Aug 15, 2017

Family impacts of Iranian cross border shelling

By Julie Brown

Khatun Ali talking to CPTers at her home in Shora. Photo by: Julie Brown
Khatun Ali lives in Shora, a small village in the Choman district of Iraqi Kurdistan. She is the head of a household in an area that is regularly targeted by Iranian Military in a cross-border battle between the Iranian military and the KDPI or Kurdish Democratic Party of Iranian. Khatun is a widow with three other people living in her home, a daughter-in-law, two small children and herself.  One of her sons is a Peshmerga who is often away.

“When my husband was alive, I lived like a princess honestly. I didn’t have a lot of responsibility. Now I have to look after a lot of trees, our herds and the children,” she said as she pointed to the sheep grazing on the hill just behind her home. She told of how her home and crops were burned three separate times during the time of Saddam but they managed to rebuild. “We were poor then but we had a good life. Things in the region have improved but here there are no salaries, food, or kerosene and now we are scared.”

On July 3rd Iranian shells, and large caliber bullets fired from within Iran and targeting KDPI positions hit the village of Gwndazhor and the surrounding mountains around Shora.  The attack wounded four people, destroyed two homes and killed several livestock. “Our villages are very close so the bombing in one area affects all the nearby villages” Khatun explained to CPT.

Villagers of Iraqi kurdistan have been affected by cross-border wars for decades. These attacks have stirred little notice from the international community however the human rights impact in the region has been huge.  The shells on July 3rd started in the very early morning as people slept in their homes. Khatun explained that at first she thought the loud sound was a landmine exploding. (This area is also riddled with unexploded landmines dating back to the 80’s, leftovers of the Iran/ Iraq War.) Her son, a member of the Peshmerga military forces, was also woken by the sound and told his mother that it was shelling from Iran.”We were petrified. The children were shouting and we left the village.”  Khatun recounted how they all piled into her son’s vehicle and fled the area along with the residents from all of the surrounding villages. “I was out of my soul.” she said regarding the fear and chaos.  During active bombings displacement of villagers is very common.  Whole areas flee to the larger towns where no structure for support exists.

The effects of these bombings are lasting in the region.  People killed or injured, displacement, damaged houses, lost livestock and burned crops are not the only effects. CPT has documented numerous people with high levels anxiety and trauma.  The rate is especially high among the children. Khatun’s family is just one example. “Even when I sleep in the nights now I am petrified.” Khatun said.  She said that she has no idea when they will shell the area again.  

Cross-border bombings have occurred along the Kurdish borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey for decades.  They have not been an effective solution to these regional conflicts and are causing great human suffering among the populations inhabiting these areas. The international community should remain aware of the impact these attacks are having on the civilian population and urge all involved parties to find a diplomatic solution.  

