Hope Versus Bombs
Life in Shingal after the Turkish airstrikes
“So, what’s the situation?” a friend asks over the telephone. We had traveled to Rojava together; she had stayed there and I had continued on to Shingal. “Good, everything’s quiet,” I answer. “A friend stopped by, we played some volleyball. Both puppies are doing great.” After a short hesitation I add, “But you never know. It always feels like the calm before the storm. Everything is totally normal, everyday life goes on, but in the back of your mind, in your subconscious, you always know that tomorrow everything could be very different.”
I’ve been here for three months now. Shingal: much discussed in the media not too long ago as the area in which Daesh had been especially savage and had committed genocide—against the entire Yezidi people, but the women had been especially targeted for violence.
The people are recovering gradually. The genocide still haunts them, and it probably always will. But hope is beginning to germinate, life goes on and everything is being rebuilt, everything is growing. Especially now in the spring. Everything is turning green; flowers and bushes are growing, fields are being sown, vegetables and trees planted. All of this is still clouded by deep-seated experience with insecurity: how long will it stay calm? When will the next attacks come? And it is clouded by the unspoken knowledge that they will come, that the calm won’t last.
Indeed it does not. It happens a couple hours after our phone conversation. It is the night of April 24 into April 25. We had barely fallen asleep when we were awakened—it’s just past two o’clock and everyone’s in an uproar. “What’s wrong?” I ask.
The answer is short and to the point: “Bombabaran”—it’s raining bombs. Moments later the thudding strikes resound, the sky lighting up. In the distance—which is yet so close—up the mountain, we see the bombs hitting. Once, twice. The YBS [Yezidi Protection Units Shingal] outpost in Amud was struck. A few minutes later the hum of planes could again be heard in the sky.
Again explosions, again the sky lights up. Once, twice. Then it’s quiet again. As if nothing were amiss, the valley and the mountains are shrouded in silence and darkness. But tonight nobody is going back to sleep. There is a heaviness in the air; the knowledge that there were people up there, the knowledge that it had happened. And the hope that everyone had been able to save themselves.
Lots of information is making the rounds. Talk of dead and wounded, but nothing is certain, everything is a mess. At dawn the first families make their way to the hospital, to visit the wounded and get information. As the birds gradually start singing, like any other day, as the sun comes up and the air clears, it also becomes clearer what had happened. Three YBS posts had been hit, as well as a monument to Abdullah Öcalan and the fallen of Shingal.
It wasn’t just buildings that were reduced to cinder and ash. In the middle of the monument there is a giant hole, where the bomb landed. Several people were injured. But the thing that hit everyone the hardest: a boy from one of the camps in the valley was killed in the attack.
Sifyan Casam, thirteen years old, was visiting one of the YBS buildings that was completely destroyed in the attack. A lot of people who he knew and liked were serving in the protection units and he would come by now and then for a visit. That’s what he had done that night as well, but this time he wasn’t going home the next day.
A lot of people are at his funeral the day after. Everyone is taking it hard, everyone is exhausted from a sleepless night full of fear and worry. His mother does not come. She can’t. She is one of the many women who was abducted by Daesh and is still in their hands.
His sister, who isn’t much older than he was, sits next to his grave, shaking with heavy sobs, tears streaming down her face. The many mothers who have come are also weeping and crying out—too many have lost their children. They can all feel the others’ pain, they feel it every time, because every child gone is one too many, whether it’s your own or from another family.
“Luck—actually, awareness—is the reason that it wasn’t worse than it was,” says Ciya, a young woman doing youth work here. “We were ready all along. It was clear to everyone that the Turkish army really would attack some time.
“It went differently on Karaçok moutain by Derik in Rojava. The attack came as a surprise and the YPG and YPJ fighters there couldn’t get to safety in time.” Twenty people were killed and eighteen wounded.
On Tuesday, April 25, the mood is subdued. Everyone here is asking themselves when it will finally be enough, when the people here will have suffered enough. Erdoğan’s answer: not for a long time yet. He has grand plans. There is tension in the air; the people of Shingal will not be sleeping soundly.
If anything in this report sounds especially sentimental, it’s not to provoke sympathy—it is an attempt to describe the reality in which the people here are living, to make it graspable and to move people in Germany to action. To move people there and elsewhere to no longer accept the political circumstances and the capitalist system that is making life so hard for so many people here and in so many other places. Because aside from the reality of war, Rojava and Shingal both show that another world is possible, if we build it and defend it together.
This hope is what keeps everything going here. It’s why everyone went right back to their tasks the day after it rained bombs.
Lisa Schelm is an international activist from Germany who has been working with youth in Shingal. Featured image: Willi Effenberger/LCM
Translated by Antidote