No Man’s Land, the Loneliest Place Imaginable - 05.23.2006

Imagine your entire life has been spent in a place that is not your home. Imagine that after 20 years, you’re forced to leave that place because of war. Imagine it was another war in your homeland that forced you to leave in the first place.

Imagine you fled this new war, only to find yourself stuck in a stateless zone, an area between countries, with no official recognition.

The Iranian Kurds who currently find themselves in this position, either fled their homeland in northern Iran in 1979, or are the children of those who fled.

These people fled most recently from the Al-Taash campe, which the United Nations High Commission for Refugees supervise. This camp is near Ramadi, which has been a flashpoint for violence, particularly over the last 6 months, but really for several years.

According to Barzan, an Iranian Kurd I made contact with after visiting the Ruweishid camp, Al-Taash was initially established in 1982 in collaboration with the UNHCR.

His family came later however. The reason he refuses to be relocated by UNHCR to the Kurdish area is that his father was killed there in 1986.

“I was three months old when Khomeini’s regime killed my father in Suleimaniyah, in 1986.”

Barzan contends that his father and others were killed by agents of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime, who entered northern Iraq in 1986. I have not yet been able to determine more about this event, but will be looking into it.

It appears that most of the refugees now in the No Man’s Land are under 12, but there are some who are 40, 50, or 60 years old. The younger members of their camp, including Barzan, have lived their entire lives as refugees inside Iraq.

The UNHCR’s position is that refugees should be relocated to the original camp established in 1979, but due to the history of violence there, allegedly from Khomeinist forces, Iranian Kurds are hesitant to return.

The Kurdish government desires to relocate these and other Kurds in similar circumstances to Kirkuk. This is of course a politically strategic move, aimed at increasing the chance of a Kurdish victory in the 2007 referendum on the future of Kirkuk.

Barzan contends that his group are political refugees and that it will not be safe to return to Al-Taash, or even the Kurdish area in the north.

The question of returning to their homeland, inside Iran, is certainly impossible.

Now Barzan is just hoping for some help, and for knowledge about their condition to reach Kofi Annan and other leaders around the world.

“The situation here is very hard and we nee water. Yesterday a five year old girl was burned from a fire. We cannot go back to Iraq. Our situation is very bad, the babies are begging every day for food and water.”

These refugees are distrustful of the UNHCR because they allege during the Ba’ath regime, many Kurds were able to curry favorable treatment, regarding aid and relocation, by paying bribes to Ba’ath representatives to the UNHCR project at Al-Taash.

I hope to reach another man, Khabat, by phone soon. Barzan named him as a leader or representative from a committee established by the community in the No Man’s Land to represent them and make decisions.

Entering the No Man’s Land is very difficult, indeed nearly impossible. After our trip to Ruweishid, another place incredibly difficult to visit, I have some hope, however.

Barzan’s last words to me before our conversation was cut short were, “Second by second we are suffering. Our story is really important and you should come to see it with your own eyes.”

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