May 25, 2010

Letter from Kurdistan

by Michele Naar-Obed

(photo: Village destroyed by bombing in Pshdar district, courtesy CPT)

May 21, 2010

Dear friends,

It seems like it's been frantic around here for weeks now. So frantic that I completely mixed up my days and missed my plane. So a few updates:

We've had a spate of kidnappings and killings in the two main cities of Suleimaniya and Erbil in the KRG. One of them, the kidnapping and murder of Sardasht Osman the young Kurdish journalist, made international news. Right around the time of Sardasht's kidnapping, the young son of a Sheik was kidnapped, injured and died on route to the hospital in Suleimaniya. 3 days ago, TNT was found under 4 bridges in a subdistrict of Halubja. The explosives were defused without problem. And finally, the local security officers discovered a terrorist ring inside Suleimaniya who may be responsible for some of these incidents. More investigations are underway and some of the members of the alleged terrorist ring are still at large. As for Sardasht's murder, accusations are still being hurled at certain political party members, but investigations are still pending.

With the current power vacuum throughout Iraq, and with no central government formation, there are stories of various groups intent on taking advantage of the situation to create confusion and chaos. Some of those elements have made very public and hateful statements against the Kurds. Others have gone as far to say that it's too bad that Saddam didn't finish the job of wiping the Kurds out.

Up on the northeastern border in the foothills of the Qandil Mountains, Iran has been heavily shelling the villages inside Iraq's border. The pretext is that Iran is after PJAK, the armed Iranian Kurdish liberation group which is related to the PKK. The Iranian regime recently executed 5 political prisoners, 4 of which were Kurdish and there have been nonviolent demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes by the Iranian Kurds close to the border with Iraq.

The villages inside Iraq that sustained the most damage and destruction during this recent round of shelling are the 9 villages that CPT has been working with to develop a new collective village in a safer area. We had hoped to get the village started before there were any further injuries or deaths, but we failed on that count. One woman was injured by a rocket in the village of Maradu. Family members wrapped her in a blanket and carried her over very rough terrain in the midst of the shelling until they got her close enough to an area where she could be evacuated by ambulance to a hospital in Suleimaniya. She is still awaiting surgery.

During the worst of the shelling which went on continuously for about 4 days, the villagers stayed underground in dugouts. Some of the children from the villages took their final exams under these deadly conditions. Meanwhile, many animals were killed and injured, and much of the new spring planting was destroyed. During lulls in the attacks, the families began to flee with their remaining animals to an old tent camp along the river still in the restricted area but in a safer zone for now. Rumor has it that the shelling will continue over these next days and they are afraid that even this tent camp will be hit.

Yesterday, CPT went to visit them at the camp. All they had to offer was a glass of water from the river. One emergency aid organization came to visit them 2 days ago, wrote down their names and their emergency needs and they haven't heard any more from them yet. We saw about 75 people in all, many of them children and babies. More families are expected to arrive in these next days while others will go back to town to stay with relatives for the time being. Some of the children appeared traumatized but still they greeted us with smiles and handshakes and one of them grabbed my hand to lead me down to the rivers edge for a quick dunk in the river. Another family nabbed a couple of chickens, tied their legs together and offered them to our group as a gift. We graciously thanked them, unbound their legs and returned them to the family. Another time, when things are better, we will all sit down together and share a meal. This I know will happen.

The momentum for building this village hasn't slowed even with this crisis. The Mayors along with a member of their provincial council have formed a team to get the families on the list. In some ways, this process is reminiscent of “Shindler's List”. There are now 2 and possibly 3 choices of land for them on which to build this new village. Habitat for Humanity seems seriously hooked, but the main office in Amman still has to approach the donors for the money to build the houses.

We estimate 150 to 200 houses are needed. The local Habitat staff member says each house will cost about $12.000. They expect that the KRG will contribute 30% of the total construction costs and the Habitat donors will take care of the rest. The calculated cost of 200 houses is $2, 400,000 total. The KRG's contribution would be just over $800,000. This is pocket change when you think that this amount of money could provide safe housing and the basis for a sustainable life for over 1,000 people.

So for now, this is where I leave them. It's up to the villagers, the rest of the CPT team, the local NGOs, local government and most importantly, the guidance of the Spirit to keep this thing moving.

Meanwhile, 3 new villages have been destroyed and now there are another 650 or so people displaced and homeless. Up until this point, their villages have remain untouched by the ongoing attacks by Iran and Turkey. This year, they lost. Maybe next year we will be facilitating the development of yet another village.

Any of you that are so inclined, please pray, meditate, think loving thoughts, visualize or do whatever you feel led to do to keep this little movement alive. We will all be very grateful.

I expect to be home on May 26. I think I finally have my days straight now.

Peace, Michele

Michele Naar-Obed is a member of the Loaves & Fishes Community in Duluth and a volunteer with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. She has served multiple deployments with CPT to Iraq, most recently to the northern Kurdish region to work with communities displaced by Turkish bombing raids.

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