Mar 24, 2015

Exxon Mobil pollutes Kurdish villages

... and denies villagers access to land

On 9 March, a Kurdish farmer, Kak Mirro, committed an act of civil disobedience by burning grapevines in his own fields. The day before, he had phoned the CPT Iraq team,  “Please come to Haji Ahmed. Tomorrow at 10:00 am the oil will begin to flow.” After some discussion, three of our team decided to drive the two hours to the tiny village, picking up our lawyer friend, Latif, along the way.

The day was bright with a spring chill in the wind. We met Kak Mirro at his house and then drove over the tortuous farmers’ roads up to a spot overlooking the oil rig built throughout the last year.  Kak Mirro told us the oil company, with the backing of the government, has ordered them to stay away from these fields—at a time when they need extra attention—a rule reminiscent of the period two years ago when the exploration had begun and the company destroyed crops and vineyards.

Kak Mirro with excess gas fire burning in background.

Today, however, he was defying the oil company and the Kurdish government who was supporting it by bringing a group of foreigners to witness this new event in the evolution of their life. We could tell he was nervous—energetically watching the vehicles around the rig to see if any were coming our way. He thought we could make tea to make it seem as though we were only having a picnic. However, we had forgotten the kettle, tea and sugar. But he lit a fire anyway, “cleaning up the pruned grapevines in preparation for spring,” he said.

We sat and talked in the sunshine for three hours, sometimes walking around to admire the nearby vineyards and flowering almond trees. But the oil did not flow. We did not see the billowing black smoke and loud noise that was promised. He apologized for bringing us out all the way from Sulaimani for nothing. He spoke of his gratitude for our concern and compassion in being willing to sit with him on the hillside when many others would not. Since February 2015 Exxon Mobil has been releasing large amounts of excess gas from the drilling rig near the Kurdish villages of Sartka, Haji Ahmed, Allawa and Sorabani.

As we ate a Kurdish meal prepared by his wife at their house, we spoke of plans for the future: trying to speak with different parliamentarians, collecting further data to support claims for compensation for land taken away, of petitions and protests.

Kak Mirro called us again, the next day.  The loud noise, black smoke and bright flame had come. The burning of the gas that is a precursor to the oil brought a petroleum reek that spread throughout the fields and village. Can anything compensate for that?

On 17 March Dr. Sherko Jawdat, the head of the Natural Resources Committee of the Kurdistan parliament, visited the area but was denied access to the drilling area.  Kak Miro told the team that on 19 March he received a threatening phone call from a Zervani guard (security for the oil field provided by the Kurdish Regional Government) telling him to stop bringing parliamentarians to the site.

Mar 20, 2015

CPT explores peacebuilding between Yazidis and Arabs in Arbat Camp

by Nicky Melling

(Photo by  UNICEF- Belgium)
On the 4 March 2015, we came to Arbat Refugee Camp to talk about setting up Alternative to Violence Projects (AVP) because of growing tensions between the Yazidi and Arab residents who have fled the areas held by ISIS. Upon entering the camp I was just struck by how many tents there were and how muddy the ground was.   Children were walking barefoot through the mud; people were collecting blankets and mattresses distributed by relief agencies.

During our conversation, one of the Yazidi men we were talking with showed us a picture of a female family member who had slit her own throat to escape capture by ISIS. Everyone has had family members taken, killed or has had family members commit suicide after being raped by ISIS. The fear of the Arab as the perpetrator of these crimes is so high. 
When the camp opened there were around 300 Yazidi families and 400 Arab families. Now there are over 1700 Arab families. A lot of the new waves of Arabs have come from areas held by ISIS. The Yazidis see the Arabs as the people who took their wives and children and murdered the men in their families. During our conversation, one of the Yazidi men we were talking with showed us a picture of a female family member who had slit her own throat to escape capture by ISIS. Everyone has had family members taken, killed or has had family members commit suicide after being raped by ISIS. The fear of the Arab as the perpetrator of these crimes is so high. A Yazidi Sheikh told us that Arabs in the camp called the Yazidis devil worshippers and told them that they do not have a God. He also told us that the Arab young men would tease their children and throw rocks at them shouting “Allahu Akbar” (the same words used by ISIS whilst attacking) as they played outside.

