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.”

Aug 9, 2016

نیگەرانیەکانی سەمیعە بۆچی؟

لەتیف حارس

گوندی بەربزین، یەکێکە لەگوندەکانی ناحیەیی سیدەکان. کوێستانەکانی ئەو گوندە بە ئاو و فێنکن. زەوی و  کەش و هەواکەشی لەبارە بۆ کشتوکاڵ کردن، بەخێوکردنی مەڕوماڵات و پەلەوەر.

خاوەنی زەوی و زاری ئەو گوندە خەریکی بەخێوکردنی مەڕ و ماڵاتن. هەموو ساڵێک بەهار، هاوین و بەشێکی پایزیش لە گوندەکەیان بەسەر دەبەن بەمەستی پەیداکردنی بژێویی ژیانیان. بۆ زۆربەی خەڵکی ئەو گوندە تاکە سەرچاوەی بژێویی ژیانیان ئەو شاخ و داخانەیە. بەڵام تۆپبارانەکانی تورکیا و ئێران خەڵکی دەڤەری سیدەکان و بەتایبەتیش گوندی بەربزینیان خستۆتە ژێر مەترسیەکی گەورە.  

سەمیعە لەکاتی قسەکردنیدا لەگەڵ ئەندامانی ڕێکخراوەکەمان دەربارەی تۆپبارانەکانی ئەو دوایەیی گوندەکەیان. وێنەکە لەلایەن جولی بڕاونەوە گیراوە
سەمیعە مجید، کە یەکێک بوو لە دانیشتوانی گوندی بەربزین پێی گووتین: ''کە خۆم و خێزانەکەم، ژمارەمان ٨ کەسە، بەهۆی تۆپبارانەکانی ئێران بەناچاری موڵک و ماڵمان بەجێهێشتووە''.

سەمیعە درێژەی بە قسەکانیدا و گووتی: ''١١ی ڕەمەزانی ئەمساڵ، کاتژمێر ٩ی بەیانی بووکاتێک تۆپبارانەکانی ئێران دەستی پێکرد و بەردەوامیش بوو تاوەکو کاتژمێر ٣ی دوای نیوەڕۆ. تۆپەکانیان ئاڕاستەی ماڵەکانمان دەکرد، بەڵام ئەگەر ئێمە خۆمان نەشاردبایەوە، زۆر ئەستەم دەبوو بەبێ زیانی گیانی دەربازمان بووبایە. لە دەرئەنجامی تۆپبارانەکەدا، نیوەی ماڵەکان و خێوەتەکانمان سوتان، ٢٠ قەڵ و ١٥ مریشکمان مردن وئێمەیش وەکو دانیشتوانەکەی ڕاستەوخۆ شوێنەکەمان بەجێهێشت. نزیکەی ٢٠ ماڵ لەوێدا ژیانمان دەکرد. ئەوەش وای لێمان کردووە کە نەتوانین شوێنەکانمان بەجێبهێڵین. تەنها پیاوەکان جار بە جار دەڕۆنەوە بۆ ئاودانی بەرووبوومە کشتوکاڵیەکانمان''.

سەمیعە لەبەر پەڕۆشی و نیگەرانی دەربارەی تۆپبارانەکان بەردەوامی بە قسەکانیداو گووتی، ''ئەو تۆپبارانانە نەک بە تەنها زیانی ماڵی هەبووە، بەڵکە کاریگەریەکی دەروونی خراپیشی لەسەر هەموومان بەجێهێشتووە. بەڵام ئەوە نەبۆتە هۆی وەستانی تۆپبارانەکان بەڵکە بەردەوامە و زیاتریش بووە''.

حکومەتی ئێران، لەساڵی ٢٠١١ەوە تۆپ بارانی سنورەکانیان وەستاندبوو، بەڵام بەم دوایانە دەستیان کردەوە بە تۆپبارانەکان. تورکیاش لەدوای تێکچوونی پڕۆسەی ئاشتی بە بەردەوامی تۆپ بارانی شاخ و چیایەکانی کوردستانیان کردووە.

ئەو وێنەیە، بەشە سووتاوەکەی بەربزینتان پیشان دەدات بەهۆی تۆپبارانەکانەوە. وێنەکە لەلایەن جولی بڕاونەوە گیراوە
سەمیعە بە دڵ ناخۆشیەکی زۆر باسی ئازار و خەمی بەجێهێشتنی ماڵ و موڵک و چیا جوان و ڕەنگینەکانی دەکرد. باسی کاتە خۆشەکانی خۆی، هاوژینەکەی و منداڵەکانی دەکرد لە چیاکان. هەروەها ئەوەشی بەبیر دەهێناینەوە کە ئەوان لەوێ بوون چونکە ئەوە تەنها بژێوی ژیانیان بووە. سەمیعە و دۆستەکانیان بە پەرۆشەوە چاوڕێی چارەسەری ململانێ سیاسیەکان و کۆتایی هێنان بە تۆپبارانەکانن.

