24 November

Activities on Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Iraqi Kurdistan team during October centered around courage and culture. The autumn multinational CPT delegation traveled in the Kurdish area of Turkey as well as Iraqi Kurdistan. 

In Diyarbakir, Turkey we
met in a former camel caravan hostel with activist and social worker O. This 30-year-old
woman is facing charges of working for the opposition group. She awaits her
court date knowing that she faces up to eighteen years in prison for supporting
the women and children of her Kurdish culture. “Please do not use my name,” she
said. “I am not anyone special. There are thousands of activists in prison. I
am fortunate that I can still walk the streets of Diyarbakir, sleep
in my own bed and continue to do the work that I love.” It is ironic that one
of the claims against her is that she speaks with international delegations.
Yet she showed no hesitation to eat with us and tell us of her people’s plight.


photo by Cory Lockhart

In Sunneh we
heard more of the story
of the teachers and students of the rural school that last year faced damage
from shelling
. The principal, K, spoke of going to the tent IDP camp with
the teachers to try to bring the children some normality. They worked for
months in heat and dust without books or blackboards to provide schooling. The
delegation spent an hour with the grades 1-5. The children sang their national
anthem and delegates pooled their knowledge to have fun with the students.
After a delegate acted out a silly story, K said, “Today I saw smiles on children’s
faces where I have not seen them for a long time. Living under the threat of
shelling is very frightening for these little ones.”

The children
of Sunneh tell their own stories on the video, Disrupted Lives.

Summer provided
a respite from shelling. Crops grew and were harvested. The delegates walked
through green gardens and were treated to a meal of their produce. But the
mayor of Sunneh told us, “We are not secure. They can start shelling again at
any time.”

On the last
day in Sulaimani the delegation visited three families who lost sons in the
2011 demonstrations in Sulaimani governorate area. We heard of government
officials coming to houses fourteen times asking the families to give up their
fight for justice for their sons. They were asked to take money to keep quiet
about security forces shooting bullets into a crowd. The mother of the youngest
victim (11 years old) said, “That morning he stood in front of me and told me
he was a man now. He went to join the crowd and those were the last words I
heard him say.” Now almost two years later she is still trying to find a way
forward out of her grief.

The delegates participated
in two press conferences. The first was in the mountainous area of Sidakan. The
mayor hosted the delegation and a group of media while he showed the permanent
camp built for the villagers in case of further bombardment. He expressed the
desire that this camp not be used for villagers, but for a tourist camp or
housing for teachers.  At the second
conference in Sulaimani, the delegates informed the Kurdish media of what they
had learned and observed during the previous two weeks. Two of the families who
had lost sons attended.

photo by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen  

The CPT Iraqi
Kurdistan team spent the last day of Eid celebrating a wedding. The team’s
long-term friend, Kaka M., invited us to join family and friends in the
festivities surrounding the joining of his son and his bride. The mountain
football field provided enough space for the men and women to be separated for
the traditional meal of rice and chicken. As the bride and groom drove into
the area, large speakers powered by a generator began to blast Kurdish music
and the dancing began. Under a brilliantly sunny autumn sky the team joined men
and women in the semi-circle of Kurdish dance. It was a privilege to be there to
deepen the relationship with the villagers.

At the end of October
the team travelled to Ranya for the annual Cultural Festival. Two days of
costumes, dance and traditional music entertained thousands of Kurdish people
as well as the CPT team. Performing groups represented Kurds, Yazidis,
Persians, Turkomens, Arabs and Christians. 
The costumes, colour, and talent were wonderful, but the best part of the
two days is described in Pat
Thompson’s reflection


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