A screenshot from the documentary. — Photo by the writer
A screenshot from the documentary. — Photo by the writer

ISLAMABAD: As part of the Human Rights through Cinematography Film Festival, Austrian Ambassador Nicolaus Keller hosted a screening of acclaimed documentary What the Wind Took Away.

Mr Keller said this is the first cultural project he is doing since he arrived in Pakistan in Nov 1. The ambassador was the head of culture in Austria prior to this posting.

Directed by Helin Celik and Martin Klingenböck, the film follows the lives of Hedil and Naam, two Yazidi women who are displaced and stuck in a refugee camp between the so-called Islamic State (IS) that massacred their people and their eventual destination, Europe. The Yazidis are a small ethnically Kurdish religious community who have endured centuries of systematic oppression and persecution. During the IS attack in August 2014 in Sinjar, Northern Iraq, there were numerous casualties amongst Yazidi men and thousands of women were kidnapped.

The documentary provided a fascinating glimpse into the day to day lives of the two women and the hope that survives simply because they do. As the women narrate their stories, they cook, clean, eat, wash, build a kitchen tent and plant a bed of parsley, creating a life of normalcy for their families. The patriarchal customs of the tribe are apparent in the way the men have time to rest and relax, play sports and music, while the women’s work never ends. Hedil says: “Many of the women are afraid of their husbands. Wouldn’t it be awful if your husband imprisoned you?”

Children are put to work clearing the grass out of the vegetable bed, while Naam carries soil. A nature lover, she says: “Even before, when I was sad I would go outside into nature and I would be alright. Our life was full of joy, full of celebrations. We participated in every function in our village”.

From once having had everything, she now is left with a single frying pan that her mother gave her.

“Had Sijnar not been destroyed we would never have traded it in for Europe. No house in the village was as beautiful as mine but now everything is gone,” she says.

Her husband had an aviary, but all the birds died, except the doves that flew away.

Hedil says: “We, the Yazidis, became doves; doves without wings.”

Stranded with her family in a Yazidi refugee camp in Eastern Turkey, she reminisces about her former life in Northern Iraq and recounts the horrors of her escape. The attack happened at night and they had to flee with whatever they could fit into their cars, through the steep mountains that had been their home.

Naam lost 73 family members as they were captured and killed. Photographs remind them daily of the lives they had and the family members they have lost.

While the days pass, real life for the refugees is on hold in tents and structures the wind can blow away. As the Yazidi New Year comes around, the Yazidi commander swears that as long a single Yazidi survives they would preserve their identity and nationality.

A guest at the screening, Kamran Shami said: “The film talks about the lives of refugees and those are miserable no matter what facilities you provide them. I’ve seen the IDP camps in Pakistan and it’s very moving.”

Noman Burki said: “This documentary was an exceptional piece and it has beautifully documented the sufferings of all these migrants. The Human Rights Film Festival is a great idea of bringing together different people and sharing different human stories”.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2018

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