Feb 4, 2017

Stand With Civil Society in Iraqi Kurdistan

Stand With Civil Society in Iraqi Kurdistan
Everyone is born with inherent rights. Protecting and promoting Universal Human Rights is essential to building and maintaining peace around the world. The newly autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan is currently unsafe for many activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of civil society. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is charged with the safety of all its inhabitants  and the responsibility of safeguarding Universal Human Rights within its borders.  We wish to lift the veil of secrecy around recent killings, beatings  and ongoing attacks on journalists, activists, and members of civil society as well as highlight the seemingly systematic campaign of harassment against those exercising free speech in Iraqi Kurdistan.  We also call upon the Kurdistan Regional Government to actively protect those threatened and pursue parties wishing to harm people exercising their inherent rights within in the region.
 
The Kurdish Region of Iraq has enjoyed freedom and self-rule governance since the United States invasion of Iraq despite the immense toll the invasion took on people in other areas. However, the Kurdish region is also facing the worst financial crisis in its history. In 2014 the budget was cut by the Iraqi Government and the Kurdish Regional Government told its employees that they were unable to pay their salaries. This decision lead to many protests by the governmental workers, especially teachers, demanding that their full salaries be paid and calling for an end to corruption in the public sector. Organizers and teachers peacefully protested for 110 days but beginning in December 2016, the security forces in Sulaimani started using violent means to try to break the teacher’s strike. Many activists and human rights defenders were arrested, beaten, threatened, or had  their property damaged or burnt. Finally, in mid January, 2017, the teachers ended their strike under immense pressure from the security forces. They were assured by the Prime Minister and his deputy no changes would come from the demonstrations. Since the protests ended, the organizers, civil society activists and journalists have faced threats and direct violence. Their families have been terrorized and social media is being used to humiliate them. Along with threats to activists, journalists and religious leaders have also been killed in the region. The government is responsible for its citizens’ security and should respect human rights by creating a space where civil society can act freely to foster and develop a democratic culture in the region without threats, violence and loss of life. 
 
Awat demands safety for himself and his family
Awat Hassan is a teacher, human rights defender and civil society activist. He was also a main organizer of the 110 day nonviolent teachers' campaign  in the city of Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. Awat and many his fellow teachers peacefully demonstrated demanding their full salaries be paid and asked the government to stop corruption in its institutions. As Awat became known, he also became a victim of a systematic campaign of harassment and threats by local security forces and other unnamed actors. During the protests Awat was unlawfully detained three times by the security forces and his car was burned in front of his house while his family slept inside the home. His nine year old daughter was also detained along with Awat while he was taking her to a sport club. The security forces took Awat and drove his daughter around in their car ultimately leaving her on the side of the road alone. Awat along with the other main organizers have ended their peaceful demonstrations due to immense pressure from the government and local security forces.
Awat says that he is puzzled by reactions of the security forces as he only organized peaceful demonstrations. Awat and other organizers worked hard to maintain the nonviolent nature of the demonstrations throughout the campaign. In of his speeches he said ‘’Even if they threaten or beat or kill us, we will never raise our hands towards the security forces as they are our brothers and sisters’’
Since the demonstrations ended, Awat and his family are scared for their lives due to continuous threats they receive from the security forces and other unnamed people and because it is not uncommon for journalists, religious leaders, and others expressing dissent within the region to be found dead. His children have also been traumatized by the experiences they have gone through.
Learn more about Awat Hassan and his family's struggle through this video. 
We ask you to take a moment to contact the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and demand that Awat Hassan and his family be protected from those that wish to do Awat harm.  We also ask that the KRG create space for people to exercise their Universal Human Rights, including the right to freedom of speech, throughout the region.
 
Please send an e-mail demanding protection for Awat Hassan and his family.
Send an E-mail to Prime Minister of the KRG
Send an E-mail to Deputy Prime Minister of the KRG
Unfortunately, we have been notified that in some cases the automatic e-mail buttons are not working. However, it usually works perfectly on smart phones. In any case, we would strongly urge you to support Awat Hassan by sending the below message to both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister's offices.

Prime Minister's e-mail: admin@dmi.krg.org

Deputy Prime Minister e-mail: atta.krg@gmail.com

The message

Dear Sir,

As part of the international community I condemn the harming of activists, journalists and others like Awat Hasan who have been striving to create positive change through peaceful methods around the world.

As Iraq is a signatory of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the Kurdish Government's duty to provide protection to people such as Awat Hassan living within the KRG and to safeguard their inherent human rights including their rights to safety and freedom of speech.

We urge you to do everything within your power to ensure this man's safety including actively pursuing those who wish to do him and his family harm so that they may once again enjoy the right to security in their home.

Kind regards, 
We would also like  you to post the below message on their Facebook accounts.
 
@OfficialNechirvanBarzani @qubadtalabaniofficial

 Dear Sir,

As part of the international community I condemn the harming of activists, journalists and others like Awat Hasan who have been striving to create positive change through peaceful methods around the world.

