After training and preparing for months, we have finally arrived. On July 9th we landed at the Sulaymaniyah airport early in the morning, where members of the kurdish movement picked us up to take us straight to the Refugee Camp of Makhmur. After more than 3 hours by car, and around four check-points (of both the Peshmerga of the KRG, the Iraqí army), we arrived at the last check-point. This one was not under the control of any of the above, but of the Community of Makhmur.
Straight to the Reception House, where we are greeted with tea. The atmosphere is familiar: separate rooms for men and women and a common space where meals and warm conversations are shared. Flags of the movement, images of Abdullah Öcalan and of many martyrs fallen in the war against Daesh and the Turkish army. The kurds are a people with an inmense desire for peace, but who have lived through 40 years of war. Self-defense and resistance against the various states that have tried to eliminate their culture have been the only ways they have found to survive.
Makhmur is a different kind of Refugee Camp. You won’t find the clasical ONU and ACNUR tents, there is not an army of ONG members controlling and administrating basic needs. Makhmur is part of the kurdish democratic movement, and a place where their ideology, Democratic Confederalism, comes to life. Democratic self-government, women’s liberation and the importance of youth, culture and ecologism are revealed, to a greater or lesser extent, in different ways.
One of the first things that you notice when you arrive to Makhmur is how green the city is. The Municipality (the highest administrative organ in the Camp) makes en enormous effort to bring plant life to what is originally the desert. We find trees, bushes, grass and even small vegetable gardens in and around each family’s home. On the other hand, in the surroundings there are only mountains of sand and the views are of brown and yellow shades. The dust in the air prevents you from seeing the sun clearly but does not avoid the stifling heat, a constant 40ºC all day long.
The communication barrier is a big impediment. Our Kurmanji (the kurdish language) is very basic, this is the reason why the Municipality has provided a translator that accompanies and helps us at all times. He is a teacher at the local school who speaks fluent English.
These first two days have been a marathon of visits, interviews and conversations. Here is a brief overview of what we have visited.
Forty years of guerrilla entail thousands of prisoners in Turkish prisons and men and women killed in combat. All of the inhabitants of Makhmur have lost a family member in the guerilla. The kurdish community gets together in centres such as this one to honour the memory of the martyrs and continue their struggle. The Association works on maintaining the memorial, supporting the families in all ways possible and organising periodic meetings with them.
Promoting traditional and popular culture is a constant in the kurdish movement. Generating spaces for socialisation through collective learning is one of the roads to life in freedom. A children’s television program is recorded and emitted, organised by and for the youngest in the Camp. There is a semi-professional recording studio, a room with musical instruments, a theatre group and a huge auditorium outdoors, where the performances are organised.
Youth is considered the spearhead of the the kurdish democratic movement. The generation that brings a new world and builds a life in freedom. In their headquarters there is space for leisure: basketball and volleyball courts, a ping-pong table, gardens and a room for political training. It is the young people who best embody the revolutionary spirit of the movement. We have spent an enjoyable time amongst tea and chocolate, chatting about the different perspectives with respect to capitalism, the various ways of fighting against it and building a life in freedom.
Apart from these spaces we have visited and interviewed people from the Women’s Organisation, who count with many houses and a cooperative café. We have discovered the history of the Refugee Camp of Makhmur, their forms of organisation and the administration of the Municipality. Our time to write and our internet access is limited. As soon as we can, we will continue communicating on the different subjects as throughly as possible.
July 11th from the Refugee Camp of Makhmur.
Makhmur’s cooperatives pictures: