Sep 5, 2012

August 2012 Newsletter


The month started with Cpter Patrick Thompson and Partner Mohammed Salah visiting the registry office so that Thompson could get is residency granted. Due to administration problems, public holidays and bureaucracy that would make Robert Kafka’s The Trial, look like a nursery rhyme, the process took many days. Eventually legal status was granted.
This month also marked the farewell of a long serving member of team, whom has often carried the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team through many hard times, Partner Mohammed Salahs truck. Salah had decided to sell the truck to help pay for his new family home, and CPT is encouraging Salah’s dedication to becoming more reliant on his own feet to carry him about Sulaimani. Salah and his truck have been pivotal for CPT in the last few years enabling the team to visit many “out of the way” places. However with Mohammed’s newfound dedication to walk, CPT has also decided to become more imaginative in developing ways to travel the Iraqi Kurdish landscape.

CPTers David Hovde, Garland Robertson, and Carrie Peters, visited St. Mary’s Chaldean Church in Kirkuk, from 4-5 August, to reconnect with their contacts in Kirkuk’s Christian community, Father Silwa and Bishop Sako. During their stay, the team unexpectedly met with Jim and Deb Fine, from Hawler’s MCC office.  Following Saturday mass, the Fines joined Hovde, Robertson and Peters for a surprise dinner at Father Silwa’s, and spent nearly four hours conversing in a mix of Arabic, Kurdish, French, and English.  Over dinner, the team asked Father Silwa how he felt the Christian population in Kirkuk, and Iraqi Kurdistan in general, was faring. Unfortunately, Father Silwa described a trend he’d observed over the past several decades, that Christians were steadily leaving Iraq for more stable regions because they have no sense of security here. He also lamented how - as he put it - the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan today were yesterday’s criminals and terrorists, using their power to protect those whom they favor, and few others. He did not feel Iraq and/or Kurdistan’s Christians were among that protected number.

Cpters Thompson, Peters and Hovde visited The Domiz refugee camp with mcc worker Jim Fines. This was the second time the team had visited with the Kurdish Syrian refugees of Domiz and the team was interested to hear more about the conflict, the development of a Kurdish autonomous State and the conditions of the camp. Cpt and Fines managed to meet with the camp meager, the doctor the head of the UNHCR for the camp and with a Syrian Kurdish family that had fled from Damascus months previously when the fighting got very bad. 
Despite the heavy heat and thick sandstorms that where plaguing the whole of the Iraqi Kurdish region, Cpt was happy to see that the conditions had improved, but were worried that the numbers of the refugees had also tripled in the last month and that the camp was preparing to host up to 10’000 people. CPT learnt that these camps often after a few years become permanent. People who are tired of living in tents start to build solid structures around them until they become houses, at which point it is difficult to differentiate between refugee camps and towns.
Cpt continues to monitor the situation in Syria, especially the situation of the Kurdish Syrian population.

On 23 August, CPTers Thompson and Peters joined CPT partner Saleh on a one-day excursion up to Kani Spi, a village very close to the Iranian border. The team has maintained a connection with Kaka Mahmoud and his village for several years, and they wanted to see how he and his family fared, since there were no attacks in the region this year. The team was therefore delighted to find Kaka Mahmoud and several male relatives working on an addition to their house, and to see several women out in the fields, tending flocks and crops, and all living their lives in peace.  When Thompson and Peters talked with Kaka Mahmoud, he expressed his happiness that CPT was passing along his story, and the story of Kani Spi, to new team members (neither Peters nor Thompson had visited Kani Spi before), and affirmed the importance of CPT’s work in amplifying the voices of the villagers.

Salah, Peters, and Thompson also traveled to the border with Iran. to the crossing town of Hagi Omeron. This small town is one of the main land crossings from Iraq in to Iran. Thompson was amazed by the thousands of Oil Tankers of all shapes and sizes waiting at the roadsides.  They sat waiting for the night to come, where they would be allowed to cross over in to Iran. Salah commented that some of these tankers would wait weeks before permission was granted for them to cross in to Neighboring Iran. The team also noticed the amount of white watchtowers that dotted the tips of the mountains. The team has been told that in recent years there has been a push by Iran to make their borders more secure. This takes the form of large white hill top fortifications that glow in the light and cause a great sense of fear in the Kurds that live close by.

