A few evenings back, a teammate and I were invited to spend the evening with friends at a restaurant in the city. These friends happen to be mostly foreigners, here working with various international NGOs and institutions. So, around 8:00 we flag a taxi and off we go!

Arriving at the given location we looked up, up, up at a hotel on a big hill. After climbing a gazillion zig-zaggy stairs we found the entrance, walked in, and – STOP! My mouth must have literally been hanging open. The place was startlingly “nice.” My teammate and I stared at the leather furniture, the marble floors, the stained glass windows, and then giggled at each other in astonishment. I thought to myself, “This place must have been made for foreigners.” A bit more hesitantly I thought, “Do most foreigners who come here really require such extravagance… ? Is this where I come from… ? Is this the influence my culture has on the world… ?”

My stomach turned a little, but the very nice elevator attendant (dressed in a suit and tie, I might add) politely called the elevator for us, and I put a smile back on my face because nights out with friends don’t happen often, and I was determined to enjoy it. The elevator attendant pressed the “Restaurant/Top Floor” button with his gloved hands, and we were on our way up! My teammate and I were so caught off guard by all of this fancy-shmancy that we burst with laughter and bulgy eyes as soon as the doors closed.

Elevators on the left!

 

Then, all of a sudden! … JOLT-CRASH-BUMP… and darkness. The elevator stopped moving. All of the light was gone. The electricity went out. Yes, we definitely panicked! We used the light from our handy-dandy cell phones to find the emergency button, and we did find it. But, when we pushed the button, nothing happened.. because.. you know.. the electricity was out. After a good long while of waiting and wondering what we should do if the elevator started falling… the lights decided to return and the doors opened – Thank God.

We took the stairs the rest of the way up. I couldn’t help but notice the irony: Here is a building that mimics the “finest” Western culture has to offer, but the truth of our location, its infrastructure crippled as a result of wars waged by that same Western culture, couldn’t be hidden. It’s safer to take the stairs.

The restaurant was beautiful. Candle lighting, wall-length windows that looked out over the city, cushioned chairs, and to-die-for delicious (Western!) food… I looked around the room and found our friends. Almost all of us were foreigners, almost all of us from Western countries. In fact, almost all of the patrons in the whole restaurant were foreigners from Western countries. Of course, all of the servers were either Kurdish or East Asian (working here as contract labor to support their families at home). My stomach turned again, and this time it did not recover.

What were we doing there?!?? I felt completely separated from all of our local friends, all of our partners, all of our work! I mean really.. How much more obviously could those of us western foreigners have flaunted our very unearned racial (all of the westerners at the table were also white) and national privilege? My Kurdish friends don’t dine in places like this.

The man I sat next to, however, was Kurdish. He lived many years in London, married a British woman, and then returned home with her to make films. Our server walked to us from the open bar and delivered him a shot of something topped with a blue flame – named a B52 after the Cold War era bomber. Noticing that I was totally shocked (by the fire or the open bar or the fact that he didn’t burn his face), he introduced himself, and we talked for the rest of the evening.

He told me that I was right in assuming that all of this hotel extravagance was designed to attract the western crowd. He told me that since western contractors have been poring into the city since the U.S. invasion there are lots of Kurds who now have more money than they know what to do with. For generations of war, sanctions and oppression, this region has been poor. It is a new thing for some now to have wealth, and he said that knowing what to do with extra money is not a part of the culture here. Therefore, the people who now have money look to the examples set by the wealthy of the world. He said,

“You in the West spend your money on what you don’t need. You don’t save it. You don’t give your extra to the poor, and you are very powerful. Now, some of my people have money for the first time, and they want to be powerful like you instead of oppressed like they have always been. So, they copy your ways. This means that now we too are spending money on what we don’t need, and we are not helping those of us who are still very poor. So, we may no longer be at war with you, but your culture is still destroying my people. Don’t get me wrong. I know there is much good in your culture. I lived in London for many years. But, the good does not make it here to us. All that is exported is bad.”

I know that there is good in my culture. I love what is good in my culture. But, that good sure doesn’t show up here. What does show up is greed and excess, action movies, pop music, and flaming shots of alcohol. Why the bad and not the good? How do we share the good instead? Or, better yet, can those of us from the West fast from exporting western culture all together and just spend some time appreciating the ways of others? At the very least, let us be mindful of the ways we each personally contribute to the problem.

