The Kurdish Mother; Life of Hardships


Fatima Erol, the “Kurdish Mother”

In January 2016, I stayed in Midyat (located 100 km west of Cizre) for a week in order to approach Cizre. Cizre is in the southern region of Turkey, on the border between Syria and Iraq. This is also where an armed conflict between the Turkey government and the Kurdish insurgent groups is occurring.

Recently, I browsed Facebook and stumbled upon a picture of a familiar face. It was the late mother of my friend, Zana Erol. Her mother’s name was Fatima Erol and in the picture she looked to be around 60 years old.

I held my breath for a moment as I saw this picture, thinking of the last moment I saw Fatima. She had seemed ill with discharge coming out of her eyes. This was a year and a half before she passed away.

In many ways, Fatima epitomizes “the Kurdish mother.” She was born in Cizre, became a mother to six children and survived many wars and hardships. At the end of 2015, her family fled the disasters of the war between the PKK and the Turkish army. They found a temporary refuge at Midyat where her life became miserable as she missed her home in Cizre.


Fatima’s son (right side) and grandchildren

When I saw Fatima at Midyat, I found myself wondering what made her leave her hometown of 60 years. Refugees are usually those who leave their homes in search of a safe haven in another country. However, Fatima remained in her own country—making her a domestic refugee.

Fatima had lived a humble life in Cizre but she had had to give up her own home when she fled to Midyat. Fortunately for Fatima and her big family of six children and ten grandchildren, they were able to find refuge in a villa where they would live together. I found parallels between their patriarchal family life/Muslim culture and Korean culture and lifestyle around 40 to 60 years ago.

I first arrived at her family villa accompanied by her son, Haki, who worked at an NGO. Even though I smelled of the previous two days of airplane travel, Fatima warmly welcomed me in true traditional Muslim spirit.

Despite her own unstable situation, she was very concerned with my wellbeing and took care that I was fed properly. I will not be able to forget the flavors of the traditional Kurdish breakfast and Dalma dishes she made for me.

To show my appreciation of all that she did for me in Midyat, I gave Fatima and her family donations and gifts that my acquaintances in Korea gave as contributions.

Fatima’s daughter got pastel crayons and the second oldest son was given a compact notebook. Her youngest daughter got beautiful shoes, while the oldest son received a Nintendo console. Her daughter-in-laws were given shoes and glittery bags. Fatima’s youngest son, my close friend, was given a lantern, and her grandchildren were happy to get some stationary and dolls. Fatima smiled ecstatically when I handed the gifts to her family.

Finally, I personally gave Fatima a hot pack. She kept bowing to me in appreciation. But the more she thanked me, the guiltier I felt bringing trivial items instead of life necessities, such as warm clothing and food.

Surprisingly, after I left Midyat, Fatima’s family collected all the donations they received and distributed them to the less fortunate in Cizre, from where they fled.

Fatima is a refugee who left her home in search of a safe haven, and I was just a foreigner in search of the Korean boy who recently joined ISIS. Despite not having been at Midyat specifically for Fatima, I was welcomed very warmly and showered with blessings from Fatima and her family.

The last time I was in this region (just before I was arrested by the Turkish army) Fatima kept rubbing her eyes due to the discharge. I felt sincerely sorry that I could not do anything for her at that moment.

Now, she is in heaven, looking at us from above. It is impossible to forget the day I gave Korean gifts to Fatima and her family—it was a day filled with joy that helped to escape the tragedies of war.


-By Lee Sin-suk


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