Dec 5, 2016

Awat Hassan continues to be the voice of change among ongoing death threats

Awat Hassan talking to CPTers at his home, December 04, 2016. Photo by: Rezhiar Fakhir.
Awat Hassan Abdulla is a civil society activist and one of the main organizers of the teachers’ protests that are currently happening in the city of Sulaimani. Since the beginning of the school year in September 2016, the teachers are on a strike and demand that their full wages be paid and that the government sector will stop and deal with its internal corruption. The schools and universities remain closed until now. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an international human rights organization, have been in contact with Mr. Awat Hassan Abdulla and his family, who requested that we accompany them. Mr. Awat and his family have been receiving threats and following a series of violent detentions and beatings by the Security forces (Asaish), the last one took place on the 1 December 2016, he and his family fear for their safety and lives. CPT agreed to accompany him and his family.


Nov 10, 2016

We are not going to leave, this is our home and our land it belongs to us.

By Kasia Protz

They keep drinking their tea while the Turkish war planes are hovering in the sky above their heads." How often does this happen ? " I ask pointing to the sky.
"I don't know, it depends, sometimes six, sometimes seven days a week , it's now a part of our daily lives." Kak Kaninya Barchun village leader of Muruke (wearing blue shirt) says while continuing to sip his tea.
Kak Kaninya explaining their situation to our team member Latif. Photo by: Kasia Protz
I'm very surprised by his relaxed manner toward the war planes in the sky, which can drop bombs at his village, home or family at any given time, his calmness makes me and the rest of our team feel safe but  it also disturbs me. In what kind of the world are we living in, where an innocent family have to get accustomed  to constant threat of warplanes bombing their land or home at any given time ?
Kak Kaninya is one of the people who live in Muruke village, situated in the sub district of Dinarta, high in the mountains and bordering Turkey, Muruke has been bombed 7 times during the last two years by Turkey.
One of the villagers showing the team picture from the last bombing. Photo by: Kasia Protz
Before the bombing started there were 23 families living in Muruke, now only 9 are left. Many families left after June the 4th when the last bombing happened, very close to the village and at 10 in the morning it was especially traumatic and a frightening experience, some of the villagers had to run to the nearby forest to hide. It was pure luck that nobody was hurt as at this time of the day many people were outside of their homes.
Many houses were severely damaged and till this day are standing unrepaired as the government hasn't offered any financial aid. Windows of the houses had shattered due to the ground shaking. Most of them were fixed from villagers own money, but some can not afford that. They use cardboard to cover holes in the windows or use the rooms with damaged windows as storage spaces. They are worried about the cold when the winter comes.

One of many damaged houses in Muruke. Photo by: Kasia Protz
People of Muruke are worried about their animals and crops. During bombings often the grazing and planting fields are burned, some animals are starving due to the fields being burned down.
"Yes the damage of the buildings and our land is a big issue, but what we are really are worried about are our children. Our children are scared ! They wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares. They dream of bombs falling on them "
The trauma in Muruke is easily seen when looking at children, they are visibly scared and  look up into the sky when military planes pass by. Also in recent months a lot of villagers had been diagnosed with diabetes, doctors said it was due to stress.
"We are not going to leave, this is our home and our land it belongs to us. We just want to live in peace here " one of the villagers says.
Muruke located in Dinarte subdistrict of Akre in the Duhok province of Iraqi Kurdistan is one of many villages affected by the cross border bombing from Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan, the problem is big and highly ignored.
However, when sitting with people of Muruke I can't keep myself from being absorbed by their strength and resilience, while they drink their tea, laugh with their children and talk to us about their struggle with a smile on their face. They certainly haven't lost their faith, hope and still believe in miracles.  

Nov 9, 2016

We feel we are living in a jungle

By Latif Hars

During our team’s recent trip to visit our partners in Dinarte subdistrict of Akre in Iraqi Kurdistan, the team visited three villages Kashkawa, Muruke and Chame Rabate. Most of those who are living there are impacted by bombardments and land occupation.

