Dec 19, 2012

Profile of courage . Shanga Rahim Karim

Three years ago, while attending a meeting at WOLA, a women's legal assistance organisation, we met Shanga Rahim Karim.
Shanga, whose passion is for women's human rights, is 26 years old. While still in secondary school, Shanga's sister, a social worker, worked at the prisons and would come home with stories which were of interest to Shanga. She wanted to join her sister in the prison system so she, too, could help the women there.
Shanga enrolled at the University of Sulaimani and studied journalism. She said, "If you have a dream, journalism helps". During her time at the university, she volunteered to write for a Kurdish independent newspaper called Hawlati. She was assigned to the women's human rights section. Recognizing her skill in reporting, she was promoted to the position of director for the women's section of the whole newspaper. Not only writing for the paper, she also began to speak publicly about the laws that governed women and their lives. Shanga spent time interviewing many women and was invited to speak on television.
After graduation, Shanga began writing for a woman's right’s newspaper that was published by the Awene, mainly reporting on issues around women’s rights, trying to instill in them the idea that they have rights and that they can stand up for them. Shanga met many women who still relied on their husbands to interpret their rights, how they dressed and when and where they traveled, amongst others. Shanga deeply distressed by this, continued to speak out.

As Shanga and I spoke, she had to stop from time to time as she was so filled with distress at the situation.Before working for WOLA, Shanga started working voluntarily for international NGO's. In 2007 Shanga met Falah, project coordinator of WADI in Iraq. She asked if she could work with them in building up the first Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaign in 2007. Shanga helped with collecting the 14000 signatures which were submitted to the parliament asking to ban the practice of FGM by law, luckily this law was issued in 2011. At WOLA, Shanga is also the editor in chief of the first  “Women’s Rights Newspaper” in Iraqi Kurdistan.

I asked Shanga, what was the hope that carried her forward?
Shanga said “We now have several shelters for women, 4 in Sulaimani alone. WOLA and the government work well together on this and they have hired social workers and lawyers to protect the women in the shelters. The family has to prove that they will respect and protect the woman before she is discharged back to them. If the family fails to meet these demands concerning the women, then a group of lawyers can obtain prison sentences for members of the family responsible. These lawyers are called upon to defend women in many of their struggles and Shanga believes that they have shown the community that women can be protected.”
Shanga’s hope comes from the knowledge that more women know their rights. There are women in parliament today and she feels that she has helped raise the voice of women.
In regards to Female Genital Mutilation, Shanga shared with us“It is my hope that someday soon all women will know that they have rights and know how to apply these rights to decisions affecting their lives".

I asked Shanga, what was the most difficult part about her work and what caused sadness as she struggled with these issues?
“I am still sad about Female Genital Mutilation. I am working to stop this mutilation because it is very bad for girls. It affects all aspects of their life…their marriage, their sexual experience with their husband and, during childbirth”, she said.

When asked, what was the most frustrating part of this work?, she said, “I get so upset when women tell me that their husband will teach them how to behave. Women need to know their own rights and act on them. The FGM work is also still very challenging. Many people think that our Islamic faith requires FGM; therefore, they don’t consider it a bad thing for their children and our future. I wish people had more information about FGM, as this is difficult for us when we are working and speaking with mothers”.
I asked Shanga to say a little bit about some of the successes that she sees in this work. “I am happy to say that at the present time, in Kurdistan, domestic violence is lower, that surely is a success. Also, more and more people know about FGM and its harm to women. In fact, a law has been passed. The law states that mutilation must be stopped. Therefore, fewer women are being mutilated than years ago". She smiled, saying that she was already seeing some changes.
As I sat with Shanga, I was profoundly touched by her energy regarding the rights of women. Last year, I was invited to her engagement party where I met her family and future husband. Now that she is married, I asked her about her own relationship with her husband? Smiling, she related how he helps her around the house. Indeed, change is coming because of women like.
On November 26th a conference was held in Howler (Arbil), commemorating the International Day of Combating Violence against Women. The Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government attended as well as members of Parliament and representatives from various consulates. Shanga Rahim, Member of Women Legal Assistance (WOLA), addressed this conference on behalf of the civil society and women’s organizations in Iraqi-Kurdistan.

