film and did not want to remove them or fix them in post-production.

Budget and Aftermath:
What I’m most proud off is the fact that I made the film with less than $400 spent. Making a feature documentary film in such small budget is not even heard off here in Kurdistan, a local TV station will spend more than $5000 for such a film, I managed to do it, because there was only two of us in the crew, and I shot it in the span of only 6 days, did all the editing, color correction, sound mixing and creating English subtitle by myself, it was physically and mentally a hard challenge to tackle, but we did it and proved for others that they could do it. More important; I became a close friend to Shndar and him family, visiting them many times after the filming was finished, we are still in touch. Spreading awareness about the life in the camp, the struggle of Shndar with thalassemia and life in the camp is a worthy cause to make a film about, if that is what the film comes down too at the end, then, it was worth all the effort that went into the making of the film, because of the film now Shndar got a chance with his family to go to UK in order to have a bone-transplant and his live might be saved.

P.S: The quality of the images are lowered for it to be uploaded.

I Want to Live (Karzan Kardozi, 2014)

I Want to Live (Karzan Kardozi, 2014) Public Domain

I Want to Live ©Karzan Kardozi

I Want to Live ©Karzan Kardozi



Halabja Documentary: Nasrin’s Story

Culture, Politic, Recommended Reading

Nasrin and John Simpson

I’m currently working on a documentary with John Simpson for the BBC on the 25th anniversary of the chemical attack of Halabja in 1988. John was the first Western journalist to report on the attack, ignored by many in other Western media outlet, he flew on his own in an Iranian chopper from Tehran to Halabja.

Listen to BBC Radio 4 program below

Yesterday, we met Nasrin, one of the survivors the attack. She was 16 years old when it happened, she lost 17 relatives, including her  Mother, Father, two Brothers and two Sisters. She told us a tragic story of how she managed to escape the city, carrying with her three little children, two of them on her back, carrying the third one on her arms, by the time she managed to get to safety outside the town, the children and herself went blind from the effect of the mustard gas that was used.

She told us that she did not know that Sarin gas was also used, which made many of the victim lose their mind and consciousness, becoming delirious before they died, “I thought the children were sleeping on my shoulder and dreaming,  for the kept calling their mothers, one of them was repeating, ‘I haven’t done my homework, I have to finish my homework’, before they died, they keep saying that they can’t see anything, that everything was dark, and I thought they were talking in their sleep, I keep telling them to go back to sleep, “You will see when you wake up from the sleep, it won’t be dark anymore”

We interviewed her by the same cellar that many of the victims had died. She told us that the effect of the gas could still be felt, John and the cameraman, Duncan, went into the cellar, they stayed for a few minute, when they came out, with eyes red, running nose, they told us that there was a cat hanging on the wall, seem to have died recently from the effect of the gas. I myself felt the effect later, as I was standing by the entrance to the cellar, doing the interview. After 25 years of the attack, you could still feel it. Nasrin told us that once they put chickens into the cellar, in less than a week, all of them were dead. They no longer used the cellar,  for it was too dangerous. Later, when we asked an export about our running nose, red eyes and that tickle in our throat, he told us that were were exposed to a very light dose of mustard gas, and it was of no danger. He examined another cellar at a short distance from Nasrin’s house, and indeed found small dosage of mustard gas, he had a detecting devise with him. The effect lasted for about two hours, we were advised to wash our face, we went into a mosque and washed our faces, still, the headache lasted for another six hours.


This is Nasrin’s story, the way she told us, in her language ….

I was 16 years old when Halabja was attacked. All that day, on March 16, 1988, the town was under heavy artillery bombardment from the Iraqi army. Many people had taken shelters in basement and cellars. Like the days before, a war between Iraq and Iran was raging. Daily bombardment was taking place between the two countries. Halabja was a border town, close to the Iranian border. To shelter ourselves from the bombs, daily, we would take refuge in cellars and basements. On that day, we thought it would be a usual day of bombing, we had no knowledge that a catastrophe would take place. We came down to this cellar, which belong to my family. My own house was at a distance from here. I was not the only one to take refuge here, I could say that there were more than 300 people who where gathered in the cellar; relative, neighbors and strangers. We took shelter here waiting to see what would happen. The place was crowded, my mother told us to get some food prepared for those who were staying.

Earlier that day, in the morning, Iraqi choppers were flying over Halabja. I saw the choppers flying overhead. I was here in the garden. One of the chopper was flying very low overhead. I knew it was Iraqi chopper, because one of the door had an Iraqi flag on it. One of the crew by the door was taking pictures of us. This cellar was crowded, and the children didn’t realize the danger, I remember, the children waved at the choppers, waved to the pilot. The chopper kept going around, taking pictures, the flash of the camera was hitting us. Some of the people told us that we should take shelter, it was not normal that something like that was happening, we should be scared. We should all go down to the cellar, but the house was crowded and we could not fit everyone into the cellar.