Aug 6, 2017

The Different Faces of Society

Teachers demanding their salaries through protests in the city of Sulaimani in 2016. Photo by; Rezhiar Fakhir
By: Peggy Gish
“So, what’s it like for the people in Iraqi Kurdistan?” my friends  back home ask me over the Internet, now that I’m back on the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan  team.
My answer would probably start with explaining that, of course, Iraqi Kurdistan and its government, the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) continues to be the most secure and stable area of Iraq.  It’s not so far in miles from Mosul, but is fairly removed from the battles with the “Islamic State.”   From outside the country, it may appear that life in the KRG is going smoothly, but from here, one can see that the average Iraqi Kurd is beset with various social challenges.   
The economy is a big one. The first thing many Kurdish people mention is that they are in an “economic crisis.”  Teachers and lower-level government workers--people drawing a paycheck from the KRG--except for the Peshmerga and other security forces, whose salaries are partially provided by the U.S. and their allies--have in the past year, received just a fraction of their salaries, or in many months, none, yet are being forced to continue working their jobs to keep society running.   Kurdish officials publically maintain that they are bankrupt and don’t have enough funds. They also say the KRG is still caring for the needs of displaced persons coming in from other areas of the country and several large refugee camps for Syrians.  Kurds I spoke to, however, say that most of the expenses of these camps are covered by international and private aid agencies.  
What I hear is that, yes, the price of oil on the world market has dropped. And, yes, the KRG no longer receives a percentage of Iraqi oil revenues from the Iraqi Central Government in Baghdad.  This was cut off a couple years ago, when the KRG started selling and keeping the profits of oil produced in the Kurdish region.  The Central Government also stopped paying the salaries of the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters after the KRG insisted on keeping its control over them.  Kurds outside the government tell me that the KRG has enough revenues to pay their employees, but that money is being siphoned off and disappeared through mass corruption of government parties and leaders.
Another problem still plaguing Iraqi Kurdish society, is something we learned about back in late 2006, when our team moved here from Baghdad, and were invited to rallies protesting the attacks on citizens who spoke out publically against corruption and the lack of free speech. Unfortunately human rights violations are still common.
The teachers’ situation is a recent example of this kind of oppression.  For several months this past school year, teachers  went on strike. Almost daily, thousands of teachers nonviolently protested and marched on the streets, demanding their pay.  This winter, security personnel kidnapped, beat, burned the cars, or threatened the lives of several of the leaders of the marches.  Eventually authorities violently crushed the peaceful protests and forced the teachers, under threat, to return to their classrooms.
It is tragic that at a time when Kurdish fighters are being applauded by worldwide media in their successful battles against ISIS in Iraq, many Kurdish people feel oppressed by their own leaders.  It is sad to see the longed sought after dream of Kurdish self-determination in Iraq being plagued by internal divisions and repression.

I have learned, here, and back in my home country, that societies have at least two faces.  And many of us have found ways to navigate between the two very real sides.  The first involves the tragic realities of our governments’ and economic systems’ abusing their power and crushing the vulnerable inhabitants and the noble aspirations of the common hard-working citizen.  The second is  the reality of a beautiful culture and people that continues to care for and sacrifice for the well-being of their children and neighbors.  It involves those who rise above local prejudices, rivalries, and power-seeking to work for reconciliation and for more peaceful, just, and caring communities.  Both are real descriptions of what is happening in society here and at home, but it is in walking alongside the people in this second side that offers hope for a life-giving future.

Jun 6, 2017

Take ownership of your home

By: Daan Savert

Kak Bapir welcoming CPTers at his home village. Photo by: Daan Savert
On Monday May 15th, we as delegates of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan spring delegation visited Basta, one of the 63 villages in the Pishdar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. We were welcomed by the village leader Kak Bapir and his family. “The people of CPT are no longer guests here,” Kak Bapir said. “So take ownership of your home.”

The civilians of the Pishdar region were displaced during the regime of Saddam Hussein. After the fall of the Ba’ath regime in 2003 the people were glad to come home again. But in 2007 a new period of misery started, when both the Turkish and the Iranian government started to bomb the region. In 2012 Iran stopped bombing, but until today Turkey has continuously been bombing the Pishdar district. The latest bombing took place on April 6, 2017.

One of the camps that was used by the villagers of Basta, while they were fleeing both the Iranian and Turkish governments bombardments. Photo by: Rezhiar Fakhir
Over the last ten years twenty people have been killed and more than one hundred civilian houses have been destroyed. The inhabitants of the Pishdar region have been displaced several times. The people suffer from a loss of animals, destruction of businesses and their agriculture and a delayed electrical project. All of this has resulted in a lot of mental health problems in the region. Because of the bombings there is a lack of teachers, since they are afraid to enter this region.