By Rosemarie Milazzo

Dec 8, 2012

November 2012 Newsletter

Persons on team: Kathy Thiessen, Carrie Peters, Pat Thompson, Lukasz Firla, Garland Robertson,JoAnne Ringle, Rosemarie Milazzo, Bud Courtney, Milena Rincon and apparently the cast of "Lez Mizerables."

The team wrote a Profile of Courage for Shanga Rahim. Shanga works with WOLA, Women's Legal Advice group which does advocacy for women and also works within the shelter system in Sulaimani.  Shanga is an inspiration and we are glad to be able to present her story and work to others. Rosemarie Milazzo conducted the interviews, has known Shangar for over 2 years, attended her engagement party and thus was able to work Shangar's relationship with her husband into the profile.

The team participated in two actions in support of the Turkish Kurds on hunger strike in prisons throughout Turkey.The first was a march from the university of Sulaimani to  the Kurdish Parliament offices in Sulaimani. The second was a musical and theatrical endeavor on a Thursday evening on Salim street, focusing on Turkish Prime Minster Erdogan and the Turkish repression of Kurds as well as the bombing of villages and persons along the border and well into KRG as well. Some two hundred persons attended this action which was a lesson in patience as preparations prior to the action, musicial sound check and props breaking down, not to mention the electricity at various seemingly important moments tended to make for a most interesting evening on the street with good friends, old and new.

On novembeer 7, a group of smugglers were bombed by Turkish planes outside Qandil in the Zaherawa subdistrict. Two men were killed and two hurt. One of those hurt was taken to a hospital in Qaladze. The second man, Rebaz lost a leg and was taken and treated in Sulaimani. The team visited Rebaz a number of times and met with him and his family. In addition, we went to the Sulaimani Governorate and spoke with the chief consul in regards to Rebaz and the lack of KRG speaking out against the Turkish bombings.  Kaka Cowa, the consul, spoke that he and the concil are rather powerless but did promise to have a representative speak with Rebaz. He also mentioned that he has contacts in an orthopedic company and believed he could see that Rebaz would  be outfitted with a prosthetic. Further research showed that a representative did indeed meet with Rebaz before he was discharged from the hospital but no prosthetic was mentioned to Rebaz.

The team has been asked by a friend of the team to teach conversational English in two classes one day a week at the Pie Basic Elementary School and is doing so. While this is not the work of CPT, we believe it is the politically correct thing to do as the friend that requested us to do the work is our landlord. We are hoping that by teaching the class, he will guarantee us heat this winter!
The team went to Chamcamal one day for lunch and to meet with the family of Germian, the youngest boy killed in the course of the demonstrations last year. The father had met the team earlier in the week at a demonstration and invited us. He invited media to his home as well and team members were interviewed. We listened to the mother tell of her deep sadness at the loss of her son and we continue to strive to fine ways we can help all of the families who lost their children in the demonstrations.

Team support coordinator Milena Rincon visited with us for two weeks and facilitated team planning sessions at our friend Father Jens' church. The sessions proved invaluable and we were saddened to put Milena back on a plane for Columbia.

The team attended a press conference at the Culture Café where Nasiq, one of the chief organizers of the demonstrations last year, gave a presentation on the ten men killed and what actions are being done to bring justice to the families. While we feel somewhat powerless over this and are not sure what our involvement should be, we continue to meet and discuss ways of working with all the families. We are considering having all of the families meet with us together and get a true sense of what each family might be looking for with regards to justice and accountability for themselves and their sons.

The team and our friend, Kanar and her two boys, went to the village of Sunnah for Children's Day at the invitation of the princple of the school. We showed a video we have compiled from monthly team visits to the village over the past year. Kanar's sons asked her if they could transfer to the school, some three hours from Sulaimani(she said she would get back to them on this). The day got out of hand when Kurdish dancing spontaneously broke out and the team ran to the hills.

The team traveled to Zharawa for a demonstration against the potential violence in Kirkuk at the invitation of one of the organizers whom the team met in Sunneh.

The team has been visiting daily a group calling themselves the Disabled Group. They are six physically disabled men on a hunger strike in front of the Parliament office in Sulaimani demanding better conditions for the one hundred twenty five thousand disabled in the KRG and disputed areas. As of this writing they remain without food, camped in front of the Offices. As a result of our daily visits, we have established warm relationships with Ari, Mohammed, Jahid, Jamal, Rebar and Hardar and we pray for them.