ئەو نموونانەی کە ئێمە دەیانگوازینەوە و لەبارەیانەوە دەنووسین پیشانی دەدات کە ژیانی گەلانی ئەو ناوچەیە چەندە بە ئەزموونێکی تاڵ و ناخۆشدا دەڕوات. هەر ئەوەشە خەڵکی ناچار کردووە بە ململانێ کردنی یەکتری، ڕاسیزم و چەندین کێشەی تر کە بەئاسانی ناتوانین لێیان ڕزگار ببین.

لەماوەی ڕابردوودا، بۆمبارانەکان زیانی گیانی، ئابووری و دەروونی خراپی هەبوو لەسەر خەڵکی ئەو دەڤەرە. جڤاکی نیودەوڵەتیش هەمیشە بێدەنگی هەڵبژاردووە لەبەرامبەر ئەو کێشەیە. گوندنیشینانی کوردستانیش هیوایان وایە کێشەکەیان بە شێوەیەکی ئاشتیانە چارەسەر بکرێت و کۆتایی بەو ئاڵۆزی تووندو تیژیانە بێت. پێم وایە سەمیعە ڕاستی گووت: ''باو و باپیرانمان نەیانتوانی بە ئارامی سەر بنێنەوە بەڵام ئێمە و هاوڕێکانمان نامانەوێت بەهەمان شێوەی باو باپیرانیان ئەو دونیایە بەجێ بهێڵێن''.

Aug 8, 2016

What Has Happened to Rashad’s Tea?

By Muhammad Salah

In the middle of Ramadan this year, farmers in Iraqi Kurdistan experienced bombing by Iran. In the last three years there were not any bombings along the border with Iran. It was also the first time the area of Barbazin in Sidakan sub-district was bombed so heavily.

The team decided to visit the area and to learn what had happened. After driving for several hours on the highway and unpaved roads we had the privilege to met Rashad. While I parked the car near his house, I could see him outside making a fire for his tea. Rashad stood up to look at these strangers coming to his tents. As I greeted him, he very warmly greeted me in return and firmly shook my hand. Through his eyes and smile I could see that he was excited to know more about who we were.

After the introduction of the team, he started to tell us what happened to his family during Ramadan. He also said he could call his mom over to speak with us.  She would know more about the bombings because Rashad was not there on that day.

I noticed he had difficulty walking and I was not sure if he was disabled or if he had lost his leg because of a landmine.  The reality of life in a border village is that there is always one or more disabled villager who has lost a part of their body because of mines.  

Photo by: Julie Brown.

From his tent he pointed and tried to show us the location of a bomb that hit the ground nearby. He said he should go with us and we could see the crater more closely. Because of his leg I asked him, “Will it be too much for you?”
He said,” I am fine I can walk. “

While we were walking he said, “I am also a victim of the Iranian bombing during Iraq-Iran war.” When he was a baby, the town of Sidakan was bombed by Iran. As people were trying to escape and leave the town, many people were piled in one pickup truck.  In the chaos, someone stepped on his leg. He said, “I was not wounded by the bombs but the war caused me to lose the full use of my leg.”

As we walked the beauty of farm land disappeared, and we were walking through fields that had been burned black by the fires that started during the bombing.  “Some families decided to not come back again after bombing because they lost everything.” Rashad said.   

Rashad is showing the fragments from the bombing to CPTers. Photo by: Julie Brown.
We arrived to the location of the exploded bomb, he pick up some of the pieces left from the rocket to show us. My mind started to think, what are those connections between the villager’s soul and the land? How many of us are ready to stay in an unsecure area and still show our smile and not be disappointed.

Rashad appreciated our visit and was so grateful. He hopes there will not be bombing anymore and there will be peace so we can have tea together without fear.    