Basta has always represented peace. During the war between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the father of Kak Bapir talked with leaders of both parties and made them, after around seventy sessions, sign a peace agreement. The Turkish government claims to target the PKK with their bombings. If these bombings would “help” to defeat the PKK, then they would have been defeated twenty years ago. This is however not the case. The bombings are making life impossible in an area that, because of the great suitability for agriculture, beekeeping and livestock, could produce enough for the whole region.
On Thursday May 18th, we joined Kak Bapir at the Consulate General of the United States of America in Erbil. Kak Bapir asked the Consulate to put pressure on the government of Turkey to stop the bombing of the Pishdar region of Iraqi Kurdistan. We as the delegates of the spring delegation wrote a letter to the Consulate in which we amplified his voice in this important struggle.  Although the political officer, Adam Kotkin, expressed his understanding he kept repeating that Turkey is targeting the PKK, a group that is considered a terrorist organization by the USA. Kak Bapir invited the people of the Consulate to visit Basta, but the officer told him that because of security reasons there would be no chance to take this travel.

“Take ownership of your home.” Somehow these words that Kak Bapir spoke are still ringing in my ears. His hospitality and peaceful presence are a sharp contrast with the violence and injustice that are taking place in the region he is living in. We as the CPT delegation hope that somehow the small steps that are being taken in raising awareness and putting pressure one day will make Kak Bapir and the other inhabitants of the Pishdar district able to finally live in peace in their homes.  

May 30, 2017

Drying up Kormor's Water of Life

By Weldon Nisly

Springs flowed with the water of life for the village of Kormor. For generations springs supplied abundant water to sustain Kormor's people, plants, and animals in this arid land of the Kirkuk region of Iraqi Kurdistan. No more. All of Kormor's springs have dried up. Where cool spring waters once flowed, now only thistles abound in sun-baked ground.
The flames of fire from the land that has been taken over by Dana Gas. Photo by: Rezhiar Fakhir 
Kormor's springs flowed with the water of life until Dana Gas arrived. Showing no concern for village water and life, Dana drilled a deep well to draw the water they needed to pump oil and gas out of the ground. Kormor's water of life was sacrificed to the insatiable corporate thirst for profit and global thirst for energy.

After the U. S. occupation of Iraq in 2003, Dana Gas arrived in Kormor. With regional and national political support they confiscated 4,000 dunams of land owned by villagers. Then they closed off 10 km of road for their own use forcing villagers to drive 40 km around the drilling site over rough roads heavily damaged by the company’s semi tankers.

Dana Gas built a large water storage tank just below the village to supply enough water for their own use. Pumping so much precious water from deep underground quickly lowered the water table and dried up all the springs of water that sustained life and livelihood for the villagers. The company provided a much smaller tank and fills it with water to sustain life for the villagers. But most of the water goes to the gas and oil company.

Kak Hassan telling CPTers about his struggle against Dana Gas Company. Photo by: Rezhiar Fakhir
Kormor village leader and CPT partner, Kak Hassan invited the spring 2017 CPT delegation to visit their village to see firsthand the impact of the loss of spring water on the life of the village. CPTers, Rezhiar Fahkir, Annika Spalde, and Weldon Nisly took the 8-member CPT delegation to visit Kak Hassan in Kormor on May 17. Greeted by Kak Hassan and his family, the delegation was ushered into their living room and joined by other villagers. Soon tea and watermelon were served as Kak Hassan began sharing their struggle for survival in the shadow of Dana Gas with their springs of living water dried up.

"I welcome you to my home," Kak Hassan said to the CPT delegation. "And I thank CPT for your solidarity with me and the people of Kormor. I am grateful that CPT accompanied me when I organized a peaceful protest against Dana Gas and was arrested. CPTers were the only ones who accompanied me in my court trial. Our peaceful protest demanded jobs, roads, and schools. Unfortunately, neither Dana Gas nor our government will listen to us. But we are staying here in our home village.”

Kak Mohammed showing the delegates the photos of his land that has been confiscated by Dana Gas. Photo by: Weldon Nisly.
Kak Mohammed and other villagers also shared how Dana Gas has affected them and Kormor. Then Kak Hassan led the CPT delegation on a walking tour to see the dried up springs and the small water tank that now holds the village’s water supply. In contrast, just below the village, Dana built a huge square water tank for their own use. In addition to confiscating their land, closing their road, and drying up their springs of living water, other consequences of Dana Gas are polluting the air, letting rubbish litter the landscape, and a huge crack in the village school caused by the vibration of drilling into the ground. After inflicting so much harm on the people of Kormor, Dana Gas refuses to give jobs to villagers. Instead the company hires workers from nearby cities and even from other countries. At Kak Hassan’s request, CPT promised to investigate Dana Gas further and explore contacting their headquarters in the United Arab Emirates in order to amplify the voice of the people of Kormor with the company and with political leaders.

