Interviewer: Dear mother, this is a research project about stories of Kurdish women, undertaken in Kurdistan by both Soran University and Lancaster University. We would like to obtain some stories of women, in their own words. Then we will transcribe them and later translate them into English so that they can be used for our research. Now we would like you to tell us a story or some stories of your own real life, which show how you were influenced by your circumstances and how your circumstances were affected by you.

Asmar: In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. In the name of God. I welcome you warmly and thank you for what you’re doing in this project. I wish you success. It’s a good thing.

Interviewer: Thank you. Thanks.

Asmar: My life. What can I say, how I lived my life, from childhood?

Interviewer: Yah, from childhood.

Asmar: I began working before I was seven. I was not even seven when I started to work.

Interviewer: You started working when you were a child?

Asmar: Yah. And what sort of work! We had few men at home. There were not many. It was also poverty. People were not like now; they were poor, which means they needed to work. They had us work too much at this young age. What sort of work? When they had livestock, had oxen and yokes, they had cows. There were not many men at home; this means the entire workload was for the wife and the children.

Interviewer: Now, how many men were in your home?

Asmar: Only three men were there: my father, grandfather and uncle. My uncle did not have any children at that time. These works, you know, what we were doing? We had livestock. In winter, our work was merely doing the cow dung, stonework, collecting tree sticks and leaves and plants. We had to clean the livestock’s pen, sort out the tree sticks and leaves. So, we had to go with our mother, grandmother and others, our aunt and others, to do these works.

Interviewer: It means you all helped them? You did the work with them?

Asmar: Yah, we had to help them, willy-nilly, even if we were little we had to do it. So, little by little, you know, summer would come, spring would come. We had to go to the lambs, go to the heights, to the mountains. We had to accompany them. Then, you know, cook; our work was only this: we had to look after the livestock, look after the lambs. We had to take the livestock with the shepherds into the pen.

Interviewer: You didn’t stay in the village?

Asmar: No, we didn’t stay in the village. We would go to the mountains. This means under this wind and rain, with such hardship, without bedding and apart from that, such poverty. Yah, the old days were so hard, meaning there was a severe poverty. Then summer would fall; summer would fall and we had to start another phase. So, some of us would go to the mountains which means following the herds and some would return and do the farming, the harvesting.

Growing what? We grew wheat, barley, lentil, peas, and these all had to be reaped and grown by our hands. Which means in our lives we suffered this way and until we harvested these crops, the heat of summer would arrive. It was like water and sweat pouring into your eyes. After we did all this work then we had to take all the crops to the stacks. And over the stacks, they would set the oxen and thus from morning we had to take a stick and over the stacks, around this place, we should do all the farm work. Men couldn’t do this; it was only for children to do this.

Interviewer: It means they the men were doing something else?

Asmar: Yah, they were doing something else. Then you had to continue, you had to sweat, to get tired. We would get bored and worried and this is what life meant. Then talking of life, life was this way. Apart from that, it meant livestock. We had lots of livestock. So, we were always following these herds. Once again, autumn would arrive and we had to take food to the farmers. God knows, we had to go very, very far to take the food to farmers and return their cows. It was only my sister and I. My sister was also handicapped; she was humpbacked.

Interviewer: Was she like that since childhood?

Asmar: Since childhood she was this way, which means the one who could work was me. And I was too tired. I swear to God, they left nothing not done by me. And by the name of God, they didn’t leave anything not done by me. Believe me, they would have me do whatever work piled up.

Well, I had a pair of plastic shoes; they bought me shoes. They had made me the shoes, plastic shoes, and called them plastic shoes. Then to Bere, we would go to Bere, and say, from where we started the walking to Bere every time, we would walk some kilometres and would come back from mountains, from the mountains, that means we would cross the orchard and vineyards. We would milk the goats and, let me say, how far it was for me to go back and I had to climb the heights and repeatedly my thighs would rub each other. These legs of mine would rub, red blood would rush out. I would become powerless, and by God, I would faint. In whatever way, I would reach home and go back. Then with my mother, my mother was there alone, we would go to bring water. How far was the water? Let me say, how far was the water and with what was it with what we carried it? With waterskin, the water was kept in and carried with waterskin. Kunda, they called it waterskin kunda of animal skin. Then my mother would fill the milkskin for me, putting it on my back, herself carrying the waterskin in her arms. Milkskin was also the size of waterskin. I can say, it could hold two buckets of milk. So, one had to go far and come back, carrying this. When we were back, we were dead. She would carry some sticks under her arms for boiling milk.

Interviewer: All of this happened in your childhood?

Asmar: Yah, this was all in childhood. God knows, there is more and I’ve not said it all. Let me say, then we would move our home; we would go to another place. From there, we should bring yogurt and other things into the village for farmers and others. Every day we had to carry a bag in the very early morning and take this yogurt, milk and stuff to the village. And how far it was! And I was alone! We had to go back, which means for the next day once again we had to take the farmers that stuff. So, this was life.

