Sep 15, 2015

International Delegation visited Kurdistan. 31 August - 9 September

Twice per year, our team organizes and hosts international delegations. The participants, who came from the U.S.A, U.K, Germany and Rojava/Syria, learned much about the history, political and human rights issues of Iraqi Kurdistan and the work of CPT. The delegates met many of the team's partners, as well as a group of Kurdistan Parliament Members, in order to gain a better understanding of the current political crisis. The delegates and CPT members also presented their concerns, especially about the U.S. cooperation with Turkey, which is bombing Kurdish civilians, and the current political/presidential crisis, to the human rights/political officers of the U.S. Consulate in Hawler.

Delegate from the UK reflects on his experience...

We’re halfway into our delegation, and I write my Friday night journal entry surrounded by incredible scenery, at the end of a long day travelling to the Qandil Mountains at the borders along northern Iraq and Iran. Our group is staying at the family home of Latif, CPT member, in the village of Gullan. We’re now relaxed after our hosts prepared a wonderful dinner, enjoying each other’s company and our added company of lush greenery, mountain ranges, and the shining multitude of stars now hanging above. The porch is brimming with the contented chattering of different conversations in Kurdish and English, deep conversations, laughter, and the melodic chirping of crickets.
“Beauty” feels a somewhat deficient term to describe the peace of this place and the landscapes we behold, yet that is the word which keeps recurring both in my own thoughts and in the discussions that unfold with my fellow travellers.
Even still, such incredible beauty as this finds ugliness as an unwanted and terrible companion. The Turkish government frequently launches bombing campaigns in this region, and in the past Iran has carried out similar operations. Turkey’s official explanation for these campaigns is that they are an attempt  to neutralise the perceived threat of Kurdish militia.
By and large, however, the victims are the villagers themselves, as these attacks happen on the border regions indiscriminately. On the way to Qandil stands the memorial to a family killed in one of these attacks. The Kurds call the victims “martyrs,” as they believe they lost their lives through a determination to remain in their land and to preserve their cultural identity. Because these bombing campaigns have taken the lives of civilians and additionally displaced whole village communities, many Kurds perceive such attacks as yet another chapter in the heartbreaking history of attempted genocide and ethnic cleansing upon their people.
As we make our way into the mountainous areas, we stop at the village of Zargali, which has now been completely abandoned. Some residents of the neighbouring villagers accompany us as we examine the its ruins, including partially built houses from which families were forced to flee. The sight of these levelled buildings and abandoned homes, and the thick silence hanging in the air, are positively eerie.

Although exact numbers are hard to determine, our companions tell us that approximately 100 people once lived in this now desolate area, scattered among other villages and towns in the Kurdistan region. The most recent attack, on August 1st this year, levelled one mosque and six homes, and claimed the lives of eight people. Although some villagers are slowly beginning to return in to tend their crops, this is likely to be a long process of reconstruction and resettlement.
Upon joining us, one of our companions said simply “This is life here.”

Sep 3, 2015

Not since World War II… so many people looking for HOME

by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

[Note: Thiessen's original piece is available on her blog.]

Afghan refugees on Lesvos

I have been home three weeks and am now able to re-enter Winnipeg society. I no longer have to cocoon in my house, unable to face the huge grocery stores and my friends who ask me how I am.  Already I can go hours without even thinking of  the people I sat with in Iraqi Kurdistan. I am forgetting the heat and the sweat and the burning hot wind. I am forgetting the tears and pain of mothers sitting on the sidewalk begging with their eyes, families in unfinished houses asking for a refrigerator so their water can be cool enough to drink and people living in flappy tents that fall down in the blustery winds.   I am forgetting the father looking at his 21-year-old son who is thinking of paying money to a smuggler to try to get to a life worth living. I am forgetting the words, "What else can he do?"

But there are still hours when I remember. When I read news of seventy people dying in a smuggler's truck because no one would open the doors.  When I hear from my colleagues working on the island of Lesvos of ordinary people risking the life and breath of their children to get onto inflated boats trying to find a society who will embrace them and say welcome. 

I cry, knowing that my offering to the people I sat with was so little. That many are living in tents with not enough water for basic needs , but that that soon the winter rains and the thick mud will come.  They will still be in the tents because there is no place to go.  Unless they say, "What else can we do?" and somehow raise the $10,000 per person for the good smuggler and try to cross the razor wire and the dogs and the men with guns and the broad sea water to get to somewhere else. 

A friend of mine posted this poem today. I could not read it all at once because the tears began to flow. Not since World War II have there been so many people fleeing, trying desperately to find a good place to call home 

by Somali poet Warsan Shire: 
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it's not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i've become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.