May 28, 2017

CPT team celebrates Newroz in solidarity with Kurds in Turkey

By: CPT Iraqi Kurdistan Team

People celebrating Newroz in Amed, Kurdish region of Turkey. Photo by: Julie Brown.
"We are the people of Kurdistan," echoes from the many powerful amplifiers throughout the enormous park. "We are the people of Kurdistan!" hundreds of thousands voices respond in one voice and shake the earth and our hearts. The powerful chant together with the dark smoke of the Newroz yellow-red fire rise towards the cloudy sky where a police helicopter circles around. A kaleidoscope of colors of traditional Kurdish dresses, scarves and flags coalesce into a dance. It is the 21st of March and our Iraqi Kurdistan team stands witness to this deeply special moment with the multitude greater than I have ever seen in my life.  

We are in the ancient city of Amed, through which the river Tigris flows, inhabited for millennia by various peoples of diverse ethnicities and religions. A century ago, in this city, more than 150,000 Armenians and Assyrian Christians were massacred and deported. The Turkish state that succeeded the fallen Ottoman Empire renamed the city Diyarbakır and made it a center of its military presence in the region. In the 1990s, the Kurdish population of this city swelled when it became home to an additional one million Kurdish people, roughly a third of those who fled the bloody war and violence of the Turkish state against Kurdish Guerrilla fighters and civilians. In 2016 the European Union signed multi-billion Euro deals with Turkey. The aim was to stop people fleeing war in Syria and Iraq from reaching Europe. Meanwhile, the Turkish military was bombarding the old city of Amed and other towns in the Kurdish region of Turkey. Their "anti-terror" military operations killed hundreds and displaced between 355,000 and half million people, mainly Kurds.

Even though we stay at a hotel in Amed's old city and can walk in a part of the area surrounded by ancient black stone city walls, we are able to see only one block of houses leveled to the ground and several walls pierced by bullet and rocket holes. The whole area with over 2,000 destroyed or damaged houses is off-limits, entry streets are barred by concrete blocks or police checkpoints, not only for the eyes of outsiders but especially from the 24,000 residents hoping to return. The city is heavily militarized and the occupation feels very tangible and heavy. Armored cars roam the streets between the ever present security forces armed with rifles, checkpoints, police stations and military bases, each surrounded by anti-explosion walls. We can hear fighter jets taking off from the nearby airport and breaking the sound barrier over our heads on their way to drop bombs on Iraqi Kurdistan or Syria.    
For Kurdish people Amed is a symbolic center of resistance and struggle for the rights of Kurds and other minorities in Turkey and beyond. The main pro-Kurdish and Turkish civil rights movements and political parties are based here. Even though many of the party leaders, activists, teachers, parliament members, local mayors and community leaders are being silenced in jails, their colleagues speak boldly today from the stage at the Newroz celebration. Their message to the people of Turkey and the world: "We are all brothers and sisters and we all deserve the same rights and respect," and, "NO, to the expanding dictatorship powers of Erdogan over the people of Turkey."

Newroz is a Kurdish New Year festival of Spring and celebration of liberation from a tyrannical oppressive power. Each year, around a million people attend the Newroz celebration in Amed. This year, our Iraqi Kurdish CPT colleagues also wanted to attend and so our team went.  Some of our team are foreigners with high passport privilege, we traveled overland by bus. Because of the EU/Turkish deal, Iraqi citizens need a prearranged visa and can enter Turkey only by air through Istanbul. Only one of our two Kurdish comrades made it all the way to Amed. The Turkish intelligence detained our teammate Rezhiar at Istanbul airport even before the passport control. After interrogating him, going through his phone and online presence, and holding him in a cell for around 14 hours he was deported back to Iraqi Kurdistan on "terrorist charges". His only crimes were being a Kurd who wanted to come for Newroz and posting several articles critical of Turkish politics on the internet.

