Left to Right: Nazdar Albarzanjy, Veen Aldosky

The Aldosky / Albarzanjy Family

“I don’t know if I’ll live to see the day that Kurds are included or highlighted in a database, anywhere. We are born with someone attempting to erase us.”

Nazdar, her daughter Veen, her two sons, and husband arrived in Canada in 1997 as Kurdish refugees. They had been living in Turkey for 7 months as UNHCR refugees who had fled Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. They are from Kurdistan, Iraq. Nazdar told me, “we fled northern Iraq because my husband’s life was in danger. My husband had volunteered with UNICEF in Kurdistan after the failed revolution/uprising against Saddam of 1991/1992. At the time, the UN had established no-fly zones in Kurdistan Iraq. The foreign aid was helping Kurds return home who had suffered through bombing and displacement. When the aid missions were coming to an end and the foreign forces began withdrawing, Saddam Hussein had threatened anyone who had worked with the “infidels” (the Westerners). To help our family, his former UNICEF colleagues who happened to be Australian, sponsored us for Visitor Visas to Australia. We fled Iraq to Turkey for the purpose of interviewing at the Australian Embassy. In the interim the situation worsened in Iraq and we couldn’t return. We had left our house, vehicle, personal belongings thinking we would return after our interview. Forced to stay behind in Turkey, we registered with and were accepted/designated as UNHCR refugees.” Veen added, “at the time I just knew that we could not stay home. Everyone kept saying that we were lucky. I didn’t feel lucky at the time. It felt like we were losing everything and leaving everyone behind. I didn’t appreciate that it would be for a very long time. I didn’t know anything about Australia except for kangaroos and that it was warm. When we were chosen by Canada for resettlement – it was a shock to my family. I remember my younger brother who was then 4 years old demanding that my parents give him his passport as he was going to go back and live with Babo (my mother’s dad) on his farm. He was completely against going to the land of snow. Little did I know that this decision made by a faceless nameless person would be this wonderful, life-changing happenstance that would change our lives forever.”

Nazdar described her thoughts and feelings at the very beginning of her days in Vancouver: “lonely, tired, scared. How would we live? What would happen to my children? How would we provide for them? I remember just crying for days on end.” Veen remembers this stranger who was a ray of light in this difficult period. “We had a member of our cultural community just show up at our door one day for the simple reason that we were new there and he (accurately) predicted that we didn’t know anyone. He was amazing to my family and helped us navigate everything from where to buy halal meat to where to find decent priced groceries and a rebuilt vehicle. This was most appreciated by my mother who had never wanted to leave Kurdistan. She spent a great deal of our first years in Canada battling with depression and the pain of leaving her family and her world behind. Having this small sense of home, families with similar experiences, and a shared history of loss/language/home was a lifesaver.” But the pain of being displaced from your family and your land never goes away. Veen shared how much it “it broke my mother’s heart to have had her mother pass away while she was in a strange land.”

Veen described being shocked at her huge misconception of Canada when she first arrived. She said, “thought it was the land of ice and snow, igloos, and snowshoes. Yet we landed in Vancouver (again without any knowledge or control) in the middle of March to a lush beautiful city full of so much green!!! It was a dream that felt too good to be true.” Veen arrived in Canada two months short of her 11th birthday without knowing a word of English. She told me, “I recall my parents encouraging me to speak more at school. After a little pushing, they revealed that my 5th grade teacher had called them to ask if I was mute or had a speech impediment since I had spent a full week in her class and never spoken.” Now Veen uses her voice to advocate for others as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. Nazdar is so proud of her daughter for “using this chance to build a good life.” She continued, “it is the reason for why we left our home and everything we love. It was for a chance to give them a safe life and a chance at a future. She makes it worth the pain.”

Nazdar also uses her voice as a way to give back, literally. After going back to school and becoming proficient in English, she became a Kurdish-English and Arabic-English interpreter. Nazdar loves volunteering to help people in whatever way she can, often interpreting for people outside her regular work. Outside of interpreting, she likes being able to help “someone move [or] attend at a hospital with an expectant mother.” Despite all that was taken away from their family, they continue to give. Veen told me about her father who also continues to give despite the hidden pain he endures from what was taken away. She told me he is a “university-educated man who had worked and developed friendships with international humanitarian efforts, who had his whole life’s achievements wiped away because Canada did not recognize his foreign credentials and education. To see this man, face the new reality of having to work delivering pizza, washing carpets, and night security because all those things that had made us so attractive to be chosen meant nothing once we were here.”

When I asked Veen what she believes is the biggest difference between her and her mom’s generation, she told me, “I feel less fear of loss, a greater sense of freedom and courage than my parents ever felt, like I can lay claim to having a right to belong here as much as any other non-First Nations Canadian in a way that my parents would be too scared to assert. There’s also a sense of being able to pick the best from this culture and marry it to the best from our culture without fear of losing our complex identity… I am [grateful] for the life we have here, the dignity of knowing we matter, that we count as citizens and as people.”


Left to Right: Danya Jaroudi, Nazdar Albarzanjy