As Iraq is a signatory of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the Kurdish Government's duty to provide protection to people such as Awat Hassan living within the KRG and to safeguard their inherent human rights including their rights to safety and freedom of speech.

We urge you to do everything within your power to ensure this man's safety including actively pursuing those who wish to do him and his family harm so that they may once again enjoy the right to security in their home.

Kind regards, 

 
 
Tweet the below message on their twitter account.

@PMBarzani @qubadjt @DMI_KRG Protect activists, human rights defenders and journalists in the KRG including Awat Hassan and his family. 

 
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Mission: Christian Peacemaker Teams: Building partnerships to transform violence and oppression.
Vision: A world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation.
Values: Christian Peacemaker Teams is committed to work and relationships that: Honor and reflect the presence of faith and spirituality; Strengthen grassroots initiatives; Transform structures of domination and oppression; Embody creative non-violence and liberating love.
 

Feb 2, 2017

Kurdistan Region of Iraq in the midst of crisis


The Kurdish Region of Iraq has enjoyed freedom and self-rule governance since the United States invasion of Iraq which left thousands of people dead. Since then,the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has established relationships with regional and international powers to seek support for its independence, build up its economy, and attain military support. However, the KRG has not been able to create a space for universal human rights, civil society activists, human rights defenders and independent journalists. Many activists, journalists, and religious leaders have been detained, beaten, threatened and humiliated by the security forces and even found dead. The KRG has not provided security to activists and civil society members who are trying to actively engage in the process of creating a democratic state and society.


Since 2014, the region has faced the worst financial crisis in its history after the the KRG’s budget was cut by the Iraqi Government. The KRG has also been criticized by citizens of the region for alleged mass corruption in its institutions. In addition, the region has been in war with ISIS for more than two years. When the financial crisis started in the region, the government told its employees that they were unable to pay their salaries. After months of nonpayment, the government also proportionately reduced their salaries. Even after the reduction in government salaries,the KRG was still unable to pay its workers. This lead to many protests and a teachers’ strike. The teachers demanded their full salaries be paid and asked the government to stop corruption in the public sector.


In the early stage of the demonstrations, the authorities in the cities of Erbil and Duhok threatened the workers as they attempted to organize peaceful protests. The local government warned the employees that they would face serious consequences if they protest against the government. However, there was a space in the city of Sulaimani for workers to organize peaceful demonstrations and demand for their rights.  The organizers and teachers peacefully protested for 110 days. As a response, in December of 2016, the security forces in Sulaimani used violent means to force teachers to end their strike. Many activists were arrested, beaten, threatened and their property was damaged and burnt. Despite the violent reaction from the security forces, the teachers demonstrations remained peaceful. Finally, in mid January, 2017, the teachers ended their strike under immense pressure by the security forces and were assured by the Prime Minister and his deputy that nothing would change as a result of the demonstrations.


Since, the protests have ended, the organizers, civil society activists and journalists have faced threats and violence. Their families have been terrorized and the security forces used social media to humiliate them. The government is responsible for its citizen’s security and should respect human rights by creating a space where civil society can act freely to establish a profound democratic region without facing threats and violence.


Dec 21, 2016

coercion is not a viable alternative

By: Latif Hars

Gulala and Awat speaking to the teachers in the city of Sulaimani. Photo by: Kasia Protz
We were invited by the two of the main organizers of demonstrations in the city of Sulaimani to accompany them, they said “we really need you  to support us, we don’t feel safe, We fear for our lives and lives of our family members after our cars were burnt and Asai sh had arrested us last month. The security forces threatened us and continue to do so, instead of they protecting us and our property…”
During October 2015 the demonstrations started, they were organised by the teachers in demand for their full salaries. Awat one of the main organizer of demonstrations  told us  what had happened and is happening to him and his family. “My car was burnt, Asaish arrested me, they came to my home, they checked my whole house, destroyed some of my electronic devices and even my children’s toys. Later I was put in a solitary cell, I was not given any food during my time there except one glass of water, over twelve hours.”
Awat told us “the government stopped paying our full salaries in 2015, we began demonstrations in October of 2015, we continued our boycott and protests till October 27, asking for our principal rights, but the government didn’t listen to us. They brought huge army force to end protests and to compel us to quit our struggle for our rights. He said  security forces have arrested and beaten some of the teachers. At the same time government decided to keep three quarters of our salary promising they will pay us back later. Amanj who is Awat’s brother was sitting beside Awat. He told us “security forces arrested me and moved me to Asaishs building, they beated me very badly.”

