Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Domiz Camp: Syrian Kurds forced into Iraqi Kurdistan

The media is so overwhelmed with war and conflict that it is easy to look away or to try to pretend it is not happening. For some time, while watching Al-Jazeera, I was so confused about Syria, after all, wasn’t it supposed to be a revolution, an Arab Spring like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt? Every day they were covering a new attack, more people killed, another town taken by the rebels or back by the Syrian Army. I just thought, ok, please finish fighting so I can have my breakfast without another bloodshed story. But when you meet someone, when you are touch first hand, you think differently.

Iraq, my home for the past 2 years, is one of Syria’s next-door neighbor and many Syrians, especially Kurds have come to the Kurdish part of Iraq. News of thousands fleeing into Iraq were everywhere. They were coming into Domiz Camp, in Dohuk, a camp that had Syrian refugees since 2004 from the previous uprising. Now it has been overflowed by 30-40,000 Syrian-Kurds that have come to escape the violence caused by 20-month-violently repressed revolution now mixed with civil war.

I was in Dohuk last week and visited the camp to see how is the situation of the Syrian refugees here. As we entered, I saw hundreds of tents lined up, I had goose bumps and a sudden sadness, I had to take a deep breath not to cry in front of my colleagues. The camp already looks like a city with street vendors, small shops and improvised restaurants. Hundreds of people, mostly men gathered in the entrance of the camp, as if lined up, more like crowded up waiting for something. I didn’t feel intimidated or scared, I kind of expected what I saw, it was like a giant Qalawa (is the camp that I work now in Suleimaniya). It felt kind of familiar, as if I had been there before.

We went to visit one of the programs run by one of the local NGO’s they provide psychosocial counseling for people in the camp, mostly children. The camp is so big, and they visit the families to see if there are families in need for help. Some children have been treated for trauma. The staff say one problem is that there are no spaces for children in the camp. We went around the camp and there were a lot of children running around. A little girl in a dress and white stockings was trying to cross through the muddy street, careful not to get herself too dirty, I carried her up but it was too late, her shoes were all covered in mud. Many of the kids were carrying backpacks; at least they are going to school, I said as to console myself.  But the consolation lasted a few minutes until we spoke to one of the families, who said they were not sending their kids to schools because it was far and they were afraid that something could happen to the children on the way (to school).

This family said that there have been several tents on fire. The people have organized in the different camp sections to protect the common areas. Until now, no one knows what has caused the fires. The reality is that tents are small, with unreliable electricity connections. They criticized the UN for not providing enough services. One of the women said that they get a monthly ration that includes oil, flour, sugar, tea, and lentils, but that it was not enough to feed the family for a month.

The family said they were thankful for the Kurdish people’s hospitality. They were saying how they remembered the atrocities committed against Kurds in Iraq and how every year they commemorated the massacre of Halabja, where more than 5,000 Kurds were chemically bombed by Saddam’s regime in Halabja. It was powerful to see my Iraqi Kurds colleagues showing respect and solidarity with their Syrian Kurdish neighbors. They also told us that children get sick more often there. Its cold and the kids have to sleep with their jackets on, the UN promised to give them heaters, but the kerosene that the heaters use is expensive. It reminded my of my kids in Qalawa, when we got there, they had their jackets on. I’m angry, and I want to do something. Angry at the international community that is not supporting the revolution, saying that they don’t want to do the same as they did in Libya. Instead of helping the opposition to reach their goals, they are playing a “Little Cold War”. Turkey with supporting the Sunnis, Iran, the Shias and the US neither, prolonging a war that everyday increases its toll on civilians killed. The leftist and the peace movement debating if they should keep their support to Assad’s regime because is anti-imperialist, while ignoring Syrian people’s plight for freedom, which came out decided to overthrow a 50 year dictatorial regime. They were inspired by the success in Tunisia and Egypt and the support of the international community in Libya. They find themselves betrayed by indifference.

