17 January 2013
IRAQI KURDISTAN UPDATE: December 2012
Present on team: Kathy Thiessen,
Lukasz Firla, Pat Thompson, Bud Courtney, Carrie Peters, Garland Robertson
CPT supported six handicapped
persons who continued their hunger strike which began on 20 November. Members
of the team visited with them daily, participated in several press conferences,
made verbal statements, and distributed a published statement in support of the
striker’s request to receive increased financial assistance from the community
for themselves and more than 125,000 others with disabilities. The team joined
a protest march in support of the striker’s attempt to further generate public
support for their nonviolent witness.
At the strikers’ request, two
members of CPT accompanied the group when they moved their presence to the
capitol city of Hawler. Being unsuccessful in their efforts to meet with
government officials, the group blocked the main road in front of the
Kurdistan Regional Government Parliament and ministry offices. Security forces carried
the strikers to the sidewalk and took their tent, bedding, and provisions away.
After thirty days without eating,
the strikers met with a representative from the Ministry of Social Affairs. Following
this conversation they agreed to end their hunger strike and to allow
government authorities until 1 February to generate a proposed resolution. The
strikers vowed that if this proposal is not acceptable they will return to
their action in a more aggressive way.
CPT met with two women activists, Parween Aziz and Bahar Munzir, who
have spoken publicly in support of women whose human rights are violated. Traditional
family procedures work not only to punish members who are suspected of
behaviors that bring dishonor to the family (almost always females) but also to
force marriages and to perform female genital circumcisions. Both Aziz and Munzir have reported receiving multiple threats on their phones from unknown male callers,
public verbal assaults and a suspicious case when a gunshot fired in the middle
of the night crashed into Aziz’s hotel room while she was attending
a conference in Hawler.
Incidents apparently intended to
frighten women activists who promote enforcement of legal protection for women
have markedly increased following a protest last summer in the village of
Kalar. There a young woman was killed by one of her family members after they
convinced authorities to remove her from a women’s shelter and place her in the
custody of the family.
Departing before sunrise on a foggy,
overcast, damp morning, the team traveled 4 ½ hours toward the mountain village
of Ponkon to visit with Nariman and Tahir Qadir. On 1 September, Iranian soldiers kidnapped
these young Kurdish shepherds while they grazed their flock near the border in
the Sidakan area. Due to swollen rivers the team was unable to reach Ponkon and
received refuge in the home of a gracious family in nearby Permanwan village. The
two shepherds walked three kilometers in the rain to meet with CPT.
Kurd shepherds Nariman and Tahir, abducted by Iran
Nariman and Tahir described their
experience of being apprehended, temporarily blindfolded, then beaten and
confined in Iranian prisons. They confessed, “We were afraid for our
lives; we believed we would never return to our home.” The young men said
their mother tried to visit with them immediately after she learned of the
kidnapping. The Iranians denied her request. Instead they blindfolded her, tied
her hands, and detained her for eight hours before releasing her.
Through the services of an Iranian
attorney, their father successfully arranged his son’s release after Iranians
had confined them for twenty-three days. When the shepherds returned to their
flock they discovered that thirty of their sheep were missing. The reason for
this loss was not known. When asked what they wished to say to Iranian
officials about this incident, they responded, “We want to be able to
graze our flocks without the fear of being abused or shot at by Iranian
soldiers.” The family annually leads their 1000+ flock eighty kilometers
to this ancestral land for summer grazing. The shepherds indicated they plan to
return with their sheep to the same location next April.
On 23 December, the team gathered
with almost 250 other Christians in the Chaldean Cathedral Church of the Sacred
Heart in Kirkuk for the Advent 4 worship service. The building can accommodate
750 worshipers. Afterward Bishop Sako hosted the team, serving
conversation and dessert, and distributing gifts.
CPT Iraqi Kurdistan
opposes violence by Turkey and Iran against the Kurdish people, UN
sanctions that collectively punish Iranians and Kurds in Iran, and the calls
for military action against Iran.