March 8, 2010

Letter from Kurdistan

by Michele Naar-Obed

March 5, 2010

Dear friends,

It's been a long and tiring month and a lot has happened here in the Kurdish north of Iraq.

Our long awaited human rights report is now public. "Where there is a promise, there is a tragedy": Cross-border bombings and shellings of the northern village peoples of the Kurdish region of Iraq by the nations of Turkey and Iran, is a 57 page report which documents the impact of an intermittent war waged on an isolated civilian population, the historical context in which the current warfare is occurring, and the international legal implications of decisions taken by various militaries engaged in acts of violence against a vulnerable civilian population in an already-vulnerable and -war-torn country. These are the links for the report in both English and Kurdish. I'll also post the links on my website; And if you haven't already checked out the videos, take a look at "hospitality Zharawa IDP camp style". Their stories are included in the report.

My last email painted a rather bleak picture with regards to the 137 families with whom we work closely. They were in pretty deep despair having now been displaced for over 2 years. Some have been living in the tent camp for over one year through pretty harsh weather and in very sparse conditions.

They have seemed to get their resolve back and they feel hopeful again. They contribute much of that hope to us and we contribute much of our feelings of hope to them. It's as if there's an energy that moves between and amongst us and keeps the flame alive.

Two weeks ago, we delivered our human rights report to the Prime Minister's office. The Prime Minister's aide accepted the report and we had quite a long talk about it. At first his reception was a bit cool, but within a short time, he had moved his chair closer and had tea brought in and I knew I had a captive audience. He took lots of notes and asked lots of good questions and then said he wanted this office to make the case of our 137 families their top priority. Now, it's campaign season for the national elections so we know we can be dealing with empty campaign promises and a lot of hot air but nonetheless, we're trying to capitalize on the moment.

The aide asked when we would be going to the camp next. It happened that we were going in 2 days. He asked if he could come. I said sure, not fully counting on it but sure enough he came through at the last minute and I believe he was really shocked at what he saw.

The purpose of our meeting at the camp was to synthesize the plans and visions of 11 different villages into one vision and plan. We anticipated that this task would take days if not longer. But with the help of another good friend from Rania, a beautiful plan was laid out and a letter was drafted and all the village leaders signed their names and presented this letter to the Prime Minister's office manager. He promised to deliver it to the Prime Minister, Mr. Barham Salih. I've heard good things about this guy but I've also heard that his hands are tied by other party members.

Essentially, the plan is to build a large collective village close to their old villages but in a safer location. The villagers also believe that by collecting themselves together in one village instead of being scattered into multiple smaller villages will make them safer. This new village will have land for their animals, bees for honey, agriculture and orchards. This is the work that they love and that they are so good at. Believe me, I've tasted their honey and their fruits and they're pretty incredible. And they want to do this collectively which is a pretty incredible step for them. They have been separated by tribal rivalry and jealousy and the political parties try to further divide them and make them smaller and weaker and more vulnerable. They recognize that and they are ready to work together for the good of all. They've asked us to help them and challenge them with better ways to work together.

The villagers would also like this new collective village to have a CPT presence. They believe that our presence will make them safer.

It will take a lot of work to build this new collective village. Right now the foundation is built on a hope and a prayer. Our job now is to see to it that the KRG government, with the help of the international community, add mortar, brick and stone one house at a time. More importantly, our job is to keep hope alive.
After my last email, many people asked what could they do for the 137 families. I don't have any answers for that question YET. We will be working closely with their government to find out the next steps for building this collective village. Likely, it will require the help of international NGOs and there may be ways for those of you that are interested to help. I will make specific requests as the needs develop.

In the meantime, if you are so inclined, you can keep these families in your prayers and thoughts. Building this village will be a long process and they could use some encouragement along the way. Send them a short email through me if you'd like. I can get them translated and present them to the villagers.



Michele Naar-Obed of Duluth's Loaves & Fishes Community has recently returned to Kurdish region of Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. The CPT has maintained a presence in Iraq since October of 2002, and is currently focused on accompanying displaced persons in the Kurdish border region and documenting human rights violations against civilian populations. You can read more of her reports at

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