Dylan Hasan – Beirut
Lebanon was formed with different minorities living within its borders. Sizeable minorities are mainly defined by their religious beliefs whilst some are defined by their ethnicity. Many Kurds migrated to Lebanon between 1925 and 1945 and then during the post-Second World War period from 1945 to the early 1960’s.
The estimated Kurdish population in Lebanon is around 100,000. Kurds have migrated to Lebanon for varying reasons: many have moved to escape from targeting in wars and to avoid compulsory military service. Many have moved as a result of rebellions (and their related impacts) and due to instability in the regions they lived in after the founding of the Republic of Turkey, and due to their targeting arising from the identity politics of the period and economic problems in regions.
The Kurdish community in Beirut currently faces a number of problems that can be categorized under four main issues: citizenship, education, social exclusion/nationalism and political representation. Asma Hasan, a Lebanese Kurd and the mother of two women who were martyred, told MedyaNews her story and how, when and why her whole family left their home in the village of Marjeh and fled all the way to Lebanon.
The story of a migrant family
Asma Hasan spoke first about her life during her childhood years in Mardin (Mêrdin) in the south-east of Turkey. “I was born and grew up in the small village of Marjeh, where my family, my relatives, friends and close people all lived together. The young me saw it as a beautiful village although it wasn’t an easy and peaceful life, as I remember. I wish it were. I wish they let us live and have our rights like others did. But the nationalist Turks, you know… They never allowed us to live in peace. Problems, conflicts, instability and chaos were always present, as far as I can remember.
We, the Kurdish kids, didn’t have a school to go to. I was nine years old when a school started outside our village, but I could not study properly there. At school, they would make the children say something like: “We are Turks! We are the children of Turkey!”. This would be in the school anthem and speaking Kurdish was forbidden. “They would try in any way possible to erase our Kurdish identity and make us Turks”, she said.
“The Kurds were always under pressure and under threat. Families wanted a better life and a better future for their kids. Aside from instability and safety issues, there was poverty. The economic situation was so bad. There were no jobs offered to the Kurds: we used to have our lands and cattle. And they would tax us for these: they would even count our cattle to gather tax. All of these social and economic problems were the reasons why my parents got me and my siblings to Beirut”, she said.
Asma Hasan recalled the time when her family first arrived in Lebanon: “I didn’t love it at all. I was a little 11-year-old girl who had to leave everything about my childhood behind and start a new life in a totally different country with a different culture, language, lifestyle. I didn’t even know Arabic. It was so difficult for me to adapt into our new life here. Then, I had to work at that age. My mum used to take me to a Jewish old lady’s house to do her house chores and clean the house. I remember my 11-year-old-self running to the balcony with teary eyes, watching my mother leaving and walking away across the train street”.
Hasan: ‘If we only had our own country’
Asma Hasan stated that she feels heart-broken: “If we, Kurds, only had our own country, I along with many others would have had a different childhood and a completely different life. I started working at that age to help my family: mopping the floor, sweeping, cleaning glasses, wiping off the dust from things, washing dishes …
“I was so little that I had to put wooden ladder steps beneath me so I could reach the sink. I had difficulties in understanding what was needed from me as well, because of the language. It was a lot of pressure on a little girl. I used to impatiently wait for Sundays: the days my mother would come and take me home again. I used to miss home and my parents so much and I felt most comfortable when I was back speaking my beloved Kurdish language. I used to work for only 30 Lebanese Liras a month”.
Hasan has lived her adult life in Lebanon: “The Lebanese civil war then erupted in 1975 and my dad couldn’t stay any longer. He decided to return to his homeland in Kurdistan, where our home and properties were left, while we stayed here in Beirut. By then, I was married to my cousin and had young children. These days were also so hard, living in a war situation where poverty and insecurity were always present. My husband was a concierge of a building and I had to work for houses to raise my sevenchildren”, she said.
‘I taught Kurdish to my children as their mother language’
Hasan stated that she always tried to protect her culture and her Kurdish identity: “My husband and I struggled a lot, to be honest, to provide our children a good life. I had five daughters and two sons and I would do anything to raise them and raise them with a strong character. I taught my children the Kurdish language and always spoke about our homeland Kurdistan and that we always had to defend our Kurdish identity. My husband would go crazy if one of the children spoke Arabic inside the house. We should never forget our mother language: it’s the strongest way to protect our existence as Kurds. Many of my Kurdish friends who also left their homes and came to Lebanon didn’t teach their children their mother language. These children would easily forget their true identity and there wouldn’t be any bond between them and the Kurdish cause”.
The Kurdish freedom struggle
Asma Hasan noted that with the emergence of the Kurdish freedom movement and the establishment of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, their life completely changed. “We didn’t know much about our cause or how to defend and protect our Kurdish identity in the right way. All that we knew was that we are Kurds and we are being suppressed. When my family and I got to meet the comrades of the party, we loved them so much, recognizing how amazing and how different these people were. They were so kindhearted, honest, true to themselves and to the cause they had dedicated their lives and souls to. They were so confident, so passionate and full of hope and potential despite all the difficulties they had been through. We felt connected directly and my husband, Sheikh Mous, told them: ‘My children and I are on your way: we will work and give all we have for Kurdistan'”.
‘My daughters chose the path of struggle’
“My husband and I never rejected our children’s choices”, noted Asma Hasan. “My daughters, Roza and Binefsh, chose this path which I am very proud of and I never regret it”, she observed, referring to her two daughters who lost their lives in the Kurdish freedom struggle.
“Roza and Binefsh were very active and smart girls. They were very organized and neat and always hard-working. Roza studied until high school but we couldn’t afford any university fees, so she joined the ‘Christian Girls’ association in Ain Mrayse, Beirut, that taught girls house-keeping and the management of house duties from sewing and home maintenance to cooking. She was about to graduate when she got to know her Kurdish friends and joined the party. She dedicated her life to the cause.
“She fought for her people, her land, her language, her culture and her dignity. I am so proud of my daughters and their martyrdom. I know they are gone for a great cause and I never regret this decision of theirs. Whenever I remember their faces – which I always do – I just hope their wish would come true: to see Kurdistan liberated and free, to see our people free and displaying their Kurdish identities with their heads held up high. Martyrdom does not end anything: it is only a beginning to greater achievements”, Hasan stated.
Hasan concluded by saying: “I lost my two daughters and I’ve always worked so hard for my country. I’ve met a lot of great people because of our party’s movement and I got to meet the greatest of all, our leader, who has my heart, and who I still have the hope that I could meet once again, Abdullah Ocalan. My heart and mind are always with him and I will always do what I have to do to defend my country”.