Jan 16, 2012

Christmas in Kirkuk

4 January 2012
By Ramyar Hassani

Christmas in Kirkuk.

Sun, clear sky and a little mild weather made it seem like spring in the winter. The situation in the streets was normal; traffic was light, making for an ordinary day!! This was the situation on 26 Dec. 2011 when the CPT team arrived in Kirkuk to accompany the Christian community for the day.
In the history of the city, various ethnic groups such as Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs have lived together, along with a number of Christian families from different backgrounds including  Assyrians and Catholics. There are around 1500 Christian families with 8 churches in the city and the Christian village of Se Kanian 10 kilometres away.
After 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein, every year there is a lot of fear of suicide attacks during the celebration days in Kirkuk and cities in southern Iraq, and of course Christians are always targeted during Christmas celebrations. In 2010, because of a chain of suicide attacks in the churches and in the Christian areas, the Christian community of Iraq decided not to celebrate New Year’s.
This year 2011 was better, but there was a lot of security present, not like a normal Christmas in Europe and the U.S., but the celebration went on, and of course in Kirkuk too. During the mass on the second day of Christmas, in the Virgin Mary Chaldean Catholic church in Kirkuk, CPT accompanied Christian people who since 2003 have had a lot of problems, and fears of being killed, kidnapped, or displaced.
The priest, who had a cold, was concerned and sad about the absence of people in the church and he mentioned many times that today is the day of being together and celebrating our most important day which is Christmas. He asked, in this holy day, what are you doing in the home? Watching T.V.? Lying on the sofa? What is more important than being with the other Christians in the most important day for us?

But the fear of suicide attacks in front or inside of the churches is not the main reason for people’s absence. There is another reason why most of the Christians were absent. In the Christian village of Se Kanian, on the same day, while there are 50-60 Christian families in the village, there were only 17 persons in the church during the mass. The reason is the same reason why people in Iraq generally have disagreements. It is the small issues that make life very difficult. On the top of the church in the village it is written that it is a Chaldean Christian church. So most of the Assyrian Christians of the village were absent.

From here to where?

11 January 2012
IRAQ REFLECTION: From Here to Where?
 by Bud Courtney

It is late afternoon. The sun has disappeared. It is fairly cold. We are seated on benches in front of a home in the Makhmoud refugee camp in northern Iraq, speaking with Josef and Armeena. About two years ago, they were part of a delegation of about forty-six persons who formed a Peace Brigade. They had intended to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and deliver a letter to him simply explaining that this group, and the Kurdish people, were not terrorists. They wanted peace. They wanted what all of us want (and many of us expect) -- our basic human rights. Mr. Erdogan refused to meet with them. Instead, the group was arrested, tried and sentenced to ten to fifteen years in prison. Josef and Armeena fled. Ten of the group remain in prison today.
Eighteen hours later, three of us CPTers are seated with two vice-consuls in the offices of the Turkish Consulate. We have brought with us a tin of cookies and a letter explaining our hope that this New Year could, indeed, be the year where people tried to find alternatives to violence and that we will look back and say 2012 was the year of change. “I realize that violence does not work,” vice-consul Cafer Agik told us, “but the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] are terrorists and when they attack us, we have to fight back.”
At the refugee camp, we had informed each group we spoke with that we would have a meeting at the Turkish Consulate the following morning, and asked what they would like us to say on their behalf. Repeatedly, the message echoed Armeena’s words to the Turkish judge when she was tried for her participation in the Peace Brigade. “You have sent my children to the mountains. I have three martyrs, my children, killed by the government.” And another Josef stated, “Here in the camp are children, women and old people. Erdogan sees us as terrorists. I do not want to kill police, but I want our right to live together.”

(Makhmoud refugee camp)

A span of twenty hours. A refugee camp tucked away off the back-roads outside the city of Hawler, and a modern office in the city in a recently constructed office building offering spacious views of the region from every window. All the parties we spoke with expressed the realization that violence does not work. Yet each side lives seemingly far removed from the realities of the other.
In the Consulate, we had talked of education, constitutional change, and seeing one another as human beings. I was truly grateful for the opportunity to meet with the refugees in the camp and the vice-consuls at the Consulate who took considerable time to dialogue with us. But upon leaving, I continued to wonder what it will take for both sides to sit down, to look one another in the eyes and share their common humanity. Only then can this year be the year when people take real risks to enact change.

New Year

3 January 2012
IRAQ REFLECTION: Speculations on what the New Year holds for Iraq
By Amy Peters

In the last weeks of 2011, the United States officially withdrew the last of its troops from Iraq.  Within a couple of days, news reports from Baghdad were filled with more violence, death and destruction.  On December 22, a series of bomb attacks killed 63 people in the capital city.  These events seemed to confirm speculation that conditions in Iraq will worsen with the departure of U.S. troops.

We in CPT have been curious about the thoughts and feelings of Kurdish people on the current situation in Iraq.  One person told me, “The Kurdish people do not like that the Americans are leaving.  They came without a plan, but now they are leaving and there is still no plan.”  Because of this, many people in Iraq think that civil war is inevitable.
Another person told me that there is no foundation for peace, that “this land is like magma, ready to erupt, the ground is ready for war”.  I heard similar thoughts from a high school student and a lawyer.

I have not seen U.S. soldiers in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and so sometimes I have a hard time believing that their departure will have a big impact here.  When I say this, Kurds respond, “It will be worse in the south, but anything that affects southern Iraq will be felt in the North.  The central government still controls us. If it is unstable, we will be too.”

Kurdistan is a region that has survived chemical bombing and genocidal campaigns, and continues to endure cross-border attacks.  Most recently, on December 29, while most people were preparing for New Year’s celebrations, Turkish warplanes killed 35 young people along the Turkey-Iraq border.

War has been a lifelong lesson for the Kurdish people.  So now it seems their automatic response is, “You can’t talk about peace in war time.  War forces you to reorganize your whole life.  We know war. We have learned it.” We speculate on the year to come and wonder if this year will see a continuation of violence and oppression.  But we continue to work and live in the hope that this year can be the one that challenges history and shows us all new ways of doing things.