The struggles of a Kurdish family


New beginnings are what many individuals crave throughout life. But only those who have seen true beginnings can tell you how beautiful they are.

Nermin Darwish began a completely new chapter in her life after overcoming many years of cruelty when she moved to the United States from Syria in 2001.

Nermin is from North Iraq, which makes her a Kurd. She was born in 1961 and got married at the age of 19 to her husband, Jassem Darwish, in 1988. She and her husband began their life together with many goals of creating a family and future for themselves.

But shortly after, their dreams were disrupted when their world was turned upside down.

The Kurds are a group of people who live in the Northern part of Iraq; they are not Arabs, but Muslims. The Kurdish people of Iraq faced a genocide by Saddam Hussein, who was president of Iraq in the early 1990s. For years, the Kurds were brutally murdered and thousands were buried alive. There were also many villages that were struck by nuclear weapons at one point.

The pain inflicted on the Kurds by Saddam can only be seen in Nermin’s eyes when she describes how her 21-year-old brother was hung and other countless family members were killed in the middle of the night while sleeping.

“There was no obvious reason as to why we were so hated and dehumanized for being Kurds. I just wish I knew how they could peacefully sleep at night knowing what they were doing was beyond wrong,” Nermin said in Kurdish.

After years of torture, the Kurds decided to fight back in an attempt to stand up for themselves.

Nermin’s husband and many other men created a secret society where they formed an army to protect the many innocent Kurds killed every day. “It didn’t matter to them who they were killing; they killed the children, women, elderly and men,” Nermin said.

While the Kurdish army’s efforts somewhat derailed Saddam’s plan to wipe out the Kurds, there were consequences for those who were captured fighting against the government. The men who were captured were tortured for information and then hung, just like Nermin’s brother.

A group of men who had been working with Jassem were captured. They subsequently released information about the other men involved in the resistance efforts.

“Most of the men knew that releasing information would not save your life when you’re captured, but apparently some who were weaker believed there would be some hope for them,” Jassem said in his native language, Kurdish.

When Jassem was informed that he was a target, he quickly picked up and fled. “It was very important to me to fight for my people’s rights and freedom. But there was a more important duty I had to fill, which was being a husband and father, so I fled to keep myself alive,” Jassem said.

Nermin, Jassem, and their 4-month-old daughter fled to the neighboring nation of Syria. The family was safe there, but starting over in a new place without knowing anyone or where to go was very challenging. After a while, friends were made and shelter was built, but there was still the day-to-day struggle of how to create an income to survive.

When there were no options left, Nermin and her husband decided to go live in a UN refugee camp where they would at least have food to eat. The family lived in a tent that had no water or electricity. “I woke up every morning knowing this was not the life I imagined for myself …,” Nermin said.

There were 9,000 families who were refugees at the camp, many just like Nermin and her family, so there was a first come, first served policy regarding emigration that was established. The families who were at the camp the longest were chosen first and the others were left waiting for their turn.

From left: Nermin Darwish, Ridor Darwish, Fatima Darwish at Ridor's high school graduation.

Nermin’s family waited a very long time in Syria before they were chosen to come to the US. On Sept. 1, 2000, Nermin, her husband and their three children arrived in the United States.

The family started their life all over again in Salt Lake City. With no one to go to for help or any income, the second time wasn’t any easier. Every day was a challenge, especially with a language barrier present. The first year was the most difficult, but after learning English, finding minimum-wage jobs and creating a home, life became easier.

Nermin and her family faced many obstacles in their long road toward reaching freedom and happiness. But the family doesn’t regret a single moment of their long journey. Nermin believes the most difficult roads lead to the most beautiful destinations in life.