On our way out, my teammate and I took the stairs all the way down.

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In 1928, after the Allies won WWI, the Middle East was carved into nation-states, and the British sent their best to mold the new Iraq into a manageable colony.

This meant military control, yes, but it meant much more than that.

Any good empire knows that military force alone will not control the masses. So, an engineer named A.M.Hamilton was sent to the land to build a road through the Kurdish North. Why a road, you ask?

“There are two reasons, trade and administration. You know that all great nations, past and present, have found roads essential for maintaining law and order. Once highways have penetrated a region the wildest people are pretty sure to become peaceful simply by copying civilized modes of life.” – Pg. 54 in Hamilton’s Road Through Kurdistan: Travels in Northern Iraq

This explanation is filled with loaded terms:

Trade: Western access to Middle Eastern riches.

Administration: Western military ability to monitor and control Middle Eastern communities.

Great Nations: Western empires

Law & Order: Colonial control

Wildest People: People with dark skin – People who live off the land – People who don’t wear suits and ties – People who don’t recognize paintings of the western “white Jesus.”

Civilized: White, Western, Christian, upper-middle class

Peaceful: Controllable

Accordingly, the above explanation for why the British Empire spent so much time and money to build a road through the impossible (and beautiful) terrain of the Kurdish mountains in northern Iraq could be restated as such:

“There are two reasons, so that the western world may have access to Middle Eastern riches and so that western militaries have the ability to monitor and control Middle Eastern communities. You know that all western empires, past and present, have found roads essential for maintaining colonial control. Once highways have penetrated a region the people with dark skin, people who live off the land, people who don’t wear suits and ties, people who don’t recognize paintings of the western “white Jesus,” are pretty sure to become controllable simply by copying white, western, Christian, upper-middle class modes of life.”

The roads in this land have served their purpose. In fact, they remain weapons in disguise, even after the colonial powers have “officially” withdrawn. This is, perhaps, a more sinister way to wage war than dropping a bomb.

I was taught as a kid that it is wrong to tell rumors. Someone might get hurt. This lesson came for me with a mental image of an elementary-age child running away from a mob of laughing bullies, tears falling and arms flailing. Where I come from a damaging rumor might send someone to counseling later on down the road. Here in Kurdistan, as is the case in many nations, a rumor can do much worse.

Rumors here start the same way they do at home. Someone is jealous or angry or bored and makes up a story in order to feel better. If a woman is too good in school, too pretty, too popular, or too chatty, if she speaks out on her own behalf or makes unpopular demands for justice, someone might just start a rumor. They might say that she gets ahead because she is “inappropriate” with the men. They might say that she has a mission against God. Once the snowball effect gets rolling, the rumor takes a life of its own, and whether or not it is true doesn’t matter. This woman has been shamed, and her family’s honor has been stripped. A brother or father, cousin or uncle may take her life to restore the honor of the family name. A religious fanatic may murder her to restore honor to God. Rumors here not only hurt. They can kill.

The well-known Mullah Farman Kharabaiy in the Kurdish city Howler (also called Erbil) recently published and distributed 15,000 pamphlets condemning 13 of the most prominent  women’s rights activists in Iraqi Kurdistan. He says that women’s rights is an issue that these 13 women are using to “get rich.” He says that these women encourage “prostitution, homosexual marriage, and antagonism to Islam.”

Now, whatever you or I might think about such an agenda, spreading a rumor like that in this culture is grounds for an honor killing. One would expect these women to flee, hide, or at least lay low for a while.

Taken from an Asuda publication: http://www.asuda.org

But they didn’t. In article on Kurd Net the accused women speak back, asking for legal protection and refusing to be silenced and condemned. Today, just three days after the pamphlet’s release, the accused, joined by many other women and human rights NGOs, led a demonstration at the Kurdish Parlaiment, requesting investigation into the threats made against the women’s rights movement and against their lives.

This is active nonviolence, friends! It means refusing to allow violence to have the power of force and coercion intended. It means protecting oneself and standing up for justice without resorting to the violent and coercive tactics of the oppressor.

Today, these women are my teachers.

