multicolored van wove its way along the rocky dirt road, and gently up a
hill. Looking ahead I could see them -- twenty five or so young children
dressed in their school uniforms, standing in front of the building, swarming
about their two teachers. As they spied our vehicle (not terribly hard to do),
they began to jump up and down, jog in place, and wave to us.
clear sky and a little mild weather made it seem like spring in the winter. The
situation in the streets was normal; traffic was light, making for an ordinary day!!
This was the situation on 26 Dec. 2011 when the CPT team arrived in Kirkuk to
accompany the Christian community for the day.
is late afternoon. The sun has disappeared. It is fairly cold. We are seated on
benches in front of a home in the Makhmoud refugee camp in northern Iraq,
speaking with Josef and Armeena. About two years ago, they were part of a
delegation of about forty-six persons who formed a Peace Brigade. They had
intended to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and deliver a letter to
him simply explaining that this group, and the Kurdish people, were not
terrorists. They wanted peace. They wanted what all of us want (and many of us
expect) -- our basic human rights. Mr. Erdogan refused to meet with them.
Instead, the group was arrested, tried and sentenced to ten to fifteen years in
prison. Josef and Armeena fled. Ten of the group remain in prison today.
last weeks of 2011, the United States officially withdrew the last of its
troops from Iraq. Within a couple of days, news reports from Baghdad were
filled with more violence, death and destruction. On December 22, a series
of bomb attacks killed 63 people in the capital city. These events seemed
to confirm speculation that conditions in Iraq will worsen with the departure
of U.S. troops.
Already we have waited for an hour, inside the prison courtyard. We have come to gather with family and friends of Ibrahim, a man who before resided in Halabjah. Police officials apprehended him more than two months ago and brought him to this closed facility. Outside the entrance to the prison, guests purchased an assortment of fruits and pastries to share with the inmates. This once-a-week encounter is all the opportunity provided for family and friends to stay in touch with their husband, father, brother, uncle and friend. Now as we wait, the others throughout the 30-meter square yard spread rugs and mats with provisions brought for sharing a picnic experience with their imprisoned host. We are among more than 40 people most of which have made the journey from Halabjah to the provincial capital city of Sulaimaniya to see Ibrahim once again.
On December 5, 2011 CPT Iraq released the results of a survey that expressed the views of almost 500 Kurdish civilians. The Iraq team along with several partners conducted the survey entitled, â€śThe Opinions and attitudes of the Kurdish Regional Governmentâ€™s (KRGâ€™s) civilian population concerning the Turkish and Iranian cross-border military operationsâ€ť throughout the autumn. The goal of the survey had several facets: 1) to raise awareness in the Suleymania governate civilian population of the bombing and shelling in the mountain regions, 2) to discover the opinions of the mostly urban population regarding the situation in the rural areas of their semi-autonomous regions and 3) to assist in bringing the opinions of the civilian population about the bombings to the Kurdish Regional Government, the Iraqi Central government and other international organisations. Read the complete report here.
Report of Gojar IDP Camp: The team completed a report of village life in the Internally Displaced Persons camp of Gojar. The report describes conditions affecting the families who have relocated here to avoid the consequences of continuing border attacks. The report portrays how villagers were directed to return to their homes along the border even without any indication that the attacks will end soon. In order to encourage their evacuation from the camp, provisions that had been provided for their support were removed by officials as the residents watched.
At Merkagia, the team was welcomed warmly by the old friends, Mr. N. and Mr. G. They told the team that this summer, as
in past years, Turkish fighter jets have bombed or engaged in low-level
flights, which frighten the farmers in the area. On 21 August, a day of religious
celebration, Turkish jets bombed fields in the vicinity, with a substance
similar to napalm. Mr. G. shared
his thoughts about Marxism, Communism, and Christianity. He also told the story of his seven
yearsâ€™ imprisonment in the 1970s during Saddam Husseinâ€™s regime. He joined a hunger strike in solidarity
with his comrades and other detainees while in jail for political activism.
The CPTers suggested that they return to the village to help harvest
apples when the season comes. The CPTers
left with gifts of two boxes of peaches and apples from the village orchards.
Culture Festival in Ranya: Meeting ethnic groups of Northern Iraq
The team was invited by the Ranya center to attend the 2011 cultural festival
in Ranya. Participants were performers
from several ethnic groups in the northern Iraq, including Turkmen, Yazidi,
Assyrian Christian, Kurdish, Lur, and Hawraman. The Arab group was not able to attend the festival because
of safety concerns. Thousands of
people attended two nights of performances on an outdoor stage. Performers also participated in a dialog
forum. The team had a short conversation
with members of the Yazidi minority and learned about the social class,
religious beliefs, poverty, and violence in the Yazidi area.
f an apple a day keeps the doctor away why canâ€™t thousands of apples hanging
from acres of trees keep bombs and shells away? Why are the rosy apple-cheeked children not running through
the orchards, plucking ripe fruit from the abundant trees?
These were the questions that we, the CPT Iraq team, and the autumn Iraq
delegation asked ourselves as we visited the mountain village of Merkajia.
Merkajia is the only majority
Christian hamlet in Northern. One Assyrian
Christian family fled to the valley from a
of Christians in the years preceding the fall of the Ottoman Empire (1915-19. )
This family grew to over 100
Our host, N., told us of his familyâ€™s history on the land. They had planted hundreds of fruit
trees, especially apple, grape, and quince. These crops have been destroyed several times through various
Iraqi and Kurdish conflicts over the years, but the villagers have persevered,
replanted orchards, and rebuilt houses.