About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Bager wearing a checkered waist cloth against a pattered background

Bager Zine

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Handan Tufan

“My dream is to illustrate my own art in terms of sculptures, music, Kurdish folklore. And also, all I’m staying to do is to preserve the Kurdish language. I don’t want it to disappear,” says artist Bager Zine (pseud, 49), a refugee from Turkey. Bager was forced to leave his home to travel to Europe after being persecuted for playing in a Kurdish band; his wife and daughter have not yet been able to join him. “I don’t feel like I belong here,” >he says. “You’re always alone, you know? When you get up in the morning you have the same thoughts. You’re away from the family.” His time in the Netherlands has been difficult and stressful, especially with the COVID pandemic, but he says, “art brings me joy. If it wasn’t for art, I wouldn’t have lived here one day. I would choke without art or because of stress.” Despite these challenges, his dream of creating art remains the same: “I would be so happy if I could do nice things for people and children.”

Trigger Warning: Depression; violence

full interview

What kind of housing do you live in?
You mean here?

Yes. What is your house like?
It’s a normal place. I mean, it’s not that bad. I live in a normal, a bit small house right now.

Could you please describe what is it like?
Due to the pain in my arm, I’m not working right now. I´m interested in music. Particularly, in the type of Kurdish music called cirok. So, I´m busy with it. My son lives with me here. I also have a daughter. My wife and my daughter are in Turkey. At the moment they are banned from entering Europe. They cannot come here and I cannot go there.

So how do you spend your time here?
I´m playing music and do some cultural activities. And I also make sculptures. I’m really good at making sculptures. For example, I have a lot of photos of my sculptures. In addition, I also play saz (Interviewer note: type of musical instrument) and sing.

What are some of the things that bring you joy here?
Art brings me joy. If it wasn’t for art, I wouldn’t have lived here one day. I would choke without art or because of stress. It really gives me a lot of pleasure.

How has life been for you since you first arrived in Europe? What’s has been difficult about being here and what has been good?
I arrived in Europe and everything has been very difficult for me. The weather was bad, too. It has been the consequences of being far from your own country, your own relatives, your people, and society. It’s hard no matter what. It’s hard, but you have to endure it because you just have to survive.

And how does life feel here? How do you feel?
Well, I don’t feel like I belong here. I don’t think one can feel this way because whatever the place you come from, your place is there. The country you grew up is a different country. So here you feel yourself in emptiness. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. After all, this place doesn’t belong to you. So, inevitably you have this in mind and thinking about it all over again.

How does it feel to be far away from your family and loved ones?
That’s the worst thing. So after all, you have to go to bed alone. You feel bad being alone. You’re always alone, you know? When you get up in the morning you have the same thoughts. You’re away from the family. You don’t know what might happen to your family there? How are they? Your family is always somewhere inside you, inevitably.

How could you get over these situations?
I don’t know if I could get over it, to be honest. Sometimes one can feel really bad mentally. It felt really bad to me. It was very stressful for me. I think my mental health is bad. After that, I got depressed. You don’t know how to get out of it. I had to go through those feelings.

So do you think your ability to deal with these challenges has evolved here? Or do you think that you have always had these skills?
I actually had these skills before. I might have lost my skills, I think. Now, if I were in my country, then I could do more beautiful things in a more comfortable situation. But I came here and it feels like in a mold. And one important thing is that this place has its public rules. Sometimes you can’t do whatever you want. And what happens when you cannot use your skills right now? Then you lose your skills and abilities and you cannot improve yourself. I think if I were in Turkey and in my country, believe me, maybe I could have become one of the most famous sculptors in the world. I could have been recognized and accepted. I will tell you where it came from, my sculptor skills. My father was making his own sculptures. My father was a craftsman. I learned from my father. My father was making those sculptures. Back then, my father could make his sculptures by looking at some old photographs. He was joking saying that he found those sculptures and they are ancient and people would believe him. I mean, those people were buying historical artifacts. My father would joke that he dug them out and people would believe him. Once, I went to the Biltis Ahlat district and Ankara Polatlı district and saw his sculptures. But it was not mentioned there who was the author. But I know that my father made the sculptures. I think, they caught them (my father) and took his sculptures and put them in the museum. I saw those sculptures in that museum. I could’ve made a lot of beautiful things.

How did COVID 19 affect you? How was your mood?
My mental health is officially falling apart. I really feel very stressed. I felt really bad, mentally. You don’t know what is it (about COVID). Some kind of a new disease. An unknown disease. It made me really stressful to think about it.

