Tags / Identity
Decades after Belgian rule in Congo ended, and a century after the atrocities in Congo Free State - where up to 10-15 million Africans were killed - people in Belgium are beginning to confront the troubled history. The unaddressed atrocities are fuelling frustration among the Congolese, who are to this day surrounded by statues, buildings and streets dedicated to one of history’s most brutal rulers. Through art, culture and advocacy, the diaspora and Belgian people are paving the way for an uneasy reconciliation of the past.
In a home dedicated to the Catholic church community, Stanislas Koyi - a 23 year old Congolese expat - leads a youth group prayer. In this mixed group, which features Congolese as well as white Belgians, they often talk about the colonial legacy. “I never want to split the Belgians’ opinion,” - said Stanislas, “to not make them choose between the Belgians or the Congolese.” Vanessa Monzibila, seen on the left, is Congolese herself. “Our parents still have this fear about Belgium, but we - the young ones - see ourselves like them, we see ourselves as Belgians” she said - “But the Belgians don’t necessarily see us as part of them.”
Maryjo Kazadi, a second generation Congolese, attends the group prayer with Stanislas and Vanessa. “I feel Belgian, I was born here,” she said. However, feeling the optimism shared by many other young, second or third generation Congolese in Belgium, she is keen to go back to her roots, bringing with her knowledge from Belgium - “There is just so much to do there,” she added.
Bram Borloo - a tour guide, activist and a painter - leads a group of Flemish woman on a Matonge tour. “In Belgium, children in primary school learn that Leopold II was the ‘King Constructor’” he said, “which continues to construct this false image.” The tour starts among the towering spoils of the colonial era in the Royal Quarter, finishing in central Matonge. “There is no hard link with what we see here, and the [negative] colonial past,” he added, “the past is still traumatic.”
The statue of King Leopold II overshadows a walking tour, organised for adult and teenage audiences seeking to learn about the Congolese past, and learn more about the diaspora in the country. “There was an exhibition at the Africa Museum 5-6 years ago, and it was basically just apologetic about Belgium in Congo,” said Annekien Van Vaerenbergh, a guide working with Vizit for more than two decades.
School tour in Matonge visits one of the shops, which by now are mostly run by Asian immigrants - replacing the traditionally African owners. “Every teacher realises very well what we did there in Congo,” said Annemiet Geldof who teaches religion in a school in Willebroek. Yet, she is aware how little of that history is thought in class.
Street market in Matonge had low turnout few months in a row, according to the locals. Jeroen Marckelbach, coordinator of Kuumba, said it was due to increasing running costs inflicted by the local government of Ixelles. “They’re trying to push out the Congolese community, as the mayor of Ixelles said recently - ‘I will clean up Matonge,’” explained Jeroen.
Womba Konga, known by his artist name Pitcho, organised the festival Congolisation in Brussels to raise awareness for African artists, and also, reconcile the Congolese diaspora’s search for identity. “In Belgium, no one saw black people,” he said - “We can leave Leopold avenues, but can’t have a Lumumba place,” he said, “who was killed by the Belgians.”
Relics from colonial era are still everywhere, including the monumental Justice Palace. However, little is done to acknowledge the atrocities committed in Congo, which overshadowed the colonial wealth brought back to the country.
Matonge, the Congolese neighbourhood in Brussels, has a lively African market, which allegedly draws African visitors from all over central Europe. The clagger of hairdressing saloons, beating music and unique smells fill the air in daytime.
Nightime in the market, however, attracts a different smell of drug dealing altogether. This is one of the reasons the community is under pressure from Ixelles governors, who want to link the European Quarter with the up-scale Avenue Louise, by untangling the community in Matonge.
Inside Kuumba, the Flemish-African cultural center in Matonge, traditional dances, music and languages are thought to African and European audiences. In this particular dance class, a mixed variety of students indulged in rhythmic moves and uplifting atmosphere, drawing cheers from the observing posse of Congolese men and women.
The unofficial Lumumba library at the heart of Matonge is run by a charismatic and passionate activist, Philip Buyck. Together with other campaigners and the Congolese diaspora, he continues in the push towards having an official Place Lumumba recognised a few blocks away.
Ylhan Delvaux sits inside his old family home, which is now subdivided and rented out; he still lives on the top floor. “The smell is the same as it was in my childhood, I always feel like my mother is looking at me.” Ylhan’s Congolese-Belgian mother, burned herself in Luxenbourg in a violent protest against racism.
Bozar in Brussels has an office dedicated to African art, called the ‘Africa Desk’. From here, numerous initiatives have been organised to promote and raise awareness for African and, as Tony Van der Eecken called it - Afropean - artists. ”There's frustration among the Congolese that they’re not accepted or seen as part of anything here. Using Bozar to honour Congolese artists is symbolic because it’s a place for recognition - it's near to the royal palace, cultural center of the king, it has a value in the mind of the people,” said Tony.