When at home, the question I get most often is “What is an average day like for your team?” What a simple little question, you’d think, but I just stutter and stare and try to hurry on to another topic. I don’t think I’ve even once given a satisfying answer, because daily life here is pretty impossible to describe in a sentence or two or three or five. To solve this problem, I’ve decided to jot down the actual events of an actual day. And, since today was pretty average, here we go…

  • First alarm: It is early in the morning. Quickly grab clothes for the day, stuff them under the covers to warm them up, and jump back into bed, where it’s still warm.
  • Second alarm: get dressed in the dark, under the covers (4 thick thick thick blankets) and emerge into the chill morning. Attempt to check email – internet is down.
  • Breakfast: Kurdish bread and cheese. mmm.
  • Check travel bag for the cpt essentials: water, camera, passport, notebook, and 2 phones. Say hello to our Kurdish friend and partner (I’ll call her Lena) who picks us up, and we all hop into the car.
  • We drive to the bus station and find a taxi to take us two and a half hours away to a town we work with regularly.

  • We take a “shortcut” that has us winding through the mountains. It’s raining today (which is anything but average), and as I peer out the car window down the side of the mountain I remember that riding in cars is probably the most dangerous thing I do here. There are no lines on the roads, no seat belts in the cars, no speed limits, no traffic police, and the roads built on the edges of cliffs turn on a dime.
  • On this trip, the checkpoints are easy. The Asaish (something between military and police) ask to see our passports, smile, and wave us on.

~

  • While driving we talk with Lena about a project her organization is working on. She found funding to buy goats for two IDP families. IDPs are people who have lost everything, displaced by bombing. Her plan is that for three years, when the goats reproduce half of the babies will stay with the owners and half will be given to another IDP family. The second family will follow the same pattern with their goats. Lena’s vision is that this sort of process will bring sustainable hope, food and income to the entire village. Lena explains that she wants to be able to start this process with more than two families but does not know where to find additional funding. She says that the Kurdish people want to do good but will not donate money because corruption has caused them to lose trust that their donations will actually be used for good. We spend the bus ride brainstorming together about how her project can get more support. We invite her to come over tomorrow so that we can connect her with Heifer International and continue planning.

~

  • We reach our first destination. Lena has a meeting with the mayor, who we all know well, about another project her organization is working on. Today, for once, we don’t need to speak with him. So, we wait for her at a local restaurant. We have something like highly salted shish kababs with Kurdish bread and tea.
  • Lena comes and we all find another bus to our next destination. After driving in circles around the town a few times, we are on our way.

~

  • The bus drops us off on the side of the road, near a mosque, and Kaka Ahmad (name changed) is there waiting for us. A teammate runs down the street to buy him a hospitality gift of fruit. We spend a while catching up. The father of a young girl, Ashti, whom I know well, recognizes me as he is walking down the street, and he joins us for a moment to bring news of his daughter. We exchange some documents with Kaka Ahmad related to work we are doing together (the purpose of meeting), and we say goodbye. Kaka Ahmad asks us to come to his house for a big meal, but we have another stop to make, so we have to decline. He doesn’t take no for an answer easily but finally lets us go. He asks a friend of his to give us a ride to our next stop. Generously, he does.

 

House foundation

  • We arrive at the Zharawa IDP camp, the place where I worked most the last time I was here. It looks much different now. All but two families have left due to the harsh conditions, and the place seems like a ghost town. But sure enough, the two families still living there jumped out of their tents and greeted us enthusiastically. Last month, the mayor finally agreed to build a small house for each of the two remaining families. We are here to check on the progress. Thankfully, we see that the foundations have indeed been laid. The houses will each have two very small rooms and a bathroom. They’re tiny, but as we drink tea with the two families around a kerosene heater in one of their tents, both families assure us that these

    The family that will move into this house

    houses will be as extravagant as the United States White House to them.They are happy. We are happy. We take pictures to document the progress on the houses and say our goodbyes. As soon as it stops raining, the houses can be finished in just a couple of days.