Why did you leave your country, can you tell us what happened?
Why did I leave my country? I can tell you this that in the past in my country I was a musician. We had a band called Koma Serhat since 1992. My only guilt back then was singing our own songs and playing our music. They had detained me for aiding and abetting. I was under arrest for three months. After three month they let me free. Of course, I was being followed until in the year 2000 they took me into custody again. We were only performing on the weddings and were singing our Kurdish songs. So again, our only guilt was singing songs around people. I have realized that I can’t do anything. Like for instance, they took three of my friends from the same band and out into prison giving 20 years term. Another friends of mine lost his eyes in prison. Another friend of mine lost his eyes in prison. And when he was released he just went up to the mountains. His name was Nusret and I have a photograph of him somewhere here. I just want to say that I have done nothing wrong. The only thing I have done was playing my music and sing my songs.

When you left your country, the moment when you were leaving how did you feel?
Well, when I left my country, of course, I was crying. And after I got here, I wish I hadn’t come. I was thinking that I should have lived there and take accept whatever they were accusing me of. After all, I came here, to a completely new place without knowing the language and culture. You don’t know what to do, you cannot tell anyone what your problem is. After all it was very difficult. And I felt emptiness. Everything was unclear and it is a very bad feeling. I cannot even describe my feeling. It was difficult

How did you arrıve in Europe? Do you have any experience to tell us about your journey to Europe?
I used illegal ways to come to Europe. How do they call it? Illegal network? So by using those illegal channels I came to Europe.

Are there any thoughts that keep your mind busy? Is there something that you often think about?
Of course, inevitably I have some thoughts. After all, I run away from my country leaving everything and my family behind. I came here alone. This is the worst part.

Do you think that everything you have experienced in the past affects you today?
It definitely affects me. You can never throw it away. Whatever people say, you cannot throw your past away. I think of the past sometimes when I walk. Even if I don’t want to think about the past. Thoughts just come. I get really uncomfortable when I think about the past and sometimes I cry. It makes me calm down. So things like that always happen to me.

Have you ever imagined that you could cope and get through with these situations in the past?
Well, I really couldn’t imagine it. But when you know you have to deal with it and accept it then you just try to get through it. However, I have no idea if I could really get through it.

Have you developed any strategy to get through these difficult times, difficult moments? Where do you think you get that strength and support from?
Where do I get my strength from? After all, you just think about life. You just have to continue living. That is all.

I will ask you to say this question in one sentence. What was our dream before you left Turkey?
When I was in Turkey I was dreaming about developing fine arts. Fine arts makes is very good for people. I wanted to work with culture and arts. That was definitely my dream. That’s my dream, I mean, to deal with music, art.

And what was your dream when you were running away from your country?
I was just thinking about staying safe.

What were your strengths before you left our country?
I was strong before I arrived in Europe. I trusted myself. I believed in myself that I could make beautiful things. It was my dream. I thought that if I continue no one could stop me. Even if they interfere, I would still go on.

Do you think you have changed?
Yes, definitely I have changed here. There I was stronger. When I get here, it felt like inside a mold here. You feel weak. After all, I’m a foreigner here and in very meaning, you are in a disadvantaged position.

And do you think these things you have been through have improved you somehow? Do you see some improvements?
I don’t think so. But sometimes it can be true. Sometimes people can go on and get through it all. It happens sometimes. In spite of those people who are trying to shut you up and stop you from doing something, you still can get over it with your stubbornness.

What’s your dream about the future now?
Well, I have the same dream. I want to deal with art and music. I would be so happy if I could do nice things for people and children. This is all, I’m just thinking about. I’m not saying that in an arrogant way as if I’m so talented and gifted. I just mean I will be trying to give some good things and works for people. That’s it.

Can you say it in one sentence, please?
Sure. My dream is to illustrate my own art in terms of sculptures, music, Kurdish folklore. And also, all I’m staying to do is to preserve the Kurdish language. I don’t want it to disappear. After all, my whole effort is to tell these kids our beautiful Kurdish tales just to make ensure they won’t get lost. We have to preserve our culture.

And finally, is there anything you would like to say for people living in Europe so that Europeans better understand the lives of refugees?
Well, I think people here don’t understand our problems because they don’t see what we have been through and why we come here. It feels like they see it as some kınd of fıctıonal story. When you come here and tell people what happened some people don’t want to believe it. They don’t believe it. But sometimes you show them what is happening and when they see it with your own eyes, they believe. This is the problem of Europeans. The gap between us is this. Of course, they never know what is happening because they don’t live there.

Thank you very much.
Thank you.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.