Aug 30, 2015

CPT runs a Intercultural Theatre Project

On Monday 24 August, CPT run Intercultural Theatre Project came to an end with its final activity - performance for the public at the Arbat IDP camp.
The project brought together twelve young people of three different communities: Kurdish, Ezidi and Arab, along with the CPT team, for eight days full of hard work, as well as much joy and fun. The participants and organizers built friendships and learned about each other and ways to respect and overcome differences through various experiential workshops and activities. Following which, the group prepared the 45 min. long performance and presented it to the public.
CPT would like to thank each one and all of the participants for this deeply inspiring and wonderful time. Deep appreciations to our friend kak Harem for his energy, time and amazing translating and organizing skills.
Special thanks go to Mr. Rebin - mayor of Arbat, Mr. Tariq - Arbat IDP camp manager for their support for the project, and the Arbat Town Library for providing space for the meetings.

Aug 25, 2015

What is our sin? What have we done?—the Yezidis remember.

by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen
[Note: This reflection has been adapted for CPTnet. The original is available on Thiessen’s blog.]

photo: Juliane Assmann

In early August, my teammate and I attended the commemoration of the year since the Yezidi genocide in Iraq at the invitation of our friend Sheik Shamu in Arbat Internally Displaced Persons Camp.

We immediately saw the hand lettered signs attached to the tents in the area where the Yezidis live. Then three little girls, all wearing screen printed T-shirts met us. When Juliane asked if she could take a photo, one lifted a photograph up and held it sideways. The scene was one that little girls should know nothing about, but we knew that they had witnessed things that their little minds will never forget.
 The event was held in the huge brick building that serves as a school during the year. Today it held all sorts of ages of the Yezidi community, as well as visitors from NGOs and politicians. Sheik Shamu, a leader of the Yezidi community, noticed us very quickly and assured that we had seats alongside the mayor and other dignitaries. We received the bottles of water offered to everyone gratefully. There was no chance of a breeze entering the building and sweat was pouring in the 45 C heat. 
Sheik Shamu was one of the first speakers, presumably setting the stage for what was to follow. The Yezidis speak a different dialect of Kurdish than the one I was learning.

Photo: Juliane Assmann
The program continued for over two hours. Young men and women came to the microphone to read poems and sing songs. The word, Shingal, came over and over again, and the tears flowed. It was not difficult to see that here was a people still in the centre of the trauma. They all seemed to be back in the middle of the days in Shingal when they were abandoned by the military who told them they had nothing to fear- just hours before ISIS/Da'ash entered the region and began the slaughter. They all seemed to be able to feel the burning sun and waterless days on Sinjar/Shingal Mountain where they fled for their lives. And they all know someone, or many someones, who are still in slavery to the invading army.  

The most shattering point was when the invasion and genocide was re-enacted in a drama. I could not see past the journalists and TV photographers who surged forward to document it. But I heard the men dressed in ragged wigs and fake beards yelling, "Allahu Akbahr" and the screaming of the children and women. And I could see the man sitting next to me desperately trying to cover his eyes with his notebook while plugging both of his ears. I was so glad when it was quiet again. The man then silently slipped away. 

Photo- Juliane Assmann 
Just after noon, Sheik Shamu's daughter went up to the microphone to read a poem. She was strong and eloquent as she told her story. Her voice broke as her composure was lost for a minute and the crowd gently clapped when she recovered and continued. After she was done she came to the side of the room where I was sitting. I watched her face as it crumpled and she began to sob, holding her scarf over her mouth. I ignored the activity on the stage as I wondered whether it was appropriate for me to go to stand beside her. Finally I decided that she needed someone so I got up, walked over and put my arm around her shoulders as she cried. She later gave me a hug. Usually we try hard to avoid the mealtimes as we know that food is scarce. However, when the event was over we knew that we must accept the invitation to eat lunch with the family. We sat in the small room that houses Sheik Shamu, his wife and five children. The little ones warmed to our presence and began to have fun playing tickle games.  

The adults spoke again about the situation for their people. They told of one family in the camp that has lost thirty-six members. They despaired for their daughter who needs to leave the country for treatment of a complex arm injury, but who cannot find any place that will agree to give a medical visa

 Sheik Shamu described one early morning when he followed their 2 1/2 year old's leading out into the camp. She insistently told him to come to see where Da'ash/ISIS had killed her friend. He was mystified until she took him to the wall of the International Red Cross Building that had been painted red. 

 And they spoke of the next oldest who loves to draw, but who continually pencils monster looking drawings that she identifies as Da'ash.
They told of their longing for a peaceful place to live, to be able to go back to life as it was just over a year ago in Shingal. But they know that this is an almost impossible dream, just as is the one to leave this country for Europe or Canada.

