Saturday, April 12, 2014

Green and Blue and Yellow and Brown: Election in Iraqi Kurdistan

Election fever has hit in Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq as a whole. Last September 21 another election was held. That one was for Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) parliament and many seats changed hands. The results showed that the people in this half of IK were discontented with the existing leaders and the Gorran/Change list gained many new seats. BUT that was 6 months ago and in reality the change has not happened. Government decisions are still on hold because a new government has not been formed yet. The old guard have not let go of their positions. And the people wait.

Traditionally (since the civil war in 1994) the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party-yellow) has controlled the northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan. The PUK (Kurdish Union Party- green) has controlled the south.

Into this situation comes another election. This one is for the Iraqi government as well as Kurdish municipal and regional governerate positions. We have not heard of any deaths yet in the campaign process, but I am surprised that this has not happened. The campaign was legally opened a month before the election and immediately the region became awash with colours: green, blue, yellow and brown. Every night on the main street here in Sulaimani the men, young and old. drive their cars packed with male supporters and flags, up and down the street. The testosterone oozes from the traffic jam and the young men hang from the windows screaming and yelling. This increases when they see a car with a different colour of flag. They release fireworks from the open windows as they drive along and often the sound of the "bang" changes when they shoot guns into the air..

In the main city square- Maidan Sara

This is the reason that I won't be able to give you any photos of the night life. I would rather stay close to home when the men start driving. Last election a bystander woman was killed by a stray bullet.

Thoughts on observing all this election fever:

-I know that the flags and pennants use a lot of resources to make and they are already creating a lot of rubbish and pollution. But I inwardly like seeing them wave in the breeze and add colour to the city.
-I really don't see how the flags and pennants and signs would ever really encourage anyone to change their minds in who they would vote for.
-I am quite glad that the elections in Canada do not include shooting into the air (with pistols and Kalashnikovs).
-But because I like seeing the flags and pennants, here are some photos:

There are a few Islamist Union party flags also
This is outside my bedroom window, looking at the school gate

Looking toward Mosgowti Ibrahim

Monday, April 7, 2014

Unravelling the knots of colonialsim and racism one tangle at a time- Part One

The woman shed tears of remembering and grief as she courageously shared with strangers and supporters the intimate details of the abuse laid on her as a tiny girl by adults who professed to be Christian. As her 15 minutes allotted to her wound down she said, (paraphrased),It is not good that this is the last TRC gathering. When this is done then the government can say that they have done their work and all is finished. But it is not. Our pain is still here. There is still work to be done.

Last week, in Iraqi Kurdistan,  I watched the live streaming of the Alberta National Event of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) . These conversations have happened across Canada at various venues for the last 4 years. It has been a time for the indigenous people of Canada to tell their stories of what churches, with the blessing of the government, laid on them for over one hundred years in  residential and day schools.. This TRC in Edmonton, Alberta is to be the last official time for people, indigenous and non-indigenous to come together to tell the stories and to listen to  the stories and to commit to continue to work on undoing the racism and colonialism that was central to the actions.

I was not able to be at this gathering, although I did have  the privilege in June 2010 to attend the first TRC in Winnipeg, Manitoba. However, I felt a little like a part of me was there.

In December 2013 I was at a meeting of the Winnipeg Branch of the Student Christian Movement. This group is committed to working on standing in solidarity with our indigenous brothers and sisters.  That morning my friend Brad Langendoen came up with a proposal. He had a dream of walking from Winnipeg to the Edmonton TRC. He was inspired by  the 1600 kilometer journey that several  Cree teens  hiked  between Quebec and Ottawa last year, drawing public attention to justice issues. He envisioned this walk to be a time of reflection , lament and connection with the land for the walkers from Christian backgrounds. Over the next weeks, as we discussed this plan we realised that the logistics of walking that distance did not seem possible so the walk was narrowed down to 520 kilometers.

On March 8th 3 walkers set out from a midway point between Winnipeg and Edmonton. One of these walkers was my son-in-law Laurens Thiessen van Esch.  One more person joined them after a few days and others walked for a short time during the 3 week trek over the Canadian prairies on into the hills of Alberta.
Two of the walkers; Laurens Thiessen van Esch and Ann Heinrichs

The 4 walkers on the flat prairie highway.