The level of fear and tension is so intense that the Sheikh requested a fence to separate the Arab and Yazidi parts of the camp. The authorities turned down his request.  He was a little skeptical about the Alternatives to Violence Project but agreed to support us to try and foster more cohesion in the camp. The Arabs have also suffered and we hope by having people in dialogue together, CPT and our friends from AVP can help to start planting the first seeds of peace.

I might have been more skeptical and agreed with the Sheikh had I not just witnessed the power of an Alternatives to Violence Project. During the last part of the training I participated in, I was brought to tears by people's stories of transforming power and building community in the group. When the group started working together, they distrusted each other and there was a lot of tension.  Six weeks later the participants spoke of how we had all become a community.
Do you want to partner with peacemakers in Iraqi Kurdistan? Donate now or join a delegation to the region!

Mar 19, 2015

Haji Ahmed community breaths the gas of destruction

Since February 2015 following the resumed drilling process, after several months of ceased works because of ISIS attacks on Kurdistan, Exxon Mobil began to realease huge amounts of gas and repeatedly preventing villagers of Haji Ahmed, Sartka, Allawa and Sorabani to enter and work in their fields in the time when their vines, fruit trees and fields need hightened attention. Most of the villagers have not received any compensations from the company in it's two years operations. On 15 March CPT observed and documented the very noisy gas exhaust, as well as witnessed it s bad widely present smell.

On 17 March CPT visited kak Soran, the Head of Human Rights Committee of Kurdistan Parliament and delivered villagers report about the situation. Later that day Dr Sherko Jawdat, the Head of the Natural Resources Committee of the Kurdristan Parliament (who the villagers accompanied by CPT met on 24 February) tried to visit the oil rig but was prevented from entering by the company guards, and accompanied by kak Miro, CPT partner, took the very bad back side road to observe the fields, reported the situation to the Minister of Oil and Natural Resources, asking for a solution to the situation. The oil rig guard reported to CPT and to Dr. Sherko Jawdat that two of he guards fell ill thanks to the gas. 

On 19 March kak Miro was prevented again from entering his field. Exxon representative who refused the CPT request for a meeting on 15 March, contacted kak Miro on 19 March promising to meet the villagers after Newroz. On 19 March kak Miro reported to CPT that a Zeravani force member (provided by the KRG to protect the oil field) threatened kak Miro over phone and told him to not bring any members of the parliament to the site.

Mar 17, 2015

ئه‌مرۆ ۲۰۱۵/۳/۱۷ تیمه‌که‌مان بۆ گه‌یاندنی ڕاپۆرتێک له‌سه‌ر بارودۆخی گونده‌کانی حاجی ئه‌حمه‌د و سارتکه‌ و علاوه‌ و سۆره‌بانی سه‌ر به‌ناحیه‌ی مسیف که‌ له‌ لایه‌ن گوندنشینانه‌وه‌ ئاماده‌ کرابوو له‌گه‌ڵ کاک سۆران عمر سه‌رۆکی لیژنه‌ی مافی مرۆڤ له‌ په‌رله‌مانی کوردستان کۆبووینه‌وه‌ و ڕاپۆرته‌که‌مان پێشکه‌ش کرد و گفتوگۆمان کرد سه‌باره‌ت به‌ کاری گه‌ڕان و ده‌رهێنانی نه‌وت له‌لایه‌ن کۆمپانیای ئێکسۆن مۆبیل له‌و ناوچه‌یه‌ که‌ کاریگه‌ری خراپی کردۆته‌ سه‌ر ژیانی گوندنشینان و باغ و ڕه‌زه‌کانیان و زه‌ویه‌کی زۆریان داگیرکراوه‌و خه‌ڵکێکی که‌میان قه‌ره‌بوو کراون و ڕێگریان لێده‌کرێت بچنه‌ نێو کێڵگه‌کانیان.
به‌ سوپاسه‌وه‌ کاک سۆران وه‌ک سه‌رۆکی لیژنه‌ی مافی مرۆڤ به‌ڵێنی به‌دواداچون و پێکه‌وه‌ کارکردنی دا له‌ پێناو گه‌ڕاندنه‌وه‌ی مافی گوندنشینان و گه‌یاندنی ده‌نگی ناڕازیان بۆ لایه‌نی به‌رپرس .

