Hata Kenge? “Until when?” Basim asks. It’s the name of a poem he wrote in 2014. “Until when will we be valueless in this world? … Until when will others talk and we just listen?”
He wrote the poem after a few Yezidis had been killed by ISIS in Rabia, an Iraqi city on the border with Syria. The genocide of the Yezidis hadn’t yet begun. The Kurdish security forces hadn’t abandoned Shingal (or Sinjar in Arabic). The insurgents hadn’t even attacked the region. People were still living peacefully, wanting to believe that ISIS—so close by—would just leave them alone.
Basim says that at the time he was channeling a feeling shared by many Yezidis in Iraq; being a third-class citizen without opportunities and respect. “It’s about the Yezidi situation, and how they seem to have less value than others,” he says.
The day that ISIS attacked Shingal, Basim was helping to raise chickens a seven-hour drive east, in Sulaymaniyah. He had left his village, Khana Soor, two months earlier with his parents, three sisters, and four brothers. Jobs were hard to come by in Shingal, and the family had found an opportunity to work on a farm owned by a Kurdish family.
He knows they were lucky to have left when they did. But after ISIS took Shingal and thousands of Yezidis fled, some turned up in Sulaymaniyah and offered to work for less than Basim’s family. Like so many other Yezidis, they became displaced and moved into a camp. His parents still live in Ashti, a sea of tents near Sulaymaniyah
Basim says he arrived in the United States on December 15, 2015. He now lives in Nebraska and spends a lot of time with two of his brothers who also came to the country. He doesn’t have a job in large part because of a congenital skin condition.
He doesn’t know exactly what it is, and doctors have not been able to draw it down with treatment. It frustrates him that even in the United States, no cure for his ailment seems to exist.
Despite the injustices Yezidis have known in Iraq, Basim says he misses Shingal. “If it wasn’t so dangerous, I would still rather be there.”
At 23, he keeps writing poems with the hope of one day publishing them.