Jul 25, 2016

War Looms on Their Borders, but Life Goes On

By Peggy Gish

A construction worker in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan. Photo by: Peggy Gish

Even in the 110 F. heat, Kamal* works daily as part of a construction crew, building a several-story-high building in our residential neighborhood of the city of Suleimani.  He stopped a moment, in the hot sun, to pose for my photo, not minding the short break from his work.

Every day, early morning until late in the evening, Shorsh* and a crew of three other men slap out dough into large thin discs, bake them, and lay them out on an open table.  Eight large rounds of bread cost a little less than a U.S. dollar. People, of all ages, mill around his shop, buying fresh bread for their families.

Clothing store in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan. Photo by: Peggy Gish.

A few doors away, a clothing shop opens only in the evenings, when there is some relief from the intense heat and more people amble along the street to shop. A few will also stop at the ice cream shop next door. Others will visit a grocery shop where Rebaz,* his wife, or any of their three older children, greet me and other customers with a smile and help us find what we need.  

Life is more secure and stable in the Kurdish region, compared to other areas of Iraq.  Yet even here, the daily life for the average Iraqi Kurd is challenged by general social and economic difficulties, poverty, and the needs of displaced persons coming in from other areas of the country.  Even public school teachers and lower level government workers have been hit economically.  Most of them, except for the Peshmerga, (Kurdish military forces), have in the past year, received just a fraction or their salaries, or none at all, for months at a time. In an economy weakened by massive corruption and supported by oil revenues, the drop in global oil prices has certainly had an effect on government ability to pay their workers. But it is more than that.  Because the Kurdish region has been selling and keeping the profits from their own oil sales on the international market, the Iraqi Central government in Baghdad no longer gives the Kurdistan Regional Government their previous allotment of 17% of Iraq’s oil revenues.

People here are keenly aware of the fighting going on with ISIS (locally called, “Daesh”) at the southern borders of their Kurdish region, and have not dismissed the possibility of the violence coming into their communities.  The closest unit of Daesh forces to Suleimani is a two hour drive away, in an area just south of Kirkuk.  Many families have members who are on active duty with the Peshmerga, maintaining the protective border from Daesh that extends more than 200 miles across northern Iraq—from the city of Sinjar, near the Syrian border, to the edges of the city of Kirkuk.  
In spite of their concerns about the fighting and what that will mean for the future of Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, and in spite of the daily economic troubles, daily life for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan goes on. It goes on in the city streets and in the hot and dusty roads winding through the smaller towns and villages, for the laborer, shop keepers, and the children playing soccer in the field three blocks away.  People find time to welcome us graciously into their lives.  Children are born here and loved by their families as they grow up with uncertain futures.  “Life goes on, because it must,” a Kurdish friend told me. “What other choice do we have?”

*Names changed

Jul 4, 2016

سیدەکان لە ژێر پاڵەپەستۆی ململانێکانی سنوردا

لەتیف حارس

لە ناوەڕاستی ئەم مانگەدا رێکخراوەکەمان، گەشتێکی ساز کرد بە مەبەستی  بەسەرکردنەوە و لە نزیکەوە ئاگادار بوون لە بارودۆخی ناوچە بۆمباران کراوەکانی نا‌‌‌‌حیەی سیدەکان لەلایەن دەوڵەتی تورکیاوە.  گەشتەکەمان دەستی پێکرد بە کۆبوونەوە لەگەڵ بەڕێوەبەری ناحیەکە، بەڕێزیان باسی هەڵکەوتەی جوگرافیای ناوچەکەی بۆ کردین و گوتی ''سیدەکان گەورەترین ناحیەیە لەسەر ئاستی عێراق و ناوچەیەکی گرنگی گەشتیارییشە، بەڵام تاوەکو ئێستا نەتوانراوە تەواوی گوندەکانی ئاوەدان بکرێنەوە کە ژمارەیان دەگاتە ١٠٠ گوند. هۆکاری ئاوەدان نەکردنەوەی گوندەکانیش دەگەڕێتەوە بۆ کاولکاریەکانی رژێمی سەدام و شەڕی بەردەوامی پەکەکە و تورکیا و ئێران و پارتەکانی تری ڕۆژهەڵاتی کوردستان''.  درێژەیدا بە قسەکانی و گووتی '' ئەوە جاری یەکەم نیە تورکیا ئەو دەڤەرە بۆمباران دەکات، بۆمبارانەکانیش گوندنیشینەکانی ناچار کردووە ماڵ و ڕەز و گوندەکانیان بەجێبهێلن لەدوای خۆیان''.  