Some had to stay up here to prepare the food and what was needed. I, myself, with two of my sisters were preparing the food for the people. It was around 11 AM, toward afternoon,we were ready to serve the food, ready to eat.  My uncle’s family came to our house and told us that it was very dangerous, we heard unfamiliar sound of bombs falling.  They told us that in the northern part of the city, around Sarai Halabja, heavy bombs were falling, we could hear the sound, and the grounds was shaking under our feet.

Then, I heard a sound that was unfamiliar to me, I never had heard such a sound before, sound of a bomb falling to the ground near our house. Suddenly, the cellar became dusty,  heavy smoke filled the place.  I ran out of the cellar. Because there was no water and no electricity, we had brought up the water from the well  to use it. When I came up, I saw the water, it was black, what look liked black powder covered the water. The food plates that were prepared for lunch was covered with what looked like black ashes. We had birds, partridges in our  garden, they were jumping up and down. I picked one of them from under the trees. They were dying, trying to take their last flight, taking their last breath. I didn’t know what was happening, I told my brother about it, he told me, “Nasrin, leave them, come down to the cellar”. I went down to the cellar, everyone in the cellar had red eyes, they were vomiting.

Before the bombs had fallen, some of the people from the cellar went outside to a field across from the house. When they had seen the smoke and the bomb falling, some of them came back to help us, one of them was my husband. When he came to the cellar, he shouted , “For God sake, come outside, we have been attacked by chemical weapons”. At that time, he was a doctor at the military hospital. He was trained on chemical warfare and the use of gas masks. He was aware of what precaution to take.  He told us that Halabja is under Chemical attack, that the smoke was that of a chemical weapon. When we came up from the cellar, we notice that our place had a different smell from the one across the street. The wind was coming upward, bringing the smell here, you could notice by the smell that the air was poisonous.

As I mentioned, because of the daily artillery attacks, we never predicted a chemical attack. When we came out, we tried to escape, to get way from Halabja. The gas smelled like that of a rotten eggs, apples, from times to times, the smell would change. Apple, other time a rotten smell. We looked for a car, we didn’t have one ourselves, we tried to find one and take the people away. We couldn’t find any car. One of the man who was in the cellar had a tractor. He told us that he would bring his tractor and take away the children, old people and those who were severely wounded.

We put the old people and the children into the tractor. Some of us went with them to help, myself, my brother, Luqman, the wife of the driver of the tractor and a few others, we went along, the tractor was crowded. It was getting late, toward evening when we started to leave. We had plan to go outside Halabja, to Sarkani Tawera, to stay there and see what would happen to Halabja. We never expected to leave Halabja, we had plan  to go to the edge of the town, hoping to return once the attack was over. When we went up toward the northern part of the town, a bomb hit the road, the driver had to make a turn. I saw that many people were laying on the roads, I couldn’t believe that they were all dead. I thought they were asleep, or had walked in their sleep to that place. It was not just one or two person, there were so many, they all looked asleep, no wounds or blood on them. At first when we saw few of the bodies, you could imagine they were dead, but when you saw so many of them, on the road, laying down there, you couldn’t believe they were all dead, it was hard to believe.

When we escaped, just outside of the town, the driver of the tractor, because of the effect of the gas could not drive anymore, he could not concentrate, as if losing his mind, he told us that he could not drive anymore, the engine of the tractor turned off, he tried hard to start it again, but he could not. We had no choice but to get off. By now it was dark, it was nighttime. At that place where the tractor broke down, we had an Old Man with us by the name of Hama Khan, to this day, we don’t know what happened to him, he was lost. We had a plan to meet my Mom, my Dad, my brothers, sisters and my cousins in Sarkani Tawera, because of that, everyone in the tractor wanted to go to that place to meet our relative again.  We were not familiar as to where we were at, because it was dark and we were in a desperate situation. We had planned to save the children in the tractor, each person would carry two children, one on the back, and holding the other in our arms. Then, we took on the road, to escape, but we we could not find the place, we couldn’t. Someone came and asked us as to where we were heading? We told him that we were heading to Sarakani Tawera. He told us that we would not make it to Sarkani Tawera. He told us to go toward the lights that we could see in the dark, a place called Ababaili.