Yousif showing the team his damaged house. Photo by: Kasia Protz
We  visited them in order to know more about their life under the Turkish bombardment. When we arrived we were warmly received by Yousif, a villager living in Kashkawa. He had also invited some other villagers and Kashkawa’s village leader. Yousif told us it has been awhile since the last bombardment from Turkey, however they are still affected by it. “Our houses are damaged and our children and families are traumatized by the former bombings.” We witnessed holes in the walls of houses and pieces of bombs on the ground.

Yousif changed the topic of the conversation to discuss another issue that they had been struggling with, he said “we have another big problem, our pasture and land are occupied and sold by people close to power. They don’t have the right to do it because these lands belong to us, we have official  documents. Our pasture has been sold for a 10,000$ for one season by those in power.”
The villagers telling their story. Photo by: Kasia Protz
Those attending the meeting said “for a long time we are facing this problem, because the people in power know we are a minority group (Asyrian Christians) here and the government doesn’t care about our issues, so they occupy our land by pressuring us. Here there is no respect for minorities and our rights are nothing but just a symbol. So, many of families and our young have left the country,  we can’t live under this injustice and pressure.”

Later we drove with Yousif and his guests  to Muruke village, there Khaninia the village leader of village welcomed us to his home. We were sitting and drinking tea in a place surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests. The village leader talked to us about the last bombardment by Turkey. He said “before the war restarted between PKK and Turkey,  PKK members were in the mountains around the village. They left when the ceasefire between them broke. However Turkey still bombed mountains surrounding Muruke village after they left. Our houses  got damaged and our children are frightened and still have nightmares.”

A women who was sitting with us said “we haven’t any guarantee of our safety and life under the Turkish bombings.” We noticed the fear on the faces of children and women, even after three months since the last bombing. While we were listening to them Sliwa Zaya who has come with us from Kashkawa village said “we are living in a jungle because we haven’t any assurance for our life”.


The villagers suggested the team visit Chame Rabate village, to hear what had also happened there. We said our goodbyes and drove to Chame Rabate. On our way there we faced difficulty driving, the road to the village was very bad. As we drove we noticed that the roads to villages around that area are unpaved and difficult. When we arrived  at the entrance of Chame Rabate we saw three people working on rebuilding destroyed watermill, they told us this is not the first time they are rebuilding it. In the beginning Saddam destroyed it but now Turkey is destroying it .

At this moment a man with a tired face, in working clothing and holding an axe in his hand approached us. He was notified that the team is coming to his village. We gave him a lift with us to the village where he guided us to an old church under a beautiful mountain. Beside the graveyard there were women and men standing and sitting. We talked to them  about their fears and the damages from Turkish bombing, they showed us pieces of bombs. We noticed the bombardment had been done around the church of the village.  We have seen this done by Turkey before around mosques in the Muslim villages in Qandil .

The villager showing the team the photo of the man beaten by a commander. Photo by: Kasia Protz.
Followed by that, a person showed us a picture of the injured face of a man we looked and asked “Who is this?”

He responded , “He is the man standing beside you now, the village leader ” Then the village leader told us “a commander  occupied  my own land so I tried to prevent it. However,  the commander told me, “I am the government, law and power.” He continued “the commander’s  followers beat me and they injured my face badly. He tried to  prove that he was powerful himself and I knew why he did it against me.  Under  my land  there is oil.” We then noticed that our young people had documented the events which happened on their mobiles.

As the day was ending and it was getting dark we left Chame Rabate village, Sliwa Zaya who was with us during the whole trip through villages, told us more about the Asyrians “we are the native Iraqi people and  one of the first to be here.’’ There is nearly 3 million people of us separated around the world. Our language is Asyrian, it came from Aramaic language, which was the international language during the Asyrian empire.