~

 

 

Bus station... quite empty

  • Our driver takes us to another bus station where, this time, we do find a bus going back to our town. We are told that the bus will leave as soon as it has 11 passengers. So, we get on and wait. And wait…
  • Finally, we are on our way, but this time the Asaish are a bit more discriminating at the checkpoints. When they see us foreigners, they motion for our bus to pull over and stop. They come onto the bus and ask our team to get off and follow them. We trudge up to the office and answer a bunch of questions until the Asaish are satisfied that we are who we say we are. One man is skeptical of me and finally admits that this is because my skin right now is much more “white” than in my passport photograph. I tell him that for me, this is what happens when the sun goes away. He laughs. We’re on our way again.

~

  • On the bus ride, Lena starts telling us about some of the problems for women in the area. She says that when a group (government, militant group, clan, you name it) wants to execute a woman who is a virgin they first forcefully marry her to one of the men in the group and order him to rape her so that she is no longer a virgin. Apparently, it would be too shameful for them to kill a female virgin, since her virginity is equated with purity and innocence.  How could they kill the innocent?
  • We learn also of an NGO that carries a mission of marrying widows to men looking for wives. In this program, the men choose the woman they want, pay for her and it’s a done deal. Lena says that often the women are used for sex and then divorced a few days later. The NGO calls itself a human rights organization because it is giving widows the opportunity to be married.
  • We talk together about what might be helpful for women facing this kind of violence and we decide to add this to our agenda for tomorrow morning. I make a note to myself to check with MCC about the possibility of developing a Kurdish artisan group for Ten Thousand Villages.

~

  • Home! No electricity…
  • We rush to light the kerosene heaters and huddle around.
  • When the electricity comes on, I flip on BBC news, grab a computer to document our day in the log, sit on the floor next to the kerosene heater and sip hot tea while I work.
  • One of my teammates starts dinner, and a dear friend unexpectedly drops in to join us. We eat something delicious, made with cabbage, mushrooms, noodles and beef, and we all talk about religion, the Bible, and the situation in Iran, where our friend is from. He is looking to join CPT.

~

  • It is evening now. Teapots are boiling on top of the kerosene heater. I’ve put a smaller heater in my room in hopes that it will be at least slightly warm by the time I go to bed. I turned on a hot water heater four hours ago, so there should hopefully be warm water for a shower soon. I will dry my hair next to the – you guessed it – kerosene heater, and likely write email to friends and family or watch an episode of Planet Earth before bed. Tomorrow, something equally average and probably very different will happen.

This video and its description are courtesy of my dear, CPT Iraq teammate Michele Naar-Obed (http://duluthcpt.net/):


This is the bombing of the Asterokan Village in the Qandil mountainside inside Iraqi Kurdistan. The bombing was carried out by the Turkish military which was given military intelligence and clearance to fly inside Iraq’s airspace by the US military. As the occupying nation, the US controls the airspace and is ultimately responsible for the safety of Iraq’s civilian population.

The justification for the bombing was to attack the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) living in caves deep within the Qandil Mountains. The PKK is considered a terrorist group by both Turkey and the US. Survivors of this village claim that the PKK were nowhere near their village.

The first 2 minutes of the video are graphic, showing the dead body of Aisha Ali Ibrahim who was hit by one of the 3 rockets that Turkey fired on her village. Her family is in mourning. There is also graphic footage of injured and dead sheep. The remainder of the video is subtitled.

The bombing occurred on December 16, 2007 in the early morning hours, starting at 2AM. Three Kurdish families were in the village taking care of their sheep. After the first rocket hit, villagers scrambled to find safety.

The large crater filled with water was previously the spot on which one family’s tent stood. The tent was obliterated and the crater is filled with water from an underground spring. Pieces of the rocket can be seen in the video.

Three more rockets targeted the village that morning and the tents of the other 2 families were destroyed. Their clothes and house wares were scattered as far away as 400 meters from where the rockets hit. Some of their food was still in the cooking pots. Shoes of the shepherds who escaped are seen buried under pieces of their tents and broken tree limbs.

The video follows the path that the families took in an attempt to seek safety in a ravine approximately 150 meters deep and about 500 meters from the site where the 1st rocket hit.

Villagers were hiding in the reeds when the 3rd rocket hit just above the valley. A piece of the rocket broke off and hit Aisha Ali Ibrahim in the head. She died instantly. Aisha’s blood can be seen on the reeds in the valley where they were hiding.

The tops of trees were burned off by the pressure of the rockets. A dead bird lying on a broken tree limb is seen approximately 100 meters from the valley where Aisha was killed.

