“I feel free thanks to music and thanks to being a Kurdish woman doing what she likes”
In 2020, CIEMEN began an international cooperation project about rights, refugees, and cinema, thanks to the close collaboration with two Kurdish organizations in Amed, the Middle East Film Academy and the Association for Research and Monitoring Migration in Mesopotamia. The Rights and Cameras project, funded by the Barcelona Metropolitan Area, has sought to help empower 30 young Kurdish Syrian refugees in Amed to exercise their own cultural, economic, and legal rights, both individually and collectively, considering their needs and interests, with cinema as a tool. In December 2020, Nudem decided to participate in the Rights and Cameras project with a lot of desire to learn new things and many stories to tell.
Musician, dubbing actress, aspiring film director, and 360-degree artist, Nudem Mihemed in this interview tells us about her experience as a young refugee and how she has been able to find her identity by looking at the refugee journey as an opportunity, a “new beginning”, as her name “Nudem” literally means in Kurdish.
Nationalia: How do you remember your life in Kobane?
Nudem Mihemed: I can’t remember all the details of my life in Kobane, but we used to live in a small neighbourhood, with many families and many children. All the time, during the celebrations like Newroz, we were spending time together and I had many friends.
I was 6 when I ceased to go to school due to the war. My school wasn’t a good school. It was a public and Arab school. Most of the teachers at school were Arabs, but even the Kurdish ones had to speak and teach in Arabic, as it was compulsory. Neither me nor the Kurdish teachers were allowed to speak in Kurdish at school.
As a result, I didn’t learn how to write or read in Kurdish at school, but I took some classes after school in order to learn how to write and read it.
N: How did you imagine your life in Amed, before coming?
N. M.: Thanks to my father’s work (he often traveled to Amed, mostly every month) I knew many things about the city. He was always saying great things about Amed: how kind the people were, how beautiful the city was..., so I was keen on going to Amed. I had always dreamed about visiting Amed one day.
«My father called us and asked us to immediately pack up and leave the house. My mother and my older sister started crying, and I realised I was the only one packing up»In my family we are 5 siblings, and I am the middle one. I perfectly remember the exact date when my family, my grandparents and me fled from Kobane to Amed: the 20th of December of 2014. Before that day we knew that war was going on, but we had decided that we wouldn’t leave the country until things would become tougher. I think we were one of the last families remaining in Kobane, at that time. Then, the 20th of December, my father called us from the Kurdish association that he worked for, and asked us to immediately pack up and leave the house. Suddenly, my mother and my older sister started crying, and I realised I was the only one packing up. Then, we went to my grandparents’ place nearby to bring them with us and flee together.
During our journey from Kobane to Turkey, we had to walk on a lane where there were land mines until we could cross the border. The journey wasn’t too difficult because it lasted only one day. We started fleeing in the morning and in the night we were already sleeping in Turkey, near the border. When we reached the border, the Turkish authorities were welcoming us, and facilitated a lot our arrival.
The first night we stayed at the house of one of my father’s friends in Suruç, about 2 hours from Kobane. The day after we took a bus straight to Amed, where a local Kurdish association took care of us immediately, and brought us to a hotel reserved for refugees from Kobane and Sengal. We stayed in that hotel for 7 months. There were many families and children from Syria, so we always played together and celebrated holidays, or went to the park. After 7 months, we finally moved to a proper house.
N: As a child, how have you lived this journey?
«I wasn’t afraid at all, I was excited to come to Amed. Actually, I was feeling as we were going on vacation… I didn’t expect we would have stayed away from Kobane for so long»N. M.: I wasn’t afraid at all, I was so happy and excited to come to Amed. Actually, I was feeling as we were going on vacation… I didn’t expect we would have stayed away from Kobane for so long… I was only 10 and I didn’t know many things about war, so I wasn’t 100 percent conscious about why we were leaving. I thought it was for just one month, or one year, to be able to see the world, but I wasn’t expecting the war to be so long and tough.
N: And what about your family?
N. M.: My youngest sister was 2 years old when we fled to Amed. She cannot remember anything about that trip or about our life in Kobane. But my mum and my sister were so sad... I was asking myself why.
N: Would you like to move back to Kobane?