ئیمە پرسیارمان کرد  دەربارەی پلان و یارمەتیەکانی ‌‌حکومەتی هەرێمی کوردستان كرد بۆ ئەو خەڵكەی کە زەرەرو زیانیان پێگەیشتووە بەهۆی بۆمبارانەکەوە. بەڕێوەبەری ناحیەیەکەش لە وەڵام دا گوتی ''بەهۆی قەیرانی  دارایی هەرێمەوە ئێمە ناتونین وەکو پێویست بەهانای گوندنشینانەوە بچین، بەڵام کەمپێکمان هەیە کە پێشتر بۆهەمان مەبەست  دروستکراوە بۆ ئەوەی تێیدا نیشتەجێ ببن لەکاتی هەر ڕووداوێکی نەخوازراودا و بڕیاری وەستاندنی شەڕەکەش لە دەستی ئیمەدا نیە''.

ِ دواتردرێژەمان بە گەشتەکەماندا و سەردانی گوندشینانمان کرد بۆ ئەوەی لەنزیکەوە ئاگاداری باروودۆخی ژیانی ئەوان ببین. ئەوان زۆر بە نیگەرانیەوە باسی مەترسی و زەرەرەکانی بۆمبارانەکانی دەوڵەتی تورکیایان کردو گوتیان ''چەندین جار ئاوارەو بریندار بووین لە پێشتردا، ئێستاش هەمان مەترسیمان لەسەرە چونکە دوای دەست پێکردنەوەی شەڕ لەلایەن تورکیاوە،  بۆردومانی ناوچەکەمان دەستی پێکردۆتەوە و دانیشتوانی چەند  گوندێکیش ئاوارە بوون'' .

ئیمە تێبینیمان کرد کە گوندنیشینان مەترسیان هەيه  لە بەردەوامی بۆمباران وتوندوتیژیەکان لەو دەڤەرەدا. ئەوان بێهیوا بوون و داواش دەکەن شەڕ و ناکۆکیەکانی نێوانیان بە شێوەیەکی ئاشتیانە چارەسەر بکەن بۆ ئەوەی هیچی تر خەڵکی سڤیل نەبێتە قوربانی.

تێبینی ئەوەشمان کرد کە حکومەتی هەرێم پلانێکی ڕونی نیە و هیچ داوایەکی فەرمیشی لە ئاستی ناوخۆو دەرەکی پێشکەش نەکردووە بۆ راگرتنی بۆمبارانەکان لە سنورەکانی هەرێمی کوردستاندا. لەکاتێکدا ئەگەری توندوتیژی زیاتر لە ئارادایە و لە سەر ئاستی نێودەوڵەتیش هیچ هەنگاوێکی جددی نەنراوە بۆ وەستاندنی ئەو توندو تیژیانە .

دەوڵەتی تورکیا لە نەوەدەکانەوە بۆمبارانی  ناوچەکە دەکات. ناو بەناو بۆمبارانەکەیان وەستاندوە، بەڵام دواتر دەستی پێکردۆتەوە، ئەوەش بەهۆی بێ مەیڵی دەوڵەتی تورکیا لە چارەسەر کردنی کێشەی کوردان بەشێوەیەکی ئاشتیانەی. بۆ ئەوەی بۆ هەمووانیش ڕوون بێت ڕەفتاری دەوڵەتی تورکیا تەنها زەرەری بە  خەڵکی سڤیل گەیاندووە.

