26 June 2017
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Take ownership of your home
By: Daan Savert
On 15 May 2017, we as delegates of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan spring delegation visited Basta, one of the 63 villages that dot the high mountain area of the Pishdar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kak Bapir, the village leader, and his family welcomed us warmly. “The people of CPT are no longer guests here,” Kak Bapir said. “So take ownership of your home.”
In the 1980s the regime of Saddam Hussein displaced thousands of civilians inhabiting the mountains and lowlands of the Pishdar region. After the fall of the Ba’ath regime in 2003 the people were glad to return to and rebuild their homes and villages. However, in 2007 a new period of misery started, when both the Turkish and the Iranian governments began to bomb the region. In 2012 Iranian cross-border artillery bombardments ceased but Turkish air strikes continue until this day. The latest attack took place on 6 April 2017.
Over the last ten years Turkish and Iranian bombs and rockets killed twenty people and destroyed more than one hundred village houses. The farmers and shepherds had to repeatedly abandon and flee their homes. The people of the region suffer from the loss of animals, destruction of homes, businesses and agriculture and a delayed electrical project. Because of the bombings there is a lack of teachers, since they are afraid to come to the villages to teach the children. All of this has resulted in a lot of mental health problems in the region.
Photo: Kak Bapir and CPT delagation.
Basta has always represented peace. During the war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the father of Kak Bapir negotiated with leaders of both parties and encouraged them, after around seventy sessions, to sign a peace agreement. The Turkish government claims that their bombings target the PKK, whose fighters have also maintained presence in the area for over two decades, in their own camps and mountain hideouts. However, the bombings are making life unbearable for the civilians who otherwise could produce enough of certain vegetables, cheese, meat and honey, not only to sustain their own communities but also for the whole region. The area is well-known for its mountain agriculture, beekeeping and livestock.
On 18 May, our delegation accompanied Kak Bapir to a meeting at the Consulate General of the United States of America in Erbil. Kak Bapir asked the consular officers to put pressure on the government of Turkey to stop bombing Pishdar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. We as delegates wrote a letter to the Consul, in which we amplified the communities voice in this important struggle. Although the political officer expressed his understanding, he kept on repeating that Turkey is targeting the PKK, a group that is considered a terrorist organization by the USA. Kak Bapir invited the Consular staff to visit Basta but the officer told him that because of security reasons there would be no chance to take this travel.
“Take ownership of your home.” Somehow these words of Kak Bapir keep ringing in my ears. His hospitality and peaceful presence are a sharp contrast to the violence and injustice that are taking place in the region he lives in. We, the CPT delegation, hope that the small steps that are being taken in raising awareness and putting pressure will one day make Kak Bapir and the other inhabitants of the Pishdar district able to finally live in peace in their homes.