Iraq

Prayers for Peacemakers, April 8, 2015

Prayers for Peacemakers, April 8, 2015
Pray for the displaced Yazidi and Arab residents of Arbat Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan—all of whom have fled great violence and upheavals. 

 (Photo by  UNICEF- Belgium)

IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: Praying for God to forgive ISIS at the Easter Sunrise Service

 

He is Risen! 

Yesterday the team awoke at 4:00 a.m. to travel to the Chaldean Monastery for an Easter Sunrise Service. When we arrived we went through the usual routine of passing through the security detail, having our bags hand searched and being patted down for weapons. (Men only, since there were no women assigned to the detail.) Stepping across the threshold into the courtyard of the monastery we noticed that it was very quiet. A few people were awake but the day had not yet started.  It would be a work day for most, since Easter and Sundays are not holidays or days off in Kurdistan.

When I first came to the monastery several years ago it was a place for quiet reflection and meditation, a retreat center staffed by two priests and one sister. Now it is a refugee center for the IDPs—internally displaced persons—from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other Christian communities from Iraq and Syria. As the time of the service approached, the people living in the monastery, Christian Kurds and internationals, began to file in and the service, led by Father Jens, began. The service was in Arabic and English, one part, like the Apostle's Creed, read in Arabic, the blessing for Host in English, then the wine, in Arabic. One of the more powerful points during the worship came when the Christians in the church prayed for God to forgive Al-Bagdadi, ISIS, Al-Shabaab and finally those who most recently massacred Christians in Kenya.  As I stood there I realized I still have much to learn about forgiveness.  My heart is still hardened by revenge after spending time in the camps hearing the stories of the Yazidis. How could the people in that church who have suffered so much and lost everything they owned ask God to forgive those who have committed such horror against them? Perhaps I should open my ears and heart to the story of Jesus' passion and learn the lesson of Easter?  Standing shoulder to shoulder with the Christians of Iraq has taught me much about the road I still have yet to travel.

 Happy Easter.... He is Risen indeed! 

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Exxon Mobil pollutes Kurdish villages, denies villagers access to land

On 9 March, a Kurdish farmer, Kak Mirro, committed an act of civil disobedience by burning grapevines in his own fields.

The day before, he had phoned the CPT Iraq team,  â€śPlease come to Haji Ahmed. Tomorrow at 10:00 am the oil will begin to flow.” After some discussion, three of our team decided to drive the two hours to the tiny village, picking up our lawyer friend, Latif, along the way.

 The day was bright with a spring chill in the wind. We met Kak Mirro at his house and then drove over the tortuous farmers’ roads up to a spot overlooking the oilrig built throughout the last year.  Kak Mirro told us the oil company, with the backing of the government, has ordered them to stay away from these fields—at a time when they need extra attention—a rule reminiscent of the period two years ago when the exploration had begun and the company destroyed crops and vineyards.

 
Kak Mirro with excess gas fire burning in background. 

IRAQI KURDISTAN: CPT explores peacebuilding initiatives between Yazidis and Arabs in Arbat Camp

(Photo by  UNICEF- Belgium)

On the 4 March 2015, we came to Arbat Refugee Camp to talk about setting up Alternative to Violence Projects (AVP) because of growing tensions between the Yazidi and Arab residents who have fled the areas held by ISIS. Upon entering the camp I was just struck by how many tents there were and how muddy the ground was.   Children were walking barefoot through the mud; people were collecting blankets and mattresses distributed by relief agencies.


During our conversation, one of the Yazidi men we were talking with showed us a picture of a female family member who had slit her own throat to escape capture by ISIS. Everyone has had family members taken, killed or has had family members commit suicide after being raped by ISIS. The fear of the Arab as the perpetrator of these crimes is so high. 

When the camp opened there were around 300 Yazidi families and 400 Arab families. Now there are over 1700 Arab families. A lot of the new waves of Arabs have come from areas held by ISIS. The Yazidis see the Arabs as the people who took their wives and children and murdered the men in their families. During our conversation, one of the Yazidi men we were talking with showed us a picture of a female family member who had slit her own throat to escape capture by ISIS. Everyone has had family members taken, killed or has had family members commit suicide after being raped by ISIS. The fear of the Arab as the perpetrator of these crimes is so high. 

Prayers for Peacemakers, March 11, 2015 Iraqi Kurdistan

Prayers for Peacemakers, March 11, 2015 Iraqi Kurdistan

Give thanks for the nonviolence pioneers in Iraqi Kurdistan—both natives of the region and people driven from their homes by the Syrian War and ISIS violence—who recently completed an Alternatives to Violence Training.  They will use their training to help reduce conflict within and between communities that are sharing the region and its resourcess

*Epixel for Sunday, March 15, 2015

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north
and from the south. Psalm 107:1-3


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

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Training nonviolence pioneers to confront ISIS trauma

Throughout the last eight months the population of displaced persons in Iraqi Kurdistan has multiplied rapidly. In May 2014 approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees were living there. Now, in February 2015 the region is caring for approximately one million persons from a wide range of backgrounds: Syrians, Syrian Kurds, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Sunni and Shia Arabs, Ezidi/Yezidi and other minorities. The host Iraqi Kurdish population has risen to the challenge to the best of their ability: collecting goods and caring for the most vulnerable. However, the early emergency has passed and it appears that the visitors will not be leaving anytime soon. Tensions and conflicts between the various groups are beginning to rise.