A child’s soccer ball, more of the family’s house wares and more pieces of the rockets are seen along the path.

Together, these three families owned approximately 600 sheep. More than 400 sheep were killed and over 100 were badly mutilated. The sheep are seen piled on top of each other. A piece of the rocket is seen amongst the dead sheep.

From mid December 2007, Turkey has attacked over 60 Kurdish villages inside Iraq’s borders killing and injuring civilians, displacing thousands of villagers, killing hundreds of livestock and causing extensive property damage. Many of the families live as internally displaced persons (IDP’s). Some of them have returned home. Others go back to their villages periodically to check on their property and livestock. At night, they sleep in caves where they feel a small sense of protection. Many of the villagers are farmers and they fear they will not be able to go back to plant their spring crops.

Aisha’s family says they will never return to their village because they are afraid of more attacks. Turkish surveillance planes fly over these villages on a regular basis. On February 21, 2008, the Turks launched a massive ground attack 6 miles inside Iraqi Kurdistan. They did this with the “tacit support of the US.”

Earlier in the week, our dearest friend came over, sat down in our living room, and put her head in her hands. “Hilary.. I am afraid.. ” She paused, looked up and locked her eyes with mine: “I am afraid that this is the beginning of another civil war in Iraq.”

She proceeded to explain that the United States had officially asked the Kurdish Regional Government to stop pushing for the vote that would determine whether Kirkuk will fall under control of the KRG or of the Iraqi Central Government. Days later, the U.N. echoed the request of the United States and condemned any further Kurdish attempt to make this vote happen. The purported reason is that such a vote would incite violence and be a threat to the stability of Iraq. This Reuters article presents the standard (and terribly misguided) Western interpretation of this issue.

Let’s fill in a bit of the missing information…

Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution declares that the historically Kurdish lands (rich in oil) from which Saddam deported Kurds in droves (so that he could move Arabs into their homes and therefore put control of the oil supply Arab hands) shall be given back to the Kurds. Kirkuk is one of these cities. Click here for a more in depth explanation.

Take a look at the maps:

Iraq Demography

The area in blue shows the area of Iraq that is ethnically Kurdish even after Saddam’s attempt to make the oil-rich sections of the Kurdish region Arab. Note the placement of Kirkuk well within the blue area. That bit of green (the Arab population coming into Kirkuk from the south) is almost entirely due to Saddam’s project to take over the city.

Oil in Iraq

Take a look at the location of the oil fields in the North, remember the blue ethnically Kurdish area shown in the first map, and compare with the following map of the actual boundaries of the Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq (the KRG):

KRG mapThe green area is the area of Iraq that is currently controlled by the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government. It’s boundaries are pretty obviously drawn to intentionally not include the most oil-rich areas of the Kurdish population in Iraq. The red dotted line marks the actual boundary of the Kurdish population in Iraq. The area between the green region and the red dotted line is the are which Article 140 of the constitution promises to give back to the Kurds.

However.  After the Kurds ratified the constitution the Iraqi Central Government (Maliki) decided that Article 140 should not be upheld. (Let me say it again.. Article 140 is IN the constitution.) Of course, the Kurds are upset. They want to go home. They want their rights to be respected. They want to be seen as worth enough that the world will not turn a blind eye when their constitution is blatantly broken in an act of oppression against them.

And now, let me get back to the point…

What if your people (however you define what that means) had no voice? What if you were killed just for being born? What the government in power over you dropped poisonous gas over your cities and slaughtered your people thousands at a time? You lost your children. You lost your parents. You were forced to leave your home. You were kicked out of your house. The government paid another people to move into your house, take your things, eat from your gardens.. in order that your people would lose power. It was done systematically. It was done on purpose. Your grandparents were dragged into torture prisons, treated heinously and then killed. Babies were born in the torture prisons – a product of rape. They were killed too. All over your land there are mass graves where hundreds and maybe thousands of your brothers and sisters were thrown and forgotten. When you were a child you had to flee genocide against your people to Iran on foot. You were not allowed to even speak your own language without risking your death. Bombs fell from the sky. Five thousand villages were destroyed at once.. many were destroyed before that.. many were destroyed after. In fact, even today they are being destroyed. If you lived in a village, you fled more times than you can count. You rebuilt your village more times than you want to remember. No matter where you lived, you were made to be homeless. Everything your family had worked for was taken – time and again. When your people protested nonviolently, they were rounded up and killed.. by the government that was supposed to protect you. None of this was new to your family. Your parents grew up with exactly the same story, and their parents did as well. Your people have lived under the iron bars of oppression and tyranny for generations.