Aug 4, 2016

What Peace Looks Like Here

By Peggy Gish

Weze village located near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo by: Peggy Gish.
Flowers graced the front of the house, next to a large, well-tended field of vegetables.
“Is this the village of Weza?” I asked my teammate, not believing what I was seeing. This did not look like the same village our team visited in June 2010. Weza, nestled in the mountains of northeastern Iraqi Kurdistan and close to the Iranian border, looked bigger.  Fields were larger and greener and the houses in better repair.  Residents, we spoke to, said that even though they know in the back of their mind that danger could return to their village, they feel more relaxed. Tourists are once again coming into the area for vacations, to enjoy the beautiful views and the milder summer temperatures.
Six years ago, in June, 2010, we sat in this same village, with the uncle of 14-year-old Basoz, as he told us about his niece’s tragic death three weeks earlier.  A rocket had exploded near Basoz while she was preparing tea for the rest of the family who were working in their fields.  Her 20-year-old cousin, with her at the time, was not physically injured, but was severely traumatized.  The uncle, describing the situation there, told us, “Over the last ten days, more than 200 rockets have exploded around our village.  People here are terrified, and many have left.”
Today, we had returned to the Sedakan and Choman districts, visiting civilian areas to learn what the affects of more recent cross-border attacks from either Turkey or Iran has been along the northeastern border between Iraq and Iran. In the past two days we had met farmers who had family members injured, livestock killed, crops or orchards damaged, or who fled their land out of fear. When we found ourselves not far from Weza and Kani Spi, two villages we had spent time in years ago when they were experiencing attacks, we decided to also visit there.

The residents of Kani Spi and CPTers in Kani Spi,
Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo by: Julie Brown.
Residents of Kani Spi had become friends of the team during visits over the years to monitor the shelling from Iran in the area around their village during the yearly growing seasons.  In June 2011, two from our team lived with them for two weeks, in tents, in order to accompany them during their planting season and to be witnesses if there were near-by shelling from Iran.  During the days we helped with planting or other work around the village. While there was no shelling near the village during that time, we did hear occasional explosions in the distance, closer to the border.  At dusk, we walked past women milking their family cow, teenagers bringing the sheep and goats into rock-piled corrals for the night. Sometimes, the children gathered and we found ourselves in a circle, volleying a ball back and forth. We saw a vulnerable, but strong people with determination to stay in their village and continue their traditional life.
We’ve learned that a contributing factor to the resumption of bombing by Turkey in other border areas in the past year, has been the success of Kurdish forces against ISIS, which then increased a Kurdish presence in areas of Iraq and Syria. With Iran, one of the factors of the ebb and flow of their cross-border attacks on Kurdish Iraqi villages has been the movement of members of an Iranian Kurdish independence party in these areas and the degree to which Iran sees them as a threat.
Changes we could see now in Kani Spi included the building of a new house and the expansion and flourishing of their fields and orchards.  As in Weza, however, the most important change was one we couldn’t photograph. It had to do with the cessation of the shelling and the absence of daily fear of attack.  It was something we could feel as well as see—the relaxed brows, lighter conversations, the ability to plan ahead for the future, and the quicker laughter that seemed to ripple through the mountain passes above and around the village.
“You see the difference in our life now?” a long-time friend from Kani Spi, asked us. “Before, you saw what fear of violence looks like for a village.  Now what you see—this is what peace looks and feels like here!”
We left with the longing that the deeper justice and power issues contributing to the strife between rebel fighters and the neighboring governments be faced and resolved non-militarily, so that the graceful farming families living in the border villages, now experiencing attacks, could also soon know and flourish under the daily realities of peace.

Aug 1, 2016

No Place to Hide

By Julie Brown

Allana Gully. Photo by: Julie Brown

"When the bombing starts, where do you hide?" That is what I asked Sulltan.
"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 June 23rd at 10am 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.  It was this story that we heard in detail as we documented the events of that day.

In the Choman District of Iraqi Kurdistan High in the mountains near the Iranian border lies the Allana Gully.  It was here that 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 that hangs on the sides of very 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." Sulltan pointed to the  rugged path, it's the only road that leads down.

On this day there was no shelling and the sun as bright. We exited our vehicle next to a small grouping of canvas tents. Several gentlemen along with a few children approached as we introduced ourselves and our purpose for being in their village.

Sulltan showing his daughter's injury. Photo by: Julie Brown
Sulltan was one of the first people we met.  As soon as Sulltan heard we had come to talk about the shelling from Iran he summoned a young girl with long blond hair.  It was his daughter.  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 leaving a wound that went all the way through.  As I took pictures of her injuries I could see the trauma on her face.  Her eyes were red and swollen and her expressions did not match those of the other children that had now gathered around us.  She was clearly still very traumatized.

Sulltan took us away from the tents further down the road.  He stopped 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 8yr old boy with bright curly red hair had injuries to his arm,  a 13 year old boy had injuries to his neck and also his daughter had an injured wrist.  All from shrapnel.

I looked at the field below.  If shelling were to start, where would people go?  There was nowhere. Only a few small rocks.

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 they all stood and looked at me.  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 that they are targeted so that the civilians will force armed groups out of the area for various governments.  The men, their wives, and the children in the Allana Gully only have dreams of farming and living in peace. Being used as pawns in a cross border conflict has caused nothing but destruction to these families for years.

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? I looked again at the girl with the injured hand and then at the rest of the children.  I know It had only been a couple of weeks since the last shelling but can time possibly ever heal all of these wounds?