Yazeed Kamaldien is a man who is not afraid of going to volatile places, where most people dare not venture. From the Gaza Strip to Yemen to Darfur in Sudan to his most recent trip to Syria, this journalist, photographer and independent documentary filmmaker is always looking to be on the frontline to tell his stories. And he says it is all about creating awareness to the masses about the horrific atrocities and tragedies that are happening. Michael Bratt spoke to the Cape Town based photo journalist to discuss his Syrian journey.
Kamaldien says the idea for him to travel to Kobane in Syria came about after he had reported on the work of the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group in South Africa and their efforts to assist Kurdish refugees displaced in Iraq and Syria due to Islamic State (IS) fighting. As he was traveling to Turkey for journalistic work he decided to make his way to Syria from there. The aim of the project was to uncover the humanitarian impact of global terror group Islamic State (IS) on the local population. He says his intention is to raise awareness of just how bad the situation has become in Kobane. “The impact of war and conflict is devastating on human life. I wanted to bring to a broader public the stories of the people who have been affected.”
But this was not an easy task. Kamaldien was particularly affected when he first arrived in the city. “On the first night in Kobane I definitely did not sleep easy. I was awake for most of the night, wondering how far we were from Islamic State warfare with Kurdish military fighters. We were an hour away from the clashes.” He describes the city as destroyed due to clashes with IS, which wants to incorporate it into its empire, and also due to foreign coalition airstrikes that are aimed at pushing back IS. The two places that standout most in Kamaldien’s memory are the makeshift hospital housed in the basement of a school he visited, where he saw injured Kurdish fighters, as well as the only bakery in the city, which makes bread for all locals. He says, “The situation is not easy for people living there.”
Explaining his philosophy as to why he visits these dangerous places Kamaldien said, “My work often is about bringing to the public consciousness the stories of people who have suffered or are marginalised. I want to connect readers and audiences with these stories and people that they would perhaps never have encountered. I’m driven by a sense of seeking justice and equality. I hate to see people suffering and with my work I hope that we could have less suffering in the world. It’s a big hope.”
Kamaldien also travelled to refugee camps in Turkey, where Kurdish refugees displaced by IS fighters have been seeking safety. Apart from photographing his journey, he also created a mini-documentary which is a combination of personal stories from Kobane as well as interviews with officials on how they intend to assist refugees and help rebuild their lives. But not every part of the trip was a success. He explains one of the failures. “I had also wanted to work with the Kurdish Human Rights Action Group to get doctors to the refugee camps but that has not worked out unfortunately due to logistical and financial challenges.”
Kamaldien is hosting a free, open to the public photographic exhibition as well as a screening of the mini-documentary on 4 June. The event, entitled Inside Kobane, will take place at the District Six Homecoming Centre in central Cape Town, starting at 5pm. The Kurdish Human Rights Action Group will also discuss human rights, displacement and the Kurdish plight after the film screening.
When asked why he is not charging for the event or selling the material he produces to the media he replied, “The aim of my work is always about ensuring public consciousness about less reported voices. It did cost time and money from my own pocket to make the film but the aim wasn’t to make a profit. The aim was to get people aware about the situation of the people in Kobane.”
And getting the attention of people in today’s world is not too difficult. Kamaldien says journalists now live and work in a time where they have easy access to an audience via the Internet and also the tools to make documentary filmmaking cheaper than it was in the past.
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