Nov 10, 2016

We are not going to leave, this is our home and our land it belongs to us.

By Kasia Protz

They keep drinking their tea while the Turkish war planes are hovering in the sky above their heads." How often does this happen ? " I ask pointing to the sky.
"I don't know, it depends, sometimes six, sometimes seven days a week , it's now a part of our daily lives." Kak Kaninya Barchun village leader of Muruke (wearing blue shirt) says while continuing to sip his tea.
Kak Kaninya explaining their situation to our team member Latif. Photo by: Kasia Protz
I'm very surprised by his relaxed manner toward the war planes in the sky, which can drop bombs at his village, home or family at any given time, his calmness makes me and the rest of our team feel safe but  it also disturbs me. In what kind of the world are we living in, where an innocent family have to get accustomed  to constant threat of warplanes bombing their land or home at any given time ?
Kak Kaninya is one of the people who live in Muruke village, situated in the sub district of Dinarta, high in the mountains and bordering Turkey, Muruke has been bombed 7 times during the last two years by Turkey.
One of the villagers showing the team picture from the last bombing. Photo by: Kasia Protz
Before the bombing started there were 23 families living in Muruke, now only 9 are left. Many families left after June the 4th when the last bombing happened, very close to the village and at 10 in the morning it was especially traumatic and a frightening experience, some of the villagers had to run to the nearby forest to hide. It was pure luck that nobody was hurt as at this time of the day many people were outside of their homes.
Many houses were severely damaged and till this day are standing unrepaired as the government hasn't offered any financial aid. Windows of the houses had shattered due to the ground shaking. Most of them were fixed from villagers own money, but some can not afford that. They use cardboard to cover holes in the windows or use the rooms with damaged windows as storage spaces. They are worried about the cold when the winter comes.

One of many damaged houses in Muruke. Photo by: Kasia Protz
People of Muruke are worried about their animals and crops. During bombings often the grazing and planting fields are burned, some animals are starving due to the fields being burned down.
"Yes the damage of the buildings and our land is a big issue, but what we are really are worried about are our children. Our children are scared ! They wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares. They dream of bombs falling on them "
The trauma in Muruke is easily seen when looking at children, they are visibly scared and  look up into the sky when military planes pass by. Also in recent months a lot of villagers had been diagnosed with diabetes, doctors said it was due to stress.
"We are not going to leave, this is our home and our land it belongs to us. We just want to live in peace here " one of the villagers says.
Muruke located in Dinarte subdistrict of Akre in the Duhok province of Iraqi Kurdistan is one of many villages affected by the cross border bombing from Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan, the problem is big and highly ignored.
However, when sitting with people of Muruke I can't keep myself from being absorbed by their strength and resilience, while they drink their tea, laugh with their children and talk to us about their struggle with a smile on their face. They certainly haven't lost their faith, hope and still believe in miracles.  

Nov 9, 2016

We feel we are living in a jungle

By Latif Hars

During our team’s recent trip to visit our partners in Dinarte subdistrict of Akre in Iraqi Kurdistan, the team visited three villages Kashkawa, Muruke and Chame Rabate. Most of those who are living there are impacted by bombardments and land occupation.

Yousif showing the team his damaged house. Photo by: Kasia Protz
We  visited them in order to know more about their life under the Turkish bombardment. When we arrived we were warmly received by Yousif, a villager living in Kashkawa. He had also invited some other villagers and Kashkawa’s village leader. Yousif told us it has been awhile since the last bombardment from Turkey, however they are still affected by it. “Our houses are damaged and our children and families are traumatized by the former bombings.” We witnessed holes in the walls of houses and pieces of bombs on the ground.

Yousif changed the topic of the conversation to discuss another issue that they had been struggling with, he said “we have another big problem, our pasture and land are occupied and sold by people close to power. They don’t have the right to do it because these lands belong to us, we have official  documents. Our pasture has been sold for a 10,000$ for one season by those in power.”
The villagers telling their story. Photo by: Kasia Protz
Those attending the meeting said “for a long time we are facing this problem, because the people in power know we are a minority group (Asyrian Christians) here and the government doesn’t care about our issues, so they occupy our land by pressuring us. Here there is no respect for minorities and our rights are nothing but just a symbol. So, many of families and our young have left the country,  we can’t live under this injustice and pressure.”

Later we drove with Yousif and his guests  to Muruke village, there Khaninia the village leader of village welcomed us to his home. We were sitting and drinking tea in a place surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests. The village leader talked to us about the last bombardment by Turkey. He said “before the war restarted between PKK and Turkey,  PKK members were in the mountains around the village. They left when the ceasefire between them broke. However Turkey still bombed mountains surrounding Muruke village after they left. Our houses  got damaged and our children are frightened and still have nightmares.”

