IRAQI KURDISTAN: Iraqi Kurdistan trainees undertake public witness on behalf of Plowshares activists

From 9-11 March, participants in Christian Peacemaker Team’s Iraqi Kurdistan training planned and participated in a demonstration on behalf of Megan Rice, Michael R. Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, three American peacemakers  imprisoned because of their nonviolent action at the Y-12 Oakridge Tennessee Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility.

On 28 July 2012 Rice, Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, unimpeded by security, crossed four fences and walked for two hours in the area before the guards found them.  They splashed human blood on the walls and spray painted peace messages.  While waiting for the facility security, they picnicked, and when the guards arrived, they offered to share bread with them.  For this action, which exposed to the world the threat of the nuclear weapons, the peacemakers received sentences of five (Walli and Boertje-Obed) and three (Rice) years in prison.

To mirror the Plowshares’ action, the trainees agreed, “Let’s make a picnic.  If it is possible to make a picnic at a nuclear facility, it should be also possible to do one on the sidewalk outside the US consulate in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan."  After preparations going far into the night, and four-hour early morning drive, the group of eight (trainees, trainers and a support person) arrived with a picnic carpet, apples, leaflets, photos of the prisoners, cookies tagged with internet links, and banners stating: “Being a peacemaker is NOT a crime” and “Thank them, don’t punish them.”



[Note: Parwen Aziz is a Kurdish woman living in Iraqi Kurdistan.  She is currently participating in the first CPT training in Iraqi Kurdistan.  She knows firsthand the effects of governments exploiting villagers in the quest  for oil revenue.  She wrote this reflection after a role-play depicting the consequences for Colombian farmers when large corporations take their traditional farmland to plant oil palms, which can produce alternative fuel sources for automobiles. ]

Damn Tree
The cycle of life has been reversed.  Trees defeat the earth.  I do not like to say your name, Oil Palm.  Scents of gunpowder and pictures of distressed mothers because of a damn tree.  When I first heard your name and learned how your fruit could be squeezed and the juice used as a replacement for petroleum oil, I rushed to interrupt my teacher.  “How can we bring this tree to Kurdistan?”  I wondered.  I wanted the response to be that we could import this miraculous tree to our country.  I wanted this to be a substitute for oil so that all warfare, extermination, and destruction over the black substance will not happen to humankind ever again.  But, alas, all my dreams and imaginations were destroyed when I perceived that this tree caused just as much destruction.  This damn tree causes thousands of Colombian families to become fugitives from their homes.  Thousands of families have become low-paid workers in their own fields.

I became depressed when I heard a story of a widow with her son.  They were working in the heat for three months, planting, tending, and harvesting their corn.  All their efforts were fruitless and wasted.  Someone set the pile of corn on fire and the products were burned.  They were left with nothing to feed the children.  I heard her say, “Take as many pictures as you can, take photos of everything here so that the whole world will know of what happened to us.”  War and oppression pivots around corrupt governments and capitalism.  The core point is that the capitalists get a lot of money and they become rich and richer, while the workers and needy people remain poor and disappointed.

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: Voices of small people—the story of Dana Jamal

On 12 October 2012, in the Sharazur District of Iraqi Kurdistan, twelfth grade student Dana Jamal decided to skip his sports class to study for his upcoming exam. In earlier years, the school planners decided that schoolyard trees were not necessary, leaving students to seek the shade of an eight-foot high stone wall. The government authorities decided not to listen to voices calling for repairs to dilapidated school buildings. Dana paid the price when the boundary wall fell on him as he intently read his book.

One of Dana Jamal's fellow students tells
about the day he died

In 1988, Saddam Hussein ordered many new construction projects in the Kurdish region, including Halabjai Taza, or “New Halabja” to prove to the international community that the reports of chemical bombing were greatly exaggerated. Now, the school buildings that he had ordered to be built in a hurry are cracking and falling apart.

For the past year, Dana’s family has pleaded for someone to take some responsibility for the tragic accident. However, everyone refuses to do so and blames others.  The Ministry of Education is currently appealing the court’s decision that holds it responsible.

Prayers for Peacemakers February 27, 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers February 27, 2014

Give thanks for the participants currently involved with the Iraqi Kurdistan training, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill both the trainers and trainees undergoing the training.


Epixel* for 2 March 2014

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this
as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

2 Peter 1:19

*epixel: a snapshot-epistle to the churches related to and appearing with a text from the upcoming Sunday's RevisedCommon Lectionary readings.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Great joy in a small community—the ordination of an archbishop in Kirkuk, Iraqi Kurdistan

On 24 January in Kirkuk, CPT Iraqi Kurdistan participated in the new Archbishop’s ordination ceremony.  Yousif Thomas Mirkis OP began to shepherd a community of about 10, 000 Chaldean Christians from the Kirkuk and Suleimaniyah region.  Kirkuk is a point on the Iraqi map to which Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens all claim a right.  It is also a target of militant groups.  The small community of Christians in Iraq is especially vulnerable to this political and social instability.