And then. There is hope. A government,  a people, a world recognizes what has been done to you. They point right at the evil you have been made to endure and call it what it is. They even write into their constitution that amends must be made. Since they do this, it is your constitution too. For the first time in a long time, the thought dares to cross your mind that maybe this country will now let you live in peace. Maybe you can all live in peace together. The property that was stolen from you has been ordered back into your hands. You are told that you will be allowed to go home.. and you have not had a home in such a long time! What a beautiful moment that will be.. Your people will be allowed to govern themselves – at least in part. It is a step forward. You will finally be able to relax. You will not need to fear those in power over you, because they will share your story. They will be your people. Their homes were taken from them too. There is hope for peace..

How silly, how stupid you feel for letting yourself believe that there could be peace! It was all just a show. The parties in power over you never actually cared what you have endured. They had no intention of making amends. It was all just politics and another tricky maneuver to beat your people into submission. Your land will not be returned. The constitutional mandate will not be upheld. Of course, it would be a crime to challenge any other piece of the constitution… Again, your people are told that they do not matter. They world supports the statement with silence.

And then the world supports the statement in writing. “Stop pushing for Article 140 to be upheld!” they say. But, they do not use the term “Article 140.” No, if they did they would have to explain what sort of article it was. They would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Kurdish demand for respect to the Iraqi Constitution. Instead, the world spins the news the other way, saying that the Kurds want “disputed territories (to) be annexed by the Kurdistan Regional Government,” and that the leader of the KRG is the dangerous and hostile party since his platform is “that there will be “no compromise” with Baghdad,” over the issue of the disputed territories. The West, the United States, the United Nations.. they mention nothing of the long-term suffering of the Kurds.

They say that the reason Article 140 must be put aside is that its initiation would produce sectarian violence. This is probably true. The disputed areas are already the most violent regions of Iraq. But, what will happen when it has been decided once and for all that the disputed areas legally, ethnically, historically Kurdish will be made permanently Arab? The Kurds are a peaceful people. They have endured more suffering than you or I can comprehend. They want respect. They want equality. They just want to go home.

The look on my friend’s face as she sits with her head in her hands pierces me with dread. “Hilary.. I am afraid.. I am afraid that this is the beginning of another civil war in Iraq. What can we do?”

HPIM0276

Today is Friday. Today is the day before the election. Today is the Muslim weekly day of rest. Today is our team’s weekly day off. Today is my last day off before I return home…

I must confess. I have been almost purposely avoiding any opportunity to sit down and put these thoughts into words for at least a few days now. It is easy to stay busy, bouncy and occupied when reality is zooming by at 100 mph and any single day, hour or moment could change the fate of.. everything. It is easy to hide from pain when it is all around you. It is easy to deny permission for even one tear to fall. Will it fall alone? Will one thousand more demand to be released? There is no telling.

This past Sunday, our team visited the camp. Immediately upon getting out of the car several women greeted me with the usual kiss on the cheek and told me that Sana and her brother had gone back to the village. The conditions at the camp were too unbearable. They thought the kids had a better chance in the village. I panicked for a moment, but just a moment. After all, everyone believed that Turkey and Iran wouldn’t start bombing again until after the election. I convinced myself that she was safe and put the thought out of my mind.

HPIM0493

We interviewed two beautiful, strong women – both friends of the team. They told us about the joy of life in their villages, the terror of feeling bombs hit the ground as they hid in makeshift underground shelters, the loss of fleeing their homes and way of life, the pain of having their dignity stolen from them, the sting of feeling betrayed by the world… The first woman (we will call her Jinymanga) spoke through her tears as she told us that she cannot remember the last time that her entire family has been able to be together even long enough to have a meal. One of her younger granddaughters played on her lap as she spoke.

IMG_9844 DSC08936

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I love these women.

It hurts to hear their stories.

To be trusted with their pain is a precious gift.

