Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Least Reported Unarmed Revolution in the Middle East



The Least Reported Unarmed Revolution in the Middle East

Since February 17, 2011, military forces have fired indiscriminately into crowds of unarmed demonstrators. There have been hundreds of arrests, torture and disappearances of protest organizers, and empty promises made by government leaders. Amnesty International and Human Rights have intervened and word came from a reliable source that a phone call from US Vice President Joe Biden was able to pull government military troops off the streets and away from unarmed demonstrators.
This is not Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt or Tunisia. This is the Kurdish north of Iraq which has been just as active in their nonviolent uprising against a corrupt and repressive government, but has been the least reported on by major international media.
Daily, thousands of demonstrators flood the city center of Suleimaniya Iraq now dubbed “Freedom Square,” There have been 8 civilian deaths in Suleimaniya city and scores of injuries as a result of armed government forces opening fire with live ammunition into the crowds. Five unidentified people alleged to be terrorists were killed by government security forces outside of Suleimaniya. During imposed curfew,government forces and armed militia were positioned throughout the city of Suleimaniya and surrounding Freedom Square. An independent television station was burned to the ground. Suleimaniya students studying in Erbil universities were sent back to Suleimaniyah and government authorities set up roadblocks around the city of Erbil to prevent Suleimaniya cars from entering. There have been assassination attempts against religious leaders advocating for this nonviolent revolution. Kurdistan Regional Government's Parliament, have held emergency sessions to negotiate the demands of the people. To date, no agreements have been made.
The Kurdish people of northern Iraq have been under foreign control and dictators for centuries and have been living in a semi-autonomous, self-governed region in Iraq since 1991. They fully believe that they were only able to get this far because of the establishment of the UN no-fly zone in 1991 after Saddam Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds and destroyed most of their villages in his vicious Anfal campaign during the late 1980's.
Who came to the forefront as leaders of the new Kurdish society in 1991? Two strong fighters from the Talabani and Barzani tribes who were both key in leading the Peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) in the fight against the Baa'th Party regime. Jalal Talabani set up his party (PUK) and Masoud Barzani set up his (KDP) and for a while they shared 50-50 power within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
If the phrase “power corrupts” is a universal truth, these 2 are no exception to the rule. For 20 years, they have corrupted all aspects of the government with tribal party rule.
The Kurdish people of northern Iraq have found their voice and they are screaming for change. Some of the people who are screaming the loudest are the artists, poets, religious leaders, women, the youth, the doctors, the engineers, the scholars, and the many that have lived abroad having the opportunity to experience life outside of a tribal society.
There is real possibility that this change can come about without an armed people's revolution. It would behoove the international community to pay attention and to think now about how to join with them hand in hand in their struggle for justice and an end to oppression which is carried out in the ruling parties current domestic policies and backed by the western country's foreign policies. If we pay attention now, maybe our children and our grandchildren will not have to be faced with the decision to use military force to drive out yet another entrenched dictator where more killing will be one of the few tools left to stop killing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Reality of Life in Iraq: Where Does Sustainability Fit In?

My friend Christine has a very regular blog looking at how we interact with our enviroment and things that we can do to make a difference to climate change.  I wrote her an email describing my impressions of Northern Iraq in this regard and my questions about it. (Of course, this is only after being here for 2 1/2 weeks and there may be things happening here that I am unaware of.)
Her blog is http://www.350orbust.wordpress.com/ 
March 24, 2011
by Christine
Today’s posting is inspired by, and dedicated to, my amazing friend Kathy who is in Northern Iraq for 3 months as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team. Kathy responded to yesterday’s posting about bottled water by relating the reality she sees around her. Bottled water is sold everywhere – restaurants, public squares, corner stores. Kathy has given me permission to share her reflections:
It creates a real quandary within myself when I read articles from your blog and then see the reality of life here. It seems that everything that I can do in Canada and that Canada is doing re: the environment (and I know that is not perfect), is non-existent here. Water is bought from small shops in 5 gallon bottles. Those, I believe are refilled. But the rubbish is full of the small 500 ml bottles. This is what you are automatically given in the restaurants, in the shops, young boys and men are selling them in the main square where the demonstrations are taking place. I asked about the safety of the tap water. Apparently here in the city is does not usually have trouble with bacteria, but there are a lot of heavy metals from the war in the water, so long-term ramifications would not be good.

