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.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Survivor of ISIS massacre tells story to Christian Peacemaker Teams


 Ezidi families fleeing massacres have taken refuge in unfinished buildings

ISIS invaded Aswad’s village Kocho on 10 August 2014.  They militants insisted that all the Ezidis (Yazidis) in the village convert to Islam or die.  When they refused, ISIS gathered around a thousand people in the school.  They took villagers’ phones, money, and jewelry.  Then, ISIS took the men and drove them in three trucks several hundred meters from the main road.  There, they knocked them to the ground and shot them with machine guns, and then shot them each in the head to make sure he was dead.  When it was Aswad’s turn, the executioner heard planes approaching and ran away, leaving Aswad in agony, with four bullets in his pelvis and legs.  The rest of the men died on the spot, except three men who ran away wounded, and who, as Aswad learned, ISIS later found and killed. 

Aswad, a man in his forties, believes that his inability to walk or run saved his life.  Crawling in pain, hunger, and thirst, after about five hours, he reached the nearest village (around 2km away).  Fearing ISIS’s revenge, the villagers threw Aswad out of the village on a blanket and abandoned him.  However, in the darkness of the night, a teenager from the village came to him, brought him water, and let Aswad borrow his phone.  Aswad called his friend who, with a much fear and hesitation, came to help him.  His friend kept hiding him, as he lay delirious with a high fever, in poultry farms and in an abandoned house. 

IRAQI KURDISTAN: What Does CPT Stand for?

27 October 2014
IRAQI KURDISTAN: What Does CPT Stand for?

By Latif Hars

[Note: Hars is a partner of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team from the Kurdish village of Gullan and was a member of the most recent Iraqi Kurdistan delegation.]

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 October 2014 delegation on visit to Kurdish
 villages facing exploitation of land by
multinational oil conglomerates.

CPT is an international organization that works for peace and human rights.  CPT is valuable, especially in our world today, which is so full of conflict.  Some people believe that violence is the only solution to conflict, and beautiful cultures and ecosystems are the victims of these violent solutions.  People, animals, and plants are destroyed for the benefit of a small group of powerful people.  CPT should do more to search for the sources of violence, educate people about these sources, and publish this information for everyone to read.  If people do not develop violent solutions, then we can stop violence.

CPT should also plant in all people’s souls the willingness to apologize, and this will over time become part of our culture.  Planting this willingness is not easy work, but doing so will help us respect ourselves as human beings and have true freedom, where we are not divided by religion, culture, ideology, or racism.  We are all equal in our time on earth and our trip to the sky, and we have freedom in what we do.  


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CPT Iraqi Kurdistan Delegation visits Ezidi
shrine at Lalish

Although it is very difficult to pin down the exact numbers of the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, an estimated three million people there have been internally displaced by the Syrian conflict, ISIS (called DAESH/DAASH by the locals) and earlier by the US invasion of Iraq.  We began to get a grasp of its scale as we visited the UNHCR camps and encountered the refugees and IDPs spread around the edges of many cities, listening to their often horrific personal stories.  I remember a girl, Aasema, physically demonstrating what had happened to her family.  I will never forget how she held up her two tiny fingers, her "Aunts," her fearful whisper, "Daesh...” and her re-enacting how they got captured and carried away.  I also won't forget the hospitality offered by Edris, who survived the massacre of his village, and his expressing the most profound gratitude for everyone who had helped him.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: CPTers demand action to protect Kurdish civilians

10620398_754049544678286_4490044669532635348_oOn Wednesday 8 October, representatives from eight countries gathered outside the Monument of Halabja Martyrs for a silent vigil demandingaction from the international community to protect innocent civilians threatened by ISIS.  Many of the representatives were members of a delegation with the international human rights organization Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), who are spending two weeks learning about the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Holding signs reading, “We Saw Halabja and Shangal, Now It's Time for Peace,” and “Kobani,” the demonstrators called attention to history’s repeated international failures to protect the Kurdish people from genocide and displacement. 

IRAQI KURDISTAN: An oil company’s callous disregard for villagers’ lives

On Wednesday, 24 September, members of our team traveled for the first time to Kormor village, where Dana Gas began drilling for oil and naturalDSCN4554 gas in 2008.  Our first stop was at the local school, where we met the principal, Abdul Munem Mohamed Mahmud.  Twenty-one girls and boys attend there.  Dana Gas built it three years ago, but Abdul showed us where vibrations from drilling tore a crack down the side of the building large enough to show daylight.  The company promised to build a clinic and provide other services, but now claims that the Kurdish government is responsible for providing compensation.  The area government representative denies the company’s claim.

IRAQI KURDISTAN: ExxonMobil puts operations on hiatus because of ISIS, but Kurdish villagers cannot access land

On 8 and 12 September, the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team visited its partners in villages affected by the ExxonMobil operations.  The huge Exxon base10562648_738933592856548_673082790745076661_o camp near Hajji Awa, from which the company conducted the oil explorations in Gullan village and Shawre valley sits almost completely empty.  The government sent many of the guards to fight the ISIS on the front line.  ExxonMobil has stalled its operations in Iraqi Kurdistan because of the advance of ISIS forces and the war.  The multinational corporation seems not to feel protected enough by the U.S. air strikes, even though the U.S. claims they are occurring for the “protection of U.S. interests and personnel.” 

IRAQI KURDISTAN: Bridging interfaith animosity and the pain of war--International Day of Peace in Kurdistan, Iraq

Three of our team walked into the gathering of about a hundred Kurdish peace and justice activists at the Cultural CafĂ©, in Suleimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, to celebrate the International Day of Peace.  Immediately, Nyan Mohammad, a teacher at the Arbat School, waved for us to come to sit at her table.  There, four displaced Ezidis (often called Yazidis) we had met before stood up and warmly greeted us.  Nyan, who is Muslim, made a special trip to the tent camp for displaced persons this afternoon to pick up this group and bring them to this event, which focused on building peace among religious groups

Hosting this event was a Kurdish women’s organization, called the Ashti Group.  The speakers included persons from four religious groups among Iraqi Kurds— An Ezidi, a member of the Kaka’i, (a Kurdish minority religion), a Muslim, and a Christian.  They each urged us not to judge people from other religions, but to live together in tolerance and harmony.  Their message was not theoretical but spoke to a real need of a society racked with ethnic violence.

Far right: Kurdish team colleague Parween Aziz; next to her, Peggy Gish.  Second from left,
 Nyan Mohammad, plus four Ezidi friends