Thursday, November 17, 2011

An Apple a Day...

This is a repost of a reflection that I wrote last week for CPT Net.  I will include a few more photos of the village. (Unless otherwise stated, the credit for the  photos goes to team mate Marcus Armstrong)

IF AN APPLE A DAY keeps the doctor away why can’t thousands of apples hanging from acres of trees keep bombs and shells away?  Why are the rosy apple-cheeked children not running through the orchards, plucking ripe fruit from the abundant trees?

These were the questions that we, the CPT Iraq team, and the autumn Iraq delegation asked ourselves as we visited the  mountain village of Merkajia.  Merkajia is the only majority Christian hamlet in Northern Iraq.

Images from the village's little place of worship.

  One Assyrian Christian family fled to the valley from a massacre of Christians in the years preceding the fall of the Ottoman Empire (1915-19. )  This family grew to over 100 households.
Our host, N., told us of his family’s history on the land.  They had planted hundreds of fruit trees, especially apple, grape, and quince.  These crops have been destroyed several times through various Iraqi and Kurdish conflicts over the years, but the villagers have persevered, replanted orchards, and rebuilt houses. 

The village looked idyllic.  Apples were hanging in abundance, as were grapes in huge purple and green clusters.  The water of the Kani Rush (Black Spring) encircled each tree—an ancient irrigation technique.

Irrigation from Kani Rash  (Kathy T)

  As we roamed the orchards with N., he plied us with all the varieties of fruit, urging us to taste and to learn that each was better than the last.

This tree was so heavy with fruit that it cracked.  (Kathy T)

 Grapes hanging in huge bunches
Team mate Lukasz with a lapful of grapes. (Kathy T)

But N. is living alone in his house.  His wife and children are in a city two hours away.  The village is in a valley on one side of the border mountains between Kurdish Northern Iraq and Turkey.  The sparsely treed peaks are the territory of armed fighters, trying to protest the oppression of Kurds in that country.  To retaliate, Turkey sends military jets over the mountains in an effort to eradicate this opposition group.  The civilian villages are caught in the middle.

Thus, the stony roads of the community are now bereft of children’s laughter.  N. longs for the day when his family can be together in the village again.  However, this reunion will not happen until summer when school in the far away city ends for the older children.  And then, the shelling will probably begin again as it has for many summers.

N's neighbors. They plan to leave the village before the snow flies because of health factors and the isolation that the snow brings.

The delegates and team members repeatedly volunteered to help harvest the mighty bounty of fruit.  N. was reluctant to show us where and how to do it.  Finally, he was honest with us: “There is no market for the apples,” he said.  “Fruit from foreign orchards can be brought into Kurdistan more cheaply than I need to make the harvest worth my while.  Maybe someday soon there will be a window of opportunity when I can sell my apples, but that time is not now.”  So we had to be content with carrying two crates of apples back to the CPT house with us to share with friends and neighbors. 

 People from a city two hours away come to buy and pick some apples to try to sell in the market.

P.S....N. has a garden area beside his house. It is surrounded by chicken wire fence. I asked if they have trouble with deer or other creatures eating the produce and flowers. He said, "No, that fence is to keep the dogs away. I have Muslim friends who come to visit and when they want to pray I have a clean place for them to do it. If the dogs had been on that grass they would not be able to pray there". A very simple way to care for his friends who have a different faith than he does.

 A magnificent breakfast 

In gratitude for his hospitality we gave him a Bible.
An image from N's garden 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A simple explanation of the bombing and shelling of mountain villages of Kurdistan

(Photo credit: Marcus Armstrong)

(Photo credit: Marcus Armstrong)

Two days after I arrived back in Kurdistan (14 October), we closed up the CPT house in Suleymania and headed north on a public bus to join a 4 person delegation. In Ranya we met our bus driver, Aron and his 14- seater bus. Fortunately, there were only 12 of us together with all of our luggage. It made for some squishy travel arrangements when the rain fell and we could not put the baggage onto the roof. But, as I kept reminding them, at least there were no chickens or goats!

The mountains of the Kurdistan are amazing. They are rugged and many shades of brown. There are not many trees. Some reasons for this have been given, including that Sadaam Hussein chopped many trees down to decrease the hiding places for the Peshmerga, Kurdish resistance fighters. After that Sadaam applied sanctions on the Kurds at the same time as they felt the consequences of the sanction on Sadaam and Iraq by the United Nations.  In order to have fuel, they used  wood from remaining trees. Some reforestation has been implemented, but usually there are few trees to be seen.
A wonderful panoramic shot taken with team mate Lukasz
(credit: Marcus Armstrong)

Our trip took us up to the border regions of Kurdistan. The borders of Iran and Turkey have been the site of a lot of bombing and shelling this year. The reasons are plainly stated, but the history is not so easy and uncomplicated.  We have  been tolds that the Kurds are the largest ethnic population without a country of their own. Before World War I they had been living in areas of this region for centuries (and longer). The subsequent treaties and decisions at the end of that conflict split the Kurdish population into bits. Britain drew lines that created the modern borders of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq right through the Kurdish areas. Out of all of these, the Kurds in Iraq have come out the best. They have been granted the opportunity to have a semi-autonomous government (I understand it as something like our provinces, although that image is probably more wrong, than correct). In the other regions the countries have wanted the Kurds to assimilate and to speak the region's language and to act in the region's way.
The mountains around the village of Suneh where we have accompanied the villagers this Fall
(Photo credit: Patrick  Maxwell (delegate))

This has caused frustration and anger leading to people becoming  resistance fighters- trying to tell the authorities that they don't appreciate being oppressed. These men and women have claimed the mountainous regions as their place of safety and home.  In return  for violence committed by the resistance fighters the leaders have turned to bombing and shelling into the mountainous regions, trying to rout them out and eradicate them.

This is where the villages come into the story.  The mountains have also been the home of small communities of subsistence farmers and nomadic shepherds. Some live in the mountains all summer and fall, then move down to lower latitudes for the snowy months. Others have adequate enough roads and houses that they can hunker down during the cold, preparing for the earliest time they can begin to plow and sow.
We are entering the village of Suneh

The men of Suneh are repairing the corner of the school that was hit by shells this summer. Fortunately, the children were on summer vacation. (credit: Marcus Armstrong)
But, this is when the shelling and bombing begins. As soon as the snow clears and people are on the fields, the planes begin to fly over (from Turkey) and the heavy artillery is pointed their way (from Iran). The vllagers don't know when a rocket or bomb will come close enough to hurt them so they escape from their villages down to the valleys. However, during the time they are away their houses are damaged by the rockets, their crops wither due to lack of frequent irrigation and their opportunity to earn a livelihood disappears. Also, they are forced into tent camps by the side of roads and rivers with minimal provision for their basic needs. In recent days some villages have been directed by the government  to return to their homes from the tent IDP camps. Government workers have forcibly removed all aid such as water tanks and generators. However, other villages are still being heavily bombed so they  are scrambling to create winter-secure tent dwellings as I write this.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) tent camp where the families of Suneh spent the end of summer and the Fall.

In my next blog I want to tell a couple of stories of people that we met from these villages.