We took the road toward the light, a village called Ababaili. Once we got there, we saw that the place was deserted, it was also attacked. Because we were in a desperate situation, and on the road the children kept vomiting, and they were walking in their sleeps. I didn’t know what was happening, on the road, some of them kept saying, “Sister, I have to do my homework”. I didn’t know that the nerve gas had made the children lose their mind. I thought that they were asleep and were dreaming, talking in their sleep. No matter what, we had to carry them with us. We arrived in Ababaili, there was a house, half destroyed. We tried to get inside, on the other side, a door was open. We called out to the owner to come out, we didn’t know it was empty. There was nobody in the house, I told the other that we have no choice but to go inside and take refuge until next day.

When went inside the house, you could tell the place was crowded before, there were signs of life. We went into a room, all tired, wounded and in pain. We had come by the road, with the children, as if walking in a sleep, vomiting all the way, tired and confused. We put down the children in a room, they crawled to a corner. I went searching to get the children something to eat. I looked around, I could not find any food ready to eat. I opened a top of a container, it had milk in it. I tried to get the milk ready for the children. I could hear one of them shouting, “My eyes, I can’t  see, I’m blind”, I thought that she was exhausted and wanted to sleep, that is why she was saying, “I’m blind”. Another one shouted that he was also blind, then, everyone kept shouting that they were blind. They kept asking me how I could see? I told them, trying to comfort them; “No, you all are tired and sleepy, you are not blind”, I didn’t know what was happening. When I was about to warm up the milk, it didn’t take long, I went blind also. I sat down on, crawled into the room, joined the others, and from that moment on, I lost consciences.

Hawraman, Ashna and Awesar

There were nobody around to help us. Next morning, when my family had arrived at the place that we were supposed to meet, they could not find us. My husband started to search for us, he had looked everywhere, asked around. He had visited the Mosque in the town, and they had told him that there were some people in that house. When he found us, he thought that we were all dead, he came into the room crying. My brother, Luqman shouted to him that we were not dead, that we were alive, but all blind, we could not see anything. He took our hand, took each of us to the Mosque. He washed our eyes and face. Told us that this had happened to all the people in Halabja, we were not the only ones, that we had no choice but to escape to Iran.

After all the suffering in the hospital, and living in Iranian refugee camps, we always had a dream of coming back to our homeland, to return to our homes. After the death of all our relatives, all the suffering, we had no choice but to return to Iraqi Kurdistan again. We returned, the story of our return is as tragic as the attack on Halabja, it will take along time to tell it.

This is Halabja. This house is not the only example, in many places of Halabja, the same weapon was used. You see  all over Halabja, houses like this. We lived here for many years, now it is empty, it is empty because nobody want to come and live here. If you look closely into my eyes, you could see that I’m still wounded in the eyes. The wound that I have in my eyes is under constant doctor’s watch. I have lost my lungs, they no longer function. I have to get a surgery for my eyes in the future or I will go blind, there are many victims who had to get eye transplant because they were going blind.

Hawraman, Ashna and Awesar

Among the many who died in the cellar, from my family, I lost four of my sibling, two brothers and two sisters. Hawraman who was 8 years old, Ashna who was 10 years old, Wazera, who was 11 years old and Awesar who was 9 years old. I lost my Mom, my dad, and 17 other relatives. The final result that we got from hospitals,  22  victims from the cellar died in Iranian hospitals.

Every one want to live, to continue on living. But, what kind of life? A life without pain. We, in Halabja, after all that had happened to us, 25 years later, our suffering and pain still goes on. Everyday we live the day of the attack, because we are wounded, psychologically and physically, there are scars all over our bodies. The pain is still in our hearts, deep down, I suffer each second, remember that day on March 16, 1988, the day I lost everything that I cherished in life.


Here is also links to a few documentaries that I worked on in the past year:

Survivors of Iraqi Mass Graves aka One Thousand and One Apples (Taha Karimi) POST-PRODUCTION

Dress in Iraqi Kurdistan (Fulvia Alberti)

The Dark Side of Democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan (BBC)

Sulaimany Protest (Baudouin Koenig)

Making of 1001 Apples (Taha Karimi, 2013)

Culture, Politic, Recommended Reading, Update & News

One Thousand and One Apples. Hashem: second from left.. ©Avin Sharifi

For the past few weeks, I had a chance to work as an AD on a docu-fiction film, One Thousand and One Apples by Taha Karimi. The story of the film is about ten men, the only survivors alive today escaping from the mass executions during the Anfal Campaign of 1988. Out of estimated 182.000 civilian mass murdered, some buried alive under the sands of Southern Iraq, only these 10 men are alive today to tell their stories as a witness to such a crime. The film is a love poem in tolerance, hope and reconciliation.