 It was then that I heard the question "What is our sin? What have we done? I could not say anything, although I knew what my answer would be. No, there is no sin. But I too question God as to why.

Aug 21, 2015

NZ backing a regime showing little regard for Iraqi civilians

Harmeet Sooden: NZ backing a regime showing little regard for Iraqi civilians

Original article: New Zealand Herald

Civilians gather at the scene of a deadly car bomb in the Habibiya neighborhood of Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday. AP photo Karim Kadim.
Civilians gather at the scene of a deadly car bomb in the Habibiya neighborhood of Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday. AP photo Karim Kadim.
New Zealand's intervention in Iraq is being sold to the public as an exercise in stopping ISIS's atrocities, especially those against the people of Iraq.
The reality, however, is that many of Iraq's civilians are caught between Scylla and Charybdis - between two dire alternatives: on the one side, opposition groups including ISIS; on the other, the US-led coalition and Iran. While human rights violations committed by ISIS are widely condemned, those committed by New Zealand's coalition partners, including Iraq, are underreported.
Since the beginning of the conflict, human rights organisations have been implicating coalition members in human rights violations that may constitute war crimes. Major coalition contributors such as the US, Britain and Australia have a poor human rights record in Iraq. The Iraqi Government, in particular, is responsible for widespread abuses, mainly against Iraq's Sunni population.
Iraqi security forces have engaged in: torture, hostage-taking, and summary execution of civilians, including women and children; beheading, lynching, and immolating captives, desecrating corpses, and celebrating the atrocities in photographs and videos posted online; looting and wanton destruction of property, and shelling and bombing residential areas and hospitals. Iraqi and Kurdish authorities sometimes prevent families fleeing the fighting from reaching safer parts of the country. Iraqi forces have also established "death zones" around Baghdad.

Mahmud Hazbar, 12, was wounded on 20 September, 2014 by Iraqi airstrikes. His sister and three brothers did not survive the attack. Photo / Metrography
Mahmud Hazbar, 12, was wounded on 20 September, 2014 by Iraqi airstrikes. His sister and three brothers did not survive the attack. Photo / Metrography
The abuses by Iraqi forces are often preceded by coalition airstrikes. Not only are the airstrikes effectively providing cover for what appears to be ethnic cleansing in areas re-captured from ISIS, but they are also directly causing civilian deaths that may amount to war crimes. According to the Red Cross, the airstrikes are compounding the humanitarian consequences of the conflict.
UN agencies warn that Iraq is "on the brink of humanitarian disaster" due to the escalating conflict between the US-led coalition and opposition forces, and the severe shortfall in international funding. At least 3.1 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since January 2014. A total of 8.2 million people now require immediate humanitarian support.
The situation has deteriorated to the point where "[a]uthorities in Iraqi Kurdistan suspect that displaced people are selling their kidneys to feed their families." At the same time, it is becoming increasingly dangerous for humanitarian workers to carry out their work.
The UN has concluded that civilians are the primary targets of the conflict in Iraq.

Harmeet Sooden (second from left) interviewing a displaced Iraqi family in Arbat IDP Camp in May. Up to 85 per cent of the camp's 17,300 residents were displaced by Iraqi forces. Photo / Christian Peacemaker Teams
Harmeet Sooden (second from left) interviewing a displaced Iraqi family in Arbat IDP Camp in May. Up to 85 per cent of the camp's 17,300 residents were displaced by Iraqi forces. Photo / Christian Peacemaker Teams
In late June, New Zealand's Task Group Taji completed its first eight-week training course for troops from the 76th Brigade, a formation within the Iraqi Army's 16th Division. The division was formed to replace the US-trained units that collapsed in 2014 when ISIS seized the Mosul region. It is composed of new recruits as well as soldiers who fled during last year's assault.
The training cannot address the root causes of the coalition's human rights violations, including the structural corruption and sectarianism introduced into Iraq's military and state institutions after the 2003 US-led invasion. As the 76th Brigade deploys to the frontline, possibly to join the Ramadi offensive, the NZDF cannot eliminate the risk of the training offering the Iraqi army greater means to worsen the human rights situation.
Several Iraqi soldiers being trained at Taji have openly told journalists that "they actively served on their days off with Shiite militia - some...still listed by the US as terrorist groups", some also sponsored by Iran. The UN has reported pro-government militias, including the popular mobilisation forces (PMF), "seem to operate with total impunity, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake" that often rivals the depredations of ISIS.
UNICEF has confirmed reports of children being recruited by militias from all sides, including those supported by the Iraqi Government. The PMF is reportedly providing combat training to children in summer camps established throughout the country. Militias fighting alongside Iraqi and Kurdish forces are using armed boys and girls on the frontline - some as young as 10. Enlisting children under the age of 15 or using them to engage in hostilities is a war crime.
NZDF personnel are also deployed in unidentified roles in Baghdad and other undisclosed locations. The military role New Zealand's intelligence services are playing in the conflict is secret. The full extent of New Zealand's activities in Iraq is therefore not subject to public scrutiny.
Sectarian abuses continue unabated under the government of the new Iraqi leader, Haider al-Abadi. Yet, the New Zealand Government insists on backing a regime that is showing little regard for civilians. When coalition forces were poised to re-conquer Tikrit in March, Prime Minister al-Abadi said in a speech to the Iraqi parliament: "There is no neutrality in the battle against ISIS. If someone is being neutral with ISIS, then he is one of them." His words epitomise the dilemma civilians face in areas where ISIS is active.
Far from being the "responsible international citizen" it professes to be, New Zealand is participating in a military enterprise that is exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
There is a straightforward way New Zealand can begin to protect the people of Iraq: namely, by withdrawing its support for the human rights violators in the coalition, and accepting that worthwhile alternatives exist. New Zealand policymakers can get away with reckless policies so long as New Zealanders keep silent and tolerate them.
Harmeet Sooden was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005 while working for an international human rights organisation and held hostage for nearly four months. Sooden has recently returned from Iraqi Kurdistan, where he was working on a human rights project assessing communal tensions in a camp for internally displaced persons.

