27 April 2011
IRAQ UPDATE: March 2011
On team during this time were Lukasz Firla, Marius van Hoogstraten, Michele
Naar-Obed, Allan Slater, Kathy Thiessen.
Youth Centre English Class
Because the students had asked for normal English classes rather than
discussion and because the demonstrations were taking a lot of energy, the team
discontinued the class.
Trip to Choman
On 3-4 March, Van Hoogstraten and Slater made a trip to Choman, a city near the
Iranian border to renew acquaintances, do groundwork for the upcoming delegation
and discuss possible accompaniment of the mountain villagers and shepherds
during the time of shelling (mostly planting and harvest). The leader of the tiny mountain village,
Kani Spi told them the shelling usually occurs during planting, which begins
around 15 May, and during harvest time. His brother, a shepherd, said, “ I’m not sure if it will
work, but I still think it would be very good.”
A Day in Pshdar Village
Naar-Obed, along with three CPT partners, visited the family of a village
leader in the sensitive area of Pshdar district. In what was once a thriving village of fifty families, the
village now consists of five families trying desperately to hang on to their
traditional way of life as farmers and shepherds. The villager received the CPT group with warm hospitality,
took them on a village tour, and prayed with them for the day when the village
would thrive again.
Halabja Day of Remembrance
Halabja is the site of the 1988 chemical bombings by Saddam Hussein in which
5000 people died in a few minutes.
Thiessen, Van Hooogstraten, and Firla made a trip to the monument and
cemetery in Halabja to prepare for the delegation on the day before Halabja’s
annual 16 March Remembrance Day.
The organizers of the Suleimaniya demonstrations asked the team to speak about
this tragedy from the stage on the day of remembrance. Team members stood
together on the stage while Obed-Naar read a statement confessing that they and
many from their countries had not paid attention to the tragedy when it happened. She read, “And we carry your voice. We carry all the voices we have heard
over these last four weeks in this Freedom Square. We carry your voices out over the artificial borders that
have been imposed on the Kurdish people. We carry your cries for freedom and justice to the ears of
all who will listen. We hear you
and you are not alone.” TV news
crews filmed the speech, and the team received many comments in later days
about this contribution.
Trip to Kalar
On 19 March, Thiessen, Obed-Naar, Firla and R. a friend of the team, travelled
to Kalar, the most southern town in Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by Kurdish
Regional Government. They visited
with H., the head of the border police who patrols the Iranian border and spoke
to him about smuggling problems. The
next visit was with a group of NGOs. Finally, the team spent time with
the father of H. who is the head of the peshmergas (Kurdish fighters) in the
area. He spoke about his faith,
the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism and the difference between it and Islam.
On 20-21 March, the time of the celebration of Nawros, the Kurdish people
welcome spring as well as the change of the Kurdish New Year (2711). The team attended the opening of their
neighbor/landlord’s English preschool. The children were dressed in their traditional finery (boys
in Kurdish suits with baggy trousers and girls in brightly colored sequined
dresses). For this holiday, team
members went to the square where they met the largest gathering of protestors
yet. There was almost no room to
move and the atmosphere was joyful. The main street of the city was closed off and families
strolled in their fine clothes, listened to music, and danced in the streets.
The demonstrations at Azadi Square continued all throughout March. The White Line reconvened for a few days
and then the atmosphere became peaceful and most of the security forces had
left so they ceased having a presence. However, on 6 March, a group of demonstrators who had erected
tents in order to vigil all night experienced terror in the form of masked men
with fire and clubs. They
attackers burned the tents and beat the young men.
On 9 March, the team interviewed N., one of the main organizers. She said, “After the violence on the first
day of the demonstration [17 February] I felt that I had to do something.” She said she and her husband have
Canadian citizenship but want to be considered just two of the people gathered,
with no extra privileges.
On 13 March, word came that the soldiers were gathering again. However, the team heard a rumor that Joe
Biden (vice president of USA) had a word with Prime Minister Talabani and they
were withdrawn again.
On 23 March, the team met with P., a Kurd from Australia. He was arrested in Hawler/Erbil, the
capital city of the KRG, for wearing a T-shirt written saying, “No to Corruption,
Yes to social justice.” The back
of the t-shirt read, “The answer to the people’s request should not be bullets.” He was released after many beatings
when the Australian government intervened, is determined to kick start the
demonstrations in Hawler/Erbil and asked team members to come as observers and
to make contact with the US consulate there.
On 24 March, Obed-Naar and Slater accompanied several of the Suleimaniya
organizers to Halabja, because the demonstrations there had experienced
violence resulting in two deaths.
Some of the stories from the above update have appeared on CPTnet:
IRAQ REFLECTION: “I want everyone to hear this story”–anniversary of
chemical gas attack on Halabja <https://cpt.org/cptnet/2011/03/28/iraq-reflection-i-want-everyone-hear-story-anniversary-chemical-gas-attack-halabja>
IRAQ: “The Clarification from the Ad-Hoc Committee of Azadi Square”
IRAQ: “The truth has been unleashed”; protest organizers arrested, disappeared,
IRAQ: Suleimaniyah demonstrators continue to resist, despite lack of media
IRAQ: Fires, broken bodies, arrests, and chaos at Freedom Square in Suleimaniya
IRAQ: Protests turn to public mourning, White Group continues strategizing.