I share here a letter from one of our local Catholic Workers who is on a peacekeeping mission in Kurdistan. This first-hand experience is very valuable for us as we pray for the peace of the world to come to every corner of the world this Christmas and as we enter a new year which will include an election of such impact to the world.
First, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas-Happy Holiday from Kurdistan.
Last week was the Muslim holiday Eid. Pretty much everything came to a standstill. Shops were closed (except for food). Internet cafes were either closed or overloaded so getting emails out was really difficult.
The day before Eid started, Peggy and I went to the market to look for a manger scene. We managed to find a dusty dirty baby Jesus in a thrift store. He was shoved in between used candles, dirty plates, and broken figurines. We also found 2 pink sheep (they are really little candles) and a figurine that with a great deal of imagination can pass as a shepherd. Oh, I forgot about the 3 Wise Guys. They were made out of pine cones.
A while ago, our team coordinator sent us a box of books through FedEx. The box made the perfect manger and the symbolism became more and more ironic; Jesus found in a used-a-bit store, born into the world in a cardboard box. The other day we picked up some dried grass where we went hiking in the mountains along the Iranian border. We thatched the roof of the manger and used the rest for bedding on the floor.
We searched high and low for the lost parents of baby Jesus and couldn't find them anywhere. Asking for Mary and Joseph in English in a primarily Muslim culture can be a bit frustrating for both parties. So I held up the baby Jesus we found and in my best Kurdish asked - dieekay oow bowtikay laquaya ( that would be where is his mother and father)? This caused a great amount of attention and a crowd of people gathered to explain that this was Eid and Christmas would come in 4 YEARS. We quickly got it straightened out that Christmas was actually coming in 4 days. In any case, there was lots of laughter and handshakes and welcoming gestures from the Kurds to us and someone managed to say Merry Christmas in as broken and strained English as my saying Jeshnit Pirroze (Happy Eid) was in broken and strained Kurdish. Later that evening, Mary, Joseph and a camel were made out of cardboard cut-outs, proportionatly correct in size to baby Jesus, of course. We are missing the donkey and maybe a cow.
Next came the Christmas tree. We were able to get a potted spruce tree about 2 feet tall which we decorated with peace cranes that we made and decorations that a friend gave us. After Epiphany, we plan to plant it in the mountains where Saddam had taken out all the trees. The Kurds are in the midst of a major reforestation project so our tree planting will be a small gift to their project.
Tomorrow Peggy and I plan to go to the Chaldean Church for Christmas Mass while Anita and Cliff visit a military base to find out about Iraqi prisoners.
The bombing by the Turks against the PKK is really taking its toll on the villages and people along the border inside Kurdistan. The people of Kurdistan are damn mad at the US. The US admittedly gave "military intellegence information" to the Turks and then turned their heads when the Turks attacked inside the Kurdish region. The US is also responsible for the protection of Kurdish air space yet Turkish jets fly inside the Kurdish region regularly.
We recently learned that 359 Kurdish families along the border have been displaced. There are about 6 members per family so you can do the math to get the total number of people. 2 people were killed and 5 wounded. 2 schools, 1 hospital and 1 Mosque were destroyed. 300 sheep were killed or dispersed. The Turks continue to send in surveillance planes and another air attack occurred yesterday. We also learned that several months ago, there was an attack inside the Kurdish region but in an area that was known to be void of PKK. 60 families were displaced in that attack.
Everyone we speak to about this situation tells us that it has absolutely nothing to do with the PKK. It's a dirty game that Turkey is playing in order to get Kirkuk and the US doesn't know who to side with and still maintain control over "US interests." Meanwhile, the people suffer and this very tenuous state of stability in Northern Iraq is gravely threatened.
Recently, we spoke with a Kurdish human rights worker who met with a US Congressman last summer about the Kurdish-Turkish situation. He said he was shocked at the both the arrogance and ignorance of this US representative. He would not give us the name of the Congressman.
Yesterday, we spent the day with 2 families who survived the gassing of the town of Halubja during Saddams Anfal campaign against the Kurds. Their stories were tragic beyond words. One person was most willing to relive his nightmare only if he could believe that in telling his story, the world might learn so that it never happen again. His toddler-aged grandson was in the room with us and it was clear that what little hope in life this man had resided in this little boy and his future.
He started his story with an expression of strong disappointment and dismay at the US actions regarding Turkey. He felt betrayed and angry that the US would once again, turn its back on the Kurds. He pleaded with us for the US to intervene; not with war but with strong diplomacy. It seems that in order for diplomacy to be effective, the US might have to take its eyes off the oil long enough to become educated about the complex relationships and history the people in this part of the world share. Clearly the Congressperson our human rights friend spoke with would not be a good diplomatic representative.
Our Halubja friend was very quick to not let the US PEOPLE off the responsibility hook. He was very well informed about the influence US people had over the government during the Vietnam War and he was also well versed in the US civil rights struggle.
We are getting closer to launching a reconciliation program in conjunction with a number of local NGO's. We've been advised that the most effective way to do this would be through the people of Kirkuk. Kirkuk has been described as a microcosm of Iraq. If reconciliation and nonviolence can flourish in Kirkuk, the country of Iraq in general has a chance.
We continue to follow, advocate for and accompany the independent journalists in Kurdistan. We learned that another journalist will go to trial for something he wrote about the Peshmerga. He was actually supposed to go to court months ago but he was kidnapped, beaten and his life was threatened because of what he wrote and had to be hospitalized. He was recently informed that the charges against him will proceed and he expects a court hearing in early January. Meanwhile, there are plans afoot to gather a number of people together to attend his trial as court support. CPT plans to be there.
Well, that's it for now.
Peace, Michele Naar-Obed