Facing new flight, Turkish Kurds in Iraq long for home
Families who once fled a Turkish crackdown on Kurdish rebels in the 1990s now languish in a mosque in northern Iraq after escaping from brutal jihadists, longing to return home.
Hajyawa: Families who once fled a Turkish crackdown on Kurdish rebels in the 1990s now languish in a mosque in northern Iraq after escaping from brutal jihadists, longing to return home.
They lived as refugees in Makhmur, a town in northern Iraq, until the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, which spearheaded a militant offensive that has overrun large areas of Iraq, forced them to leave.
Hundreds of thousands of people across northern Iraq have fled violence which has seen members of minority groups face kidnapping and death, but for these Kurdish families, it is not the first time they have been displaced.
"I have suffered displacement a total of nine times in my life. I`ve been a refugee for 20 years," says Ramazan Mohammed Khalil, a 47-year-old father of six who lived in Makhmur alongside some 10,000 other Kurds from Turkey.
Makhmur is now a ghost town, inhabited only by fighters from the Kurdistan Workers` Party (PKK), a nationalist militant group which less than a week ago wrested it back from IS control.
IS militants still hold positions nearby, some in villages located just around seven kilometres (four miles) away from the town.
But for now, Khalil and his family, who speak Turkish as well as Kurdish, live in this mosque in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Hajyawa, around three hours away from Makhmur.
Other refugee families are scattered in around 30 other mosques nearby, as well as in six schools.
"I was 24 years old when I fled Turkey," Khalil says.
"This month, we fled just as they (the IS) were about to attack, because we`d heard of the massacres they committed in other Kurdish areas like Sinjar," he says of a nearby area inhabited by the Yazidi religious minority that was hit by a fierce jihadist assault.
At the mosque in Hajyawa, women bake traditional flat bread in the courtyard, while others wash their children`s clothes using taps usually reserved for people performing ablution before prayers.
The sun beats down, and many find the heat unbearable, seeking comfort instead under electric fans installed inside the prayer area.For Halima Abdullah, a 40-year-old mother wearing an ivory-coloured lace veil over her hair and a brown velvet traditional robe, the IS attack has stirred profound nostalgia for the village she and her family abandoned when she was just 11 years old.
"I am from Sharnakha (in Turkey) and I remember the village well. At that time, the Turkish government, with its warplanes and tanks, attacked us and forced us to flee. Now, (the IS) forced us innocent civilians to flee again," says Abdullah, blue eyes contrasting with her deep olive skin.
The PKK in Turkey launched an armed rebellion in 1984. The violence was worst in the 1990s, when government forces razed some 3,000 Kurdish villages.
The conflict followed the refugees it created, with recurring fights between the PKK and a rival Kurdish group in Iraq.
Civilians like Abdullah, who had no part in the fighting, keep the hope of return alive, as the pain of renewed flight brings back old memories.
"We want to return to our ancestral villages. We want to rebuild our homes. My home is there," she says.
She remembers her family`s village as being "very nice. There was nature everywhere, trees and fields, sheep and mountains."
Next to her, on a straw mat laid out on the floor of the Hajyawa mosque, sleeps her one-year-old son, one tiny foot sticking out from under a blue blanket.
Even for Ismail Ibrahim, a 24-year-old who was four when his family fled Turkey, return is the only answer.
"Our villages in Turkey are our land, that is our place. But the Kurdish problem needs to be solved before we can ever return," says Ismail, a smiling man in a blue checkered shirt.
"Here (in Iraq), I will only ever have a temporary home."