Why are we and our governments so hypocrites to call ourselves supporters of democracy and human rights while we watch crimes against humanity happening in front of our eyes? Why we are unable to respond? Why don’t we support the Syrian people’s representatives and encourage them to start drafting a constitution for the new, free Syria? Why are we not talking about a federal Syria, like in Iraq with autonomy for the minorities like the Kurds and start to engage them in drafting the new constitution? Is not straight forward, as the opposition is very fragmented, but Im just saying is not impossible.

These are concrete, diplomatic, non-violent actions that our government and diplomats could be approaching. Instead we keep waiting…. and while we wait, the prospects of reconciliation decrease, and murders, crimes against humanity, hate and division grow.

See the next post where I try to map the actors in the Syrian revolution/civil war....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Women, Life and Freedom in Kurdistan, International Day to End Violence Against Women

"Millions of women and girls around the world are assaulted, beaten, raped, mutilated or even murdered in what constitutes appalling violations of their human rights. [...] We must fundamentally challenge the culture of discrimination that allows violence to continue. On this International Day, I call on all governments to make good on their pledges to end all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world, and I urge all people to support this important goal."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

25 November 2012

Women's activists have marked 25 November as a day against violence since 1981. This date came from the brutal assassination in 1960, of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic, on orders of Dominican ruler Rafael Trujillo (1930-1961).

Today, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence, is a day to remember those women who have fallen victims of violence. Here in Iraqi-Kurdistan, women know violence very well; they are killed in honor related violence, as a cleansing for family’s honor. That is acceptable in Kurdish society, dominated by patriarchal and tribal customs.  If a woman is a “bad woman”, she is to be killed; the problem is that being a bad woman means not submitting to local customs of early or force marriage, or even being raped.

Today, in Suleimaniya, in Iraqi-Kurdistan, women, men and children gathered to hold a memorial for those women killed in honor related violence, among them Mamosta Sakar (28) and Nigar (15), killed earlier this year. Suleimaniya, in one hand is one of Iraqi-Kurdistan more progressive cities, with a lot of women advocating for freedom and equality, on the other hand it has to deal with one of the highest incidence of honor killings.

Memorial for Kurdish women victims of honor killings
Children were also speaking out against violence
 The memorial testified to the continuous women injustice in the form of rape and murders. Men stood around looking at the names laying on the floor besides flowers and women shoes. Holding banners and pictures on the street, people stopped Suleimaniya’s main street traffic for a couple of minutes, chanting “ Women, Life, Freedom” and “ Stop the Killing of Women”. One of those caught in traffic yelled: “Four women are worth one man”.

On the sidewalk, some children also gathered holding the pictures of the women murdered and even a little girl, maybe a year old joined them, holding in her little hands the picture of Mamosta Sakar as if saying: I am protesting the killing of women, I want to have my rights when I grow up. The event closed with participants letting free white balloons on to the sky, symbolizing the white ribbon campaign. 
Women and men stopped traffic on Suleimaniya's Main Street to demand the end of women killing and freedom and respect for women. November 25th, 2012

My voice counts, stop killing women in Kurdistan.
Photo by Johanna Rivera, People Development Association, Suleimaniya, Iraqi Kurdistan
A baby holding a picture of Mamosta Sakar, murdered by her father in the village of Sarkapkan on Feb. 5th 2012
Photo by Johanna Rivera, People Development Association, Suleimaniya, Iraqi-Kurdistan

The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women (VAW). In over fifty-five countries, campaigns are led by both men and women, even though the focus is on educating men and boys. Photo: Johanna Rivera

Women rights organizations that organized this event are part of Zhiyan Group, a group that was formed in August 2012 with more than 60 organizations that are advocating against honor killing in Kurdistan.

How long are we going to keep silence and be complicit against the killing and violence against women?

From peace at home to peace in the society
Bahar Munzir, reading the press release about the activities in the International Day to End Violence Against Women. The activities will be running for 16 days.