Aug 19, 2015

Participants of Theatre Project write their plays

Today, the participants of the theatre project were introduced to AVP - Alternatives to Violence and finished to write their plays for Saturday and Sunday. Now, the roles are taken and tomorrow, they will start practicing!

Aug 10, 2015

CPT condems violence in Turkey and PKK

Last week, CPT IK published a statement that condemned the violence that's happening due to the bombing and attacks from Turkey and PKK.

To not only reach the online community, but also take a stand in the public here, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the team went in front of the Turkish consulate in Erbil to peacefully cry out against the attacks.
CPT IK still is in contact with several partners in the mountains to stay updated on the bombings which also kill civilians.
Please consider supporting CPT so that we may continue our work and keep standing with the Kurdish community.

Aug 3, 2015

One year after the Yezidi Genocide

"As soon as the team entered the camp they were greeted by kids wearing the commemoration shirts."
It's August 3rd, which means it's been one year since the genocide on the Yezidis. One year ago, thousands of people (also Arabs, Kurds, Shabak and others) had to flee their homes in an instant because of ISIS. Too many have been captured and killed. The Yezidis had to escape onto Sinjar mountain. From there, they couldn't move any further and had to stay for weeks without any food or enough water. Many died in this place or had to be left behind.
CPT went to a commemoration ceremony in Arbat Camp today. It was terrible: you could see that the memories are far from fading and even the youngest kids knew everything about the day and remembered all too well.
Please pray for these people! There are still hundreds of relatives missing because they are kidnapped and none of the yezidis in Arbat Camp have received much of mental health care yet!

Aug 1, 2015

July 2015 Newsletter

Iraqi Kurdistan

Environmental Servants Group

About a month ago, the team wanted to cool their feet in a river on the way back to the city but couldn't for all the rubbish and litter that polluted the water. Mohammed had the idea of starting a cleaning action so a few days later, the team and some friends went and cleaned the area. Not only was this event shared by a local TV station, but it also sparked hundreds of comments and as one result, the Environmental Servants Group was founded. By now, they have more than 480 Likes and have had two more cleaning actions, one in the mountains and another one in the public park of Suleimani. Each time, Kurds as well as Arabs and some internationals came together to create another facet of peace - to live peaceably with all creation.

Turkey bombing Iraqi-Kurdish border regions after almost three years of armistice

The Suruc suicide bombing (see below) kicked off a chain of incidents which made PKK and Turkey break the delicate truce that was set up in 2012. This quasi armistice was a great relief for the villagers and farmers of the Kurdish mountains who had suffered greatly during the bombing and shelling especially in the summer times. By now, many of the families have moved back into their homes.
In the picture, you see a mosque which was built in Basta during the hopeful times of the truce.
When the team called the muktar (mayor) of Basta, a friend of CPT, in the last week of July he told them that rockets had come down again. Nobody was hurt but shrapnel could be found in the gardens after the attacks in the night. Now, they have to decide if they should flee the village and seek refuge in the valley.