I had the honor to meet them, talk to them. In the next few posts, I will try to post each person’s unique story with documents and photos that are all part of the archives of kak Omer Muhamad and his one man effort to gather data Anfal many published in his magazine, Anfalistan.


                                           The Kurimi Massacre: 28/8/1988

The Kurimi Massacre took place during the 8th stage of the Anfal Campaign, on 28/8/1988.

On August 8, 1988, a truce was announced between Iraq and Iran to end the long eight year bloody war between the two country. Ali Hasan Majid (Chemical Ali) took a chance to once and for all clear the border areas between Turkey and Iraq from the KDP’s militias, in a military campaign which is now known as the 8th stage of the Anfal Campaign.

The first stage of this campaign took place on 25/8/1988, attacking the villages in Badinan region and the border area with Turkey with Chemical weapons. The aim was to scare the population into submission, leaving their villages and livelihood into the various camps that were setup as a part of removing and re-populating the area.

After the Chemical attacks on 25th, on 28/8/1988, the ground forces moved into the area. Many of the villagers tired from moving and living in caves and hideout waved the white flag, surrendering to the Iraqi forces. The women and children were separated from the men, they were taking to the notorious Nzarki Qala (a concentration camp) and Mangesh Camp (re-populating camp). The men, 33 of them were told to take a walk outside the village, about 200 meter away from the village, within an hour, the massacre took place. Miraculously, out of the 33 men, 6 of them survived, one of them is Hashem Muhamad Rashed, and this is his story:

Survivers from Kurimi: Karim Naif. AbaBaker. Abduqahar. Hashem. ©Anfalistan/Omer Muhamad

My name is Hashem Muhamad Rashed, I was born in 1963 in Sulaimani, dropped out of high school during the 9th grade. I was recruited into the Iraqi army, and not wanting to serve in an army fighting a useless war, I deserted the army and went to stay at my relative in Kurimi Village near Duhok.

In 1988, Kurimi village had 150 families living in it, located in Duhok province, it is only two miles from Mangesh Camp. After the chemical attacks on 25/8/1988, the villagers decided to leave the area for safety, into Turkey. Unfortunately it was too late, the road leading to the borders were closed by Iraqi soldiers. With the inhabitants of another village, that of Chalke, now numbering around 200 people, confused and tired, we decided to head back home into Kurimi and surrender to the Iraqi army and the Kurdish collaborators with them (Jash), that was the day of 28/8/1988.

It was around 7:30 am when we decided to surrender. At first, we all stayed together, Women, Children and Men. After searching us for weapons, they separated us into two groups, Women and Children on one side and the Men on the other. They separated us three times, creating various groups. Khala, who is my uncle but much younger than me ended up with the Children and Women, he was a young boy, two time he ended up with the Men, on the third time, we forced him to stay with the Women and Children, that is how he survived and is still alive today. They took the Women and the Children away, there were 33 of us left in the village, only the men. They told us to walk, taking us to the south of the village, in one line we walked one after another for about 200 meters. Looking into the line from right to left, I was the second one from the right, but coming from left to right, I was the last two on the line. We walked by a vineyard, while walking and seeing the grapes, I thought to myself “This is the end of us, we are going to be killed”. My cousin, Abduqahar, he was beside me, I told him that we were gonna be killed any minuets. The treatment we got from the officer and by the look in their eyes suggested they were gonna shoot us. Lots of movement, they keep coming and going, talking on their radios all the times, with a large army of Soldiers and Collaborators surrounding us on all side. We stayed by the vineyard for a while, they brought us water to drink, we were sitting on the ground all the time, waiting. After drinking the water, they told us to move downward the hill, this time I was the first in line, with my cousin Abduqahar second behind me. We walked downhill for a short time, then they told us to sit down again. During that time while sitting back at the vineyard, sound of heavy distance gun shots could be heard all around us, we only heard the sound, didn’t know what it was for. Above us, on top of the hill stood the soldiers, just as they told us to sit, in the process of sitting down, I looked up toward the top of the hill, I could see a group of soldiers standing above me but I couldn’t see the rest behind or beside them, they were about two of three meter above us, maybe more. Just as we were about to sit down, I heard a voice shout “Fire” in Arabic, that is when they started shooting into us.

