3 March 2015
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Training nonviolence pioneers to confront ISIS trauma
Throughout the last eight months the population of displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan has multiplied rapidly. In May 2014 approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees were living there. Now, in February 2015 the region is caring for approximately one million persons from a wide range of backgrounds: Syrians, Syrian Kurds, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Sunni and Shia Arabs, Ezidi/Yezidi and other minorities. The host Iraqi Kurdish population has risen to the challenge to the best of their ability: collecting goods and caring for the most vulnerable. However, the early emergency has passed and it appears that the visitors will not be leaving anytime soon. Tensions and conflicts between the various groups are beginning to rise.
One organization working in the situation is REACH (who was CPT-IK’s inviting partner in 2006). This group, along with RDSYP, funded by Christian Aid UK, had the vision of presenting workshops to train individuals from these ethnic and religious groups to create community and understanding and reduce the potential of further violence. CPT-IK’s friend, Ann Ward, suggested that Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) would be a good experiential way to equip these persons to face the tensions in a nonviolent, compassionate way. Participants would receive training to present one day workshops to young people with the goal of providing opportunities for listening, understanding and cooperation.
Ward invited two members of CPT-IK to co-facilitate this first adventure of AVP in Iraqi Kurdistan. Two other CPTers joined the training along with sixteen persons from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The basic three-day workshop was held on 23-24 January 2015 in Sulaimani. The group worked on building trust in order to use the newly developing community as support. Two weeks later they spent the Advanced workshop hearing each other’s difficult stories and painful feelings, learning about consensus, speaking in assertive ways about feelings, training to see potential violent situations and thinking how to change their world nonviolently. Members of the “host community”–Iraqi Kurds—heard from individuals who had fled from the militant group known as ISIS or DAASH. Christians from the Mosul area heard from Syrian Kurds who are oppressed because they don’t speak the ‘correct’ dialect of Kurdish. And the other groups heard from Iraqi Kurds of the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime and thus the anger at those who appear to be Arab. Many of the participants spoke of finding themselves in a place they did not plan or want to be.
On 21 February, the third week of training began, during which the fifteen remaining participants eagerly gathered to learn the skills for facilitating AVP workshops. Upon graduation from the sixty hours of training they will take their new-found knowledge and open hearts to spread the message of nonviolence and acceptance to their communities. These new facilitators are pioneers and are building the future for the wonderfully and painfully diverse community that shares this small piece of land called Iraqi Kurdistan.