Oct 27, 2014

What Does CPT Stand for?
By Latif Hars

[Note: Hars is a partner of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team from the Kurdish village of Gullan and was a member of the most recent Iraqi Kurdistan delegation.]

 1519559_754065714676669_1830305114361913162_o (1)
 October 2014 delegation on visit to Kurdish
 villages facing exploitation of land by
multinational oil conglomerates.
CPT is an international organization that works for peace and human rights.  CPT is valuable, especially in our world today, which is so full of conflict.  Some people believe that violence is the only solution to conflict, and beautiful cultures and ecosystems are the victims of these violent solutions.  People, animals, and plants are destroyed for the benefit of a small group of powerful people.  CPT should do more to search for the sources of violence, educate people about these sources, and publish this information for everyone to read.  If people do not develop violent solutions, then we can stop violence.

CPT should also plant in all people’s souls the willingness to apologize, and this will over time become part of our culture.  Planting this willingness is not easy work, but doing so will help us respect ourselves as human beings and have true freedom, where we are not divided by religion, culture, ideology, or racism.  We are all equal in our time on earth and our trip to the sky, and we have freedom in what we do.

Members of CPT, and those who are working with CPT, should believe in human rights for everyone, regardless of the political borders created by politicians. They have to see the world as one big home, including in it people from all colors and mentalities.  Every person should be accepted and have rights as long as those rights do not cause them to abuse others.  The world is everyone’s home and human beings are one family.

When a child is born, the place, culture, and religion in which they are raised is beyond their control. A child born in the United States will be different from a child born in Kurdistan, Europe, or Australia.  Right now when we look at a child, we do not see the human being; we see their religion or culture. CPT works to reduce the power of the most powerful countries, and to give more power to minority communities.

In my time as a CPT delegate, I learned many things.  I believe that CPT has an important role to play supporting human rights around the world and presenting peaceful solutions to crises, especially here in Iraqi Kurdistan. They also connect human rights activists from around the world and help us get to know each other better.

CPT as a peace organization can benefit from the history of people working for peace and freedom.  CPT can also use the research of people who study economics, government, religion, humanitarian issues, and cultures that live without weapons.  All these different sources can provide a better life, and can be used as resources to help those who are asking for freedom.  We can put more pressure on the authorities around the world that control decision-making and who use “national security” as an excuse to control finances and income in their country, without thinking about the general interest.  These leaders can become the biggest criminals, and in the end, they will be the source of violence both inside and outside of their country.

Oct 12, 2014

What we can do

 by Felicitas Fröhlich

[Note: Fröhlich is currently participating in the CPT delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan.]
10668821_752189818197592_4715799435651533024_o (1)
CPT Iraqi Kurdistan Delegation visits Ezidi
shrine at Lalish

Although it is very difficult to pin down the exact numbers of the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, an estimated three million people there have been internally displaced by the Syrian conflict, ISIS (called DAESH/DAASH by the locals) and earlier by the US invasion of Iraq.  We began to get a grasp of its scale as we visited the UNHCR camps and encountered the refugees and IDPs spread around the edges of many cities, listening to their often horrific personal stories.

I remember a girl, Aasema, physically demonstrating what had happened to her family.  I will never forget how she held up her two tiny fingers, her "Aunts," her fearful whisper, "Daesh...” and her re-enacting how they got captured and carried away.  I also won't forget the hospitality offered by Edris, who survived the massacre of his village, and his expressing the most profound gratitude for everyone who had helped him.

Numbers provide an idea of the extent of the tragedy, and the personal encounters helped us to understand the experience the individuals suffering.  But that is not what I came here for.  The question whether we're actually helpful occurred to me repeatedly. Some days the answer would be a definite yes, other days it doesn’t really seem so.  As a human rights organization that advocates for peace, we were not able to free the Ezidis, nor did we provide any food, blankets, or medical care.  We have the privilege to leave the country any time, and there are many at home who are waiting and praying for us daily, whereas all the spiritual support should be going to the men, women, and children who have no family left to pray for them.