Children Psycho-social Art Project Memories

Mar 15, 2015

Remembering Halabja and the Chemical Agents Made in Germany

16 March 1988 - Chemical bombing of Halabja, 5,000 people killed that day and thousands others in the coming days and years or affected for the rest of their lives. The materials and the know-how came from Germany which continues to conceal its complicity...

"Halabja and Chemical Agents Made in Germany"

Victims of Chemical Attacks demonstrate in Syria and Iraq German Government conceals co-responsibility for Chemical Weapons Programs.

Mar 11, 2015

Prayers for Peacemakers

Give thanks for the nonviolence pioneers in Iraqi Kurdistan—both natives of the region and people driven from their homes by the Syrian War and ISIS violence—who recently completed an Alternatives to Violence Training.  They will use their training to help reduce conflict within and between communities that are sharing the region and its resources

*Epixel for Sunday, March 15, 2015
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north
and from the south. Psalm 107:1-3

 *epixel: a snapshot-epistle to the churches related to and appearing with a text from the upcoming Sunday's  Revised Common Lectionary  readings.

Mar 1, 2015

Training nonviolence pioneers to confront ISIS trauma

Throughout the last eight months the population of displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan has multiplied rapidly. In May 2014 approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees were living there. Now, in February 2015 the region is caring for approximately one million persons from a wide range of backgrounds: Syrians, Syrian Kurds, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Sunni and Shia Arabs, Ezidi/Yezidi and other minorities. The host Iraqi Kurdish population has risen to the challenge to the best of their ability: collecting goods and caring for the most vulnerable. However, the early emergency has passed and it appears that the visitors will not be leaving anytime soon. Tensions and conflicts between the various groups are beginning to rise.

One organization working in the situation is REACH (who was CPT-IK’s inviting partner in 2006).  This group, along with RDSYP, funded by Christian Aid UK, had the vision of presenting workshops to train individuals from these ethnic and religious groups to create community and understanding and reduce the potential of further violence. CPT-IK’s friend, Ann Ward, suggested that Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) would be a good experiential way to equip these persons to face the tensions in a nonviolent, compassionate way. Participants would receive training to present one day workshops to young people with the goal of providing opportunities for listening, understanding and cooperation.

Ward invited two members of CPT-IK to co-facilitate this first adventure of AVP in Iraqi Kurdistan. Two other CPTers joined the training along with sixteen persons from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The basic three-day workshop was held on 23-24 January 2015 in Sulaimani. The group worked on building trust in order to use the newly developing community as support. Two weeks later they spent the Advanced workshop hearing each other’s difficult stories and painful feelings, learning about consensus, speaking in assertive ways about feelings, training to see potential violent situations and thinking how to change their world nonviolently. Members of the “host community”–Iraqi Kurds—heard from individuals who had fled from the militant group known as ISIS or DAASH. Christians from the Mosul area heard from Syrian Kurds who are oppressed because they don’t speak the ‘correct’ dialect of Kurdish. And the other groups heard from Iraqi Kurds of the oppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime and thus the anger at those who appear to be Arab. Many of the participants spoke of finding themselves in a place they did not plan or want to be.

On 21 February, the third week of training began, during which the fifteen remaining participants eagerly gathered to learn the skills for facilitating AVP workshops. Upon graduation from the sixty hours of training they will take their new-found knowledge and open hearts to spread the message of nonviolence and acceptance to their communities.  These new facilitators are pioneers and are building the future for the wonderfully and painfully diverse community that shares this small piece of land called Iraqi Kurdistan.

Do you want to partner with peacemakers in Iraqi Kurdistan? Donate now or join a delegation to the region!