Sep 1, 2012

Doing hard labor in Iraq

A version of this article is available in Kurdish here.

Making a country that includes everyone is hard work.  Transforming a structure that serves the powerful and the privileged cannot be done by the timid and the shy.  Raising a voice that declares that discrimination based upon class and position is an unjust abuse of power comes with a high price.

Take for example the experience of courageous persons in Iraqi Kurdistan who peacefully gathered in Sulaimani last year.  They came to express their concerns about discriminatory policies that violate the human rights of a large sector of the community.  Powerful leaders in the ruling parties contrive to deny privileges for those not associated with their established and defended position.  The consequences for persons participating in these public protests have proven to be dangerous, even tragic.

We witness and have heard from the Kurdish people that the prevailing pattern of governing by discrimination reflects clan-based perspectives that have served all societies since ancient time.  This association provides people an identity and a place to belong—a community in which individuals can participate and contribute.  However, clan-based perspectives can restrict concerns for well being to those inside the distinguished group. Often people outside this identified collective are viewed with suspicion and recognized as a potential threat.  Therefore defending the clan from encroachments on home territory is a serious and important concern.  The clan must be, at all times, under all circumstances, ready and prepared to defend itself from these outsiders.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) takes note of all behaviors that punish those who advocate for the human rights of persons oppressed and treated as inferior members of the community, regardless of the characteristic that causes the discriminatory treatment.  Following the protests that continued daily in Azadi Square until forcefully dispersed by riot-gear-equipped security forces Apr 19, 2011, CPT has learned of many examples of the high cost of working to make a country that includes everyone.     

In addition to instances when persons have had to leave their homes because of threats on their lives, instances when persons have been apprehended and beaten because of their presence in these public gatherings, instances when persons have been arrested for speaking or taking photos at these gatherings, there is another concern that lingers both to haunt the community and to repress further actions to promote policy reforms.

CPT has been informed on several occasions that some persons in power have composed a list of up to 200 names.  This list identifies persons who have been or will be assaulted in the future.  Presumably the first name on the list is that of an attorney who was subsequently shot in a parking garage.  All of the individuals named on this unpublished list were directly involved in sustaining the protests last spring.  CPT is told that they may not all be shot or beaten, however they all will be caused to suffer as a consequence of their decisions to speak out against discrimination in government.  Their names may be slandered, their reputations disgraced, their voices censored, or some other socially and economically impairing accusation may be circulated about them.

The reality that these kinds of retaliatory measures are not investigated makes the situation even more dangerous.  When authorities are questioned about how they are responding to these assaults, they say they are searching for information and if anyone has anything to offer they will receive it.  Or they describe the attack as the work of unknown “terrorists” operating in the region.  Or they explain that the incident is an honor-oriented event that resulted from the necessity for family members to revenge an injury to their own.

Many persons who in the past have acted to defend people in Iraqi Kurdistan whose human rights are being abused have contacted CPT.  They all fear for their safety.  They are afraid every time they go out in public.  They fear something will happen to their families. It is at the behest of those persons who feel so silenced by fear that CPT writes this article today.

The response by authorities to fail to protect citizens calling for reform is not limited to the presence of protesters.  It has occurred with journalists who have published embarrassing and challenging articles.  It has happened to persons working to provide political alternatives to discriminatory practices that deny equal services and support for everyone living in this prosperous region.  And after 15 months, it continues to affect persons who in peaceful gatherings raised their voices against abuses of power.

Clan based structures have a universal and significant history.  They have served to protect and defend cherished ways of life.  Yet clan based structures do not always honor the lives of persons living outside the clan.  However, whether inside or outside the “clan,” every person within the political borders of Iraq is a resident of this diverse, vibrant nation — a human being deserving of full human rights.

Living under generations of harsh treatment by foreign powers and dictators, experiencing first-hand the pain and suffering caused by these oppressions, one would hope this would cause political leaders to appreciate a structure that holds everyone equally accountable under the law.  One would hope that persons who came into power would be compassionate, supportive, sympathetic of all people.  But it takes more power to do this than leaders in Iraqi Kurdistan have so far managed to cultivate.   Yet some of the other citizens have.

Working to transform the exclusive method of managing community that currently dominates in Iraqi Kurdistan is not for the timid and the shy.  Making a country that includes everyone is hard work.  And those who persist to do it are teaching the rest us what true courage looks like.