For our group of five, the Newroz celebration in Amed is a deeply emotional and powerful experience even with all the armed forces surrounding the park, checking and filming all who enter and leave and confiscating from them questionable materials and flags. In the midst of all of this, there is a million unwavering souls committed to resist, persist, and to reshape the current regime and rebuild the society to one based on true democracy and pluralist respect.

May 22, 2017

As adults, we are just afraid for our children

By: Julie Brown

The explosion was massive,  even through the small video on Kak Najib’s iPhone you could see the devastation and huge plume of smoke that engulfed the whole side of a nearby mountain. This was just one of many bombs that fell on the area surrounding the village of Merkajia last fall.

Merkajia is an Assyrian village that lies within the northern mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan.  These mountains are a dividing point between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan as well as a battleground between the Turkish government and The Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK.  While media sometimes gives nod to this decades long conflict, The realities of life for those like the villagers of Merkajia, people whose communities are on the frontlines, are rarely told.

In November the Turkish Government dropped a barrage of bombs on the area surrounding this small village Kak Nagib, the Mukhtar (village leader) of Merkajia, told CPT. When the first bombs fell it was in the evening Kak Najib was in his house with his family.  He explained that at first they stayed inside their home and took shelter but as the bombs continued to fall they went outside afraid that one would hit the house and it would collapse on his family.  The women and children were sent from the village and only the men stayed behind to protect their homes and property. “As Assyrians we believe that we will die one day and that we should not be afraid of death. I have seen many wars, Saddam forced me to go to Kuwait.  As adults, we are just afraid for our children,” he explained.

Walls inside Kak Najib's house in Merkajia. Photo by: Julie Brown
The bombs also shattered all the windows in every home in Merkajia and cracked several walls. Kak Najib pointed to a large crack in his home just over a large portrait of Jesus hanging in his family room.  When CPT asked how people could be in solidarity with the villagers of Merkajia he simply said, “Let people know that we are being bombed.”  

When the area quieted, Kak Najib went out from his house into the village’s surrounding lands.  There he was shocked at what he saw. When he attempted to survey the damages to the area he found parts of bodies strewn over the landscape.  He said that he did his best to collect them and keep them from the wild animals so that these people could have a proper burial.  Although Merkajia’s residents are not involved in fighting, and even have an agreement with the fighters to stay away from the village, no one is immune from the effects of the bombings in this area. Over fifty bombs hit the area in a period that lasted almost a week.  In the end 16 people were killed and 63 wounded.  All were Kurdish fighters.

Kak Najib showing the historical map of his village's land to the CPTer. Photo by: Julie Brown.
Though no one from the village lost their life,  civilians in the area also continually feel the effects of these attacks.  Many families have left, homes are damaged,and they no longer raise herds in this area because with every bombing the animals are released and lost.  The fields are also constantly burned and destroyed around the village.  The villagers from Merkajia have land deeds to this area that date back to the Ottoman Empire.  Kak Najib held up a large map depicting the Assyrian village’s historic land that his family has lived on for generations.  He remarked, “This is our land, even if it is all burned we will never leave.”

This bombing took place in November, however, CPT records show that over forty Turkish Cross-border bombings on Kurdish areas similar to Merkajia have taken place just in the first half 2017 alone.

Mar 14, 2017

On the cycle of oppression in Iraqi Kurdistan

Photo credit: PBS 
By Gabe Soares

As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote once, “an education that does not liberate, makes the oppressed dream of becoming oppressors”. In Kurdistan, we see clear manifestation of what Freire wrote developing across the social and political spectrum in both directions. While signs of freedom shine across the horizon for some, it diminishes for others, not only due to action of external forces, but by fellow Kurdish compatriots. In Iraqi Kurdistan in particular, one can witness a strange contradiction between independence and freedom, as well as between autonomy and rights. The heroic images of KRG’s Peshmerga fighters on the frontlines with ISIS that have been widespread by the different medias has obfuscated the issues of the internal political atmosphere experience by many dissent voices in the areas under the same government that is in charge of keeping the ISIS threat in check. The ambivalence of having your “so-called protector” being your oppressor is nothing new or specific to this case. It is often that one side of the narrative silences the other while providing a clear cut case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor and taking on elements of their previous oppressor.

