24 Jun 2014News
Yasmi, 101, escapes Syria to start again in western Sydney
“The relative quickness that Yasmi was granted protection and brought to Sydney to be united with her family and friends who can care for her, is a testament to Australia’s successful humanitarian program and something we should all be proud of.”
Yasmi’s story begins in a small farming town on the border of Turkey and Iraq called Madia, where she was born on July 1, 1912.
“We used to grow a lot of rice,” Yasmi said with her friend Nada Shiba, who she now lives with, interpreting. “We did everything by hand.”
“We had cows and sheep. We took them in to the mountains to graze. We used to make butter, yogurt, and cheese. We even made our own bread. I was very happy.”
Yasmi married when she was 18 and lived with her husband in the town where she was born and raised. She had two children, a boy and a girl, and they lived in relative safety as the First World War passed.
Then, the series of conflicts broadly referred to as the Assyrian Genocide reached the region. In 1933, Yasmi and her family fled as Christian Assyrians were killed in towns around them. An estimated 750,000 Assyrians were killed in the genocide but Yasmi and her family were lucky.
Yasmi said her first marriage did not work out and her husband moved with her children to Syria. She remarried in 1941, as World War II reached the region, to a man who had two young children, a boy and a girl, who she raised as her own.
Years later, Yasmi moved to live with Aokil Yonan, another Assyrian woman whose brother had married her daughter. The pair would spend the next 35 years together.
The eight-year war between Iran and Iraq came and went. The second Iraq War reached Yasmi and she again feared for her life. After a bomb exploded outside their home, Yasmi and Aokil escaped to Syria in 2008.
“I was so scared,” she said. “I had no bad feelings about leaving.”
As the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, bombings again closed in on Yasmi and Aokil until one exploded in their street, destroying houses and shattering windows in their home.
Yasmi and Aokil applied together for humanitarian visas with the Australian Embassy in Jordan. But although both were accepted, they were separated for many months. Aokil, now 72, first arrived in Sydney in August last year, and moved in with her cousin Nada. Yasmi was finally brought to Sydney in January.
“I was so happy to be in Australia,” she said, “it is a place for all the needy, all the poor and hungry people.”
Now, as the Middle East lurches from crisis to crisis, Yasmi and Aokil can finally live in peace.
– By Callan Lawrence
SSI Online Communications Coordinator, Callan Lawrence, 0478 156 491, or, 02 8799 6746
SSI Marketing and Communications Manager, Angela Calabrese 0401 284 828