Iraq: Severed from a Way of Life

by Michele Naar-Obed

The CPT Iraq team is witnessing murder − not the murder of individual people, although we have seen that too – but the murder of a way of life.

“We once lived in paradise,” Babaqir told CPT.  “We had everything in our villages − grain, orchards, vegetables, animals.  Our water came down from the mountains clear, clean and cold.”

Now he lives in the Zharawa Internally Displaced Person’s camp where rows of UN tents sit crowded together backed up against toilets and showers.  Temperatures exceed 100ºF and there is not one tree or structure to provide shade.  The IDPs have no electricity to refrigerate food.  They get their water from tanks brought in by the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.  Their heritage, knowledge, connection to God is being destroyed.

Along the northeastern border of Iraq, CPT works to amplify the voices of 137 Iraqi Kurdish families from the Pshdar District currently living in Zharawa camp because Iran and Turkey bombed their villages.

Both governments accuse the Kurdish Regional Government of allowing the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK and sympathizers to occupy these villages and therefore claim their militaries have the right to trespass into sovereign Iraqi territory.  Additionally, the U.S. has given military intelligence to Turkey and sits on a trilateral military commission with Turkey and Iraq’s Central Government to plan military engagements with the PKK.

Aman Ali recalls the days when families lived together in the villages.  “I would go out to the orchards early in the morning and pick fruits and vegetables until I heard the noon call to prayer,” she said.  “Then the family would gather, eat, and talk.  We were happy and grateful to God.”

Now they are separated.  “Some family members crowd into cheap rented houses in town so that our children might be able to finish school,” she explained.  “Others work as shepherds far away, so that we might have a little money to live on.  The rest of us are here at the camp.  What kind of life is this?” she asked, tears streaming down her face.

Abdul Rakhman teaches Arabic in a nearby high school and his sister, Taban, is the camp nurse.  They told CPTers, “Our children are traumatized.  If they continue to live like this, they will be stunted.  Their health suffers as do their minds and their hearts.  When the children lived in the village, they were rarely sick.”

The children drew pictures both of their life in the village and in the camp.  Some pictures featured stick-figured children with smiling faces standing next to rows of houses surrounded by trees filled with apples.  Rows of tents, devoid of children or flowers, appeared in their other pictures.

Every time CPT goes to the IDP camps, these villagers open up a bit more, sharing pieces of themselves with us.  Their stories are not just about the hardships in IDP camps.  They are about the loss of a way of life that is necessary for our collective life as human beings within God’s creation.

Despite a camp regulation forbidding animals, Murwat, the village midwife, rises early each morning to milk her cow.  She warms the fresh creamy milk, makes cheese and yogurt, and believes by doing so she is relating to God.

Here in Suleimaniya, I put ultrapasteurized milk in my coffee (which hasn’t spoiled in over a week even though we’ve had long periods without electricity).  How can we, and our Kurdish neighbors in the city who buy the same processed foods we eat in the West, experience God through consuming this sort of product devoid of the spirit infused into the food that the villagers used to nurture and harvest, sell, share, and eat together?

If the villagers never return to their homes, life will continue.  But it will be a diminished life for all of us.