When you buy things from the shops on the street you are automatically given at least two plastic bags. I have made a tiny inroad in convincing the nearest veg salesperson  to accept my eccentricities and let me fill my reusable net veg bags and then use my own reusable bag. He is young, the older man looks at me like I am from outer space (and maybe I am).

Then there is the rubbish. There is no system for recycling, reusing or composting (the latter maybe in the rural, farm  areas – I don’t know). I have seen the dumps and the rubbish is dumped and burned. People do use buses quite a bit and the buses do not move until they are full. Taxis are used quite a bit too, but there are a lot of private vehicles too.

Kathy then poses a very important question, “Are the ’3Rs’ just a western, elite thing– for those with the resources to concentrate on it?”
I can’t answer Kathy’s question without bringing my own North American background/bias into my response.  I do know that the average North American’s footprint on the earth is much larger than the average Iraqi’s, so it behooves us to do as much as we can to become better stewards of the world’s resources. And, as my husband reflected, the way to address issues of sustainability in developing countries is to make connections between renewable energy/recycling/composting, etc, and improved living conditions.  There are countless examples of how this might be done. For example, with solar panels that bring electricity to people who don’t have access to the grid, and solar cookers that provide an excellent, non polluting cooking source to improve the life of people who are running out of traditional sources of heat(check out the video below for more on this).
For an Iraqi perspective, here’s a September, 2010, posting from 350.org,  by Ali Falkhry from IndyACT, who wrote about the organizing efforts in Iraq:
In a country where people risk life and limb (literally) every second by just walking through the neighborhood you find dedicated activists that are ready to risk everything to raise the awareness and get to work against climate change and to brand a new era of a newly born Iraq.
Hiba, Hala, Mais, Hazem, Lina, Ali and Ashraf, 350 leaders in Iraq, are already rocking the city, promoting for solar panels at the University of Babel Iraq and planting trees near the industrial zones and conducting environmental awareness sessions to convince locals, industries and government to adapt for a renewable energy.
This group is working on their plans for 10/10/10 and preparing for something big. Stay tuned…
The picture below was taken on the International Day of Action on Climate Change in October, 2009. Jamie Henn, of the Youth Climate Coalition, had this to say about the young Iraqi woman, Ola, and her participation in that event:
Perhaps my favorite photos from October 24 is from one of our smallest events. It’s a picture of a young woman in Iraq, who wanted to take part in the international day of action. When she invited her friends to join her in a public event, they told her she was crazy, that it was too dangerous. Yet, she didn’t back down. And on the morning of October 24, she picked up a home made banner, went through the multiple American military check points that separated her from the historic gate of Babylon where she wanted to take a photo, got a brave friend to snap a picture, and emailed it in to our website.  That’s a big action that took big bravery, and for me, it’s a big inspiration for the year ahead.


Ola in Iraq
And here’s a video about a stove powered by the sun that is making a big difference in impoverished countries (via ClimateCrocks.com):
More links:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughts on being in Kurdish, Northern Iraq for two weeks

I had thought that I would want to blog a lot, but I have yet to really get into the groove. I also have to write a letter to my supporters letting them know that I have a blog. So lots of work to do.

Anyway, on that note of supposed apology...

The two weeks before I flew here my mind was in a bit of turmoil. The state of the situation here had changed and people were out on the square protesting the corruption of the government and lack of human rights. On two days there was retaliatory violence from security forces with 5 or 6 deaths and more wounded.

I had to take time to get my head around the fact that what I would be doing here would be very different than what I had discussed with the Iraq team project support co-ordinator. However, by the time I landed in Suli the situation had calmed down.

There were still thousands of protestors in the square but the security forces had decreased a lot and soon the government was making overtures of communicating with the organizers. Everyday we have gone down to the square and checked in with the organizers to see if there were any stories they wanted us to tell. They are very exhausted and are very aware that the calm may not last. They and the ones we talk to in the square state that they will not leave until something is actually done to meet their  demands.

It is really quite amazing to be here during this call for change. But we feel like we are in a bit of a bubble because the rest of the world does not know what is going on here. News stories of Libya and Japan are taking the headlines and any stories we (and other jounalists) send out are ignored. The Kurdish people feel that the world does not care about them. It seems that this is true unless (and may this not happen), many more people are killed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Presents from quilting friends for my journey

The week before I left some of my quilting friends, "The Strip Piecers" surprised me with some presents. They had used some of their fabrics and their skills to create things for my journey: a journal, a cosmetic bag and a small purse for my passport. Lovely gifts for me to take with me.