They shot at us wildly, lots of bullets were fired. They changed the first magazine, shooting with the second magazine, the sound of the bullets seemed to be hitting bodies, making a horrifying sound. Sound of shouting and crying could be heard, my cousin Abuqahar shouted as a bullet hit him on the ribs, as we laid down facing the ground, he looked at me and said “I’m wounded!”, I told him that I was not hit. I could feel the bullets hitting the ground beside my head, dust and small rocks taking of from the impact of the bullets and landing on my head. Whispering, I told that nothing has happened to me and if I survived I will help him. A young man beside Abduqahar on the other side had many bullets in him, blood dripping from his body, he was already dead. They changed the magazines on the Kalashnikov for the third time, shooting more wildly into us, I was not hit yet. Then a brief silence as I heard the commander shouting “Enough, shoot them one by one, the mercy shot”. A Soldier walked down toward us, coming down the hill, I could hear his footsteps, he stood right above me, my head between his boots. They say that a soul is not easily taken away, but I felt at that second, that my soul was leaving my body, felt as if I was breathing my last breath. I heard a shot and felt as if I was electrocuted in my legs, felt as if my legs were falling a part from each other, then a sharp pain in heart. He moved away from me, toward Abduqahar, but he didn’t shoot him, maybe because he was all red with blood coming from the young man beside him. By the time he walked down the line, he had finished a whole magazine on the bodies, then he walked up the hill and way from us.

For a while I stayed in my position as the Soldiers retreated back to Kurimi, away from us as far as 500 to 600 meters, being down a hill, they could not see us nor can we see them. Then suddenly, they started shooting bombs and shells into the hill, maybe it was their tactic to bombard us, and then claim that we were killed during a battle, sound of heavy shelling and bombs. By now, with  the summer grass being dry, the place caught fire. If I had stayed in my place, I would have burned alive and would not be here to tell you this story. As I tried to stand up, I saw Abduqahar, he was wounded on the chest, he could walk, I couldn’t. As he tried to help me stand up, Karim Naif stood up on the far side, he was alive, he had one bullet wound on his shoulder, as he had landed under a person beside him during the shooting. Abduqahar told Karim to try and stop the fire for it was indecent for a dead body to be burned. Karim did his best to stop the fire, using his bare hand, being a young man with no experience, he couldn’t stop the fire, his hands catching fires at times. He returned to help Abduqahar in carrying me away from the fire to safety. At that time, I thought that only the three of us had survived. I told them to go and leave me in my place, to return soon to rescue me. Abduqahar told me “If I make it to safety I will return and rescue you, if not, that mean I’m dead”.

I stayed behind, alone, I looked back into the bodies, I could see only black smokes, with a greenish fire setting alight the dead bodies. I stayed in my place for 20 minutes, then I tried to walk, I grabbed the ground with my fist, stood up, I was about to fall down again to the ground for I was very weak, but I hold my ground. I was wearing Adidas shoe, the cheap ones that were made in Iran, just as I put down my foot to the ground, blood poured out the of shoe into the dry yellowish grass. I walked painfully for 20 meters, away from the village, that is when I saw AbaBaker. He was also wounded,  he had managed to escape by crawling on his hands away from the fire,  he couldn’t walk. I asked him “What we should do?”. He told me to walk away and rescue myself, that Abduqahar and Karim will come back to rescue him. I walked away. I didn’t dare take the road for I was bleeding, to hide all traces of blood and footsteps, anywhere there were grass I would walk that way, for I knew the soldiers would soon count the bodies and know some are missing, then they would come searching for us.

With a blood dripping down to the ground, leaving traces, behind me an army of Soldiers and Collaborators, ahead of me Abduqahar and Karim, maybe even safety ahead, I stood in my place for a second, thinking of what to do next as I looked over the yellowish grass covering the mountains.

Hashem standing in the middle…..©Avin Sharifi

I decided to walk, no matter how painful it was walking on a half broken leg. After a while I arrived at a small creek, it is called Bosai Sheri Cham, as I was about to get to the creek, I saw Abduqahar and Karim, I called them twice, they got scared at first from hearing my voice trying to hide, on the second calling they realized who I was. I arrived to join them, just as I sat down to relax, we could hear a distance sound of a chopper. We went into the trees to hide until the chopper despaired. Abduqahar and Karim went away for a short time to search, they brought back a horse, they put me on the horse as as we went looking for what we could find from the hideout places that the villagers had all over the mountains in case of emergency. We found a first aid kit, gathered some cloth to wrap up our wounds with. Abduqahar knew the area well, he told us about a good hideout place, the place was down the creek. As fast as we could, we cleaned the wound and wrapped it in clean cloth, cleaned ourselves by the creek. We heard a voices getting near, it was the sound of Sadiq, he had also survived but wounded like all of us. Sadiq was from the village of Chalke, a bullet had ripped apart half of his hand, Abduqahar had to use a knife to cut off one of his finger to pull out the bullet.

