The Syrian refugee crisis is now one of the most pressing ongoing humanitarian issues in the world. Some two million Syrians have fled the country, and another four million have been displaced internally. Refugee communities are now concentrated in Jordan (ca. 550,000), Lebanon (ca. 800,000), Turkey (500,000), and Iraq (ca. 200,000), where they live in official camps established by the host country or in makeshift camps.
Some of these Syrians are hamemati, pigeon collectors, and they have continued to collect pigeons while in exile. Some hamemati have even taken their Syrian birds into exile with them. It’s a small but important part of Syrian culture for these refugees.
“Syria’s pigeon collectors, hamemati as they are known back home, are among the most ardent in the Arab world. They do not breed or race them. They will trade and sell them, but mostly they just keep them as treasured pets. So it comes as little surprise that some have gone to great lengths to pursue their hobby in exile, especially since no one expects Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war to end anytime soon.
A coop atop a trailer in a refugee camp; a flock of pigeons circling above a building in a neighborhood with Syrian newcomers. These are the telltale signs of the hamemati in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the nations with the most Syrian refugees. Even if the collectors have not managed to resume their hobby yet, any Syrian will immediately identify the local hamemati, who often gather together and endlessly swap pigeon stories.”