N. M.: In 2015 my grandparents and my older sister moved back to Kobane. My father went with them for only one month and then came back to Amed, while my sister and my grandparents stayed there. My father would have liked to come back to Kobane one day, to stay with my grandparents, but they passed away last year, so now there is no reason to move back.
«My older sister is now in Kobane. She tells us good things about the city, like it is safe. But my younger brother is very afraid to go back because he got traumatised from our escaping journey… because of the bombs»My older sister is now in Kobane, but she cannot come back to Turkey because she has lost her refugee status there, merely because of the fact of going back to Kobane. Thus, we cannot go back to live there if we want to keep our refugee status. However, we can travel twice per year to Kobane from Turkey, if we get permission from the Turkish authorities. In 2022, all my family will try for the first time since we fled in 2014 to travel to Kobane and visit my sister. It would be my first time in Kobane after 8 years in Turkey. My younger brother is very afraid to go back because he got traumatised from our escaping journey… because of the bombs… so now, every time that we are calling my sister by phone, she shows us pictures of Kobane and tells us good things about the city, like it is safe, so that we all come and visit her.
N: After the attempt by local Kurdish local politicians in Amed to declare an autonomous self-rule government in Amed’s central neighbourhood of Suriçi in August 2015, the Turkish police tried to stop any demonstration using plastic bullets, tear gas, and water cannons, as well as a curfew on many Kurdish cities —including Amed— weas imposed. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict degenerated into a proper civil war in Suriçi, where heavy artillery was used by the Turkish army and police against the Kurdish militias, during December 2015 and March 2016. Suriçi endured massive destruction, many people (including refugees from Syria that had fled to Suriçi after the beginning of the war in Syria) having to flee to other neighbourhoods or even to other cities. Many civilians were killed and the Kurdish democratically elected politicians were replaced for Turkish trustees directly controlled by Erdogan’s government. As a refugee who escaped from a war in 2014, how was living again another civil war in Suriçi in 2016?
N. M.: For many families, living the civil war in 2016 in Suriçi was very difficult, as many of them had already lived the war in Syria and were now undergoing again another war in the country where they were seeking protection. Kobane and the neighbourhood of Suriçi are very similar, in terms of way of living and architecture; therefore many families from Kobane moved to Suriçi after escaping from Kobane. They had to live a war shock twice and had to flee to other neighbourhoods when the civil war in Suriçi started. My family and I, we lived in another neighbourhood near Suriçi, but we knew many families that were living there.
N: What helped you in beginning a new life in Amed?
N. M.: For my father it was easy to start a new life in Amed, because he already knew so many people here thanks to his previous job, and thus he was able to quickly find a job.
In Amed, I went to the Kurdish school for two years, but then the Turkish authorities closed it. It wasn’t difficult for me to get out of the school again, because at that time I was used to it. Then I attended for two years a public school in Arabic, which UNICEF had opened in Amed for refugees from Syria. Afterwards I decided that I would like to be a musician and so I came to Ma Muzik Centre. I discovered Ma Muzik because, when I was still attending the Arabic UNICEF school, my brother and I were taking music classes in the weekends, but suddenly they stopped because our teacher could not keep on doing them for personal issues. So, he suggested us to take some afterclass lessons at Amed’s Aram Tigran Music Conservatory, that was later replaced by Ma Muzik Centre.
N: Are you in contact with other people from Kobane in Amed?
N. M.: Yes, we have many friends from Kobane in Amed, especially many families. We gather during holidays or celebrations.
N: How is the relationship between Kurdish people from Amed and Kurdish or Arab people from Syria currently living in Amed? And between Kurdish people and Arab people from Syria living in Amed?
N. M.: The relationship between Kurdish people from Amed and Kurdish or Arab people from Syria sometimes is good but sometimes is not. There is often some jealousy between them because Kurds from Amed think that Syrian refugees take a lot of money from the Turkish government, and they live in better conditions in Turkey, which is a myth. While, between Kurds and Arabs from Syria living in Amed, everything is good, as far as I know.
N: And how is the relationship between these two groups (Kurds and Arabs) and Turks in Amed?
N. M.: They don’t make issues on us, we don’t have many problems with the Turkish population. Sometimes we have problems with the Turkish police, especially on freedom of movement. As Syrian refugees we cannot travel inside of Turkey freely. If we want to, we need to apply for a special PDF certificate and permission that the Turkish government has to approve. This is only about travelling by plane or bus, because the police usually only stop buses at check points, but they don’t normally control private cars, so we can travel without that certificate by car. Generally, it isn’t difficult to get that permission, but sometimes the police doesn’t allow the trip.