We dug a hole, hiding the bloody clothes in it.We stayed by the creek that night. Silence, moody and scary night it was, I could never forget that night. Death were everywhere, smell of blood. In the dark, the rocks and the trees seems to me like dead bodies surrounding us from all side. A terrible night it was. In the morning, Abduqahar went to the top of a hill looking down on Kurimi, to check the surrounding area, especially the troop movement. He was wounded like all of us, but he could walk better than any of us, he had a bullet in his chest, breathing hard at times. He came back and told us “The troops are still in their places, many tanks occupying the area”. We couldn’t show ourselves, we each had a tree branch with out, every time we would move, we would hide the traces of our footsteps. The area we stayed had a pond of water gathered in it, about two feet deep, trees and grass hiding us from the view with a big tree casting its shadow on us. I slept down by the pond, Abduqahar, Karim and Sadiq slept on both side of it. We were hungry, very hungry. Abduqahar went and brought back a few tomatoes and a sack of nuts. We divided the sack of nuts equally, each time a person would get 27 nuts to eat, no more than 27 so it would last us for a while, we didn’t know how long we were gonna stay.During the 8 days of the hideout, we also had two cantaloupe, we only ate on of them. One day Karim walked into a deserted village, brought back a few pieces of bread, he told us that a dog was eating the bread and he had to chase the dog away to get it.

From August 28 and on, a day after the crime, we had no more control over our destiny. We had no hope and that made all of us very weak, no more strength to do anything. Everyday until September 5th, Abduqahar would walk up the hill, come down and tell us that “The troops and tanks are still in their places”. I told them many times to leave and they should save themselves, but Abduqahar would not listen, “I would rather kill you here than leave you like this” he would say. We stayed by the creek for 8 days. Then on the 8th, troop movement, we heard a distance sound of soldiers coming toward us, they were talking in Arabic “Come, Come”, the commander shouting at them, at times sound of gun shots could be heard. That night we decided to leave the place, Abduqahar brought the horse. At a distance of 1 kilometer, we found a cave, it is called the Black Cave, we stayed in the cave that night. It was a dark night, rarely you could see anything, we had no more medicine nor food left, we had no choice but to get separated, Abduqahar and Karim decided to walk into a nearby village. I stayed with Sadiq.

After half an hour, I could hear sound of people talking. I told Sadiq that the troop had founded us and at any minutes they would come to get us. Not known to me, that morning, Abduqahar and Karim surrendered themselves up to the collaborators (Jash) in the village. Karim had come with them to show them our place, he shouted at us not to be scared, that the collaborators arresting us were from a known tribe famous for their honesty, they had promised not to harm us. They came into the cave, with them a pot full of meat, we had not eaten a decent meal for 8 days, it made us happy to see a pot full of meat, very happy.

The collaborators put me on a horse, at first they were scared to be found out that they are helping us by the Iraqi army or spies working for the army, so they took us by the creek, told us not to move from our place. They left, later two of them got back with sugar and tea, told us they would not return anytime soon for the troops might suspect them. Now, I was alone with Sadiq. On September 6, toward the afternoon, heavy gun fires could be heard, Sadiq burst into tears fearing that Abduqahar and Karim were executed, they got shot. But the shooting turned out to a good news as Karim ran down the hill toward us shouting “I have good news, I have good news. general amnesty has been declared by Saddam”, the shots were for celebration. Three collaborator later came to carry me to the village, their Mostashar (commander of the collaborators) knew my relative, he treated us with dignity. They cleaned my wound, wrapped new clean cloth around the wound, then took us to Mangish Camp, we were now at the hand of the camp’s manager. Some of the spies in the place recognized us, we told the manager the truth, that we escaped from the Kurimi Massacre, he told us “No one can touch you anymore, for the word and amnesty of our leader, Saddam Hussien is the law of the land”

Later, they took us to a military camp in Batufa, then the same day they took us to Birsipi camp near Zakho. At the camp there was a Doctor from Baghdad, he cleaned my wound again, very respectable man he was. Next day they took us to Nzarki Qala concentration camp, that is where the real tragedy start. Everyday, just to torture us, they would take us up and down the stairs into the yard, back and forth, hundreds of people packed into little rooms like animals, no food to eat. The people told us many horrible tales of the time before the general amnesty, they told us that every day the guards would take the men out into the yard and smash their heads with bricks, like watermelon, just for the fun of it. Few men were left in the camp when we arrived. We stayed in Nzarki Qala for two days, then they took us to Bahraka Camp, with an Eva car full of us, packed to the limit, hungry and dirty, they drove us into Bahraka Camp through Duhok just to humiliate us, passerby standing on the sidewalks looking at us. The driver of the Eva was a Shia from south Iraq, he was a good man, knowing that I was wounded, he put me in front to sit beside him, he told me that we were lucky to be alive, I asked him why he is saying such a thing, “You are lucky, because you guys have been fighting Saddam for 20 years and he pardon you. But we, we are from the South, they don’t trust us, they give us guns with no bullets in it, when we face you in a fight, you shoot at us or we have to shoot at you, one has to kill the other but none of us want to kill the other one”, he showed me his Kalashinkove, it had no bullets in it. We started telling each other about our miseries.