Despite all these difficulties, Christians in Iraq find many opportunities to celebrate and show their joy.  One of these moments was the ordination ceremony of the new archbishop.  Inside the crowded cathedral, nobody thought about the hundreds of soldiers surrounding the building in order to provide safety.  It was a time for joy, singing, and helhele (Middle Eastern women’s celebratory trilling.)

In his speech, Archbishop Yousif Thomas emphasized the love that should be the sign of Christians.  In Kirkuk, an eternal fire has burned for 5000 years, giving light and heat that is like Christian love.  When Jesus went to the cross, he started the fire of love.  â€œHe is our fuel, our fire, hand to hand, back to back we can burst out into flames and make everyone around us, Muslims, Jewish and everyone feel our loving fire,” said the new archbishop.  He also mentioned the role that he would like to play in the church.  He wanted to lead the Christians into keeping that fire of love.  “This fire has become like a candle with a shaky fire, almost going out, but with team work we can do it and be like the Eternal flame.”

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Hajji Hussein is free! Thank you for your e-mails


Hussein sits with boy on lap

After seventy-nine days in prison and four court hearings, Hajji Hussein has finally re-united with his family.  On 9 December 2013, the Criminal Court of Appeal acquitted Hajji Hussein of all charges brought up against him by the former Director-General of the Asaish, Hakim Nadir.  The court acknowledged that a report, which the members of the Human Rights Committee of the Kurdistan Parliament compiled following a visit with Hajji Hussein in prison after he was tortured, was sufficient to prove his innocence.  This release marks the second time the court has acquitted Hussein of the same charges and the second time it has liberated him from incarceration.  Together with the first stint he served in prison, he lost over ten months of his life, and much more, for refusing to give false testimony even though his inquisitors beat and threatened him.

Members of CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan team are deeply moved by the efforts of Kak Umer, Hussein’s brother and lawyer, whose tireless work has truly moved mountains, and rejoice with the family.  The team would like to thank everyone who sent out emails, prayed, shared this story, or performed other actions in support of Hajji Hussein's release.

IRAQI KURDISTAN URGENT ACTION: Please send e-mails before 9 December to Judicial Council of Kurdistan Region of Iraq for political prisoner Hajjii Husseini


Husseini with CPT visitors at
the prison.

In October, CPT Iraqi Kurdistan put out a release about the case of Hussein Hama Ali Tawfiq (known as Hajji Hussein).  He will be having a hearing a week from today and is very much afraid the authorities will find an excuse (e.g., an investigation into his ill-treatment) to keep him in prison longer.  The Iraqi Kurdistan team is thus asking that the CPT constituency to send e-mails this week to the Presidency of the Judicial Council of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Attention: Mr. Hozan,

Below is a sample e-mail

Dear Mr. Hozan

I have learned from several international human rights organizations about the case of the businessman, Mr. Hussein Hama Ali Tawfiq (known as Hajji Hussein), who since September 2013 has been held in Kani Goma prison in Suleimani.

Mr. Hussein claims that after he was imprisoned on 27 March 2012 in an Asaish prison, he had been ill-treated, beaten and under physical violence and threats aimed at his family, was pressured to sign a false accusation against then-Mayor of Sulaimani Mr. Zana Hama Salih and other politicians, which he refused to do.  On 4 April 2012, representatives of the Human Rights Committee of the KRG Parliament visited Mr. Hussein in prison and wrote a report proving that he had been ill-treated

#GIVINGTUESDAY Sometimes Iraqi Kurdistan team partners are taking on ExxonMobil, sometimes they are advocating for one man in prison who refused to tell a lie.  Your donation helps shine a light on their efforts.


Prayers for Peacemakers, November 27, 2013

Prayers for Peacemakers, November 27, 2013

Epixel* for 1 December

the night is far gone,the day is near.
Let us then lay aside
the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light
Rom. 13:12

Give thanks that Christian Peacemaker Teams partners in Iraqi Kurdistan are asking for more trainings in nonviolence and have helped produce a video shining a light on the complicity of their government in selling the lands of Kurdish villagers without their consent to ExxonMobil.

Related stories:

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Participants in nonviolence workshops say, "We want to learn more."

