May 26, 2013

Peace is a beautiful thing.

The end of violence, the end of hate and fear, the tranquillity of good nights sleep, free from the explosions and gun shots and fear of death or kidnapping.

The conflict between the Turkish military and the Kurdish workers party (PKK), a conflict that has spanned 30 plus years claiming the lives of more than 45’000 Turks and Kurds seems to be coming to end. At least this is our hope, and that of our friends here in Iraqi Kurdistan.

A “ceasefire” has been called. As of the 8th of May, PKK troops are moving back in to Iraqi Kurdistan. No one has declared victory but instead both sides seem wiling to search the middle ground for political and non-violent solutions to the Kurdish Question of Turkey. Both sides are still weary of the other, this is not the first "ceasefire", all others have failed and descended into worse violence than before. What makes this different is the involvement of the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, a man who has been imprisoned since 1999 by the Turkish authorities, but has remained at the ideological forefront of the issue of Kurdish rights; and this brings hope.

But does this mean peace?

It has been made very clear that Abdulla Ocalan, who initiated the “ceasefire” calling to let the weapons fall silent and allowing ideas and policies to speak out”, does not mean for there to be a disarmament. The PKK who are now heading back to their headquarters in Iraqi Kurdish mountains, are still heavily armed. There will be no returning of prodigal sons, there will be no beating swords in to ploughshares. Not yet at least.

Often when we talk of peace, when we talk of specific conflicts, we don’t often talk of the effect on the wider region that peace could have. The Pkk has had turbulent relationships with both Iran and Syria, not to mention the internal Arabic Kurdish tensions

Iran once supported the PKK until the fight for greater Kurdistan started to focus on the Kurdish region of Iran. Syria regime has also supported the PKK, and their relationship in the middle of the Syria civil war is very complex. With Kurdish areas under full Kurdish control, PKK affiliated organization have secured a level of safety stuck between the Free Syrian Army and the Regime.

This peace will lead to an estimated 5000 strong, battle hardened armed force waiting in their military head quarters on the Iran/Iraqi Kurdish border. 5000 soldiers who have no love for the Iranian regime especially its treatment of Kurds. We fear the possibility of future wars, of power games and heightened regional conflict.

But there is also hope. 5000 men and women, passionate for the human rights of the Kurdish people, passionate about the family of humanity and equality of all, seeing their conflict being resolved not by guns, but by words and honest actions could lead to incredible change in the communities they return too.

This is our hope; That those who fought the injustices committed against the Kurdish people will now, in a time of peace, look within their own communities and start to build upon their freedom. To fight the corruption of their own leaders, to fight for the rights of all Kurdish women, to fight for the right of freedom of expression, and to begin working towards reconciliation in the middle east.

May 14, 2013

Peace is a woman and woman is peace.

"The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring". Isaiah 58:11

The high mountain ridges, still covered in a blanket of snow showed the borderline of Iraq and Iran.  A tiny newborn goat with the umbilical cord still drying on its belly wandered around by our legs. The unceasing sound of the artesian spring gave background noise to our conversation.

There we were, sitting around a table under bright green grape leaves and infant grape clusters that protected us from the hot sun.  Unusually, the women outnumbered the men. However, even more unusual was that the first question came from a woman to me. “I am asking you because you are a woman’, she said. “Violence against women happens all over the world. How do you think that we can change that?” I admitted that considering making changes to such a huge issue was beyond me.  I thought that we must work at a level of helping one man to see things differently, or to empower one woman at a time. She agreed.

I marvelled that I was able to be here on this awesome spring day, having a conversation with a Kurdish woman who had lived and fought in these mountains for 21 years.  I knew that our ideology and methods were quite different, but I felt a kinship with her. Her organisation strives to provide equal opportunity for all, no matter which gender. She had been trained extensively right alongside the men.   She was secure in her beliefs that the way to start making a difference in the world was working on attitudes toward and treatment of women. “We should all should work together, young and old women. We need to include more women in these reforms because the peace is a woman and woman is peace.”

We spoke of the hope for the end of the conflict, when the peace agreement with Turkey really materializes. Her dream was to someday go beyond the borders of Iraq, to speak to people of other nations, to train women and to share her knowledge and experience. When we asked her how she saw peace, she gestured and looked around at the plot of land, the grape vines, the spring and the goat. She said, “When everyone in the world has this.”

The conversation was far too short, but the sun was sinking lower in the sky and we had a long drive over a rocky road ahead of us. As we hugged and kissed goodbye she commented,” You should be a leader in a women’s organisation”.  I received her affirmation and treasured it.