We have some members in the Kurdish parliament and Iraq Parliament, but sometimes they cannot be real representatives of the Asyrian people. They feel compelled to make decisions for the politically powerful in the area. Instead of defending our rights as a minority. Our rights have been abused without any responsibility. We feel we are living in a jungle.”    
.

Nov 2, 2016

Ponderings

By Rosemarie Milazzo

Last week, we visited a village on our mountainous border, where farmers told us of their land being bombed once again by Turkey and Iran.  Kak J invited us warmly into his home and told us the story.

We also visited Mrs. H, the wife of a man kidnapped from his home because he spoke out for justice and against oppression. “I am afraid each day,” cried Mrs. H, after her husband was abducted, his head shaved and then he was taken away with his teen aged son.

“I live in a jail” said Kak J  after his farm was bombed once again.

I pondered when we were back on road, what is it like to live in fear,  what is it like to live in a jail, there are no bars on these jails, yet, I could almost hear them saying.

“there are inner bars cutting me up”

Mrs. H told us, “my heart is shackled, where is daddy” cries my son, “when will he be home again”

Kak J said, “I walk on my land and see shrapnel, huge bomb remnants where I once saw my animals grazing,”

Mrs. H “I don’t sleep nights for fear my children may be abducted, I live in fear knowing I, myself may be abducted”

“there are inner bars holding me tight”

Kak J   “where I once saw green, I now see burned up land, my fruit trees, my rice paddies, my tomatoes are all gone. We never know when they will bomb again? Where will we hide, how will we survive? ”

“there are inner bars squeezing my heart”

Mrs. H “my children cannot sleep, I see no smiles, hear none of their songs. Their friends are afraid to play with them,my baby is no more since they pushed me to the ground, will they take my house, where can I go? “

“my inner freedom is darkened..”

“ I carry heavy hurts,”
“I carry dark fear”           
Is this what it means to live in a jail?
Is there a tourniquet to stop the bleeding?

I pondered further…

Yes, the old woman who sneaked into her house after dark to be with Mrs. H when all others were afraid, surely her courage helped stop a bleeding heart. Perhaps all the men who shaved their heads in solidarity with the man kidnapped, kindness doubled... And we who hear the stories, are we called upon to stop hearts that bleed?

Oct 3, 2016

I am teaching Math, but the government is teaching corruption. I am consolidating society, they are dividing it.


By Muhammad Salah

Since the ISIS war started, or since the Kurdish leaders in Northern Iraq diced to engage in the war, the name of the Peshmarga (Kurdish fighters) has become a well known around the world. Kurdish people are brave, Kurdish people are heroes.

Before ISIS entered Iraq, the Kurdish government  was in a conflict with the Iraqi Central Government. The main issue was about oil as well as the Peshmarga's salary. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) wanted to sell oil and to be able to have an independent economy. Because of this, the Iraqi Central Government no longer wanted to send salaries for the Peshmarga with the Kurdish leaders not wanting to put the Peshmarga under Iraqi control.

Also, in the last two years the Kurdish government employees have not regularly received their salaries. I am among the 130,000 teachers who did not received a salary for September, October, November, and December of 2015. The Kurdish authorities are creative, since January of 2016 the employs are now getting a percentage of their salary. These percentages range anywhere from as low as twenty-five percent. This also affects people receiving retirement benefits.  Their salaries were left the same, without any percentage cuts, but they have not received any payments for the last nine months.

Another way that the government is creative is that they have not cut the salaries for the Peshmarga and security forces or  people working for internal intelligence departments. This has created divisions and tensions among the people. The authorities say, “We will need to use austerity measures and cut your salary. When the war ends with ISIS and the oil prices increase then we will give you back your money.” People do not believe this anymore because we see the high life of the Kurdish leaders has stayed the same as it was before the war. There has been no guarantee that people will not lose their money.  Last year, for two months teachers in Sulaimani were on strike. The authorities did not care.