Sidakan, Caught on the Border

The Kelasheen, the high mountain pastures used in the summer for grazing and farming by the villagers of Zhilya. Photo: Caldwell Manners
By Latif Hars and Caldwell Manners

Turkish bombings in Sidakan, a sub-district along the borders of Turkey and Iran have increased. Villagers now have to navigate precariously between invisible lines of armed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) controlled areas, which tend to be of higher risk, and high pasture grazing land, the Kelasheen, where their families camp all summer with their animals.  On the eastern border, Iran has begun shelling the area, displacing and injuring people.
Sidakan is the largest sub-district in Iraq and the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq (Kurdistan Regional Government - KRG). This rugged mountainous region shares a border with Turkey on the north and Iran on the east.
CPT began it’s work in the area a few years ago when Turkey and Iran were bombing and shelling the highlands, prior to the failed peace talks of 2015, between Turkey and the (PKK).
Turkey began bombing the area in the mid-nineties when the PKK moved their operations from the cities of southeast Turkey to the eastern mountains of the KRG, including Sidakan. The villagers who farm and graze their animals in these mountainous pastures continue to be victims of the cross border attacks as reported by the team in their 2012 report, “Disrupted lives” and most recently in neighbouring Zergaly.
The mayor of Sidakan, Karwan Karimkhan told us, “100 of the 250 villages of Sidakan remain in rubbles since the Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991.” “The civil war and the ongoing assault from Turkey and Iran have prevented any sort of reconstruction in the area.” Many villages were rebuilt after 1991 but the villages in Sidakan remain in ruins. The civil war fought in the 90’s into the early 2000’s between the dominant groups - the political parties: the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and the armed PKK - created a hostile environment hampering rehabilitation, in addition to the continual cross border attacks.
When CPT asked the mayor about how his office was supporting the villagers, he said, “I don’t have any power at the moment. Currently, there are no official channels of communication between the PKK who occupy the mountains and the KRG government.” When pushed how the KRG planned to assist the villagers, he responded “The current economic crisis has left the government without resources to assist them.”
Our partner, Sabir Jalal Ahmed, a farmer and resident from the village of Zhilya in Sidakan told us about the fear under which they live. “Turkey is bombing very close to where my livestock graze during the summer. My mother and brothers in the Kelasheen live in fear of the next bombardment.” Due to the arid terrain in lower elevations, families move to the Kelasheen for better access to land conducive for grazing and agriculture. “We are afraid and uncertain of our futures,” he added.

The lives of the high mountain villagers of Sidakan continue to be precarious. Security and safety for the villagers can only begin if the KRG government will allocate and implement a plan to rebuild the damaged infrastructure in the area; and take bold action in confronting its neighbours, Turkey and Iran to stop the bombing of villages. The international community has also remained silent. It needs to begin condemning Turkey and Iran of their oppressive and violent policies towards the Kurdish people.

Dear Settlers

Judy Dasilva speaks at the River Run in front of the Legislative Assembly in Toronto. Photo: Kathy Thiessen

by Rezhiar Fakhir.

It has not been very long since I visited the land of the Indigenous peoples. I wanted to write this short reflection to contemplate my trip to Canada. I acknowledge that it took me a very long time to write this. That was for two reasons. First, I come from a place where we have suffered from different conflicts, not just over decades but over centuries. I thought it would not be a good idea for me to write a judgment of Canadian society when we are deeply impacted by war in our own region. Second, North American history is very complicated for me even though some have told me it is very simple: the settlers came and destroyed the life of the Indigenous peoples - the story is as simple as that. Even after my first visit to Grassy Narrows, an indigenous reserve, I was not courageous enough to write this reflection. But I made a pledge to my indigenous friends that I would write about their struggle even though I am not Canadian.

My journey in Canada began when I arrived in Nelson in British Colombia to finish my course at Selkirk College in mid April. From the moment of my arrival I felt the generosity of the people of Nelson. They were very kind and welcoming. I sensed that life was perfect. Nelson portrayed a perfect Canada in my mind. However, I began to hear from my very good friends, classmates and instructors about some problems and difficulties that Canadians faced. I met many people in Nelson who told me stories about the Indigenous peoples struggle. They gave me an overview of the history and the challenges of indigenous peoples in North America. One late afternoon, I even saw one of my classmates arguing with the police from Nelson about the history of colonization. Or my instructor who expressed concern about the extinction of some indigenous communities in Nelson.

I then headed to the city of Winnipeg to join a CPT delegation to Grassy Narrows. People spoke keenly about the indigenous peoples’ cause. Many mentioned to me that their ancestors came and occupied their territories and they had built residential schools where they brought indigenous children to civilize them. Furthermore, they told me that thousands of indigenous women have gone missing and have been murdered in that area.

