THE BLOG

My Big Fat Kurdish Crisis

03/03/2016 12:18 GMT | Updated 03/03/2017 10:12 GMT

I love my husband - I really do - and not just because he bears more than a passing resemblance to George Clooney.

But when he scooped the eyeball out of a baked sheep's head and offered it to me on a spoon at our wedding reception, I hissed that I would divorce him that very day. So he ate it himself.

That wasn't my first Kurdish crisis and certainly not my last. Probably not surprising, bearing in mind they're an ethnic group based in the Middle East, while I'm an English girl, the daughter of teachers, raised in the seventies enjoying caravan holidays, beach-hut days and David Essex and Bowie on Sunday night's top twenty.

It all began back in the nineties, when I was young and single. Arriving home from work I spied a little Argos-style pen stuck to a piece of card on the door mat. As I stood wrestling if off the card I couldn't help but glance at the slogans it was stuck to.

"To you this is just a pen," it screamed at me in block capitals on a red background. "But in Turkey this is an instrument of torture". I found myself examining the biro suspiciously before reading on to discover that a Kurdish child had his eyes gouged with a pen in Turkey after being accused of running messages for the PKK.

I immediately joined Amnesty and roped my dad in too.

To register our disapproval of Turkey's treatment of the Kurds, dad and I vowed never to visit the country. My mum was not impressed. She'd always wanted to visit Turkey and wailed that she'd never get to see their wonders of the ancient world.

So it was slightly awkward several years later when I was sent to Turkey on a story for the News of the World.

"It's work mum," I reasoned. "I won't enjoy it," I insisted. And so it was even more awkward when, on that same trip, I met my future husband and fell completely in love with both him and the country.

He was Kurdish and claims he fell in love with me when I whispered to him: "I shouldn't even be here - I joined Amnesty because of you!" glancing over my shoulder, all the while, to see if there were any Turkish soldiers armed with biro's ready to poke out my eyes!

At least my mum finally got to visit the country of her dreams and I embarked on the next episode of my Kurdish crisis.

Marrying into a massive Kurdish clan is no easy feat. None of his family could get visas to come to the UK so we settled for a wedding in his home town of Midiat, not far from the Syrian border.

At first I thought it was probably a good thing, as my OCD would have ruined the day. All I had to do was a buy a dress and turn up. It was going to be a three-day traditional Kurdish wedding and perfect, according to Adnan, my future husband.

But getting there certainly wasn't perfect. Travelling from Mardin airport to Midiat we were stopped every couple of miles by spotty, teenage Turkish soldiers brandishing automatic guns and screaming at us to get out of the car.

Adnan and his brothers seemed unphased. They were clearly used to it. It wasn't a security exercise - more an operation to humiliate and disrupt the lives of Kurds.

Reaching Midiat we drove past a piece of waste ground with a broken down oil tanker and some scrap metal and wood piled in the corner. "This," said Adnan gesturing expansively across the muddy tip, "is where we will be married". My heart-sank. It was no fairy tale scene.

But days later, 11,000 guests (yes, 11,000, nearly all cousins) pitched up to the three-day extravaganza and the happy, folk-dancing crowd managed to hide the rubbish pile and certainly put a smile on my face.

That was fourteen years ago and we remain happily married, now with two daughters. But since then I've weathered many more Kurdish crises like:

* Coming down to breakfast to discover 11 grown men asleep on my sitting room floor (all cousins, they'd come for a visit, just no-one had told me).

* A husband who thought I needed his permission to go out with my friends at night (he's since learned).

* In-laws who'd be happy with ANY religion but just don't understand my agnosticism. (When they asked me to explain, I'd reached the bit about descending from monkeys, when my mother-in-law, sobbing with laughter, begged me to stop so she could invite her neighbours in to enjoy the nonsense I was spouting).

I have become accustomed to the guns and the hardship and developed an overwhelming love and appreciation of these people, my family, the Kurds.

They are a beacon of hope and tolerance in a very conflicted area. They have accepted me with open arms and a warm heart and are willing to share what little they have with me.

But the Kurds are now facing the worst crisis.

As they continue their brave battle against the monsters of Islamic State, they are being bombed by Turkey, who've moved on from biros to genocide. Kurdish kids are being killed - the lucky ones get to be raised in refugee camps, others are drowning in the Med.

Perhaps, if we stand together, we could demand a happy ending after all.

Vanessa's first book, THE POMEGRANATE TREE (Blanket Press, £9.99) is a fictional account - based on real events - of a teenage Kurdish girl escaping Syria. Available from all good book shops and available to buy on Amazon