The new year of opening school was suppose to start on September 17th 2016. Teachers started to organize themselves to protest on that day and to start a strike from the beginning of the year. The Ministry of Education decided to postpone the day of opening to the Sep.27th. Then on Sept. 26th the Ministry of Education published an announcement stating that the school will open on Oct, 1st.  The teachers were committed to do the demonstration anyway. At 9 am on September 27th, teachers started to gather in front of the Directory of Education Building. Not only teachers and government employs showed up. Ordinary people from within the society joined them as well. At 10 am the protesters decided to continue the march towards the Sulaimani Governor's office.

The estimation is that about 5000 protesters were involved in the march. They chanted slogans to tell the government " It's enough" and " stop lying ".  The main demand of the teachers is for the government to pay them 100% of their wages and give their salaries each month and to ask to stop the privatization of the public sector.

To sum it up, the answer of the government is to provide 5,000,000,0000 Dinars to the Ministry of Education. According to the calculations, each teacher will get around 50,000 Dinars or $40 USD. Teachers looked at this as a joke and they have refused the government’s solution. In Sulaimani, Halabja, Garmian, and Rania teachers are on a strike. In Hawler and Duhok teachers are now teaching.   

Oct 2, 2016

The real treasure here is the beauty of the land, not the oil beneath it

By: Rebekah Dowling

In Australia there is continuously growing concern over mining. We talk about losing farmland, homes, traditional sites, polluting waterways, endangered species and climate change.

During my delegation in Kurdistan, Latif shared with us the story of his village's fight against Exxon Mobil. It is a part of the Kurdish story that I can relate to an Australian context and in a weird way that is exciting for me. It is just that we so often portray the Kurdish people as either silent victims or terrorists but hearing this story completely dispels that and crosses contexts and cultures.

Gullan village. Photo by CPTers.
Latif is from a small Kurdish village called Gulan. In 2013 Exxon Mobil moved into his rural farming community to begin drilling for oil. Most of the time people think the can do nothing to stop these massive oil companies but this village was organised and they knew that they did not want an oil company here destroying their land, polluting their waterways and leaving them destitute. Latif said, 'we were sleeping on a sea of oil and freezing to death'. They had seen what oil companies had done in other towns and would not let it happen to them. So Latif and some friends formed a council and began organising demonstrations and informing the people and media what was happening.


The council talking to media. Photo by CPTers.

At first it was very peaceful, they visited the company and the government and tried to negotiate. But the companies knew they had government support which meant military and police. What could these villagers do?


Working on the drilling site continued so the newly formed council organised a demonstration. They called the media and people. They made signs with statements such as, 'Don't destroy our country for bosses pockets!' and, 'We won't exchange water for oil!'.



The police were called to show the government's might, but the demonstrations just grew.
The people brought logs and created a road block to the drilling site. Latif told how the drivers were shocked, this was the first time that a struggle like this had grown out of the people. They made sure everyone knew that they were peaceful, but they would, 'struggle with anyone who destroys our country'.

The villagers blockading the road. Photo by CPTers.
If you visited Gulan you would understand their passion. It is beautiful. A friend described it as the Garden of Eden and imagining it being lost under the machinery of international corporations is enough to bring you to tears. The whole of Kurdistan was like that, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. We would be driving along dusty roads then, wham, another view of endless golden hills, rocky cliffs, hidden gardens, secret waterfalls, grazing goat herds, enchanting stone walls and elegant mosques. The phrase God's Country, kept flitting through my mind. Then you hear these people's stories of war and suffering and it is so frustrating. Doesn't the world know that this place should be treasured not ripped apart by human greed and arrogance?

We visited another town, Hadji Ahmed, where  Miro, a farmer, told us of the complications their area has faced because of oil drilling. When CPT first visited him he could barely access his fields because of the checkpoints set up by Exxon Mobil. They had opened a gas and oil drilling site in between his house and his fields and were forcing him to show an ID every time he wanted to pass and limiting the times he was allowed to do so. Currently because of the bad economic situation'work on the site has been capped, but not before they had cleared the land and dug a 3000 meter deep well. A few weeks ago Miro saw more workers from the Natural Resources ministry scouting the area for potential drilling sites. What will happen to his family, to his walnut trees, to his village, to the remaining natural water sources, if they do find something?