Tony Van der Eecken is heavily involved in promoting African artists, as well as bringing to the Congolese history to the forefront. Tony remembers when there was the first exhibition on Congo, by Congolese artists: “It was confronting, showing colonial times through Congolese eyes - and it was not that positive about the Belgians. It was a shock exhibition, it was good,” he said.
After the outbreak of war in Syria in 2012, a large part of the Kurdish population of Rojava in Syrian Kurdistan has sought shelter in Turkey. Many of these refugees passed at first through refugee camps in eastern Turkey and left due to the harsh conditions. Others succeeded to enter Turkey otherwise and to make their own way to major cities. The situation for refugees in Istanbul shows two distinct tendencies. For Syrians, refugees of war are given what is called "temporary protection," which involves more help from the government, while for Kurds, the government of Turkey offers what it calls "temporary asylum."
In a wide spectrum of refugees with greater or lesser economic capacity, some have found accommodation in neighborhoods with Kurdish communities already present, while other parts of the refugee community have been forced to squat abandoned buildings. To start the asylum process requires an application to the Turkish government and a separate one to the UNHCR (for recognition of refugee status), however some do not posess the necessary identification to even begin. A high percentage of refugees in Istanbul arrived in the city directly from the refugee camps along the Turkey-Syria border. They have less opportunities and greater chances of being arrested by the authorities and being sent back to the camps.
People living in the poorest neighborhoods, such as Tarlablaşı, which extends nearly down to the main tourist streets of the city of Istanbul, are now confronted with a new restructuring plan implemented by the government of Prime Minister Erdogan. The continuous flow of refugees who come to Turkey from Syria, and the difficulties Kurdish refugees face in being recognized as asylum seekers by the Turkish government indicate a situation that is far from ending.
Eastern Ghouta, Syria
A Free Syrian Army (FSA) group took over the civil status registry near Damascus. The official building contains documents such as birth certificates, identity card application forms and marriage contracts.
FSA fighters claim that they moved the documents through tunnels to a safe location after discovering that part of them has been damaged by the fighting.
This footage shows the battle to take over the civil status office near Damascus and the official building from the inside. A large amount of personal status documents can be seen, some of them torn.
Fighters can be seen in the video carrying large bags of documents through tunnels.
1 Wide of fighter shooting through hole.
2 Wide of fighters running to re-position.
3 Wide of fighters taking cover.
4 Medium of fighter shooting through hole.
5 Wide of fighters taking cover.
6 Wide of shooting machine gun mounted on vehicle.
7 Wide of smoke.
8 Wide of destroyed buildings.
9 Various of fighters running/ walking amid rubble
10 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) FSA commander Abu al-Jud
"We took over the civil registry office and the mosque. We advanced from the right side and took over Lamees area, and we also took over the Mazda company building. We are now very close to the municipality."
11 Close up of sign “Store”
12 Close up sign “Documents Certification”
13 Close up of writing on wall.
14 Close up of computers.
15 Close up of writing on wall.
16 Close up of ID cards.
17 Wide of inside building.
18 Various ID application forms for ID.
19 Close of birth certificate.
20 Various of torn documents.
21 Close up of broken ID, spent bullets on the floor.
22 Close up of IDs on the floor.
23 SOUNDBITE (Arabic. Man) FSA commander Mufid Abdel Hadi
"After liberating the civil registry office, we realized the importance of the documents that the regime tried to burn. We informed special committees about the documents and they confirmed that we need to recover them. We dug underground tunnels with the help of fighters and we took the documents to a safe place."
24 Medium of men taking documents out of bags
25 Close up of fighter taking documents out of bag.
26 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) FSA commander Abu al-Jud
“Some of these documents are burnt.”
27 Wide of registry books.
28 Various of torn documents.
29 Wide of fighters carrying bags through tunnel.
30 Various of documents.
31 SOUNDBITE (Arabic, Man) Uabada, Member of pro-opposition Legal Office
"We are now in the civil registry office for Damascus and its rural areas. We are at the front line of Erbeen, since it has been liberated by the fighters. The office is always a target for shelling and bombing by the regime. We found many important documents such as birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, and civil documents for people from Damascus and its rural areas. Not only for inhabitants of Erbeen, but also those from Kalamoon, Haramoon, and al-Yarmouk camp."
32 Various of fighters walking through tunnel.
It is night and the lights go out, the signal that announces the imminent beginning. In the courtyard, crowded with people, only silhouettes are distinguishable. The atmosphere is charged, but silence reigns. Almost everyone remains motionless except a newcomer trying to find friends in the crowd. Suddenly, a blinding light, followed by cries here, another there, and another... The fire has begun. The drums sound.