We ended up in Jezhina Camp, we stayed there for a while. Then one day, hundreds of people from Erbil came to rescue us, I would never forget them for treating us in such a decent manner, they brought us food, they brought us everything, from a smallest item like a needle to large stacks of foods, if it not were for them, we would all be dead. At first the guards would not allow them to come to the camp to give us food, they would beat them, humiliate them, but they kept coming. That is how we were saved. The people took me to a hospital in Erbil. I stayed there for a week, most of the Doctor knew who I was, but they kept silent, even if that mean risking their own life. On September 29, I had a surgery on my leg, Doctor Muhamad Bajalani did the surgery, here is the tragedy of us the Kurds, he saved my life, but he was killed himself during the Kurdish civil war of the 90s, he is no longer with us. Later as I would visit Doctor Muhamad Bajalani for treatment, I would pay the fee, but then a little later he would send the money back to me. A decent man he was.

To make a long story short, I stayed with Abduqahar at Jezhina Camp until the uprising of 1991, we could leave the camp at times, I would go and visit my family in Sulaimani or relative in Erbil. We lived in a tent, I tried to work and build a decent house in the camp, left for Sulaimani in 1992. I got married in 1995, now I have a boy and a girl. I survived, I’m alive, but more than half the inhabitant of Kurimi are not, they were all murdered, mass murdered during the Anfal Campaign. That was my story.

The Art of Walking

Art and Literature, Culture


You may say that there is no art in walking, but there is. Picture yourself sitting on an airplane, waiting for a take off, you have been sitting in your place for more than 45 minute and you look out at the window as people come and go, but you are stuck in your place. Then imagine being on that seat for more than 12 hours, I guarantee you the greatest joy you will have is when you get of that airplane, as you take your first step, Walking. That  happened to me a while ago as I was on a plain from Chicago to Istanbul.  What made the walking so joyful after coming of that plain was the fact was that I had just read a wonderful writing by Henry David Thoreau during the flight, titled, you guessed it right, Walking.

King of Walking: Alan Delon in Le Samourai

Nowadays as I take a walk around Sulaimani, at times my memory goes to that book, how can you make an art out of walking? Well, the first thing you have to do is to know that you are walking, a silly thing to say perhaps, but few think to themselves, thinking about walking, when they walk. When you walk, there is a reason for it, if you could avoid that reason when you walk, then you have discovered the Art of Walking. During his acting courses, the one essential things that Constantin Stanislavskiy taught his student was to find a reason for everything, including taking a single step; why are you taking that step? He would ask them, after a short inquiry, he would always find a reason for taking that step, that reason kills your enjoyment in walking.

Back to Nature….Back to Walden

Think back at a time that you had a great walk? I bet you that the odds are 10 to 1 that your best time walking has been when you had no reason to walk. We all have that moments of walking with our friends just for the sake of walking and talking, when, you find yourself in a strange place not knowing how you got there, that is the art of walking. Not knowing the reason of why you walk, is the joy in walking. Take out all the psychology and reason, just walk. That happened to me recently during a visit to Barcelona, we had many walk around the city, without knowing where we were walking too? And why we were walking?

The Old Neighborhoods in Suli

When I was in elementary school, I had to walk 30 to 45 minutes each way to get to school and back. For six years, I walked every day back and forth. I could describe every inch of the way between my house and the school. Sometimes I would count how many step it will take to get to school and I would try to beat that number next day. Some days, when I was about to get late to class, I would change my usual route a little and take a short cut, when I was early arriving, I would  play the game of “lines”, the game is simple: You would avoid stepping into a line, be it a crack in the ground, the lines in the pavement, a trash on the ground, a piece of stick, anything that would make a shape of a line you would have to avoid stepping on it. I took the game too seriously at times, I would arrive late to class instead of early, the game was not always easy, there was one neighborhood, which had a fancy designs in its pavement with very small square and triangular shapes spread out all over the place, you had to step on it sideways in order to fit your shoe in between the lines. I visited that neighborhood a few weeks ago, the fancy design was still there but aged with more cracks and lines in it, I tried to put my foot in one of the square, no way amigo, my foot covered both the square and the triangle, no choice but to give up the game.