Kak Miro picking up grapes from his vineyard. Photo by CPTers.
According to KRG natural resources laws you cannot just go and drill for oil without following certain procedures in emotional and material compensation and environmental measures. These laws are barely followed or acknowledged. The Natural Resources minister is Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and if KDP wants to drill for oil they will drill. Renas, who is also from the town, said, 'They (politicians) use oil to stay in power. They bring international companies in because they want support from world powers'. And it works. A friend pointed out that Obama has shifted from referring to protecting USA people to protecting their overseas interests. It is in the open. The United States will go to war for oil, and let's be realistic, so will Australia.

Oil in Kurdistan is mostly a curse. Currently in the KRG their are demonstrations happening over months of unpaid wages of those in the public sector, particularly teachers but also pensioners. One reason for the cuts is a dispute between the Iraqi Central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over the sale of oil. Yes another oil fight creating problems for people who were always unlikely to benefit economically from it. It is time for all of us to take inspiration from Gulan. We will not sell our neighbor's right to live in peace.
In their final meeting with the Exxon Mobil Latif's friends brought a rose from his garden. He kissed it and showed it to the business men, 'I love my country,' he said, 'and I would not exchange this rose for the entire wealth of Exxon Mobil'. Latif tells me that after that, the men from these oil companies finally understood and said they would not come back.

Oct 1, 2016

I demand that my life and my family’s life be saved


“I demand that my life and my family’s life be saved. That is my message to the world” These were the words of activist Hemn Abdulkhaleq (Hemin Bnaslaway).

On Friday Sep 30th Hemin Bnaslaway, an activist and member of the Peshmerga met with CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan team and reported that he was abducted from his home in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan by local security forces on September 26th.  Hemin has been an outspoken activist calling for protests within Erbil demanding freedom of speech and an end to government corruption. He believes this was the reason for his abduction.


Hemin sat with CPT and recounted the events of that night.

It was around 6:30 when Asaish security forces suddenly arrived at Hemin’s home in Erbil.  They were in official cars with logos. As the security forces began to pull Hemn from the premises his fifteen year old son began to shout and ask why they were taking his father.  It was then that an officer punched Hemin’s son in the face and arrested him.  The officers also became physical with his pregnant wife. The officers put a bag over Hemin’s head and forced him into their car while they beat his son and put him into a different car.


CPT recorded the interview and these are Hemin”s words…


I did not know where they were taking me but they cursed me a lot and beat me in the car. Then they stopped in a place and took me out of the car. They beat me a lot, especially on the head. After that I did not know what was happening to my son.  They put me back in the car and took me to the Sherawa checkpoint.  There they stopped.

There was a lot of security forces there. Then four security force members came.  One each pulled my shoulders and legs.Then they shaved my head and my eyebrows. Then they beat me a lot.

After that fifteen security forces came. They beat me a lot!  They punched me, they used different methods to beat me. Then they took me out of the room and said ‘You have to go to Suli (Sulaimani), Erbil is not your place because you have planned to do demonstrations in Erbil.’ Then they opened my bag.  I had 89,000 Dinars. They took away my money and they said I had to walk to Suli.

I was not at my best.  I walked for two kilometers then I stopped a taxi.  I got into the taxi and the driver said, ‘I know what has happened to you.


The taxi driver took Hemin to the town of Kirkuk where he found two police officers that offered assistance. He is now in Sulaimani and under the protection of local security.


Erbil and Sulaimani both have security forces called Ashiesh but are controlled by separate party governments within Kurdistan.  The party that is within Erbil is the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The forces now offering protection to Hemin within Sulaimani are the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).