If I could be honest with my settler friends I could not relate to what you were telling me. I could not understand what you were talking about, not because I did not believe what you were saying, but because of your lifestyle. Your lifestyle portrays a perfect society and Canada in my mind. The majority of settlers have good shelter, food and jobs. You feel very secure in your homes and the areas that you are dwelling in. You were all planning for your next holidays. It is not that I believe that this is inherently bad. In my opinion everyone deserves a decent life where you have access to shelter, food, jobs and a good education. But it did not make sense to me when you were saying, ‘‘we are working on settler and indigenous people’s relations”, while at the same time the majority of settlers have access to the best of everything and the indigenous people have access to almost nothing. Of course this is not the only issue because there are so many other things that have to change in order to create a better relationship. I do not want you think that I am making a generalization. However, I felt that the majority of the people I observed with were very comfortable with the way Canada is and their way of life. But I also met many settler friends who were working very hard to make a difference. I got the impression, the will to work for better relations with Indigenous peoples came from individualistic or random persons rather than from collective desire or the Canadian society as a whole. 

The CPT delegation had just started and I felt as though there was a great deal happening that was not being communicated to me by the settlers that I was speaking to. I felt I had a responsibility to learn about Indigenous Peoples lives and history from Indigenous People, as I myself came from a misunderstood nation where my people have been oppressed for centuries.

We started our delegation by going to an event where Winona Laduke, an indigenous Anishnabeg activist was speaking. This would be my first encounter with indigenous peoples .

When I entered, I saw a number of curious indigenous youth who were expressing their sorrow about what happened to their parents, grandparents and great grandparents, as well as what is happening to them and their communities. Many sad poems, reflections and articles were shared which profoundly made me question and reflect on their relationship with settlers. I had never imagined that stories like this could have happened or are currently happening in the so called beautiful and democratic country of Canada. One of my delegation co-leaders kept telling me, "Rezhiar this is very important for you". She said "I would be truly happy to hear your opinion about this because I think there are similarities between Kurds and Indigenous people. The way that Kurds and Indigenous people are colonized and persecuted looks very similar to me". She was right; I could see many similarities.

The structural violence, residential schools and colonization of Indigenous people left a black scar on the sky of Canada. The medicine people had been replaced by the nursing system, the spiritual traditions by organized christianity, the hunting and gathering traditions were taken over by the welfare system and harmed by environmental damage, the elders were replaced by residential schools, the laws by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the justice system, and the clan system was replaced by chiefs and councils. When I walked out the sky did not seem blue to me anymore.

The next day in Kenora, while learning about the lives of Indigenous peoples, we heard there had been a suicide attempt in Grassy Narrows. We were not sure if we could still go to Grassy Narrows. But after talking to Judy Dasilva, one of the indigenous activists from there, she said, "it is crucial to have CPT and the delegation come visit at this time". We arrived late in the afternoon and people had just started the sacred fire and sharing circle. They were so welcoming and so passionate to share their history and stories with us. I learnt about the problems that indigenous people face across Canada, such as suicide attempts and drugs and alcohol addiction. These things are happening because of the disruption caused by the settlers. In some reserves a gallon of milk can cost up to 40 dollars but in the settler populated areas, it can be bought for only 5. I heard countless injustices from Indigenous peoples whose lives have been deeply impacted, accounts of injustice you would never hear from the mainstream media or other people. I could write many more stories from Grassy Narrows, but I’d rather encourage my settler friends to go and listen to the stories of people there, that they may have the same eye opening experiences I had.

The delegation ended and we traveled to Toronto for the River Run festival where Grassy Narrows Youth gathered to urge the local government to clean their poisoned river. The event taught me that despite the black scar in the sky, indigenous youth and peoples all over Canada are very powerful and strong. The youth showed their willingness and hard work to establish a new relationship with settlers. River Run gave me hope. My despair though, was the lack of collective will and hard work from settlers to re-establish their relationship with the Indigenous peoples.

I guess, Judy Dasilva from Grassy Narrows says it best, "It is time to act rather than talk forever". If settlers want a happy and positive outcome, or progress in their relationship with Indigenous peoples, they should all put down their coffee, leave their comfortable homes and walk towards Indigenous reserves to listen, to learn and understand in order to re-establish a better, fairer, stronger, ecological and a more just relationship with Indigenous peoples and their land.