The Correfoc, or “fire run,” finds its origins in the “devil dances” of twelfth century Catalonia. The very first one took place at the wedding of Barcelona’s Count, Ramon Berenguer IV. These “devil dances” were performed by actors dressed like demons between meals during noble banquets in the Middle Ages. The dance represented the fight between good and evil.
People start running without a direction in mind. They are running away from the fire, pushing, pulling, eventually becoming attracted by that mysterious magnetism that has always existed between man and the pyrrhic element. At once, men dressed as devils carrying flares mix in the crowd. They light flares and begin to lash out at anything that moves. The sound of firecrackers and the hiss of sparks flying mix with the din of voices. Drums set the rhythm for the fire procession.
The relative security offered by the open space of the square gives way to narrow alleys where devils and spectators huddle. The bravest hug and jump at the fire porters while the majority, fearful, just keep looking for a way to stay ahead of the flames. It is a frenetic tour through the old town, down narrow streets and through open squares, where troupes of devils dance and throw flames and sparks in all directions. At the end of the route, in a larger square, a great fire festival awaits the crowd. Large flares jump skyward while intrepid jugglers delight the audience with a host of tricks, spitting fire like authentic demons until the last flame is extinguished and silence falls on Gerona.
Correfocs were once popular at different celebrations all around Catalonia. The first modern incarnation of the fire parade,however, took place in 1979 at Barcelona’s festival. This represented a comeback for the custom after many popular traditions were lost during the Franco dictatorship. Today, the Correfoc, like other traditional Catalan customs, is a way to preserve Catalonia’s cultural identity.
The district of Tarlabasi is an intricate labyrinth of streets surrounded by now-decaying houses from the Ottoman era. The street here has acquired greater importance than the home, and women and their children have developed a particular relationship to the space.
A young Kurdish girl has lost her mother while crossing the Turkish-Syrian border. She and her other family members have no valid documents to stay in Turkey, and she has also been denied access to education.
Fleeing from the war, many children have been separated from their families. The refugee community requires specific assistance programs that deal with psychological trauma of children.
The opportunity to grow up in a family environment and the right to national identity and to education established by the UN Convention on the Rights of Children are not only destroyed by war, but are perpetuated by a lack of readiness on the part of host countries.
Access to the labor market, health care and education are not guaranteed to refugees without passports. The temporary nature of everything to do or own defines their status as refugees.
Istanbul, Tarlablasi. Even inside abandoned places Kurds providing refuge and sources and arranged the room "of the first night marriage".
A refugee woman walks through a side street in Tarlablasi. The continued violation of the human right to move away from a war zone and to remain in another country is a reality not end unless governments take resolute measures.
A mother shows the only document that she possesses, the identification card from the refugee camp in Diyarbakir from which she and her seven children were able to escape. This alone is not enough to file a request for asylum.
Composed of 9 blocks and 278 pitches, the Tarlablasi area was declared a regeneration zone by the government. Down the narrow streets of the neighborhood, many refugee families live in unfinished buildings without a permit to stay.
This district in the Beyoğlu municipality is the lively heart of the Kurdish community in Istanbul. In 1990, a large number of immigrants from southeastern Turkey moved to Tarlablasi, and even today it is arrival point for many Kurdish refugees.
A Turkish landlord in Bastabya has not cleared the entire apartment before new tenants, paying per month, move in.
In the evening the women of some Kurdish families in the Bastabya neighborhood gather in one of their homes to drink tea together and discuss possibilities for the future.
A family of Syrian Kurdish refugees living in Bastabya crossed the Turkish border illegally, paying smugglers for their passage. Since they arrived, the family of six all live on the outskirts of Istanbul without a permit.
Many refugee families of Syrian and Iraqi minorities live on the outskirts of Istanbul. Europe is regarded by most refugees as a possible alternative to their situation.
Refugee families in the Bastabya district express a form of solidarity through the time they spend together. A friend Sobhi's family came to talk about his son who remained in Syria to fight against the army of Assad.
Rebuilding a life in a new city and being able to share moments of intimacy in an extended family can be complicated. Social networks help families to maintain contact with people who are still in Syria.
The bedrooms in refugee housing are shared by several people. Boys and girls tend to be in separate rooms.
Aldar shows photographs of his house in Aleppo after the bombing. The photographs have been printed and used to create an exhibition to educate people about the Syrian situation in his neighborhood in Istanbul.
The proportion of refugees between 8 and 24 years-old is constantly growing. At night they come together for dinner in temporary shelters.
Solidarity between Kurdish refugee families is very present. Many times other Kurds are hosted even if they are not from the same family.