I became disoriented when the women began talking as if their families were hiding from bombs as we spoke. How could they be hiding? There were no current attacks… Right?

Wrong.

Sana…

Careful not to let on that my insides were twisting into frantics I listened as they explained the Iran fired shells into the villages during the previous two nights. I couldn’t concentrate on the details. “Was anyone hurt?” No, so far – ahamdulelah (praise be to God) – no one has been hurt. “Is everyone safe?” … Safe? What a ridiculous question. How could anyone be safe?

Without knowing of what or whom I was thinking, Jinymanga explained how terrifying it is for children to sit under bomb fire. They go down into little, dark holes in the ground and cannot see a thing. But, they can hear the metal raining from the sky. They can feel the ground shake all around them when the weapons hit the ground.. or their homes. They can perhaps see the “lightening” made upon impact. The know that their worlds could all be shanken apart in an instant.

kurtak (1)

I thought of Sana sleeping next to me under the stars. Her smile and spunk. I was filled simultaneously with the weight of my love for this perfect child of god, with the overwhelming nature of her humanness and beauty,  and also with torturous images of her screams. How could They do this to her?

It does not matter if not one person is killed. It does not matter if not one home is destroyed. This child should not have to hide from bombs. The world must learn to care about more than statistics and death tolls. What about broken spirits? Traumatized hearts? Stolen dreams? Derailed lives?

You have to see! THIS is the thing that allows the oppression of the Kurds to continue! There are no flashy numbers. There is not a great enough amount of destruction at one time and in one place to attract the attention of the international media. Amidst all of the (popular) world tragedies that demand our emotional energy, the situation of the Kurds simply does not compete. Let’s admit it. We are not convinced that the cause is worthy of our genuine and sustained attention.

The oppressing parties are smart, indeed. They are careful not to draw international eyes to the scene. Instead, oppression, destruction, injury, and death are inflicted in ways sure to be uninteresting to the West. The result? The Kurds do not stand in the middle of  any one particular war or acute time of conflict. They have been forced to endure oppression, genocide and attack for years, decades, and generations without ceasing.

…Generations without ceasing.

How can this be unworthy of our attention?

Sana is beautiful. Every Kurd is beautiful. Sana might be killed. Probably not. But, will she ever get the chance to live?

HPIM0501

Every single Kurd – without exaggeration – has a similar story.

These are images of what was left of the home of one and a half year old Muhammad Ali after Iranian shells were fired through its roof. Little Muhammed was killed in the attack (see post below).

The video quality is poor, because it was taken on a cell phone. You will see the hole in the roof made by the rocket, the rubble of the destroyed house, blood from multiple injuries and the death of baby Muhammad, and the general disarray of the village after the bombing.

This happened during a period of time in which Iran had made an agreement with the Kurdish Regional Government to stop all attacks on the villages of this area. However, on March 10, 2009 Iran broke that agreement without prior notice and fired shells into the village of Muhammad’s family, Razga.

Muhammed’s family fled from their village to a tent camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). But, due to the unacceptable conditions of the camp they have been left no choice but to return to their village despite the danger, for the time being. There is no reason to believe that Iran will not attack again. The civilian villages in this area are frequent targets.


It was 9pm and the family was sleeping together, with their one and a half year old son Muhammad in the middle. Without warning, an Iranian rocket blasted through the roof, and baby Muhammad was killed. The parents, Ali and Khoshia, were both injured. This is a video of Ali telling the story.

Kak Ali is a Kurd from the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. His home is in a village called Razga, near the Iraqi-Iranian border. Like countless other Kurds, his family was displaced from their village by Turkish and Iranian bombing. In February of 2008 good news came when Iran agreed to stop bombing the area. The local Kurdish government announced that it was safe for people to return home, so Ali’s family went back to their village. However, Iran broke the agreement on March 10, 2008 and resumed bombing in several villages, including Razga. This was the night baby Muhammad was killed.

Ali and Khoshia fled with the others in their village to the tent camp that we have been working with. However, the conditions at the camp are so terrible that Khoshia and Ali have left the camp to risk living back in Razga village where their son was killed. We remember them, worry for them, and pray that they will not be caught in another attack. June 25th is the KRG election day. Bombing is expected to resume as soon as the elections are over.

To see footage of the damage from this bombing see the above post or go here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZVnfI…

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