Windy Days at Arbat Camp

Arbat Camp is a UNHCR camp just 20 km from Suleimani that originally was set up for Syrian refugees in 2013 but now hosts about 17000 Internally Displaced Persons in a total of 2109 tents. In the past months CPT IK has visited the camp multiple times in order to create the internal report mentioned in the June newsletter. When the team visited one of the families last week, after five days of heavy wind, 40 tents had been blown down. It was the Eid of Ramadan, so none of the camp managers were available. The team phoned a friend who works for the UN who herself contacted others so that in the following days, the people in the camp received help to  rebuild and fortify their tents. Also, that friend thought of a solution to provide tools and materials to the IDPs and refugees so they could take care for their tents more themselves instead of depending so much on the camp management.

Czech People Learn about Iraqi Kurdistan and CPT Work

Our team member Lukasz Firla spent two weeks in the Czech Republic where he could extensively share with many people about the current situation in Iraqi Kurdistan, work of CPT and ways in which people in Europe can relate to the current crisis. In addition to leading seminars and discussions, Lukas was also interviewed by a regional cable TV station and a country-wide radio station. In the photo, Lukas co-facilitates together with two Kurdish friends one of the discussions of the Meziprostor festival focused on the rapidly rising islamophobia and xenophobia/racism against the refugees arriving in the European Union.

Iraqi Kurdistan to Canada Art Exhibition

CPT team mate Kathy Moorhead Thiessen is collecting paintings. The Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery in Winnipeg, Canada  has invited her to bring 30-50 pieces of art from Iraqi Kurdistan for an  exhibition to inform the public  about Iraqi Kurdistan. She is asking people from various culture groups: children, adults, skilled artists and those who just love to create art to tell their story with paint on paper. Then she will take the paintings in her suitcase to Canada for a six week exhibition from 2 April- 14 May, 2016. 


Persecution of Palestinian Sunnis in Baghdad

There aren't many Palestinian families anymore in Baghdad, even though in 2003, UNHCR still counted 34,000 individuals. In 2008 it was only 9000 and the numbers are still decreasing. Many of them have fled the rising threats from the Shi'a militia who don't trust the Sunni foreigners. The Shi'a militia suspect that they support ISIS, they raid their houses for bombs and bomb material and threaten them.
That is what happened to a family the team got to know this last month. CPT IK reported the case to Amnesty International and also contacted International Organisation for Migration and Human Rights Watch to speak with them. Amnesty replied that this case confirms a development they've been following for a while. IOM and HRW wanted to interview the family but by now Muhammad, the one who was threatened the most, has fled the country to evade the persecution he's expecting even in Iraqi Kurdistan. Right now, CPT IK is staying in contact to follow up their situation.
For full article on Muhammad's family see here.


Demonstration for Suruc

After the suicide bombing in Suruc, Turkey on July 20, where 32 youth activists were killed, there was a huge outcry in Kurdish communities around the world. In Suleimani, as in many other cities in Kurdistan, Turkey and Europe, people gathered for a demonstration the following day to demonstrate against the violence of ISIS/Da'ash and against the Turkish prime minister Erdogan because he had refused to actively fight Da'ash.
But they also gathered to mourn the deaths of the young people who believed more in hope than in death. The team joined the demonstration to stand with our partners.

Violence of 2003 Laying the Foundation for Current Crisis

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan recently discovered in our files a report by CPT Iraq in January 2004. It is titled, Report and Recommendations on Iraqi Detainees .

“Between May 31 and December 20, 2003, CPT Iraq conducted dozens of interviews of Iraqi detainees and/or their families and support networks. This report summarizes the findings from seventy-two cases… CPT is particularly concerned that any mistreatment of the Iraqi people could lead to long-term problems including:           
   1. Increasing numbers of Iraqi people joining resistance groups. 2. Increasing danger of attacks against Coalition soldiers. 3. A growing record of human rights violations against the Iraqi people….
 Our conclusion is straightforward: the military actions designed to ensure short-term security are in fact compromising long-term security interests of Iraqis and all internationals….. Developing a process for handling detainee issues that is transparent, efficient, and that upholds basic legal rights is essential for establishing a secure and democratic society…. The (US-led) Coalition Provisional Authority could model the sort of justice system most desirable for a future free, democratic Iraq.”

Now have a look at The Guardian;  ISIS: the inside story—Martin Chulov; 11 December 2014
"There was a huge amount of collective pressure exerted on detainees to become more radical in their beliefs. Obviously, this was supported by the fact that the detainees were being held against their will in a facility with minimal communication with their family and friends. This led to detainees turning to each other for support. If there were radical elements within this support network, there was always the potential that detainees would become more radical in their beliefs.
According to Hisham al-Hashimi, the Baghdad-based analyst, the Iraqi government estimates that 17 of the 25 most important Islamic State leaders running the war in Iraq and Syria spent time in US prisons between 2004 and 2011."


       AUGUST 28 - SEPTEMBER 10

Cost of new car battery:$60

Rent for the CPT house for one month: $700