So, what are we providing?  The Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraqi Kurdistan and their local partners are continually providing information about refugees who have not yet received care to the media, the parliament, the United Nations and several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  CPT also helps Kurdish NGOS with their fundraising, linking several communities together to support each other.  And sometimes, it's just a nice distraction to have some weird-looking foreigners at camp who entertain the kids and drink tea with the elderly, if only for an hour.  But I found these contributions unsatisfying, given the extreme circumstance and urgent needs.

Do I still believe in what we are doing?  Yes, maybe even more than before.  Solidarity has its own power and most importantly, our job here is to listen.  As one young woman said, "Some of us are not talking anymore and some of us have to talk all the time.  I have to share my story, and I am grateful for anyone who is listening because I know that it is not a nice story."
One day—inshallah—the crisis will be over and there will be plenty to do for anyone who is willing to raise his or her voice in the name of peace and reconciliation.

Oct 9, 2014

CPTers demand action to protect Kurdish civilians

10620398_754049544678286_4490044669532635348_oOn Wednesday 8 October, representatives from eight countries gathered outside the Monument of Halabja Martyrs for a silent vigil demanding action from the international community to protect innocent civilians threatened by ISIS.  Many of the representatives were members of a delegation with the international human rights organization Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), who are spending two weeks learning about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Holding signs reading, “We Saw Halabja and Shangal, Now It's Time for Peace,” and “Kobani,” the demonstrators called attention to history’s repeated international failures to protect the Kurdish people from genocide and displacement.

16 March 1988, Iraqi forces murdered 5,000 Kurds in the city of Halabja with mustard and nerve gas purchased from Germany.  It was the largest chemical weapons attack against a civilian population in history.  The attack occurred as part of Saddam's genocidal Al-Anfal Campaign against the Kurdish people, and the international community remained silent.

Protestors drew explicit connections between the massacre in Halabja, the massacre of Ezidi* people on Mount Shangal (“Sinjar” in Arabic) by ISIS in August of this year, and the current crisis in Kobani.  Vanessa Powell from Australia said, “Every generation, the Kurdish people face violence and displacement and people across the world do not stand with them.  Our governments need to do more to ensure that Kobani does not become another Sinjar, or another Halabja.

”The city of Kobani in Syria has been under siege by ISIS since 16 September, causing hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds to flee into Turkey.  International support for refugees has been minimal, and the Turkish government has used water cannons on refugees protesting for better treatment.

Members of the CPT delegation spent the previous week meeting with Ezidi IDPs across Iraqi Kurdistan.  They promised to return to their home countries—Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Iraqi Kurdistan—and raise the voices of those displaced by ISIS violence.  Jonas Jung from Germany added, “IDP camps in Kurdistan grow every day. 

Thousands of Ezidi women are still held hostage by ISIS. 

If the international community does not take this situation seriously, and take serious steps to undermine ISIS, we will be guilty of allowing genocide to occur all over again.”

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an international human rights and peacemaking organization with teams all across the world.  It is dedicated to building relationships to transform violence and oppression.

*The Ezidi people prefer this name for themselves to “Yazidi.”

Oct 5, 2014

An oil company’s callous disregard for villagers’ lives
by John Bergen


On Wednesday, 24 September, members of our team traveled for the first time to Kormor village, where Dana Gas began drilling for oil and natural gas in 2008. Our first stop was at the local school, where we met the principal, Abdul Munem Mohamed Mahmud.  Twenty-one girls and boys attend there.  Dana Gas built it three years ago, but Abdul showed us where vibrations from drilling tore a crack down the side of the building large enough to show daylight.  The company promised to build a clinic and provide other services, but now claims that the Kurdish government is responsible for providing compensation.  The area government representative denies the company’s claim.

DSCN4599Dana Gas has damaged more than just buildings. When they arrived, they blocked off the road connecting Kormor to the highway, forcing villagers to travel twenty minutes out of their way. Oil trucks have nearly destroyed the road.  After an hour of dodging two-foot-deep potholes, I understood some of Abdul's frustration when he told us that the road prevents the two other teachers from making the hour-and-a-half drive from Chamchammal every day.

After visiting the school, we drove to the house of Saman, the village leader.  He told us that Dana Gas has brought good things to Kormor— many people are employed by Dana Gas to provide security.  But then he described how the drilling had made the wells run dry and affected the springs.  He said, “The water used to taste sweet here.  Now it is a different color and tastes bitter.  ” His wife informed us that gas fumes made many people sick, and when we left their house, we could smell the fumes.

