Sunday, October 28, 2012

Am I brave?

I have now been coming to Iraqi Kurdistan for over 1 1/2 years. So many times people have said to me-"you are so brave" or "I wish I had your courage". I don't want want to disregard these people's opinion and say '" Oh it's nothing" or "I don't really have anything to be extra brave about."  Maybe, I am brave. I know that on Sunday of the last weekend in August, 2006, something happened within my head and soul to allow me to shake off my fear of the unknown and to take the first step. That was applying for the delegation to the West Bank. I have been on a wonderful, crazy journey since then. 

But, am I courageous? Sometimes living here in Sulmaini I don't see any reason to require extra courage then I need to live in North Kildonan, Winnipeg. But then again as I expereinced live gunfire in the end of the demonstrations in April 2011, I certainly felt that any courage I had leaked out extremely quickly, turning me into a ball of mush.

But, then I see real examples of courage. This are ordinary people who can not or choose not to use their passports to leave the place where they are being oppressed. They head into each day knowing it is not easy  to live their lives.

I met some of these people on the recent  CPTdelegation that I co-lead from 5 - 17 October.

We began our journey in Diyarbakir, Turkey. This is an important place to start because unlike the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan who have a semi-autonomous government, the Kurds here are still expereincing pressure to  to assimilate and to become good, nonresisitant citizens of the country within whose borders they are forced to live. Thousands of these Kurds are currently in prison, many just because they are activists, peaceful activists, who are considred to be members of the violent opposition.

One such activist asked us not to use her name. This was not for security reasons, but because she siad,"I am just one of many. I am not special. In fact I have it better because I have not received my sentence yet and I am free to live at home and walk the streets". She is 30 years old and is a social worker with women and children. On of the claims against her is that she speaks to international delegations. If the state has its way she will spend 18 years in jail for her activities in supporting her people.

The Turdish authorities would like her to leave, in fact they enourage her to do that. But she is insistant in staying where she was born, where her family is and where her people are who desperately need her skills.

We ate breakfast with I. at this Turkish restaurant. This is the server giving us tea. After she left, I. took over the tea pouring for awhile. So this picture symbolizes her.
The next group of brave people were the teachers and students of Sunneh school. I have written a couple of times about this school that was shelled in the summer of 2011. During the summer and autumn the villagers escaped to the Internally Displaced Persons camp that consisted of tents, water tamks and outhouse style toilets. Last summer CPT Iraqi Kurdistan put together a video of some of the children of the school telling about their village and how they felt when the shells rained on their homes.

Two weeks ago when the delegation visited Sunneh the children were prepared to greet them with a song. Then the delegates entertained them with group games and songs. Karzan the principal who has been at the school for 19 years said that he saw smiles on faces that he had seen as solemn anworried for many months.

The villagers have been OK this summer. For whatever reason they have not had to face leaving their homes. The  Turksh planes have not dropped bombs and the shells have not been lobbed from the iranian outposts on the top ridges of the mountains. But when we asked them if they were feeling secure they said, "no, they can start again at any time and then we will have to leave again."
The third group of people we met was three families of the Sulaimani governate area. These families lost sons during the demonstrations of February to April 2011. The youngest one, was 11 years, the next 13 and the oldest one had just graduated from university. We heard the words of Germian's mother (the 11 year old)/ He had asked her what the demonstrations were all about and she did not want to tell him about the corrruption that the people were demonstrating about. She said that he had stood in front of the mirror and asked her to look at him.."Look mother, I am getting to be a man now." Those were the last words she heard him speak. He was on the edge of the crowd at the wrong time and a bullet ended his life. 
Rezhwan's father told us how he has received visitor's from the government 14 times. They want the family to accept money to stop telling people about how security forces shot his son. But he has refused all 14 times. He wants the forces who shot innocent boys to be brought to justice, not a pay out.
These families face the fact that security forces from their government who supposedly has been voted in by the people shot their sons. They continue to live in this region. They can not leave.
So these are the stories of  the courageous ones. I am  here, as I am able, to walk alongside them and to amplify their voices.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

He was a human being- that's enough

Mohammed, our dear friend and advisor (and many other things) changed schools last week. He is an English teacher in a primary school here in Sulaimani. He moved to a school that has many Kurdish students who have spent a lot of their lives outside of Iraqi Kurdistan and now have moved back with their families. So he is teaching English to students who only speak German (for example). Of course he does have Kurdish speaking students and some who already have a very good grasp of English.

Anyway, he came to us in the morning with the news that there was to be an art exhibition at the Amna Suraka museum (formerly Sadaam's prison). The artist, Lass Jalal  was a 17 year old former student of his new school. The title of the exhibition was intriguing,"Damn to War'.

As we entered the hall we could not miss the lively attendees. They obviously were fellow students of Lass. A young man was playing rock music on an electric guitar to the accompaniment of screams from adoring fans! It really took me back to my days of high school.

Soon after we began to look at the art pieces: oil, water colours and acrylics, a student brought over the artist. He introduced himself and offered to tell us the story behind any work that interested us.

He explains "A Scream in Silence"

The pamphlet about the exhibition stated,: "this is Lass Jalal's first solo exhibitions. The main idea of the exhibition is about finding beauty in negative places and finding peace with things that have almost destroyed the survived one (s). He says "light is everywhere but it's almost invisible, so let's try to see it." He sees Thalassemia and cancer as a war and he tries the best of himself to make a change..."

Lass told us his thoughts behind many of his painting. Unfortunately I did not have a notebook along so I can't remember most of them.  He had an incredible depth of thought and understanding far beyond his young years. He said that he had not had any formal training in art but felt moved to try to paint about 2 years ago.

As he explained this work to me he told of a young man who had been very ill and died. I thought he had said that the young man had been his friend and asked him to clarify. He replied," no, he was not my friend. He was a human being and that is enough."  Some of the works were behind glass so the spots are glare of the lights in the hall.

This work was the most realistic of all of his paintings. When I asked him about it he said that he really did not like to paint realism. He enjoys abstract art much more.

A tree falls in love with the moon.
"Forever Together"
It was a pleasure to spend part of our afternoon seeing Lass Jalal's first solo exhibition. If this is the work he can produce in the first 2 years of working with the mediums. I would expect that the art world of Iraqi Kurdistan or even further may see more of him in the future.

All paintings are reproduced here with the permission of the artist.