Dec 5, 2012

Those who hunger for righteousness

In the late afternoon of Friday, November 23, we received a call from a friend and partner in the Federation of Civil Societies, an organization of Sulaimani NGO's( of which CPT is part of), inviting us to a gathering in front of the Kurdistan Parliament Sulaimani Offices.  A group of 6 physically  disabled men were on the 4th day of a hunger strike. Would CPT come and stand with them for a while? Though it was a day off, two of us quickly agreed to attend. As we pulled up to the area, we noticed an ambulance and in time saw two of the men taken to the hospital. They both returned later in the night. The men had not been eating or drinking up to this point, were preparing to begin a liquid only fast and had to be given intravaneous solutions first.

  We sat in the tent with the group for some time. At one point, my friend from the Federation asked me if I could come back the following evening and bring the guitar and sing for the group. I agreed and did so.
 That second evening, I walked home afterwards buoyed by the experience. When I had arrived at the tent, there were the six men , calling themselves the Disabled Group, and one of their friends. No press, no cameras no fanfare. We sat about the kerosene heater and drank hot banana milk, listened to an aged New York folk rocker play music and at least for myself, felt happily content.

Walking home, I felt this is why I had come to Kurdistan. I know I can't change the world. I've given up even thinking I can. But I can show up. I can sit with those who stand, as best they can for non-violent change. who invite others to join them in their struggle.

 These men, seeking better conditions for the one hundred twenty five thousand disabled in the KRG and the disputed areas, vow to not eat until Parliament agrees to their demands.  They will remain camped in front of the parliament building, building their own community.

  They speak very little English,  and I speak no Kurdish. Yet, every night I enter the tent, I am greeted and given a comfortable seat on the ground and made to feel one of the family. I am always amazed at the hospitality of the people here in the Middle East, perhaps more so in this tent, by six friends on a hunger strike.
  I promised myself I would try to visit each day, if possible. Each day so far, I have done so, with others from the team or another friend, or by myself. We sit and laugh and smile and cry. We look at each other. We hold hands.

  Each day I ask if they are feeling ok. I ask if anyone from parliament has visited them. They are fine but no one from parliament has come. And I only feel sadness for those who do not come because they do not realize what a wonderous gift awaits them within that tent.

By Bud Courtney

Dec 3, 2012


Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

Everyone will live in peace and prosperity, enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees, for there will be nothing to fear. Micah 4:4

One year ago we first met the children of Sunneh village. CPT Iraqi Kurdistan visited them in Gojar camp where they fled with their families during the insistent shelling of the summer and autumn of 2011. Their school had been damaged by the neighboring country’s military bases sitting high up on the mountain ridges overlooking the  village. We heard stories of children waking every night with nightmares. Their faces and minds were stressed from life in the tent camp.

20 November, 2011 was the celebration of International Children’s Day. UNICEF organised a commemoration at the school. They wanted the children to know they had not been forgotten. The damages to the building had been repaired, and it had a new coat of pink paint. The walls inside the school were decorated with balloons, tinsel and many drawings and paintings by the children. The striking thing was that many of the drawings showed signs of what the children had experienced in the previous months. There were planes and helicopters dropping bombs onto small villages. One showed a small animal running from the shells.


Now move forward to November, 2012. CPT Iraqi Kurdistan has kept in contact with the school. We have shared their stories in the form of a report and a video
Many of the students recognize the team members and look forward to our monthly visits. This summer their lives have been free from running from bombardment. For an unknown, but welcome reason, Iran and Turkey have allowed the villagers to live a normal life throughout the entire growing season. Gardens were planted, grew and were harvested. Goats and sheep were pastured. Children gained another year in age and grew in maturity.

The school was decorated again. The balloons and tinsel were back. So were the artistic talents of the students. As the team admired the paintings and drawings something new was striking. The art depicted village life: the mountains, the big sky, the herds of animals, planting and harvesting, playing and living. Not one showed a bomb or a shell. The only evidence of a plane was a large passenger jet with lots of round windows for people to look out of. The young students were joyous and danced and celebrated just being children.

For this minute in time the children of Sunneh and their parents are able to live under their vine and fig tree without fear. Our prayer is that this will be forever. However, the new white trailer Internally Displace Persons camp still waits just a little way down the road. And on November 8, in the same Pishdar region, two Kurdish civilians were killed and 2 wounded by Turkish planes far inside the Iraqi Kurdistan border.

November 2012 IK 011a                                             November 2012 IK 039