IRAQI KURDISTAN: CPT releases video about Exxon Mobil’s confiscation of Kurdish villagers’ land

IRAQI KURDISTAN: CPT releases video about Exxon Mobil’s confiscation of Kurdish villagers’ land

Since August 2013, Christian Peacemaker Teams-Iraqi Kurdistan (CPT IK) has accompanied several Kurdish villages gravely impacted by the oil explorations and operations of the U.S.-based corporation Exxon Mobil and its sub-contractors.  For the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Exxon Mobil's presence represents a prize—won in the face of the Iraqi Central Government's anger—which offers hope for Kurdish political and economic independence.

Since May 2013, Exxon Mobil, cordially supported by the KRG and its special armed forces, has been building its first soon to-be-operational oil rig in Iraqi Kurdistan on the land that two village communities, Hajji Ahmed and Sartka, owned and worked on for generations. The oilrig construction wiped out seventy dunums (nearly forty-four acres/eighteen hectares) of five-decades'-old vineyards and wheat fields.  Checkpoints and watch towers operated by armed guards cut the villagers off from their remaining land—around 230 dunums of vineyards, grain fields and fruit orchards. After the villagers lost one year's harvest, the company began to allow them access their fields. However to do so, the villagers must pass through humiliating security checks and searches and remain under constant surveillance while on their property. One of the village leaders overlooking the gardens and orchards surrounding the oilrig that took much of his own land proclaimed sadly: "This is an occupation. For me to go to my own fields, is like going to Baghdad or Turkey."

Despite its status as one of the richest corporations in the world, which pays an estimated U.S.$100,000 per day to construct and run a single oil rig, Exxon Mobil offered via the KRG to pay the villagers for the confiscated and occupied land no more than a $100 per dunum as a yearly rent. To this standard rate (for land used by the oil companies), the KRG is supposed to add the value of the agricultural produce the villagers could have sold. Setting aside the emotional value a farmer places on producing food from his/her own land, the villagers evaluate the economic price of a cultivated dunum to be over US$15,000. They have received nothing yet.

 CPT IK, as a way to support the villagers in the two regions, and to amplify their voices made a twelve minute film. 


What can you do to support the villagers' struggle?

Please, watch the film and share it along the news of the struggle with your local communities and friends. Please contact the KRG and Exxon Mobil's representatives and demand compensations for the village lands of Hajji Ahmed and Sartka, open access to the fields, and an end to the oil explorations in the Shawre valley.

More than 1100 people have now viewed this video that CPT Iraq and their Kurdish partners have put together.  When CPT Colombia began accompanying the community of Las Pavas, one of the strategies they undertook was notifying The Body Shop that it was purchasing palm oil from a corporation that had driven Las Pavas families from their land.  When the Body Shop took the word of the palm oil company over that of Las Pavas, CPT began holding witnesses outside Body Shop retail outlets in Europe and North America.  Eventually, The Body Shop stopped purchasing palm oil from Daabon Organics.  CPT Iraqi Kurdistan is just at the beginning of a strategizing process with partners on the ground regarding how they want to confront ExxonMobil and their government about the confiscation of their lands.  ExxonMobil has an awful lot of money, but it also has a huge righteousness deficit. Your gift is an acknowledgment that a little money toward a righteous cause can go a long way.


IRAQI KURDISTAN: Participants in nonviolence workshops say, "We want to learn more."

In the spring and summer months of 2013, CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) team conducted twelve workshops about the fundamental ideas and practices of nonviolence for students and people in other sectors of Iraqi Kurdish society.  In cooperation with the Suleimani Directorate of Education, the team was able to present this interactive workshop in five high schools to over 180 female and male students and teachers.

Later on, the team ran the workshop in places that included the Culture CafĂ© and CafĂ© 11 in Suleimani, Amez Center for Women in Halabja, the town of Qaladze and village of Daraban.  At the end of each workshop, the team asked the participants to share their thoughts and suggestions on evaluation forms. 

CPT IK felt deeply encouraged by the participants' feedback and responses.  The team compiled the results into a report in order to share the diverse and earnest thoughts of the participants with the Kurdish Regional Government’s education sector, as well as civil society organizations.  The team hopes the government will also find the report encouraging and will respond to the requests of the participants by developing and providing for further workshops and trainings focused on non-violence

The ten page report, which includes graphs and candid photos of workshop participants is available here.

#GIVINGTUESDAY What if CPT had the resources to provide trainings for all the civil society groups in Kurdistan who wanted them: students, teachers, women's groups, etc ?  What if participants in these sessions began training others and multiplying the effects of nonviolence across Kurdistan?  Your donation could help our partners in Iraqi Kurdistan do more effective nonviolent organizing against the repression they face.  It would be a vote of confidence in their struggles, a way of saying, "What you are doing to publicize cross border bombings from Turkey and Iran, violence against women, the confiscation of land by multinational corporations—it matters to us."