Hemin’s story gained attention when a photo was posted of him with a strip of his head shaved after his abduction.  Hemin believes that if the government within Erbil knew that this story was going to gain media attention they would have just killed him that night. Hemin is currently within Sulaimani under strict security protocols after the police forces confirmed death threats against Hemin’s life from within KDP. “They have information that people are looking for me and want to kill me.” he said.


“I have been bribed by KDP people in Erbil.  They said I only need to say three words, ‘I was wrong.’ But I am not wrong.” Said Hemin


“I have never been scared of being hungry, or not having money.  I have also never been worried about my death. I always thought that I will be killed one day.  But it is important for me to adhere to my principals.”


When asked about his family he said, “My son has been released.  My family is in Erbil.  They are not at home anymore.  I found them a place. They are also at risk.” he told us.  Hemin also found out that his wife lost their child that night and offered to show CPT the hospital report. Hemin said that he had not previously shared the information about his wife with anyone but is now ready for people to know what has happened to his family.


In the past many journalists have been killed in Kurdistan for speaking against corruption. Hemin requested that CPT help to let people outside of Kurdistan know what has happened to him.  He said that if he dies he would like for the world to know why.


(CPT has started accompanying Hemin.  We are in close contact and will report on any changes in the situation.)









Sep 11, 2016

Turkey continues bombing Dupre

By Julie Brown

Asmar Husen and Shekh Omer explaining the situation to the team. Photo by:Julie Brown.
Turkish Bombs Burn fields and Terrorize the Village of Dupre : On September 6th CPT visited the village of Dupre and learned that Turkey had once again bombed the area. Villagers report that at noon on September 3rd four Turkish military planes flew over the village dropping eight bombs onto the fields surrounding their homes. The bombs set the fields ablaze as villagers ran into their homes to take cover from the attack.  “We ran inside and hid wherever we could.” said Shekh Omer, a resident of Dupre “Even the houses are not safe but we have no other place to hide.”

In May Turkey bombed the same village.  One blast on a nearby mountain sent huge rocks and bomb fragments raining down onto the homes below.  The impact left houses with holes in the roofs and shattered windows. Shrapnel from the bombings were found as far away as Kashkawa, the neighboring Christian village.

The villagers of Dupre and Kashkawa have been living and working side by side for generations.  CPT reported on the May bombing and the relationship between these villages last month.  Read the full article here. http://cptikurdistan.blogspot.com/2016/08/they-gave-us-keys-to-their-homes.html

Villagers in Kashkawa told CPT that Dupre has been the most directly affected and when the bombings start they are very worried about their neighbors.  “Last time there was a bombing we went to Dupre and invited them to our village. There is no difference between Christian and Muslim” said Kak Yousif from Kashkawa.

Residents from both Dupre and Kashkawa talked about the fear they face going to their fields after the bombings.  “When our fields are on fire we can do nothing about it. If we try to put the fires out maybe they will come back and bomb us also.” said Kak Yousif. “We never know when the bombings will start.  Last time it was during lunch. The time before, it was in the middle of the night. We never know when it will happen so it makes our life very scary.”

“If there were no bombings we would have a very wealthy life.  We have no need for salaries here. We can get everything we need with our own hands” explained Khan Afdal of Dupre.

