Saturday, December 29, 2012

On Kurdish children and the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Yesterday I was honoured to have my friend Chris Sabas nominate me for CPT's, "Twelve Days of Christmas" peacemakers. It was published on "Christian Peacemaker Teams" Facebook page  on the 4th day of Christmas which is known as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. [the day that the Bible tells of King Herod killing many children in his search for the child Christ]. This is because some of the writing I have done while on team in Iraqi Kurdistan has been about the impact on children of violence (especially the bombing and shelling). The link to the site is.!/photo.php?fbid=529570520396174&set=pb.119985174688046.-2207520000.1356798464&type=3&theater
I hope that those of you without FB can still open this. If not please send a comment.

As I remember so many of the little ones I have met while in Iraqi Kurdistan or some of the ones I have seen just for a minute, I want to post some of the photos I have taken. It is strange to walk the streets here in Winnipeg and to have children look down as I walk by. I am so used to being greeted and spoken to by the Kurdish children. Of course, I realize that I am an unique sight there. They can tell just by looking at me that I am a foreigner and they are curious about me.  I really enjoy taking the moment to talk to them. Usually they try to speak English and I try out my Kurdish. This is a bit complicated sometimes but fun.

This is a child that I did not meet. It is a statue in the town of Chamchamal in memory of 11 year old Germian. He was shot by security forces during the early days of the 2011 demonstrations in Sulaimani province. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thinking about hunger strikes.

The events of the last three months have made me think a lot about hunger strikes. Now, I will confess at the outset that I am not one to voluntarily do without food. I have fasted for very short periods of time but it is not my preferred method of showing dissent or solidarity.

But during my last stint in Iraqi Kurdistan I have observed and read about many people who are choosing to use this as a way to express their desire for change. It seems that most are very vulnerable people who see no other way than to put their whole health into jeopardy to tell their governments and the world that change has to happen.

First I was on team with my good friend Bud. He and I spent a month together in Chicago in summer 2010. We were paired together as "buddies" to spend some time each day talking about how we were experiencing the Christian Peacemaker Training. Bud is a person who chooses to fast quite often. This is usually in solidarity with vulnerable people who he is walking alongside.While he is fasting he often sits with the rest of the team while we eat supper, just to be together with us. Sometimes he even cooks a meal for us.  When he is at home he often fasts in solidarity with people in prison in Guatanamo Bay. This autumn he fasted in solidarity with the 900 Kurdish prisioners in Turkish jails.
My friend Bud Kurdish dancing with Sunneh school chilrden
When I was leading the October delegation we spent two days in the Kurdish area of Turkey. Our contact there told us that hundreds of Kurds who are in Turkish prisons had begun a hunger strike. Soon this included 900 prisioners and thousands of Kurds on the outside who fasted in solidarity.
CPT were observers of a march in Sulaimani of  Iraqi Kurds  in support of the Turkish Kurds.We saw Kurds who are in a semi-automous state in Iraq say to the world that Turkish Kurds deserve at least what they were asking: basic human rights for their leader O who is in prison, the right to use Kurdish freely in educating their children and the right to use Kurdish in the court system. Many of the fasting persons did not eat anything for 68 days. Many were near death when word came from the leader asking them to stop the protest.
Parween (in flowered shirt), friend of CPT Iraqi Kurdistan, was a leader in this march of solidarity.
The march happened on the 55th day of the hunger strike.
Anotehr  hunger strike is still happening right now in Iraqi Kurdistan. Six disabled men stopped eating on 19 November. They were living in a tent outside of the Kurdish parliament office in Sulaimani. They are asking the government to provide living wage benefits for the disabled people in the region (including the two disputed cities). The men are willing to face death to draw attention to their cause as they feel that they are unable to continue living and tending to their families on the income the government  currently provides them.
On 18 December two of my team mates accompanied the 6 men when they moved their tent and protest to the capital city, Hawler/Erbil. They were hoping that maybe someone from the regional government would finally spend some time to listen to their plea.
Some of the men in their tent in Sulaimani
The tent in Sulaimani (Pat Thompson)
(Pat Thompson-photo_
The last hunger strike I have heard of is taking place in my own country.CBC reported on December 12,  " Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike to try and force a meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Crown, and First Nations leaders. She stopped eating early yesterday morning. She plans to drink only water (once in the morning and once in the evening) and fast in two teepees, one on Parliament Hill during the day and another on Victoria Island.
Spence says she wants a meeting to create "a better dialogue."
"[We need] a partnership... as we speak, our people are suffering because of the decisions that are made by the government," she told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"I'm willing to die for my people and the First Nations people," she said. "The pain is too much and it has to stop."