Then, let me say, afterwards, it happened; this regime of Saddam, this regime of Saddam came. They said Mullah Mustafa, the Kurdish fighter’s leader’s, army was coming. They were opposition, right? Wasn’t there opposition then?

Interviewer: Yes, it was the September Revolution then.

Asmar: It was the September Revolution, so it means opposition, such opposition.

Interviewer: At the beginning of the Revolution?

Asmar: Yah, the beginning of the Revolution. These opposition members very early one morning came and stayed two nights at the village. On the third day, very early morning four planes came. They were called, I’m not sure, Russian or American Meg jets, they called these planes this way, or something like that, I can’t remember. They bombed this village and sank it in blood. Bombed and bombed! In my family, all were wounded; all: my father, grandfather, grandmother and us children, I mean my two sisters and a brother. My brother, Abdulrahman, was hit by a fragment in his head, in here (she points to her forehead). No one was spared. And there was nobody, there were nothing, no city to take these wounded people to the city to be treated. They stayed like that, my father stayed in this condition for a period. And my grandmother had lost her hand from here (points to her wrist). My father stayed in that condition, later they took him to another village to be treated by a traditional Kurdish medicine practitioner.

Interviewer: So you mean he was treated by Kurdish medicine?

Asmar: Yah, with Kurdish Medicine. Later, apart from that, my grandfather also got sick. Our home was in the mountains. Fearing the planes, we had escaped to the mountains, taking refuge under a mount. There my grandfather got sick; The poor man was very old. He got sick, suffering from diarrhoea. Then we brought him back to the village. In the village there was no one to take care of him. We had a blind aunt. With the blind aunt, we came back to the village. There at the bank of the river, we would wash his clothes, dry them, bring them back and let him wear them again. Later, they went and brought my father back. There my father took care of my grandfather for about a month and a half, then my grandfather passed away.

Thus he was gone. Our livestock was also gone. The yoke and oxen were also gone. After a while, it was nearly spring. Then my father also passed away young.

Interviewer: So now you mean you lost your grandfather, father and grandmother?

Asmar: Yah, all the three. All died. My blind aunt and uncle and us remained.

Interviewer: And your aunt was blind?

Asmar: My aunt was blind, in both eyes. We used to hold her hand while going to the place they kept livestock. We held her hand when collecting dead leaves and feeding the dead leaves to the livestock. She had a sharp memory; she had a very good memory. Let me say, this time, we became poorer. We had more responsibilities, my sister and me. She was handicapped, too. My other sister also was very young. My brother was also very young.

Interviewer: So, it was your mother, two sisters and a brother?

Asmar: Yah, my mother, a brother and two sisters.

Interviewer: ok.

Asmar: We were left alone. One of my sisters was handicapped; the poor girl could not work, and there was such an amount of work. And then guess what? At night we would sit together by the light of a lantern. And my mother was sick, she was in bed. She had Malta fever, she was ill with the Malta fever. She was also pregnant, with a child from my father from before my father’s death. Then she was ill and she could not work. So, we had to do all the work ourselves. At night, we would do the sewing. Together with my sister we would sit, busy with sewing, until morning. Sewing a piece was for half a dirham, half a dirham! I swear to God! For half a dirham, it was not more than half a dirham.

Interviewer: So, this was like a kind of job you were doing at night?

Asmar: Yah, this was the job at night. We had a job in the day, too. What would we do? We would help the Muslims. One would say “Come and plant tobacco with me,” and would give us something. Another would say “Today come to help me pick tree sticks and gather leaves .” Another would say “Come and reap the grains with me.” So, they would give us something this way. For a while we continued this way.

Later, meaning after that, let me say, how we continued. We grew up a little. But our mother was still sick. But we worked ourselves. Later, not to be seen as a shame, I got married. My other sister, the younger one, also got married. My handicapped sister and mother were left. I was too sad for them, because the person I got married to was also poor. He was also poor and we continued with working.

Interviewer: Aha, this means when you got married, your husband was also poor?

Asmar: Yah, he was poor, too.

Interviewer: How was your life at that time?

Asmar: At that time life became worse than before. Let me say, how life was. Then, I mean we were in trouble. We didn’t have a house; we were building a house. During days we would prepare mud to shape mud bricks. In the evening we would turn them from their frames. I carried the bricks to the men on my back and my husband would take them to the place where he was constructing the house.

Later, again there was the fear of the planes. Whatever we had at home, we would pile them on the pack animals. We would pack an animal and go to the mountains. We would settle under a rock for a while.

Interviewer: It was only for the fear of the government’s planes that you did so?

Asmar: Yah, fearing the regime, we did not dare to stay in the village.

Interviewer: It means there was still the revolution by then?

Asmar: Yah, we continued this way for some years. Every year, every year and sometimes it was winter when we fled to the caves. I swear to God, there was not any food to cook, no grains to cook on a fire. We had a neighbour. I exchanged ground wheat, what we called grout, for lentil with her. She gave me cooked lentil and I gave her cooked grout.

Interviewer: Which means you stayed in the village in that duration?