DSCN4582 As we drove away from Kormor, I thought of where I used to live in northeast Ohio, in the United States.  There, companies destroy highways with trucks and then build their own private roads.  Corporations drain streams, contaminate wells, and poison the air.  Some people find jobs, but the companies never provide as many jobs as they promise.  Kormor felt too much like home. 

Of course, in the U.S., we have laws and protections that Saman and his family do not have.  But when Saman's wife described headaches and lung problems from the gas vapors, I thought of my friends back in Ohio getting sick.  Across continents, oil and gas companies are poisoning us.  Last year, Dana Gas was declared responsible for the poisonous flooding of the village of Fares in Egypt.  From Ohio to Kurdistan, and everywhere in between, corporations pick on small, isolated communities and try to take everything from them.

But we resist.  Saman has spoken repeatedly with government leaders and Dana Gas representatives, and we hope to accompany him and others in the future.  Communities continue to do amazing work resisting tar sands extraction, and my friends in West Virginia support people in prison who still do not have clean water after Freedom Industries poisoned the Elk River in January 2014.  Let us continue to turn our love for each other into acts of resistance.

Oct 2, 2014

Exxon Mobil puts operations on hiatus because of ISIS, but Kurdish villagers cannot access land


On 8 and 12 September, the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team visited its partners in villages affected by the Exxon Mobil operations.  The huge Exxon camp near Hajji Awa, from which the company conducted the oil explorations in Gullan village and Shawre valley sits almost completely empty.

The government sent many of the guards to fight the ISIS on the front line. ExxonMobil has stalled its operations in Iraqi Kurdistan because of the advance of ISIS forces and the war.  The multinational corporation seems not to feel protected enough by the U.S. air strikes, even though the U.S. claims they are occurring for the “protection of U.S. interests and personnel.” 
Kak Muhsin, mukhtar (leader) of Sartka, who's family lost seventy dunams of well fertile land to Exxon's first oil rig in Kurdistan told CPTers, “Since the beginning of August the drilling stopped and the staff left.  I continue to receive my salary for doing nothing.”  He refers to his new job as a standby evacuation bus driver in case Exxon drilling would release a poisonous  gas.  He did not have many options for work after his grape and fruit farming livelihood vanished over a year ago.

Instead of vast orchards and vines overflowing with ripe grapes nestled in a beautiful valley, he looks down from his house on stretches of concrete platforms around a white-red drilling platform rising high to the skies, rows of plastic cabins and evacuation buses, besieged by seven watchtowers, all quiet at the moment.

Kak Muhsin speaks passionately of the compensations that the Kurdistan Regional Government eventually paid to the farmers in April: “We received money but we don't understand the process and the amounts.  I received 14 million dinars (approx. $11,500USD) but my neighbor only 2 million, and some people only one.  The final price makes no sense and no one explained anything to us.  We were all summoned to the mayor's office Salahaddin (Pirmam), and handed stacks of money by the mayor in the presence of an Exxon representative in exchange for a handshake in front of the camera.”

Kak Muhsin's son adds with fervor in his voice, “At first, I refused to take the money, because I asked to see a contract and asked for an explanation after the mayor told me to sign a receipt.  However, later my friends told me to take the money because probably someone would most likely keep the money and I would never see any more again.”

The unclear compensations sowed grains of conflict among the farmers in addition to the discontent they felt.  In an earlier June visit to Hajji Ahmed, the landowners told the members of the team that they felt betrayed.  They also raised suspicions about the different amounts of money the families received.  And some have received nothing, even though their fields lay next to others that were compensated.

ExxonMobil is gone for now.  So is the trust among the community members as well as the freedom to enter the land, including the parts that keep on producing fruit and which need cultivation.  Exxon will most likely return one day, unlike the land and the farmers' way of life.

One of the long-term CPT IK team members introduced to Kak Muhsin two new teammates, who came to Sartka for the first time.  In an attempt to build bridges of understanding, he presented them as two “amriki” (Americans) who also fight against oil corporations in their country, speaking out and protesting against the destruction of their region.  Kak Muhsin laughed and said, “We may be similar, but the difference is that in the U.S. the government uses water canons against the protesters.  Here they use real bullets.”