I could walk for no reason, but, the one thing that I can’t do is to sit in one place for no reason, even when I’m at home and I have nothing to go, I start walking back and forth in the room, back and forth. That is why I’m amazed by the patience of the shopkeepers (not to mention all the traffic cops standing all day in the middle of the street during summer, with the temperature reading 98 F at times). There are some shopkeepers that I see daily in the Bazaar, they stay in their shop almost for an entire day, from morning to evening, to get more comfortable sometime they bring out a chair of a sofa  into the front of the shop, right into the street, they sit all day on that chair, gazing at people passing. Not to forget the Booksellers at Bardarky Sara. They may have a reason to stay there, for they make a living, but what about all those Young men around Orzi Stree (one of the main street in the center of the city)? Just take a walk in the evening and you will be amazed at how many people stand on the edge of the pavement doing nothing, but looking at passerby, same faces everyday standing there. Some of them park their cars in a park, walk a few feet, stand there with some friend for hours, then take a walk back a few feet to the car, drive home, back again tomorrow. One time I was with a friend, he had to give one of his friend a book that he had borrowed, we walked to Orzi Street to give back the book, I asked him if he had an appointment with him, “No”, “Then, how you know he is gonna be there?”, “I know, because every evening he stand there”, he was right, he was standing there.

The Neighborhoods of Sabunkaran

I got so tired of seeing the same faces every evening walking home by Orzi Street that I started to take another route, which take us to the question; how do you choose your route to walk? Take my case; since I have moved into a new house, I have tried various routes to walk and I have settled with one route that I take regularly to get to to the Sara Square: It is a short cut and it goes by the old neighborhoods of Sabunkaran, the oldest neighborhood in Sulaimani. Many of the houses looks like the days they were made, houses made of mud bricks, the architecture goes back to the early days in the city, to the days of the Ottoman Empire. As for the street, narrow and twisty, at every ten meter there is a turn, the houses and streets  not changed for generation. The streets were made for horses and carriages, yet, now, there are countless number of cars taking the route as a short cut to get to the downtown area, there is barely a space for one car to drive, yet cars come and go in both direction.

As you take a walk, there is a car driving behind you and one in front of you, one stop and the other stop, one has to drive back or make a turn to let the other one drive by, as for you, you have to squeeze yourself in a corner and hope none of them run you over. It is a nightmare at times to take walk in those streets, you have to watch every step you take when there are cars around. When there is no car, especially at nights, it is the best place to walk, very quite, with the lights coming from the houses, reflecting on the walls. The scenery is right out of a film-noir, light and shadow playing on the street and the walls. The streets are so familiar to each other, all twisty and narrow, if you make a wrong turn and can’t get back on your track, then consider yourself lost. It will take you a while walking to get back and find the right direction, believe me, it had happened to me.

Walking Breathless

What about the Art of Walking in Cinema?  Nobody captures the art of Walking in cinema like Jean-Luc Godard: Most memorable moments in a Godard film come from two characters walking and talking, most of the time they just walk for the sake of walking, no psychology or reason behind it. Belmando and Karina walking amid the trees in Pierrot Le Fou (1965) , they walk and walk, then suddenly bursting into singing. Memorable moment in Breathless (1959), Belmando and Seberg walking in Champs Elysées. If Weekend (1967) is about driving and walking, then My Life to Live (1962) is all about walking, a portrait of  Anna Karina walking the streets.

Nine minutes and 43 seconds to run through Louvre

Sometime character even run in a Godard film, just for the sake of running, the famed running of Louvre Museum in Bande a Part (1964). The coolest walking on the screen had to go to Alain Delon in Melville’s Le Samourai (1967), the guy knows how to walk, he is the king of walking. Or, take Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset  (2004), a  film about walking,  those giveaway moments as the camera walk with the characters, as they move around the streets of Paris, trying to register those few precious moments they have together into eternity.

Walking Before Sunset

Back to Henry David Thoreau, what did he consider to be the greatest joy in walking? If you have read Walden, you will probably know the answer, Thoreau loved nature, and he considered walking alone in nature as the greatest joy one can get in solitude:

“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall? Even some sects of philosophers have felt the necessity of importing the woods to themselves, since they did not go to the woods. “They planted groves and walks of Platanes,” where they took subdiales ambulationes in porticos open to the air. Of course it is of no use to direct our steps to the woods, if they do not carry us thither. I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is–I am out of my senses. “

Walking like Anna Karina in Pierrot le Fou

So, next time when trying to take a walk, don’t think about it, just walk, that is the art of walking.