Now 7 days later she is still waiting for the meeting with the Prime minister to happen.

 I wonder if hunger strikes accomplish what the people who put their lives on the line want. The Turkish prisioners ceased their protest when O. asked them to stop. The Turkish authorities breathed a sigh of relief because they feared the riots if one of them had died. The goverment made many promises tocompromise on the demands. Now this story is out of the media. Time will tell if the promises are carried out.
 Last night the Kurdish regional Governement  security forces (Asiash)  entered the tent  of the Disabled Group and arrested the six men. CPT has learned that the men were beaten and one is still in the hospital under guard. We have not heard of any conversations happening between the men and their government.

 And  8 days into her hunger strike Theresa Spence  is still waiting for the meeting with the Prime minister to happen.

People ready to put their lives on the line in order to bring about change. Waiting for someone to listen to them.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Back to October- Wedding celebration

As I sit here in Bammental, Germany I am looking at the photos of my time in Iraqi, Kurdistan. I realize that I have not posted about my first Kurdish wedding. This was celebrated on the last day of Eid. in October.  CPT Iraq Kurdistan's longterm friend, M, invited us to the wedding of his son. I was reminded again how the lifestyle of the Kurdish people is so different than mine. The wedding had been planned for four days earlier. However, a relative died and that took precidence. So the date of the  wedding was changed. This would be unheard of and almost impossible in my culture where invitations go out months ahead and venues and caterers are paid for as well.

I really enjoyed the day in the foothills of the Quandil mountains, sitting on the ground eating with the women, and dancing to the best of my ability in Kurdish style. The bride and groom are not pictured in this post because due to his job he asked us not to put their pictures onto the internet.

Rest stop at Gali Ali Bag . Pat T, me Lukasz F. Rosemarie M.
Preparation of the meal
Young men preparing to serve the meal
The women and younger children all seated around the tablecloth on the ground. Bread is being distributed to go with the rice, beans in tomato sauce, chicken and mutton.
Clean up. Put all the disposable dishes and scraps of food onto the tablecloth and roll it up.

Collecting the coloured bits of paper from the poppers.
 All ages come to the wedding.
.. and young.
Patrick and Rosmarie trying their feet at dancing.
Rosemarie asks our constant taxi driver, Soran, if he wants to dance. One can do that when you are 80 years old.!
After I took some photos of some girls, they wanted to take one of me. Here I am in front of the glorious Quandil mountains.
Pat, Lukasz and I join the dance.


Friday, December 7, 2012

The Turkish green grocer- Pro Palestinian and Pro Kurdish

So, I can't wait to write about this encounter because it was so fun. I will go back and write a couple of more things about my time in Iraqi Kurdistan, but this just happened.

Yesterday I flew from Sulaimani to Frankfurt, Germany, then hopped on 3 trains and ended up in the small village of Bammental, where my daughter, Janelle, and her husband, Laurens, live.
Here is Janelle doing her duty at shovelling snow that started this morning, just in time to start acclimatizing me to winter in Canada.

Today we went shopping for some white beans and tomato paste (to make fasouli-white beans in tomato sauce) at a nearby Turkish shop. I want to make a Kurdish meal on Monday for some of their friends.  As we went to pay I asked him where he had used to live before immigrating to Germany. He said, Ankarra. So, then I took the plunge and told him that I had just come from Istanbul the day before. He made a face and commented that Istanbul was not a wonderful city. So, then I said that I had been in Iraq before Istanbul. He told me that was a very "gefahrlich/ dangerous" place. He said that the Americans had destroyed it.

Now, I am aware that speaking to a Turkish man about Kurds does present a bit of risk (Janelle told me later that I was pretty "ballsy"!). But I was watching his responses and took the chance of telling him that I had been in the northern part of Iraq where it is not as dangerous as the south. And then our conversation took an interesting turn. He told me about Syria where maybe the Kurds will have a situation like the Kurds in Iraq (autonomous region) and that he was very much in favour of the Kurds having this. He did not say it, but I felt that he would agree for the same situation in Turkey.

Then he began to speak of how America wanted to put their fingers into everything and how they supported Israel. He then went on to tell us how he thought that Israel was grabbing land from the Palestinians. He said that all conflicts were about wanting more things  then we needed.

