Zina Salim Hassan | I Lived in a Camp for Two Years

Zina

Zina

Your photographic work was exhibited at the MAXXI National Roman Museum of 21st Century Arts in Rome this year. Could you tell us about your “Moments from Yazidi Life in Khanke Camp” exhibition? How did you get involved in this project?

The exhibition in Rome was a part of a project supported by the Italian Ministry of Defense, UNICEF, and ZED agency. After 10 months of living in a camp, an organization called Warvin offered us Yazidi girls to take part in various activities in order to help us deal with trauma we experienced as a result of genocide. A Kurdish photojournalist based in France, Shayda Hessami, initiated the photography project. She wanted to teach us photography, but most importantly, she wanted to empower Yazidi young women. Twenty of us were selected to take part and I was one of them. I was 19 at that time.

Zina

Was this right after you finished school?

I was in my final year when ISIS took over my hometown, Shingal. As a result, all final exams were canceled, which meant I could not graduate from school. At the same time my dad died and we fled the town. For nine days we lived in the mountains. Later, I took the final exams when I was living in a camp. Obviously, I did not have any textbooks. I could not study and prepare. Only with the help of God, I managed to pass the exams and graduate from high school. I was in a really horrible state and I still can’t believe that I did it. 

Before ISIS took over your hometown what were you planning to do after graduation?

I always wanted to be a pediatrician. I did not want to be anything else. I wanted to treat children and make their lives better. Unfortunately, my final exam results were not good enough for a medical school. Of course, I was very disappointed. But now I want to be a photojournalist. This project helped me realize this. I want to show the world what the Yazidis have to go through as a result of genocide. Where I come from, you won’t find many female journalists. I am honored to be one. I want to represent Yazidi girls. I want to give them their voice and I want to demonstrate how strong these girls are.

What do Yazidi girls have to go through as a result of genocide?

It’s very difficult to talk about this. I witnessed genocide twice already. And it’s only getting worse. Yazidi girls get kidnapped or killed. ISIS keeps Yazidi children in captivity and train them to become ISIS terrorists. They are 7-8 years old! Those who do not convert to Islam get killed.  And Yazidi girls get kidnapped and raped. Many of them are being sold into sex slavery.  A lot of them are missing.  Some of my friends whom I went to school with went missing. We just don’t know what happened to them.  When I speak out it’s very hard. Afterwards, I cry for 3 days, but this is what I have to do. I want everyone to know what is happening. 

Zina

Why are Yazidis being prosecuted by ISIS?

We’re persecuted for our religion. ISIS wants the Yazidis to convert to Islam and that’s why we’re being persecuted. Our kids are being kidnapped and our girls are being raped. We have no choice but to run away.

Could you tell about your journey from the camp to Klaipeda, Lithuania?

I lived in Khanke camp for 2 years. While I lived there I did a lot of volunteering work for various organizations. I worked in a health center. I worked as a health guide supporting women and children, who escaped from ISIS. Also I volunteered in a kindergarten for 10 months. I organized various activities for disabled kids, and I supported a psychologist who treated women dealing with trauma. I then found out about the photojournalism project and also got involved. This project really motivated me to go to university and get a degree. I found out about an opportunity to take a language exam, and based on my result, I was accepted to a program at LCC. I was very happy as it was one of the biggest goals for me! LCC International University provided me with this unique opportunity and I will never forget anyone who helped me to get here. In January this year I moved to Klaipeda and started studying.

How did you find this transition? Was it difficult to get used to a completely new environment?

I have very mixed feelings. It’s hard to express what I had to go through while I lived in a camp. I cannot forget that horror. I can’t forget about those girls whom I knew from young childhood and who are now missing. Also, at exactly the same time when I learnt that I got accepted to LCC, I found out that my mother has cancer. It was a very tough decision, but my mom and the rest of my family encouraged me to go. My mom has had three surgeries and she’s now recovering. I am so relieved! But it’s hard because I miss my family. They don’t always have Internet. I can’t communicate whenever I want. It makes me worry, of course. But here, in Klaipeda, I feel very safe. I now know I have a future. Thanks to LCC I now can plan my future and have goals to work towards. When I couldn’t take my final exams because of ISIS, I felt really broken. After that I had to live in a camp for 2 years. I had no idea what’s going to happen to me. I still can’t believe I managed to pass my exams and then get into university.

Do you have any dreams or hopes for the future? 

I want genocide of the Yazidis to stop. And I want more people to know about it. I see ISIS soldiers as beasts. They marry girls, who are 8-9 years old. They destroy their lives. I want to be the voice of Yazidi girls and Yazidi kids. People need to know how much suffering the Yazidis have to go through. We do not harm anyone. We just want peace. I want everyone to know what is happening in that part of the world. It is my dream to become a photojournalist and to spread this message. Now that my mom is recovering from cancer, I feel like she’s getting a new life, but also a new life is beginning for me too. I want to make the most of it.

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In March this year, LCC International University brought “Moments from Yazidi Life in Khanke Camp” exhibition to Klaipėda, Lithuania.