Asmar: Yah, yah. We were yet to move to the city. We were still in the village. But we spent life with much misery. It was the maximum degree of misery. It was a difficult life. Something had happened to my foot, so I wore men’s shoes. There were goat-milkers. I would go to milk the goats and leave my child in the cradle. I had a baby. My husband was a tailor. His tailoring work was for how much? A dirham. We had a small sewing machine. I would leave the baby in the cradle, heading to the mountains, to get the milk from these goats, and to boil it so that the children, myself, my husband and the guests could drink it. And this means, those Peshmargas, who were called opposition, had to be fed at the expense of the villagers. That means the people who were already poor, had no food for themselves, had to feed them. They would come at night, taking bedding from us, taking food from us. And they became your guest but you had nothing to offer them. Whatever I say cannot tell how difficult it was. And how far away was the water? I swear, I had to leave the kids at home to bring water. Daily I had to have four to five trips to get water. For the water there was only one route. The route was far. We carried water in animals’ skin, in animals’ skin called Kunda. One route, on my back. Something happened to my foot and I was limping. I wore a pair of men shoes, not daring to wear my shoes because it had become such a big wound. Then what can I say, later he got sick. My husband got sick and was confined to home. Then secretly I was sending him to Erbil, to I don’t know where, to this place or that place. He had a relative who made him travel everywhere, despite our poverty. So, I was left home alone, all by myself.

Interviewer: How many children did you have?

Asmar: Then I had only two children. Two children, which means, the first one, the son, was okay but the daughter was paralyzed. She was affected by paralysis. I could not raise her in such a poverty, with this much housework, outside work and farming. I cut grass; I would go to cut grass alone. I would go all alone. I would collect grass for someone, then they would bring this grass and we would sell it for ourselves and use the money to buy stuff.

And I would worry about my mother and sister. They were also poor. I was sad about myself, too, I had this life and even the single morsel I had, I would bring it up.

Interviewer: Then how could you raise these children?

Asmar: For the kids, later we fled. This time we left the village for the city. We moved to the city. In the city I gave birth to three other children. Two were boys and one was a girl. This means I had two more sons and one more daughter. I put these children in schooling. Despite everything, in poverty and any other thing, they studied. They studied for themselves. Which means my eldest son started before all and finished schooling, later my daughter studied and she also studied four years and we also served her four years. Later, the other son, after her, in order of birth, studied and he also passed the four years of study. After that the youngest of all remained and thanks to God now all have their salaries.

Interviewer: What about your other daughter whom you said was handicapped?

Asmar: The handicapped one, so far I am still taking care of her and in such a state that I’ve become weak, lonely, yet I have to take care of her myself. There’s no one to take care of her. It’s me and her father who take care of her. Half of her body is paralyzed; she cannot do anything on her own. We have to put up with her.

Interviewer: Which means she has not been treated so far?

Asmar: We tried a lot. We took her to hospitals and other places many times but she cannot be treated.

Interviewer: Is she still like before?

Asmar: Yah, she has remained as before. I can say we lived this way. In the city too we faced much misery, too much misery, we saw, too much. We saw too much misery, we had fled a lot and in the city, too, we had to move a lot from one place to another, because of military service and because of Peshmarga. We did not regard life as our life at all. We lived all in adversary.

Interviewer: In the city?

Asmar: In the city.

Interviewer: Ok, that was also because of conflicts and such things?

Asmar: Yah, because of the war by this Saddam’s Regime.

Interviewer: It means by the time you came to live in the city, the Kurdish Revolution was still on?

Asmar: Yah, it was on. When we came to the city, it was just gaining momentum. It was just moving forward. This time, the regime attacked Iran. The regime launched war against Iran. The planes from Iran would come, bombing us, dropping shells on us. The bombs made water spring, water! The plane dropped a shell here, behind our house, all the people of the world came to see. The house was about to fall on us. So, on Fridays we would run away, saying they would target us on Fridays. We would cross the river in a tractor. We would head to the mountains and in the evenings when the darkness fell, we would come back. We went to the mountains, feeling that mountains are safe.

Then, we lived like that, to such a degree of hardship. Then for someone to come and build a house in such a lonesome situation, and make a cottage in such loneliness was very difficult. We settled in three places, building three houses and three cottages. Though we were in the city, we lived in poverty until we reached this state. We made cottages. I swear, we carried soil in sacks on our backs. We carried soil on our back in sacks, unloading them on the roof. So, imagine how would women raise soil bags? We had to go to a far place, carrying the soil bag on our backs and bringing it to the construction site. It was not like now that there are tractors, trucks and such stuff.

Interviewer: There were very few of these vehicles?

Asmar: Few. If there were any, they wouldn’t be for us. They were controlled by the government and the government spent all its money to buy cannons and arms. And did it give such weaponry to the opposition, the Kurds? No, it did not. It didn’t give us anything. We had to find a living for ourselves. To live comfortably is difficult. God knows how anyone could live at that time, with no money, one would not earn anything. If you searched the whole world, a city and a village you would not find five to six thousand dinars. Everybody had to do farming or live by some other means.