All this conversation happened in German and I was quite thrilled that I understood most of what he was saying!! After we paid for our groceries (he thought that we should buy the cans of beans, but we convinced him that we wanted the dry ones)  he asked us to wait a minute. He went over to the shelves of pickles and picked up a very large bottle of pickled peppers, tomatoes, carrots and cauliflower. He told my daughter that he wanted to give 'madam (me)" a gift and gave me the large bottle. I felt like I was back in Kurdistan- gifted by a Turkish man.

I placed the mug next to the jar so you could see how big it is!!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Did I see what I really saw?

It was so surreal, crazy, bad, good and a day that made me heart heavy.

It started that we were invited to a demo in Zharawa which is about 2 ½ hours away. The prime minister of Iraq, Malaki, has trained and just last week put into the disputed cities, Mosul and Kirkuk, a huge armed force. These two cities are full of oil, thus, although they are in Kurdish area Iraq will not let them go. There was a referendum promised years ago that still has not happened so the cities are still in limbo with a lot of violence.

 This  is very disconcerting to the Kurds as they have  very recent memories when Sadaam brought forces into the Kurdish area and committed genocide.

Anyway we were asked to attend this demo. It is unique in that it was organised by a woman’s group and a teacher’s group. We said that we would go as observers.

Zharawa is also home to one of CPT IK’s longest friends, B. We had not visited for a long time so phoned him to say we were coming.

 So Lukasz, Garland and I drove to his house and when we got out we noticed that something was up. There was an Asaisch (security police) vehicle with many officers outside his gate. We went in and were seated. He came into the room and said that a young man and woman from Iran had fallen in love and run away to this area and were secretly married. 25 days before.  B is known in the region as a very wise man.The families came to him as mediator and they were dealing with this in the next room.

 We had been invited for lunch but when we were seated our host apologized  for the lack of food. He had been unaware that all these people were coming and they had eaten most of the food prepared for us. He then left again into the next room for more negotiations..  As we sat around the tablecloth on the floor I noticed a very old women seated by the wall. Soon B’s wife and daughter came to her and helped her to her feet. I realized then that it was a very young woman. She looked so dreadful. They walked with her into the negotiation room.  About ten minutes later B came out and told us it was decided that they would be divorced.

Then a switch happened when the families and young women went into another sitting room and we went into theirs for tea. The young bridegroom was in there. He spoke with us and one thing he said struck such sadness in my heart. He said, “I don’t mind not being her husband, but I hope that they don’t kill her.”

A while later some men came into the room to say goodbye. Our translator, A., said to us,”don’t stand up, don’t stand up”. He reminded  us later that standing is a sign of respect. He did not want us to show any respect for these men who did such a horrible thing to their children and he did not know how they would treat the young woman.

That night I did not sleep well. My sleep was invaded by images of the young woman and fear for her future. I woke up and read and then wrote a poem. I came to our team worship the next morning very tired and  emotionally distraught. I found out at check-in that Lukasz and Garland were feeling similarly to me. We did not understand.
The next day I spoke with one of our partners who works with violence against women. He told me that this situation is common  and is one of the things that they are working to educate people against doing.
The next day our advisor and translator Mohammed spoke with B. He told us the story was very different than we had surmized during our visit. The young couple had married 25 days before but the woman had called her family to come to get her because she wanted out. So the negotiations were about how to deal with her desire for a divorce. This was decided on and the family took her home. B. had spoken with her and the family stated that she was doing well.
So, maybe my poem (below) was not for this young woman. But as our partner says, there are young people who face the wrath of their families who disagree with their choices.
As I thought about this I realized that similair things happen in my culture. Young women are thrown out of families when a pregnancy is discovered. Young men and women are thrown out of homes when they have the courage to tell their families that they have fallen in love with someone of the same gender.  And so on... Families in different cultures dealing with children in cruel ways.
November 24, 2012
The Woman With the Dark Sorrowful Eyes
I cried into my pillow last night
Thinking of the woman with the dark, sorrowful eyes.
She sat by the wall in the room where I ate normal rice and chicken
My eyes saw an old dapir/oma/grandmother
Hunched over, shawl covering all
As two other women helped her stand, one on each side
I saw that she was so, so young.
Yet buried, burdened with a load that no woman should carry.
Her load? A love, a journey, a vow to cherish and stay until death do them part.
Yet today the parting comes
Her family decrees a separation, a divorce
She shall return to the home
He shall return to the home
Never more to cling to each other
Twenty-five days- now decreed over for ever.
She carries this load and the burden of being a scar, a disgrace, an unwanted woman.
I cried into my pillow last night thinking of the woman with the dark sorrowful eyes.