Even though I was on team with Christian Peacemaker Teams Iraqi Kurdistan while the TRC was happening, I did feel somewhat jealous.  If I had been in Canada, I would have gladly joined them in the walk. But I was not, so I did take on the limited challenge of fasting from lunch for a week. I did feel the hunger pangs a little bit. Some thoughts I had when they set in:
-I  thought about the children who experienced much harsher hunger pangs for weeks and months on end in the schools that did not give them enough food to survive
- I thought about the children who ran away to try to get home and how hungry they must have been.
- I thought about the hunger pangs of those who are homeless due to the situation of generational trauma from the residential schools and/ or who do not have enough money for all the basic needs. And I had the privilege of making the choice to skip a meal.
In his proposal Brad, L continued, "Although the primary outcome of this trip might be to hear and honour Residential School survivors, I believe a trip like this would undoubtably have a transformative affect on each of the walkers – though to what affect remains to be seen. For Christians, this walk provides an opportunity to contemplate a responsibility we have to our collective history as we quite literally take some significant steps towards truth and reconciliation."
The formal TRC gatherings are over, the Honour Walk by four walkers is over. But the work is not done. We need to continue to do the hard work of unravelling the knots of colonialsm and racism one tangle at a time.
During the TRC the walkers and other supporters had the opportunity to offer an expression of reconciliation. They offered a quilt and a copy of the book, "Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry" to be placed into the bentwood box.

(Photos taken gratefully from the Honour Walk website)

"Let's Go Fly A Kite"... in Chamchamal

 This past weekend my friend, Ann, and I headed to the bazaar area of the town of Chamchamal.  She had heard that there was an ancient ruin on top of a tall hill (filled with remnants of ancient civilizations). I asked the father of this family about the age of the ruins and he said, "zor, zor, zor con/ very, very, very old". He also said it was older than the much more famous Citadel in the capital city Hawler. But the real beauty of the Friday afternoon was the Spring sunshine and wild flowers and the children flying their kite. (In case you don't know, if you click on a photo it will take you to larger versions of all the pictures.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

To wear the dress or to not wear the dress, that is the question.....

When one works in the activist world the topic of  cultural appropriation comes up sometimes. This is about people taking on things from other cultures because they look cool or neat. Often things or objects are taken from minority cultures by dominant cultures and are used in inappropriate ways without regard to the feelings of the people who usually use them.
I do think about this. I know for certain that it will never be appropriate for me to have an Aboriginal Jingle dress made for myself and to wear it in a healing dance no matter how beautiful I think that they are.

So, when  I came to Iraqi Kurdistan and fell in love with the beautiful fabrics in the bazaar and the traditional jili kurdi that are made from the cloth,  I was cautious about thinking about having a dress made for me.

I  Googled  cultural appropriation and found an article by Jarune Uwuwjaren called The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation. here She states, "That’s what cultural exchange can look like – engaging with a culture as a respectful and humble guest, invitation only."

Even before I read her article I knew that things were OK here with my Kurdish friends and me.  The first time I went to my friend Nishtiman's house for the Nawroz picnic the whole family invited me to wear an extra dress they had. It was my first experience with wearing the elaborate dress that Kurdish women delight in wearing. I did get extra attention due to my sneakers I wore on my feet. High heels are much more usual attire, but my size 10 feet did not fit any of the sister's shoes.

Since then I have attended weddings dressed in my usual skirt and blouse and have been told politely that wearing a Kurdish dress would be so much nicer. And last year my friend Gul and her daughter Nishtiman gave me a gift of some cloth to create a dress for myself. I did need to find the shiny fabric for the bloomer type underwear as well as other cloth for the long over coat. But Nishtiman introduced me to her seamstress who quickly  sewed  these for me in time for this year's Nawroz celebration.

That does not  include the beautiful green dress and shiny vest that Hershu, the wife of our team mate, had waiting for me when I returned to Sulaimani this time. So this Nawroz I had two dresses to choose from and one to lend to a team mate.

The final clincher for me was when a group of us visited with relatives of our Kurdish friend Rezhyar. His grandmother sat with us at the picnic and looked at two visitors who did not have Kurdish clothes. She said, "if only I had known you were coming and that you did not have jili kurdi. I would have brought you some so you could have some too".

I believe that we show respect and honour for the Kurdish culture by wearing the clothes that they love to wear.