Update from David Adem Hovde
Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraq Kurdistan
I have much to share with you since arriving here in Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq June 19. First, on a personal note, I traveled outside of Sulaimani on my own for the first time and had a successful trip. My mission was to go to Hawler (a.k.a. Erbil), the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to pick up Christian Peacemaker Team's annual Non Governmental Organization (NGO) certificate. Our team's coordinator wrote down for me how to pronounce all the places I was going to, so that I could tell the taxi drivers. I took a taxi to a bus garage in Sulaimani, then got on a bus for Hawler. On the bus, some girls shared pumpkin seeds with me, and asked me in English if I liked music, while they played a song (on some electronic device) that was popular when I was in high school. We passed the city of Kirkuk on the way. In Hawler, I took a taxi to the Ministry of Planning office, got the certificate, got another taxi to a bus garage, then got on a bus headed back to Sulaimani. We went through several checkpoints on the trip where I had to show my two month residency card. I'm thankful the trip went smoothly.
The following day, I went with Mohamed (our team's translator and driver) and Lukasz (my teammate from the Czech Republic) see below * on a trip to the mountainous region that borders Iran and Turkey. We traveled through canyons and over mountains to a town where we had an appointment with the mayor to discuss the cross border attacks from Turkey and Iran on civilians. We discussed how he might proceed with his idea of taking Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights for deaths and injuries to people in his region. After talking with him (and with his father, who came into the meeting wearing Kurdish traditional clothes, to share his thoughts), we traveled over dirt roads toward the Iranian border area. We passed through some villages that Iran had shelled in the past, and that CPT had visited. The person we were going to meet, Sabir, was injured by shrapnel from an Iranian rocket in 2009. He had invited us to spend the night with him in the mountains, where CPT had never visited before. As we came to a fork in the road and didn't know which way to go, we stopped some people in a pick up truck to ask for directions. They were men from Hawler who owned sheep in the area and had come to pay the shepherd. As we talked with them, the shepherd came down with the sheep. The shepherd, Osman, was Sabir's cousin, and knew how to get where we were going. So, Osman left the sheep with his son, and got into our pick-up truck to show us the way.
As we traveled high up the mountain on the rocky, dirt road, Osman kept turning toward me and asking, "Khosha?" which means "Beautiful?" As I looked around at the beauty of the mountains, I kept replying, "Khosha". When we finally arrived at our destination, we were amazed at how far and high up we had come. On a plateau were tents, people and animals. After a time of conversation with people there, Sabir, Osman, and several young men and boys got into two pick-ups with us and we went a bit farther up the mountain to see where the Iranian rockets hit in 2009. We stopped at another plateau where Sabir and Osman told us they had lived in 2009.
Around 6pm one evening that year, ten rockets hit the area. Osman showed us where one rocket hit his vehicle and where another hit a house. Sabir showed us the crater where the rocket hit that injured him. Shrapnel hit his neck and shoulder. People thought he was dead. They could not do surgery at the public hospital and the private hospital was too expensive. They drove him to Hawler and did surgery over 24 hours after he had been hit. The government did not give them any compensation for their losses. In 2011 several thousand rockets hit their area and the people in the area lost 12,000 sheep. The government gave them some compensation for these losses.
The Iranian and Turkish governments claim to target Kurdish resistance fighters with these attacks. These resistances groups fight for Kurdish rights in Iran and Turkey. However, the Iranian and Turkish attacks also target civilian areas, where there are no resistance fighters. The shepherds told us that this has been their ancestors' land for several thousand years. They will keep coming here. Many people have stopped coming out of fear, and many who do come live in fear of the rockets, but the attacks will not break them. They told us that we were the first group to visit them, regarding the cross border attacks, since 2009.
It was cold at this elevation and we could see snow on the side of the mountain across from us. It was green in contrast to the dry lowlands. Springs covered the plateau and little frogs jumped around everywhere. It rained as we went back to the tents. We went inside a tent, were served tea, had more conversation, then were served dinner. When it was time for bed, one young man asked me if I had enough blankets and tucked me in. I laid down feeling the blessed warmth of hospitality that we received that evening. I later realized I should have asked for another blanket, though, as I was right next to a hole in the tent. It was very windy and cold that night.
The sun was out the next day and I got to play soccer with some of the boys and young men. One young man thought it would be funny to see me on a donkey, so he told me to get on it, then took pictures of me with my camera. (You can see pictures from the trip on the Facebook page of Christian Peacemaker Teams - Iraqi Kurdistan.)
I saw women milking goats, and some young men shearing sheep. I was invited to shear the sheep, but I did not do a very good job. We also saw places where rocks were piled up where people hid when rockets came. We heard one rocket that morning. They said they also hear drones fly by daily.
They killed a goat for us and served us lunch. It was delicious! It was challenging for me to not be able to speak Kurdish with our generous hosts, but I was blessed by their hospitality and tried to communicate that through Mohamed to them.
Back in Sulaimani, Lukasz spoke about the Turkish and Iranian cross border attacks on civilians at a conference at the American University. Then, the following day, Lukasz and I observed a protest in Sulaimani in front of the Parliament building. We took photos and videos of a group demonstrating against corruption in the government. The annual budget was just approved by a majority in Parliament without accounting for how the money was spent in 2011. This made many upset and motivated them to demonstrate. Thankfully, there was no violence.
There's a lot more I could write about, but I won't. I am blessed and grateful to be here.
Peace of Christ,
* CPTers serving the Iraq team April-June 2012 were Laura Ciaghi (Trento, Italy), Lukasz Firla (Czech Republic), David Hovde (Illinois, USA), Amy Peters (Saskatchewan, Canada), Sandra Milena Roncón (Colombia), Garland Robertson (Texas, USA). Kathy Thiessen (Manitoba, Canada) and Patrick Thompson (Wales). from Signs of the Times Christian Peacemaker Teams. back
6 May 2010 video "Sardasht Osman
We Will Not Forget"
Report by CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team 31 May 2012, "Disrupted Lives: The Effects of Cross-border Attacks by Turkey and Iran on Kurdish Villiagers.