Impressions from Shengal: “Derwishes of our hearts"

“You brought along bread, water and your pure hearts. Now we bid you farewell with roses and prayers to Tawusî Melek."

Witnessing historic days puts a heavier burden on one's shoulders than would be expected. Witnessing every step in the country as it develops, being involved in what is happening gives the self a historic responsibility. On August 4 to 7, 2014, I had photographed the guerillas who rose up against the Shengal firman and rushed to the scorching desert from their mountains. They were all sorrowful, furious and extremely proud. Most of them had their weapons, and some bread and water. They gave life to whoever they were able to reach. They protected the people with their weapons, and gave water to the parched lips of children. They made bread from their souls for the hungry. They gave hope to eyes opened wide with terror, fearing death. They touched thousands of people and gave them a mountain of faith in themselves and what is beautiful.


Nobody who saw their proud and clean faces could ever forget them. There was a massacre in front of the whole world to see, and everybody was blind. Only the guerilla saw the wound Shengal had. A handful of brave people said no to the massacre that the world did not want to see, and drew their weapons against all evil like the horsemen for freedom. I’m not going to lie, at the time I had looked at the guerilla who rushed down the mountains to Shengal and their individual weapons, and asked myself: “How will they succeed against the horrible Leviathanof the ages and the antichrist of their own time with these tiny weapons?” Nobody else heard me say this, and I’m glad they didn’t because those guerillas proved everybody wrong. This I saw better today. Thehcfudnt come to conquer land, they conquered hearts. They believed in the power of their heart that stood tall as mountains behind their weapons, and ran towards the evil to face it.


And it’s April 1, 2018. Four years have passed, and I’m now witnessing and documenting the withdrawal of the last guerilla group from the Shengal Mountain with the joint decision by KCK and HPG. They suffered the most pain, and took a people by the hand to pull them out of hell. And I photographed them.


All the people of Shengal gathered in the Shengal martyrs’ cemetery. There is a huge crowd like the judgement day. Mothers, pirs, young people, children and YBŞ/YJŞ fighters are lined up to say goodbye. They give each guerilla a yellow flower that symbolizes separation and a Tawusî Melek pin. The loudspeakers blast the stran “Emê biçin heval, emê herin heval”. Children recite the poems they wrote for the guerillas.


Everybody, without exception, is crying. Only the guerillas hide their tears. They stand so proud, so dignified that one almost wants to scold them: “You came so the children would not cry, and you made them all cry when you leave!”, or “You came to a ruined Shengal and now you stole every heart, and will take them with you”. We don’t kow what the guerillas think, they always keep their secrets. Even when the volcanoes of their hearts erupt, they keep it all contained so nobody would get burned. But I can see that none of the guerillas could take their eyes off of the graves of their friends, and that was when I fell to my knees, sobbing. Most of the first guerilla group to arrive are now lying in this cemetery. I thought of their eyes and felt the warmth of their hands.


Amed, who was beaten up by a teacher for speaking Kurdish and then never spoke Turkish again, Nûjiyan, and her curly hair, and stars in her eyes, Tîrej, assassin and comedian, Berîvan, and her honey coloured eyes... all of them and more are here in the cemetery. The burden of knowing them all and the sorrow of guerillas who left their comrades here mix together.


Yadê Xoxê with her bright white dresses and light in her face could feel that the guerillas can’t tear themselves away from the cemetery, and cried into the microphone laying her feelings bare: “We will look after the martyrs now, they come before our own children, we will take care of them all. You leave today with the clothes you had when you came. You have no possessions but your backpacks and your weapons, and so much love. You are the derwishes of our hearts, clean as the running waters. You brought along bread, water and your pure hearts. Now we but you farewell with roses and prayers to Tawusî Melek,” said Xoxê and gave the silver and gold adorned Tawusî Melek amulet to the female guerilla commander. She put her hands up and prayed, among her tears. The mother's description of the guerilla was so beautiful: bread, water and roses. Pure hearts and prayers.


I watched every second of this hours long farewell scene. Children would grab the skirts of their mothers and say crying, “Bila neçin” (“I wish they wouldn’t go"), then would look at the pins the guerillas gave them. Children with huge eyes kissed all the guerillas, and the guerillas put their weapons behind their backs when the children came, kneeled down for them and said their last words: “Em ne dûr in, nezi we ne. Hûn kengî bixwazin emê dîsa werin” (“We are not far away, we are close to you. We will come back whenever you want us.”) and “Negrî eyb e lo tu mezin bûyî” (“Don’t cry, it’s not proper, you are grown up now") And the guerillas would tickle them.


The youth stood in front of the vehicles and tried to stop the guerillas from leaving countless times. They would jump in front of cars and say, “Either don't go, or take us with you.” But the guerillas had to go, in respect to the decision that was made. When they couldn’t break through the barricade of youngsters, they drove into the desert and disappeared in the dust.

They had come in a sand storm just like this one. Mothers sat by the road they left on and cried until night fell. They poured water and threw candies to their path.


They sowed the seeds of a free life, and they left. They left the gift of names to the children, Vînar, Zîlan, Çeko, Armanc... They left after reviving a people from a massacre and they gave them hope for their wounds. They left the life they built to the conscience of women and they went away. They left behind a great Êzîdî army (YBŞ-YJŞ).

At their last stop, as the people attempted to stop the guerilla from leaving once more, Iraqi soldiers couldn’t hold back their tears either. “Being loved like this is not gifted to many. All armies who fight for money should sit down and cry because they will never be loved so much,” said an old man. The old wisdom had said the last wordonce again.