When Gulala invited us to her house, she said “we just received nine months of our salaries, only a quarter each time. We have a council  of thirty three teachers, the council organizes  the peaceful demonstrations.” she said “I was threatened by Asiash then they arrested me, I was being held for 8 hours, they took away my mobile. When I received my mobile back after four days,  there was a tracking device inside it, I took it out, immediately my phone stopped working.” She added “I can not sleep because the security forces (Asaish).” Teachers stood up for their rights last year, but government still remains silent.
So the teachers didn’t open schools this academic year, they said “We started demonstrations to demand our basic rights on the 27th of October 2016, we are demonstrating in a peaceful way, still after more than a year government is not responding.”
Teachers gathered close to directorate of education in Sulaimani. Photo by: Kasia Protz
“The government isn’t listening to us, so we continue to protest for our basic rights, we care about students but government doesn’t care about them. They forced us to go teach pupils without giving us our salaries. We refused to obey to this decision, we believe teachers whose rights are denied can not provide good education for their students. The demonstrators are not just teachers, but other groups affected by the corruption in the government, they face the same problem.

During last two years CPT had observed teachers demonstrations, we heard from the demonstrators “We have a lot of oil and gas but the government has not given our full salaries, they don’t care about the future of students and our country, they care about their own interests  and positions. Everything is on hold except selling oil, gas and the goods that they bring from outside, just to make it clear, the whole business in the region is controlled by the officials.” In one of the demonstrations that CPT observed, security forces (Asaish) arrested some teachers,  they used tear gas to separate them from each other. Asaish also tried to send the demonstrators home, but they refused it, they told Asaish “We are not here just for our rights, but also for your rights and your children’s rights ” they continued “education is very important for people, we can't give up on the future of our children, our peaceful struggle is to bring real changes, where everyone can have a brighter future, Also to prepare a generation that can stand up for their basic rights and to know their duty and responsibility.”The government has been careless and did not respond to their demands instead they accused teachers and said ‘’Closing down the schools is a crime against the society, and the teachers should go back to their schools regardless if they paid or not or regardless of having a corrupt system.’’
The teachers from Hawler and Duhok cities have same problems, however a political party that is running Erbil and Duhok cities did not let them express their concerns, they forced and threatened them to open schools, and to teach without receiving their salaries.
I heard from many teachers in Sulaimani city saying that “Our struggle remains peaceful, in spite of us getting arrested, threatened, and our cars being burned. We didn’t stop demanding our rights,  and we will continue our nonviolent protests for the future of our children and country.”  During the demonstrations the teachers asked security forces “ Please don’t beat us, arrest us, and threaten us because we remember the former president of Iraq, Sadam Husain and what his regime was doing against civilians” they continued “We are brothers and sisters from the same country, our struggles and future are the same, please understand our peaceful effort.” We heard the same from Gulala, Awat and his brother Amanj “we remember exactly Sadam’s regime and what had happened to us.”  
When you go and observe teachers demonstrations you always hear demonstrators expressing their love and respect for their country,  however you also hear their desperation and heartbrokenness about what is happening here. They said “Our history, culture and humanity had been reduced to oil and gas processes, a small group is running the country with support of some super pack countries and companies, they changed Kurdistan to a small circle of violence and broken dreams. We don't trust human rights organizations and states any more because we didn't see them do anything for us, we believe they work for themselves.”
When I think of their situation I see them surrounded by barbed wired fence if they try to climb out to receive their rights they get hurt if they stay they suffocate. And The only solution is getting freedom and justice back to this region.

      

Dec 14, 2016

Amidst death threats, Gulala Sdiq’s voice still echoes change



Gulala giving a speech during one of the latest protests in the city of Sulaimani. Photo by: Kasia Protz
Gulala Sdiq is a teacher, civil society activist, and one of the main organizers of the current protests in the city of Sulaimani. She is one of thousands of teachers that have been on strike in the streets of Sulaimani demanding their full wages and an end to government corruption. As a result of the ongoing strike, the schools remain closed in the city of Sulaimani and surrounding areas. Gulala Sdiq requested Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) to accompany her and her family after receiving threats from security forces over the past few weeks. CPT is an international human rights organization seeking to transform violence and oppression. After hearing her story an agreement was made to accompany Gulala Sdiq for the upcoming days in her home.

Read the full report here

Kormori Bchwk - the Forgotten Village


Kak Hassan and other villagers explaining their struggle to CPT. Photo by: Kasia Protz

“They promised us many job opportunities and a better road. However only two men were hired over the last two years. Most of us have to work outside the village now, we were hoping for jobs with Dana Gas but they lied to us!"
Five other men nod in affirmation as Kak Hassan tells the CPT team of some of the hardships his community faces daily from the presence of their unwanted powerful neighbor. Kormori Bchwk (Small Kormor) is a remote village of 22 families, seven out of which live there permanently and fifteen seasonally. It is not easy to find Kormor, especially coming from Sulaimani, which lies some two and half hours of drive away. It is surrounded by thousands of low treeless hills stretching for miles in all directions and towards the nearby unclear borderline between Kurdistan and what is left of Iraq and just a recent front-line against Daesh (ISIS). This scarcely populated area which Saddam Hussein turned into an example of his commitment to genocide Kurds, falls under the sphere of administration of the district mayor of Chamchamal, which lies some 90 km away, and  under the sub-district mayor of the nearest town of Qadir Karam.


Read the full report here.

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.”    
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