The Kurdish Question was born out of the process of the disintegration of the Old Political Order centered in Empires, like the Ottoman and the Persian Empires. The onset of the Nation States in the Middle East came in the aftermath of the First World War, during which not only new borders were drawn, but people were forced to conform to them or be forcibly removed from their spaces within those borders, even through genocide, like the one against the Armenians and Assyrians. Ironically, this genocide had the support of tribes among the Kurdish people, who later would suffer the hardships of these same policies that aimed for Kurdish suppression and disappearance of the Kurdish people in the different States in which the Kurds were divided. In Iraq, the peak of this repression was during Saddam Hussein’s Anfal Campaign and led to immense destruction. It was followed a few years later by an uprising that finally lead to Kurdish autonomy in the country. Unfortunately, so far conflicts, internal divisions and repression have plagued the dream of Kurdish self-determination in Iraq.

Yet many are still trying to find ways to break the cycle of oppression through non-violence. Despite the recent crackdowns on freedom of expression, which often bring back memories and references to Saddam’s time, often in the expression of “as bad as Saddam” or even “worse than Saddam”, activists and Human Rights defenders are still committed to struggle for a more just and free society. However, the conditions for breaking this circle of violence and militarism does not look promising at the moment, especially with the growing foreign support for the continuous flow of arms to the region. Thus, local activists like Awat Hassan are now asking for more international support to counter this trend in favor of non-violence, calling in his own words: “for support from you (internationals) to protect activists and to continue supporting those that believe change can be brought to the Middle East without violence”.

Mar 13, 2017

Activism and family, a mother story

By Julie Brown

Nonviolent movements and campaigns are made of many moving parts.Some are the faces that we see on the television giving compelling speeches in front of thousands, while others are playing crucial roles making these moments happen. SAZGAR GHAFOUR SAEED is an activist, teacher and mother married to one of the public faces of the teacher’s campaign in Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. One night, after preparing a large Kurdish meal followed by several rounds of tea and snacks, Sazgar put her children to bed, made a final round of coffee, and sat down to tell CPT her story.

Sazgar and her children marching in the city of Sulaimani. Photo by: CPTers
Sazgar is an 8th grade Arabic teacher, mother of four, and wife of Awat Hassan who was one of the main organizers of the teacher’s demonstrations in Sulaimani.  She has been part of the teacher’s movement since the beginning and has seen it evolve from something that once gave her great hope to something that has ultimately put her family in danger.

From the very beginning of the demonstrations Sazgar had many responsibilities. Along with the hectic schedule of raising four children, she also had a full-time activism role. She was supporting the movement with many logistical tasks. She did a variety of things from charging the loudspeaker system to cooking meals, hosting organizing meetings in her home, and attending demonstrations with her family.

The demonstrations were very popular.  The teachers were calling for their full salaries to be paid and also for an end to government corruption. The teachers also engaged in a strike that kept the schools closed for months. As the demonstrations grew, Sazgar’s husband became well known.When I asked about her friends and family’s reactions to the demonstrations she said, “Some were very supportive but others were scared for Awat’s life.” “We had a good feeling. In the beginning of the demonstrations things went well but it didn’t take long before they broke our car’s back window.”

Although the teachers’ campaign remained peaceful with a message of nonviolence, the organizers faced violence and intimidation from local security forces and other unnamed actors. “The more known Awat became, the more dangerous it was.” she said.  

