“I grew up in Syria in a very beautiful town near Qamishli, on the border with Turkey. My father owned fields and grew cotton, wheat, barley… I always had a very strong character, I used to say to myself: you are a girl but you can do everything that boys do! In our family, fortunately, the relationship between girls and boys was equal. Both my parents were very open-minded and they gave me a lot of courage to continue studying. I always wanted to be a teacher, so I went to study English literature at Aleppo University. I was the first girl from my town to go to university! My parents were very proud.
But I am Kurdish and there was a lot of discrimination against us. It was forbidden to say that we were Kurdish, to mention Kurdistan, or even to speak Kurdish at school. We always had to be very careful. After university, I took the examination to become a teacher. On the day of the results, my name was on the list of those who succeeded. But the next day my name was gone. I went everywhere, I asked everyone: “Tell me why?” At first nobody told me anything. Then a public servant told me that there were reports against me, because I was part of a Kurdish party that was against the state. They thought I was dangerous.
For 10 years I taught in a public school, while trying to get these reports removed. And after 10 years I paid someone to get my diploma and I could finally teach in a public school. I liked teaching very much, I had a very good relationship with my students and colleagues. After a few years I was even appointed school principal. But the state security regularly came to check that no one spoke Kurdish. I kept telling my students to be very careful. But it’s difficult, if I hear someone speaking Kurdish, I immediately speak to them in Kurdish. Language is very important for us. It is connected with our traditions, with many aspects of our culture.
Then the war started. We were not safe and we were afraid. We couldn’t go out as usual, and the school was closed. Fortunately, the Kurdish forces protected the city after many battles and the Syrian government left them a part of the Kurdish region because there was too much conflict elsewhere. It is now called Rojava. But the biggest danger for us was Daesh. Every day they were attacking towns nearby. We were sure that they would come to us one day so our suitcase was always ready. Once, they were just 10 minutes away. There was a big battle, and fortunately the Kurds won.
My family had a house in a town that was already controlled by Daesh. All our identity papers and documents were there and Daesh had found them and they saw that we were Kurds. Arab friends told us that Daesh was looking for us, that they were asking people where to find us. They had already killed my 24-year-old cousin who worked in the hospital there. Every day Daesh was getting closer to us. So we decided to leave. We had to give up everything from one day to the next. The houses, the fields, our work. We left with only a small suitcase. And we left everything behind, our friends, our relatives, and our memories.
We paid a smuggler to take us across the border into Turkey. I remember we had to cross barbed wire, our clothes were torn and our knees were bleeding. Once on the other side, the Turkish police arrested us and put us in jail. Fortunately, relatives came and paid to free us. And most fortunately, a new law on family reunification had just been passed in Switzerland. My brother was already living here and so we were able to join him. Today, there is hardly anyone I know there. Every day I talk to those who are still there… and life is very, very hard. If I went back, I wouldn’t recognize the city I left behind.
I had already come to Geneva as a tourist a few years before. I had done a whole tour in Europe and in almost all of Switzerland! But it was very different when I arrived the second time. I came because I had no choice. I was very sad. But at the same time I was happy to be safe. We thought that the war would be over after one or two years and that we could go back. Fortunately, the government here is very good with the refugees. But it’s very difficult to find a job. I don’t want to stay at home. I have always worked!
I like teaching, being with the students. My teaching diploma was recognised, I did trainings, a lot of voluntary work and temporary jobs. I applied for a lot of permanent jobs, but I didn’t get anything. I don’t know why. I know I am a refugee here, but I would like to have a job and be with the students. Not as a director, but at least a permanent job. Recently I found a temporary job in a school restaurant serving meals. I couldn’t be a teacher, but at least I am with the students. It is difficult. But I keep knocking on doors, and maybe a door will open.
Published as part of the mini-series “Of frontiers and women”, produced in partnership with APDH. | Translated partly from Arabic