Sossi is the person in change of funds for poor and displaced Armenians in the town of Kamishli*. The accounts, written by hand, are kept down to the dollar. In a very, very thick lined notebook, in which there are…lots of blank pages. She knows each of the 540 Armenian families in Kamishli personally. And their needs, down to the dollar.
She tells us that more than half of the Armenians in Kamishli have left the region. But they have been joined by Armenians from towns overtaken by the Islamic State – such as Raqqa – or which are in the front line against Daesh – such as Alep or Al-Hasakah –, where the situation is too perilous. Kamishli itself is too dangerous now. There have already been suicide attempts, and since December 2015, these have become more and more prevalent, and more and more deadly. Suicide attempts with a car or a rigged lorry, that’s how Daesh operates; blowing up civilians and pushing back the front line. “It’s a strange sort of enemy”, a peshmerga* told me, “who doesn’t need to head home after a fight”. Another peshmerga told us that it’s not just the fighters who blow themselves up in towns, but sometimes also desperate civilians, to whose families Daesh has promised 10,000 dollars.
The Armenians remaining at Kamishli do so either because they have no choice, or because they see it as their duty to stay their ground, not to abandon anything. But life goes on; you cry and you laugh. There are still delicious restaurants, where family reunions are hosted – very loud affairs, with numerous toasts, where there’s always a cousin Armen or Bedo who’s had a little too much to drink – and very long masses.
Sossi doesn’t need to be a feminist to be efficient. She keeps quiet during community council meetings attended almost exclusively by men; she serves coffee, but it’s to her they address their questions if they’re after an exact answer.
She won’t tell us, but Sossi is a mother. Who has lost her son. In the most senseless and saddest of ways. He was, like many young men, in the community defence group. It’s a kind of unpaid Armenian militia which does the rounds each night to protect the quarter. It’s more a courageous band of armed scouts than a group of warriors. He was 19. He was cleaning his gun, and it went off.
An accidental gunshot, a café, a very thick lined notebook, down to the dollar. 540 Armenian families carrying on going in Kamishli – more or less – thanks to Sossi.
Photo: Quamishli. Dec. 2015
*Kameshli is a town in the North-East of Syria, at the Turkish border, the ‘capital’ of Rojava, the ‘Syrian Kurdistan’. Written here in inverted commas because the autonomous region of Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) does not officially exist. But in actual fact, Syria is currently divided into three parts:
- One part, in the West, on the Lebanon side, controlled after a fashion by the Bachar el Assad government (which, with the help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, the Shiite and Lebanese militia, is fighting Daesh).
- To the East, one part ruled by Daesh.
- One part to the North-East, Syrian Kurdistan, which is controlled by Kurdish forces (and, to a lesser extent, Syriac forces) from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a party close to the PKK (the Kurdish independents of Turkey).
Personally, my feminist tendencies have me siding with the PYD, the party of the Syriac Kurds: inspired by Marxism, they advocate complete male-female equality (which, in the region, is an incredible exception [but they also advocate the cult of chief Ocalan, the collectivisation of resources, mono-partisanship, etc.; policies which aren’t at all attractive! Information from the SP]). Moreover, 40% of their army, the YPG, is made up of women – which, according to some, gives them an advantage over the jihadists: those fighters believe they will be deprived of paradise if they are killed by a woman.
When I met the women of the Syriac military council (the Syriac militia), one of them told me that Daesh won’t even collect the weapons of female fighters, as they are considered impure. So I suggested that they stick Hello Kitty stickers onto all of the army’s weapons (haha, there’s definitely an evil side to me) – but they looked at me as if I’d gone mad. To this day, I don’t understand why.
One last piece of information on Kameshli, following which you’ll be experts: a significant proportion of the town’s inhabitants are Christians.
*Peshmerga means “someone who looks death in the face” in Kurdish. The peshmerga are the Kurdish militants in Iraq.
In Syria, the Kurdish fighters are called the YPG – People’s Protection Unit – (journalists sometimes also call them Peshmerga, which makes everything more confusing).
The Peshmerga (in Iraq) and the YPG (in Syria) are fighting against Daesh in the North and the East. Daesh straddles Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State is moreover very proud of the fact that when Mosul (a large city in Iraq) was taken, they de facto removed the border between Syria and Iraq, which had been artificially created (by Western opportunism and not by local demographic effort) following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1916, by the English and the French, during the Sykes-Picot Agreement.