Mountainside Of Despair

April 10, 1991|By Diana Jean Schemo | Diana Jean Schemo,Sun Staff Correspondent

ISIKVEREN, Turkey -- As night falls, so does the cold over the 75,000 Iraqi refugees who have escaped to this camp high in Turkey's Cudi Mountains.

Fires light the mountainside. Smoke from burning wood stings the eyes. "Emine!" calls a blind old woman, lost on the muddy hillside with her friend. The two stand in complete darkness as the blind woman calls for her daughter.

"We know our tent is around here somewhere," says Salih, the old woman's friend.

They cannot stop with strangers for the night. "Every tent is full," Salih says.

"Emine!" "Cemil!" "Hussein!"

The names the lost ones call ring through the mountains each night, mixing with the sounds of children coughing and crying and an ambulance snaking through the camp.

"Health manager, come immediately," a megaphone from the ambulance booms. Inside the ambulance, a woman in labor cries loudly. Alongside her lies another woman about to give birth.

A few yards ahead two women lead a third down the rocks to the dirt path where the ambulance approaches. She, too, is in labor.

"Sister, come quickly!" the voice from the ambulance calls to the woman in Kurdish.

At least half of the women between 20 and 40 appear to be pregnant here. Most who have given birth on this rugged mountainside so far have done so on the ground, without any water, clean towels or blankets.

Yesterday, a woman seven months pregnant had a miscarriage and died at this camp. There was no medication to stop her hemorrhaging, said Dr. Eveny Tahsin el Dosky, a general zTC practitioner from Dohuk Hospital in Iraq.

Dr. el Dosky is eight months pregnant herself. She lives in a tent with her husband, who is a surgeon, and 30 relatives.

At night they build a fire at the door of the tent and sit shoulder to shoulder inside.

It is then that the work of the day is done: scrounging for food, burning down trees for firewood, climbing the mountain to collect snow for water that poisons them.

Dr. Umar Ayoub el Dosky, also from Dohuk Hospital, said the snow was in large measure responsible for the rampant diarrhea and intestinal disorders among the children here. When the snow is melted, it smells of petroleum, dropped in rain from the burning oil fields of Kuwait.

"The snow contains oil," the doctor said. "Women drink this and then spit up black."

It was not until yesterday that the government of Turkey finally allowed trucks carrying water tanks, donated by the city of Diyarbakir, to go up the mountain. Until then, the refugees had been denied food, water and medical attention.

This mountain now bears Kurdish dead. Each area contains its own cemetery, though people began coming here less than two weeks ago. Some bury their dead in mounds just outside their tents, covering the dirt with a row of small rocks for a tombstone.

Standing by some 40 graves on a bluff last night, Naji Ahmed, a pianist from Dohuk, said that people were most upset because they could not wash their dead and wrap them in the white shrouds required by Muslim law.

"It's awful for us. People are afraid God will be disgusted because we are so dirty," Mr. Ahmed said.

Umer Basher Hassendi, a former member of the Iraqi parliament who fled here from Zakho, said he had asked the military if the dead could be buried properly in Turkey.

"They told us, 'They're your dead. You deal with it,' " he said.

In despair over their lives here, at least 20 people went back to Iraq from here yesterday, despite President Saddam Hussein's war against the Kurds there.

Ahmed Hussein, a deserter from the Iraqi army, saw his mother, four sisters and his brother climb back up the mountain yesterday headed for Iraq.

"They said they would rather die in their own home than to die like animals here," said Mr. Hussein. "They said this place was not fit to live in."

Were he not facing certain death for desertion, he would have gone back with them, Mr. Hussein said.

One of Dr. Umar el Dosky's 30 relatives, having heard that Iran was not imprisoning refugees, asked in the darkness last night: "Do you think Turkey will allow us to go to Iran?"

At the end of the evening, a group of Turkish soldiers drove down the mountain, leaving the Kurdish refugees to their misery. They joked and traded opinions about the refugees and the do-gooders who are arriving here to help them.

In addition to the Iraqi Kurds, there are also Turkomen, or ethnic Turks from Iraq who are Suriani Christians, among the refugees.

"Me, I think they are right to come here; it's an international problem," said one soldier.

His buddy said he didn't see what all the fuss was about. "They're just pigs up there. I just want to go home and see my wife and baby," he said.

The first solder asked, "By the way, did you give the Turkomen the blankets?"

"Yeah, and some food, too," his buddy replied.

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