IRAQI Kurdistan: No place to hide

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CPTnet
4 August 2016

IRAQI Kurdistan: No place to hide

 by Julie Brown

[Note: This piece has been adapted for CPTnet.  The original is available on the CPT-Iraqi Kurdistan team blog.]

Allana Gully. Photo by: Julie Brown

“When the bombing starts, where do you hide?” I asked
Sultan.

 “There is no place.  Behind rocks, wherever we
can. We all just run in every direction. Everyone has to find their own place.
 Even the children.”

 The last shelling started on 23 June at 10:00 a.m. and did
not stop until after noon.  The farmer said over 160 bombs fell on the
small area in those two hours.  After it was over, many animals had been
killed and three children were injured.

In the Choman District of Iraqi Kurdistan high in the mountains
near the Iranian border lies the Allana Gully CPT visited after hearing reports
of a recent cross border shelling from Iran. The drive through the mountains to
this remote area was slow. The road is an unpaved rocky path carved into the
side of steep mountain ledges. In many places it is so narrow that the wheels
of our vehicle came dangerously close to sliding off the edge.

 “When the bombings start, some families try to flee in
their vehicles.  You have seen the road; it is very dangerous.”
Sultan pointed to the rugged path; it’s the only road that leads down.

Sultan showing his daughter’s injury. Photo by: Julie Brown

Sultan was one of the first people we met.  As soon as Sultan
heard we had come to talk about the shelling from Iran, he summoned his
daughter, a young girl with long blond hair.  He reached down and gingerly
took her arm and lifted it up for us to see.  He explained that she had
been hit by shrapnel.  Metal had entered her palm and lodged in her wrist.
 She had to have surgery to remove the shrapnel, which a wound that went
all the way through.  As I took pictures of her injuries I could see the
trauma on her face.   

Sultan took us away from the tents further down the road.  He
stopped at a point overlooking a small pasture full of grazing sheep and
explained that twenty-five families farm the surrounding area every year.
 His family pays several thousand dollars each year for this land to farm
and graze animals.  Even with the shelling, they must stay because farming
is their only source of income.  He indicated that in this field was where
the children were when they were injured.  An eight-year-old old boy with
bright curly red hair had injuries to his arm; a thirteen-year-old boy had
injuries to his neck.  All from shrapnel.

I looked at the field below.  If shelling were to start,
where would people go?  They had no cover.  The rocks were not big
enough to shelter them. 

A group of children descended from the tent village toward us.
 They stopped to play in a small stream that snaked the side of the path
and I took out my video camera.  As I approached, one of the children said
 “video” and pointed at my camera.  For the next forty-five
minutes the children and I took turns using the “video”.  I
filmed them; they filmed me. There was laughing and smiling and we all used the
camera as we walked slowly back to the tent village.  

Children from Allana. Photo by: Julie Brown

Once we reached the tents we rejoined the larger group where the
adults were finishing their last words about the bombing.  The mood among
the children immediately changed.  They were more serious as they now stood
with the adults, looking up and listening.  Villagers had reported that
members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran were thought to be in the
area and that is what prompted the shelling.  At first drones came; then
the shelling started.  It became clear that Iran had the use of
surveillance drones, yet still repeatedly targeted these farmers and their
children. In other areas, people reported that the targeting of civilians is a
commonly used tactic.  Many locals believe Iran and Turkey target them so
that the civilians will force armed groups out of the area.  The men,
their wives, and the children in the Allana Gully only have dreams of farming
and living in peace.

Children reminded of recent shelling. Photo by: Julie Brown.

When I had handed my video camera to the children earlier that day
I intended to capture what the world looked like through their eyes but there
are things we can never fully see.  What does bombing look like to a seven
year old? What does it look like to try to hide alone behind a rock as the
world explodes around you?  How does the world look through the eyes of a
twelve year old with shrapnel lodged in her body?  How can children make
sense of this when even the adults do not have the answers?

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