Aug 22, 2016

They gave us the keys to their homes

“They gave us the keys to their homes.” Neighboring Christian and Muslim villages help each other during bombing attacks.
Asmar with our team member Julie Brown. Photo by: Peggy Gish.
By Peggy Gish
Seventy-year-old Asmar, grabbed my hand and welcomed us enthusiastically into the home she shares with her son and village leader, Khan Avdal Muhammed Sdia, his wife, Bilmas, and their children, in the village of Dupre, nestled in the mountains in the Dinarta sub-district in Iraqi Kurdistan. As we drank tea and ate almonds and cashews from their trees, they told our team about the recent round of bombing of their village on May 20, 2016.
Turkey had bombed in the areas around the village in the past, but this was the first time the bombs came inside the village. An estimated 56 bombs hit the ground in over an hour and half in the middle of the night when villagers were sleeping. No one was injured or killed. Homes weren’t directly targeted, but fragments of bombs damaged thirteen homes, tore a hole through the roof of one, shattered windows throughout the village, cut power lines, and killed over thirty-two animals.
Photo by: Peggy Gish.
“It was frightening for everyone,” Khan told us. “If some of the families didn’t move from rooms in the outer parts of the house to sleep in more central rooms that night, many could have been killed. We all left the village and stayed away for twenty days. The children weren’t able to complete their school exams.”   “Even now,” Asmar added, “when I hear planes fly over our village at night, I get scared.''
Kkan said that members of the PKK (Kurdistan ‘Worker’s Party) were not in the area around their village, even though Turkey claimed that was the reason for the bombing. “This conflict has been going on for a long time, but we want our voice to be clear for a peaceful resolution.  When that happens we will be able to manage our lives well.  It was hard for me to be on duty recently as a Peshmerga on the frontlines against Daesh (ISIS) and worried about whether my own home and family would be bombed here.”
Children gather around. Photo by: Peggy Gish.
After walking around the village where other residents showed us the damages to their buildings, we walked up the hill. Children followed us, timidly at first, but then playfully posed for our pictures. From there we looked out over the rice fields, vegetable gardens and fruit and nut trees. On the other side of these fields we saw the village of Kashkawa.
“Kashkawa is a Christian village, and in Dupre, we are all Muslim,” Khan told us, “but for over 100 years we have been living side-by-side with very good relations. Kashkawa is where we ran in the morning after the bombing and then stayed for twenty days. Our Christian neighbors gave us keys to their houses so we could come and stay there whenever we felt in danger. We would do the same for them if their village had been targeted. We are not divided by differences of religion, but feel like one family.”


Kashkawa village in back left, Dupre village in front right. Photo by: Peggy Gish.

Aug 17, 2016

You can say we lost our lives

By Peggy Gish
Hasni Islam and his son show team members Peggy and Mohammed damage to buildings in Sergali. Photo by:Julie Brown.
“Back in 1991, Turkey bombed our village of Sergali so heavily that we left the area,” Hasni Islam, the village leader, told our team.  He pointed to the mountain to the north, behind which the old village had been.  “Because of the ongoing war between Turkey and the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) we couldn’t return to the village area, and so moved to this site and established it as our new village. But now, two months ago (June 2016), Turkey bombed around the village here, and half of the families fled again and scattered to other towns. The other half has no other place to go or the financial means to leave, so are still here, even though they are afraid.” At one time there were 350 families, but now there are only forty.
Cracks in walls of houses from bomb blasts. Photo by: Julie Brown.
Walking around the current village, Hasni showed us large cracks in the buildings from the bomb blasts. “Turkey also bombed the water pipes carrying water from mountain springs to our village, and for two months we were out of water. Rationing water trucked in by the government made it hard to keep our gardens and trees watered. We are thankful that the attacks have not killed or injured our people, but the loss of at least 800 dunums of orchards, vineyards, and crop land has been devastating.  “Life in our villages without agriculture is not life,” he told us, “so you can say we have lost our lives.”
A group of children gathered together with Hasni’s son under a large tree finding respite from the hot mid-day heat. We heard again what we had in every village we had visited. “This is hardest for the children!” They explained that it was not only because of the trauma they are left with from the bombings and having to flee their homes, but also the loss of the village life that, for most of them, would be their future.
Julie Brown with children in Sergali. Photo by: Peggy Gish.
Hasni and the other villagers share the aspirations of the Kurdish people to gain their rights and to be able to maintain their cultural heritage, but they feel caught in this decade-long struggle between the PKK and Turkey. When we were sitting down, he took his granddaughter on his lap and said, “She is innocent.  What has she done to deserve what Turkey is doing?  We wish this war will come to an end.  But there has to be dialogue to find peace.  We will never resolve this by war.”