When the Paris-based Kurdish journalist and filmmaker Berivan Vigoureux meets a Kurdish family in Jerusalem, she feels at home. The Israeli Kurds share everything except faith with their Kurdish brethren in Turkey. Another difference makes her sad: the Kurds in Turkey never have reached the peace Kurds in Israel are enjoying.
I am in Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world. The city Muslims call Al-Quds, which means "holy", is where the Jewish, Christians and Muslims live together in white stone houses over the hills.
On one side is Al-Aqsa Mosque, dazzling with its golden dome, standing just on the left side of the Wailing Wall, the most important holy place for the Jews which daily attracts thousands of tourists.
There are city walls in Jerusalem, same as my birth place Diyarbakir in the south eastern part of Turkey. There are incredible colour images in the narrow alleys through the medieval city walls. I had such mixed feelings while being in this city that is open to all kinds of different thoughts. I wandered around Mont Sion Hill, adopted as a symbol by Jews, established 745 meters above sea level with a population of approximately 718,900. Different religions, cultures and people live together here. I've seen both the old town and the part that is divided into different neighbourhoods: the Jewish neighbourhood, the neighbourhood of Domina, the Muslim, Armenian and Christian Quarters.
My journey to Israel started with an email that I wrote by chance some years ago, and which brought me in contact with the Zakens, a Jewish Kurdish family who migrated into Israel from the Kurdish areas of Zaxo and Nusaybin in 1951.
The communication exchange culminated with a meeting on the 29th of October 2010, when I stepped onto the Kurdish area of Jerusalem: a meeting that I could not have imagined before, and the memory of which still fills me with joy.
Home away from home
The Zaken’s two-storey family home is still decorated with traditional Kurdish dishes, making me feel at home. The garden was filled with the fragrance of flowers, peppers, basil, and peppermint. Mrs. Zaken hosted me with the most beautiful dishes, her cheeks blushing while speaking in our native tongue. I could read the joy in their eyes as I sang Diyarbakir folk songs for them. Saleh Zaken’s son Moti, an accomplished writer and advisor at five ministries, observed the conversation between his father and me with interest.
I went to the bazaar with Moti Zaken. Friday Shabbat is an important day for Jews. According to their belief, God created the world in six days, and the seventh day was God's rest day. Shabbath starts on Friday afternoon and lasts until Saturday evening. It's celebrated by going to synagogues and praying, cooking various dishes and lighting candles. I had the honour of being with them on this day.
I visited the synagogue that was built by this family and their relatives in the migrants’ neighbourhood during the 1950s. The synagogue was clean and quite simple. There I also saw the holy objects that were brought by the migrants from the Kurdish region of Zaxo.
The next day I went to the Wailing Wall and finally saw up close the wall where so many people visit to make wishes and pray. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall, side by side. I wished peace to my people. I also witnessed people crying with their face pressed against the wall. Everybody was here for hope.
The streets in the Old City reminded me of Diyarbakir’s Ali Pasha streets. Huge gates, very high walls. Everywhere was clean. Jerusalem felt to me like a mystical blend of culture and history.
I was also delighted that Kurds here are living in the most beautiful places. They try to soothe their homesickness by watching Kurdish channels on television.
Zaken Saleh visited the Kurdish region of Iraq two years ago and visited Zaxo, Hawler, Duhok, and Sulaimaniya. He saw the house he lived in decades ago and met his friends. Remembering his language and hearing his beautiful accent gave me hope. Among the Kurds, the language spoken now is Hebrew, but they do not neglect their own language. They also spoke of the Prophet Abraham who came from Urfa, pointing to his Kurdish origins.
Jerusalem left me with both sadness and joy. Kurdish Jews are happy and comfortable in the city. I had unforgettable days there, largely thanks to Saleh Zaken. His family hosted me in their white house on the holy hill, and gave me the chance to meet the Jewish Kurds I always wanted to know.
The Kurds of Israel and Turkey are very similar: they have the same customs, traditions and lifestyles. Only their faiths are different. But the peace enjoyed by the Jewish Kurds in Jerusalem has sadly never reached the Turkish Kurds, obstructed by the country’s intolerance and politics.
|Berivan Vigoureux was born in a small Kurdish town before she fled as a refugee to France with her family. In Paris she studied cinema and television. Since 2002 she has been working as a freelance journalist and filmmaker covering the Middle East for different European TV stations, including Canal plus, Arte, M6, France 3, Capa TV and France 2. In 2010, she made the documentary ‘Kurdistan-The other Iraq’ for the United Arab Emirates production company Rainmaker. This film will be shown in 2012 at the Berlinale Talent Campus in Berlin, Germany.|