I left Kurdistan last year in time for an Australian Christmas. It was sad to leave my team and my friends but I was glad to get away from the cold and wet.
It has been particularly hard being away while things between Iran and the US heat up. On the one hand at least I miss out on all the team meetings about what we should do if war begins or the likelihood of team members being kidnapped, but it is hard not to be there with them through all that too.
As I have previously written about, we have been working on a campaign with families of those who have been killed in cross-border bombing by Turkey and Iran, called “Hear Us Now: Stop the Bombing!”
In Kurdistan these families want those killed to be recognised as martyrs. I have had a few discussions with our team about the translation of this word. Most people use the term Martyr, which in Kurdistan is used to show the significance of the death, and used for assassination of journalists, activists, and for the deaths of peshmerga. But for me, and I would say many native English speakers it has a very different connotation, one of religious fervour, and willingly dying for a cause/belief. So for now we have agreed that each of us can use it if we want and I have decided to not use it, as I feel it makes it seem like those killed knew their actions would cause their death, where as the reality is that they were just doing their everyday activities, like Zaitun and her brothers.
At the end of last month some of my team met with the family of a girl who was killed in an Iranian shelling. Zaitoun was gardening with her brothers and they had just stopped for lunch, next to the cucumber patch, when Iran began shelling the village. She was killed and her brothers were both injured. The family has moved to a larger town now, and are struggling to make ends meet, while paying for all the surgeries one of the boys has had to have. He lost an eye and a foot and the family asked us to help them take him out of the country, they said he has no future here.
Iran has been shelling that area for over 4 years due to the presence of the KDPI. Like the PKK in other areas, there is not much that people can do when these groups move into the area, and yet Turkey and Iran do not distinguish between civilians and the armed groups. A village leader I spoke with a few days ago asked us to tell the PKK to not come onto their land. A month ago Turkey bombed the area less than a kilometre from his home. You can see the cracks all through his house. He said they were so worried for their children, and told us, “if the PKK don’t leave, I will have to”. But then we meet other villages who are just as affected by the bombing but also sympathise with the PKK and KDPI struggle. In the aftermath of the invasion of Rojava (Northern Syria) by Turkey and ongoing human rights abuses there, I have had many conversations with friends and partners about whether non-violence is really an option. They point to Turkey’s use of illegal weapons, to the thousands displaced, the hundreds killed, and ask me how non-violence will protect them. A friend once told me that even though Turkey seems to always be killing PKK members, they will never defeat them with violence, because the violence will always encourage more people to join. Violence begets violence. Non-violence may seem ineffectual sometimes but I don’t think it adds to that cycle of violence.
In some good news though, the Kurdish government has decided to set aside money to compensate the victims of the cross-border bombings. This was one of the things the families were asking for in the “Hear Us Now” campaign.
We also recently met with some people from Makhmour camp. A refugee camp near Erbil. Its inhabitants are Kurdish people from the Turkish region who fled Turkish aggressions there in the 90s. A month or so ago some other Kurdish people from the Turkish region (Bakur), visited the camp briefly and then went back to Erbil and shot a number of Turkish diplomats in a café. Although none of those involved were from Makhmour, the government, declared the camp was a breeding ground for terrorism and has blocked people from entering Erbil. Hundreds of people who had been working in Erbil lost their jobs. Four women miscarried, while trying to get to Erbil hospitals. Students were prevented from attending schools. The people who spoke to us were forced to come to Sulaimani through Mosul and Kirkuk, in order to avoid the KDP checkpoints. These roads are extremely dangerous, as they pass through areas with heavy ISIS presence and controlled by Hashtishabi (Shi’a militia groups). They told us that a week ago some young guys were trying to get to Mosul from the camp and have completely disappeared, no-one knows what has happened to them. Human Rights Watch ran a report on the situation but other NGO’s have been stopped from working there. They said that the camps inhabitants have begun organising themselves somewhat, with those who are medically trained providing assistance, but they don’t have the supplies they need, and it is too difficult to get them.
At this time the protests in Baghdad are still going, although the US/Iran tensions have severely impacted and changed them. Some people I know travelled to Baghdad in December to show Kurdish solidarity with the struggle there. They spoke about how amazing the experience was, as the crowd shouted freedom in Kurdish and in Arabic. This protest is drawing together people from all demographics and backgrounds. There is roughly one woman for every three men, an impressive amount for these times. And they are just as involved in painting the murals, organising. The other heroes of the protests have been the Tuk Tuk drivers, who have helped take people to hospitals and bring supplies. Together they are persisting despite the extreme violence being used against the protestors, which has increased recently with the withdrawal of support from the Shi’a cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, after he and his followers were accused of collaborating with Iran.
Well I didn’t really know how to tie those stories together, but that is my latest update on what has been happening.