One organization working in the situation is REACH (who was CPT-IK’s inviting partner in 2006).  This group, along with RDSYP, funded by Christian Aid UK, had the vision of presenting workshops to train individuals from these ethnic and religious groups to create community and understanding and reduce the potential of further violence. CPT-IK’s friend, Ann Ward, suggested that Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) would be a good experiential way to equip these persons to face the tensions in a nonviolent, compassionate way. Participants would receive training to present one day workshops to young people with the goal of providing opportunities for listening, understanding and cooperation.

Ward invited two members of CPT-IK to co-facilitate this first adventure of AVP in Iraqi Kurdistan. Two other CPTers joined the training along with sixteen persons from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Project “Bringing Hope and Fun” begins in Arbat IDP camp

10407601_786159374800636_6630778394365459304_nCPT Iraqi Kurdistan has begun a project, “Bringing Hope and Fun,” to work with children in the Arbat IDP camp, just outside of Sulaimani.  Led by our intern, Alicja Zasadowska, and aided by the local organization STEP, we were able to create an activity for the children of the camp.

We asked them to draw a picture and write a story explaining the best day of their lives.  The twenty-five children we were working with ranged in age from five to fifteen.  For many of them, grief and horror has become a central part of their lives.  People often ask them to reflect on these difficult things as they tell their stories.  However, Alicja wanted them to share about something happy, so that they could practice cultivating good memories even in the midst of their trauma.

Alicja faced some resistance as she spoke with others about her intentions to have the children draw and write about happy moments.  One father told her, 'My children know nothing of joy; this project will not work.'  Some of the staff at the camp warned her that 'these children do not have happy stories to tell.'  Another NGO questioned why we would want to share happy things, when sad stories influence people much more.  However, her focus was not on others but solely on the children.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Collecting the names of the missing

Last month, Alicja Zasadowska, an intern with the Iraqi Kurdistan Team and I accompanied our partners, the Zhyan group, to Duhok to visit the Khanke IDP Camp, about a seven hour drive through the mountains.  The Khanke camp is currently the home to several thousand families, mostly Ezidi/Yazidi from the Shangal Mountain (“Sinjar” in Arabic.)  According to others who had traveled there earlier in the fall, the families are recoveringimagewell given the circumstances, but you can still see the scars of where they were sunburned from spending days on the mountain with no shelter or water. 

This visit was truly one of the most humbling experiences of my life to date.  We spent a weekend collecting the names of 961 women kidnapped by ISIS (we noted the names of men on a separate sheet).  I am sure we could have collected many more names had time allowed.  We simply went from one UNHCR* tent to the next, sat with families, and heard their stories.  One man with whom we spoke has sixty-six missing family members, another twenty-eight.  At times, it felt like the grief and the list of names would never end.  Even as the sun set on us and the camp closed for the evening, we heard of more buses on their way to the camp from Kobane, Syria. 

CPT INTERNATIONAL REFLECTION: Treasure in Ferguson, Colombia, Palestine, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Turtle Island

Since a St. Louis, Missouri prosecutor and Grand Jury have determined that Police Officer Darren Wilson killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown did not merit a trial, I have been busy tweeting #Ferguson on the Christian Peacemaker Team Twitter account.  Those tweets have been getting a lot of retweets.  We have no people working in Ferguson and I have asked myself why I am inundating the account. 

I think it has to do with the disposability of human life, with the contempt shown to Michael Brown when the authorities left his body in the street for four and a half hours and did not bother interviewing key witnesses to the shooting for weeks (until there was a public outcry.)  That contempt connected directly with our work in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine, with indigenous communities in North America, and with migrants in Europe.  In all these cases, people in power have deemed the people we work with disposable. 

Prayers for Peacemakers, 20 November 2014

Prayers for Peacemakers, 20 November 2014

Pray for the work of CPT’s partner, Zhiyan Group, in Iraqi Kurdistan.  CPT recently accompanied Zhiyan Group to Khanke refugee camp in Duhok province, where it helped the women of Zhiyan Group collect 961 names of people kidnapped by ISIS/DAESH.

Epixel* for Sunday November 23, 2014
Zhiyan Group collecting documentation from families in Khanke Camp
For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out
… I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, I will seek the lost, and I will bring back
the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak Ezekiel 34:11, 16a

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