A women who was sitting with us said “we haven’t any guarantee of our safety and life under the Turkish bombings.” We noticed the fear on the faces of children and women, even after three months since the last bombing. While we were listening to them Sliwa Zaya who has come with us from Kashkawa village said “we are living in a jungle because we haven’t any assurance for our life”.


The villagers suggested the team visit Chame Rabate village, to hear what had also happened there. We said our goodbyes and drove to Chame Rabate. On our way there we faced difficulty driving, the road to the village was very bad. As we drove we noticed that the roads to villages around that area are unpaved and difficult. When we arrived  at the entrance of Chame Rabate we saw three people working on rebuilding destroyed watermill, they told us this is not the first time they are rebuilding it. In the beginning Saddam destroyed it but now Turkey is destroying it .

At this moment a man with a tired face, in working clothing and holding an axe in his hand approached us. He was notified that the team is coming to his village. We gave him a lift with us to the village where he guided us to an old church under a beautiful mountain. Beside the graveyard there were women and men standing and sitting. We talked to them  about their fears and the damages from Turkish bombing, they showed us pieces of bombs. We noticed the bombardment had been done around the church of the village.  We have seen this done by Turkey before around mosques in the Muslim villages in Qandil .

The villager showing the team the photo of the man beaten by a commander. Photo by: Kasia Protz.
Followed by that, a person showed us a picture of the injured face of a man we looked and asked “Who is this?”

He responded , “He is the man standing beside you now, the village leader ” Then the village leader told us “a commander  occupied  my own land so I tried to prevent it. However,  the commander told me, “I am the government, law and power.” He continued “the commander’s  followers beat me and they injured my face badly. He tried to  prove that he was powerful himself and I knew why he did it against me.  Under  my land  there is oil.” We then noticed that our young people had documented the events which happened on their mobiles.

As the day was ending and it was getting dark we left Chame Rabate village, Sliwa Zaya who was with us during the whole trip through villages, told us more about the Asyrians “we are the native Iraqi people and  one of the first to be here.’’ There is nearly 3 million people of us separated around the world. Our language is Asyrian, it came from Aramaic language, which was the international language during the Asyrian empire.

We have some members in the Kurdish parliament and Iraq Parliament, but sometimes they cannot be real representatives of the Asyrian people. They feel compelled to make decisions for the politically powerful in the area. Instead of defending our rights as a minority. Our rights have been abused without any responsibility. We feel we are living in a jungle.”    
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Nov 2, 2016

Ponderings

By Rosemarie Milazzo

Last week, we visited a village on our mountainous border, where farmers told us of their land being bombed once again by Turkey and Iran.  Kak J invited us warmly into his home and told us the story.

We also visited Mrs. H, the wife of a man kidnapped from his home because he spoke out for justice and against oppression. “I am afraid each day,” cried Mrs. H, after her husband was abducted, his head shaved and then he was taken away with his teen aged son.

“I live in a jail” said Kak J  after his farm was bombed once again.

I pondered when we were back on road, what is it like to live in fear,  what is it like to live in a jail, there are no bars on these jails, yet, I could almost hear them saying.

“there are inner bars cutting me up”

Mrs. H told us, “my heart is shackled, where is daddy” cries my son, “when will he be home again”

Kak J said, “I walk on my land and see shrapnel, huge bomb remnants where I once saw my animals grazing,”

Mrs. H “I don’t sleep nights for fear my children may be abducted, I live in fear knowing I, myself may be abducted”

“there are inner bars holding me tight”

Kak J   “where I once saw green, I now see burned up land, my fruit trees, my rice paddies, my tomatoes are all gone. We never know when they will bomb again? Where will we hide, how will we survive? ”

“there are inner bars squeezing my heart”

Mrs. H “my children cannot sleep, I see no smiles, hear none of their songs. Their friends are afraid to play with them,my baby is no more since they pushed me to the ground, will they take my house, where can I go? “

“my inner freedom is darkened..”

“ I carry heavy hurts,”
“I carry dark fear”           
Is this what it means to live in a jail?
Is there a tourniquet to stop the bleeding?

I pondered further…

Yes, the old woman who sneaked into her house after dark to be with Mrs. H when all others were afraid, surely her courage helped stop a bleeding heart. Perhaps all the men who shaved their heads in solidarity with the man kidnapped, kindness doubled... And we who hear the stories, are we called upon to stop hearts that bleed?