9 August 2010
IRAQ: From Mountain Villages to Tent Camps
By Peggy Gish
The windy, rutted road, that passed through a shallow stream led us to the mountain village of Sarkhan. Shekh Qadir Muhammad met us and walked us over a homemade sapling bridge to his house. He showed us shattered glass and debris around the broken windows of his home. Five meters from his house an Iranian rocket explosion left a shallow crater. “Rockets set off fires that burned the crops in my nephew’s fields,” he stated, as he pointed to blackened stretches on the adjoining hillside. On a nearby mountaintop that marks the Iraq-Iran border, we saw the structure of an Iranian military base.
For three years, villages in the Zharawa sub-district of the Suleimaniya governorate in Kurdish Iraq have endured sporadic bombardment from both Turkey and Iran. On 20 May, however, Iranian shelling intensified and came inside Sarkhan and the nearby villages of Zewka, and Ali Rash. The residents left and formed the Gojar tent camp three kilometers uphill (in the Qaladza sub-district). The heavy bombardment continued for 25 days. The people tied tree branches to their shelters and around some of the tents to ease the intense summer heat.
Earlier that day we visited the Doli Shahidan camp in a treeless flood plane, the temporary home for 408 families from twelve villages in border areas north of the city of Sangasar. One Sarosh Village family told us that they fled after four hours of heavy Iranian shelling inside the village on 8 June. No one was hurt, but almost 100 of their animals were killed or injured and trees and crops were ruined. “We are very upset. We left everything behind when we came,” said Zanib, the mother of six children. “It is bad for me, an old woman,” lamented 91-year-old Shum Ahmad from Ash Qulka Village as she sat in her small tent. “I hope this will never happen to anyone else.”
In both camps, we heard identical complaints about living conditions in the camp: “It’s very hot; there is no electricity.” “We have no toilets or wash rooms.” “At home we had our work to do; here there is no way to earn money.” Thirteen-year-old Sangar from Sarosh said, “Back in the village we played together. Here, during the day, there is nothing to do, but to look for shade.” Several expressed their fears about what they would do if they were still in the camps when the month of Ramadan started on August 11. “In our villages we would have more to eat and cool places to rest,” said Shum. “I am afraid people will die here.”
Turkish surveillance planes still fly over their villages, and both Turkey and Iran continue to bombard villages in areas further north along the Iraq-Iran border. The displaced are clear, however, about what they want. One woman voiced it when she stated, “We simply want the bombing to stop, to be able to return to our villages and live in peace.”