N: How do you think the Turkish government policies against Kurdish people have an impact in your daily life? If they have an impact.
N. M.: In our daily life they don’t really have an impact, but they engage in persecutions during big Kurdish celebrations like Newroz.
«During the 2022 Newroz, the Turkish police didn’t allow us to wear Kurdish traditional clothes. If we were wearing them they wouldn’t let us pass the check points»For example, during the 2022 Newroz, the Turkish police didn’t allow us to wear Kurdish traditional clothes. If we were wearing them they wouldn’t let us pass the check points to reach the celebrations. Before arriving to the central big square there were three check points with Turkish police that everyone had to go through. I passed through the women’s side wearing my traditional clothes and for each check point the Turkish police always asked me to take off my traditional clothes and checked my shoes. They always asked me the same questions and we, as a group of women, were always saying “no” to taking off our traditional clothes. So, in the end, after some hours, they let us pass.
The men’s side of the check points was more violent, because the police didn’t want to let them go into the square with their traditional dresses on. They started to fight and the police was launching tear bombs, while the Kurdish men were destroying the check points. Finally, the Kurdish men won and they broke out the check points and passed through them.
N: How many languages do you speak?
N. M.: At home I only speak Kurmanji Kurdish, but I can easily speak English, Arabic, and Turkish with other people. When I am in the street I always try to speak Kurmanji, but if someone doesn’t understand me I speak Turkish. For me it was very easy to learn the Turkish language, when I arrived in Amed. Turkish took words from Kurdish, Arabic, and English, so for me, since the beginning, it has always been quite easy to understand it.
N: How would you describe your identity? Do you think that being Kurdish describes you? If yes, why?
N. M.: I always introduce myself as a Kurdish woman who did anything to live free. I feel free thanks to music and thanks to being a Kurdish woman doing what she likes.
N: What empowers you?
«I find that in Amed it is easier to live free, especially in terms of religion. Women in Syria cannot play music freely, while here in Amed it is possible»N. M.: Everything empowers me: art, speaking Kurdish, wearing Kurdish traditional clothes...
I find that in Amed it is easier to live free, especially in terms of religion. In Syria, as the majority of the population is Muslim, it is said that women cannot do many things. For example, women in Syria cannot play music freely, while here in Amed it is possible, and it is more accepted by society. Anyway, here in Amed some people too are always asking me weird religion-related questions, such as why do I show my hair... But I feel more comfortable here than in Kobane.
I don’t really believe in God, as it is described in Islam. I think that if God existed there won’t be any war, but this is not the reality. My grandparents were Yazidis but, after Muslim influence in the region, they converted to Islam, so my family is Muslim since that time. I personally believe that our soul will remain even after our physical death, and that it will pass onto another body to live again. This kind of belief is very common in the Yazidi religion, so I consider myself closer to the beliefs of the Yazidi.
N: You are very young, very active and full of dreams and hopes, as the short movie about your life Nudem shows. What do you expect from the future? How and where do you imagine yourself in 10 years?
«I see myself in the future as a Kurdish woman that has lived many experiences and that has done many things for her culture and her country»N. M.: I see myself in the future as a Kurdish woman that has lived many experiences in different countries, and that has done many things for her culture and her country.
One day, I would like to go back to Kobane and teach people how to play a Kurdish instrument (the santur, which comes from the Persian tradition) that I play here but that nobody knows how to play in Kobane.
N: Do you see the real possibility to come back to live in Kobane in the years to come?
N. M.: I wouldn’t like to come back to live in Kobane, because I lived most of my life in Amed now, and I have started a new life here.
N: What do you think about Turkish policies of seeking demographic change in the north of Syria against Kurds, in order to weaken the Kurdish resistance?
N. M.: They have always tried to do the same. They have already tried to push Daesh [Islamic State] affiliates to settle in Kobane some time ago, but they didn’t succeed. So, I think that this time, in Afrin, they won’t succeed either. Anyway, the Turkish government has always tried to control Kurdish lives and not let us live freely. Even if their policies change, their aim stays the same: to destroy the Kurdish culture and country. To be honest, I live my life without watching the news. I hate watching the news.