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.