IRAQI KURDISTAN: Spring 2013 Update

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CPT IRAQI KURDISTAN: Spring 2013 Update

After a cold and wet winter, spring’s
arrival to Iraqi Kurdistan on the vernal equinox (March 20-21) also marked the
beginning of Kurdish New Year, the most important and popular Kurdish festival.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) members donned traditional Kurdish clothes and
joined in the atmosphere of burning fires, fireworks, dances, music, food,
flowers, community and joy. On the second “picnic” day the cities
emptied out and mountains, meadows and rivers filled with thousands of happy
faces, smell of coals and grilled meat and sounds of joyous laughter and music.
CPTers ate dolmah (traditional Kurdish festive meal) surrounded by lush green
hills and snowcapped mountains near the Iranian border and talked about life
and the future with partner village families and friends.

The year of 2713 (in Iraqi Kurdish count),
also brought new hopes for the future of Kurds in Turkey and in the mountainous
border regions. Abdullah Öcalan, a jailed leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s
Party), following the long awaited “peace negotiations” with the
Turkish authorities, called for a historic ceasefire and a full withdrawal of
the guerillas from Turkey, saying, “We
have now reached the point of ‘silence the weapons and let the ideas and
politics speak.'”

The three-decades-long war between the PKK
and Turkish government, which killed more than 40,000 people (mostly Kurds) and
displaced over 3 million Kurdish villagers within Turkey, may now be over, but
caution and uncertainty remain. Since the ceasefire announcement, CPT received
news of two instances of Turkish shelling along the border and bombardment
within Turkey. Turkish war planes and U.S. drones continue to fly over Iraqi
Kurdistan, seemingly to monitor the guerillas’ withdrawal.

Advocating for an end of cross-border
attacks

CPT have partnered with, accompanied and
worked alongside the village communities and shepherds affected by the Turkish
(and Iranian) cross-border attacks within Iraqi Kurdistan since 2007. Before
the ceasefire was announced, the Turkish war planes had bombarded the mountain
areas on a regular basis.

 

As Kurdistan commemorated the 1991 uprising
against the Ba’athist regime, CPTers stood with banners – “After 22 years
villagers are still under attack” and “Turkish bombing murders people”
– in the center of Hawler, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital. Several passers-by who
stopped for a talk or even helped CPTers holding the banners expressed thanks the witness. “It should have been
us standing here, not you,” said one. It is much easier for
Europeans and Northern Americans than for Kurds to conduct actions like this in
an environment so tightly controlled by “security” forces. In
addition to people’s support and positive responses, CPT felt very encouraged
by the renewed interest of the media in this issue, especially NRT (Kurdistan’s
only independent TV station), which covered the action well.

CPTers visited the Iranian vice-consul in
Sulaimani to seek compensation for two
shepherd brothers who were kidnapped by Iranian soldiers
and tortured in prison
before being released on a US$5,000 bail. The team asked Mr. Bodaghi who is
responsible for re-occurring violence by Iranian soldiers along the borders.
They learned how diplomatic he can be, and how cunning in washing his hands of
responsibility. He spoke of the silliness of the shepherds who graze “too”
close to the border, of the rogue soldiers that Iranian authorities cannot bear
responsibility for, and of obscure offices where supposedly the brothers should
lodge a complaint.

CPTers traveled towards the northern border
region to meet with several people in the course of two days. First of them was
Rebaz,
who last November CPTers saw half-dead in Sulaimani hospital just after he lost
his leg and two of his friends were killed in a Turkish bombing
. The team
was very touched to see Rebaz this time on crutches but burning with resilience
and passion for life while holding his six- and seven-year-old children in his
arms. His wounds are still healing but he has not lost time. He had arranged
his house to make his life more livable. He had added a new clutch to his car
so he could drive with one leg. He wants to fight for the bombings to cease. “I am not afraid,” he said. “I don’t
care about what the government will do to me. I already lost my leg. But it
will not stop me. I don’t want any compensation from the government. I want the
bombings to stop!”

Continuing their trip, CPTers met with the
shepherd brothers in a remote village to share about the outcome of the meeting
with the Iranian vice-consul. The brothers did not seem to expect anything else
and told the team, “Despite what
happened to us last year, we are not afraid. We will return to the mountains with
our animals soon. It has been our place for generations. We are going back in a
month.”

In Zhelya village in the mountains above
Sidakan (region bordering both Turkey and Iran and experiencing much of the
cross-border violence) team members joined Sabir and his family in mourning the
unexpected death of Sabir’s father. CPTers planted an olive tree at the grave
to honor his memory. Afterwards, the team stayed with the lovely family over
lunch and ended up playing football with the children from the village and
chasing the ball on the steep slopes of this beautiful mountain village.  A
video story about Sabir and his family is available here.

Accompanying Kurdish activists

In February, CPTers mourned at a cemetery
with the families of martyrs of the 2011 protests. At a following press
conference, CPTers praised the families’ resilience in seeking justice for
their sons, brothers and friends and called on to the Kurdish Regional
Government (KRG) to listen to their plea.

On the 25th
anniversary of the chemical bombing of Halabja
, CPters mourned the
complicity of the countries they come from in this terrible attack that killed
5,000 people and injured over 10,000 more. The team witnessed and supported a courageous
public protest by a group of young men from Halabja
who stood up and unfurled
banners in front of a thousand people, mostly VIP guests, just as the KRG prime
minister finished his speech. They sought recognition of Halabja inhabitants as
living beings, not just past victims to be used as political pawns. They asked
CPT to stand next to them and to wait until the event was finished. The dense
presence of media protected them at that time, but CPTers were unable to
contact them a few days later.

In March, CPTers celebrated
International Women’s Day with women activists by accompanying their march and
associated cultural activities
. CPT is very encouraged by the growing
numbers of people involved in the struggle for a society liberated of
oppression against women. The team interviewed several women rights’ activists
about the changes which their struggle brought as well as the challenges they
face.

Nonviolence workshops

The
team conducted a series of workshops “Introduction to non-violence”
among high school students (10th -12th grades).
Many
of the attending students had participated in a number of protests and
demonstrations and had experienced violence used against them. One of the
schools which opened its gates was the oldest high school in Sulaimani, one
which Serkew (one of the young men killed by the “security” forces
during the 2011 Spring protests) attended. The fifty students that participated
in the workshop were chosen as representatives from different classes to learn
and then to teach nonviolence to their classmates. CPTers were amazed by the students’
social and political insights and their passion for advancing social and
political change. “We wonder why we never had this workshop before… It
is so important. We want to learn more,” said one student.

Despite the fact that demonstrations are a
sensitive topic, CPT was able to get the Sulaimani Directorate of Education’s
permission to conduct these workshops. Opening the first workshop, the director
told the media: “our society has
a long history of violence. But the time for nonviolence has come. The new
generation needs to search for the new nonviolent solutions.”

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