Once the threats toward her family started they were persistent and intensified. Sazgar recalled an evening when her husband was driving their ten-year-old daughter home from a local recreational center and Asiesh Security Forces stopped their car on the road. The security forces detained Awat, separated him from his daughter and put him into their vehicle.Then two men got into the family’s vehicle with her young daughter Ala.  Ala plead and cried for her father as the security forces drove around and argued over what to do with her.  In the end, they put her out on the side of the road alone.  Ala ran home and told her family what had happened to her father.  Sazgar said that shortly after Ala returned home Awat also returned home.  When he got there he was weak in the knees over the grief and guilt of what had just happened to his daughter.

Another evening their car was burned in front of their home as her family slept.  They woke to banging on the windows and she saw a flickering light through the curtains and thought it was the police coming to arrest her husband. When they went outside they saw the fire.  It was so large that they were afraid that it would catch the yard on fire.  Sazgar went inside, woke up her sleeping children, and put them outside through a window.  Once outside the children saw that the car was engulfed in flames and began to cry.   The events of this night left the children with lots of anxiety and her four year old son now suffers from severe trauma.

Their car was burnt while Sazgar and her family were sleeping. Photo by: Gabe Soares.
After this, Sazgar continued attending the demonstrations with her children. When asked about it she said, “Even though we had a burden, I want them to learn to be courageous, speak for themselves, and fight for their rights.”

CPT asked Sazgar if she has any advice to someone else in her position. She said, “It’s important to not give up.  It is challenging due to our children.  We don’t pay as much attention to our own lives as we do to the lives of our children.  I think it will take a long time to normalize my children’s lives. They will not be the children that they use to be.  I think the voices that the government is trying to silence, in the future, will make a change. People will rise up and the bubble will burst.

Now the demonstrations in Sulaimani have ended and the teacher’s strike is broken. When asked about her hope for the future she said, “Hope doesn’t work with these leaders.” “We hope that we will have the knowledge in the future of what is happening to the money and wealth of this region.” She also hopes that her children and husband will be protected. Throughout the campaign many organizers, teachers, and human rights defenders were arrested and detained.  Reflecting on the past, she said,“Next time we will all go out and demonstrate as a family and we will not give up.”

Mar 12, 2017

Kurdish Journalist Apprehended and Beaten.

CPT received a story from a journalist who was beaten on January 15, 2017. He wanted to share his story in hopes that people around the world will know what is happening in this region.

This is Karwan Haji Shamo’s account of the events of that day.

“I wrote a post on my Facebook criticizing the Asiesh (security forces), the Mayor of Bahadre (the town he lives in), and the Kurdistan DemocraticParty (KDP) office in Bahadre. I said that they are the reason behind people from Bahdre not getting hired by the many international companies operating in the area.

At the beginning the Mayor and Asaish didn’t have a negative response, but the head of the KDP office from our area called me and asked me to delete the post from my Facebook. I refused his order. Two days after I received this phone call he sent three armed people to my home. When they arrived it was nine o’clock in the morning. I was just leaving for my office. As soon as the men approached they just started to beat me. Then they took me to the KDP office in Bahadre. Once there, they put me in an upstairs room where I was beaten unconscious. I woke up to them throwing water on me and I saw blood all around. The head of the KDP office told me, “You should not go out with bloody clothes on,” but I refused to change my clothing until I arrived at the hospital.

I was told at the hospital that I could not receive treatment without a report from the police. When I went to police station one police officer recognized me. He told me that I had slandered the KDP and he was also a member of this party. This same officer had also threatened me a few days before and had also asked me to delete my Facebook post. Because of this man, I couldn’t get paper from police station. I had to go to another hospital in another town to receive medical treatment for my injuries. This time I had media with me. Once we arrived to the second hospital a police officer there told me that I should not talk to the media about what had happened to me.”

Kurdistan has become a dangerous place for journalists and activists. In the recent past, several journalists and activists have been killed, arrested, and unlawfully detained in this region for speaking out against injustice and corruption. CPT has reported on many of these instances. For more on recent attacks on journalists, please read the report from Human Rights Watch

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan Team

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:

Deputy Prime Minister e-mail:

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. 

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.