Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Journal from Iraq: Global Solidarity, Transboundary Water and the Challenging Work of Saving a River

May 2nd, 2013, Sulaimaniya, Kurdistan, Iraq

I've been off writing for a long time. Lately,  a sense of overwhelming has won me. Since last March, I was extremely busy with a lot of travel, which I love, but I get tired and often sick. Working on an advocacy campaign to protect Iraq's right to water has been the most amazing experience of my life, personally and professionally, but also a very demanding  task both physically and emotionally. 

In March, I was in Tunis, for the World Social Forum and had the opportunity to share experiences with other water activists and community organizers from all over the world. We organized a session on global solidarity against water grabbing by mining and dam projects with other two groups from Turkey and Latin America. It was amazing and we got to meet people from Peru, Mexico, India, Turkey and share experiences on the same issues: water grabbing.  Then I went to Basra, to be part of the first green festival on the Iraqi Marshes. I was denied entry, and deported back to Turkey. 

In Tunis, at the Climate Space talking about our session on dams and mining projects

From there, I traveled to Hasankeyf to share our struggle with the people who's lives will be directly impacted by the Ilisu dam. People in Hasankeyf  have been living in limbo for the past 10 years due to lack of certainty about the project's plans.
View of the Hasankeyf Artukid Bridge and the Tigris River
At the Green Festival in Suleimaniya with material
about the Save Tigris Campaign
Then back in Iraq, April saw a rise in violence, killing of protestors, and activists and an increase in the sectarian divide. That is discouraging and makes you reflect if your work is worthy. If I think about my work, its exciting and unique. A friend asked me yesterday what does a normal day looks like. There is no normal day, but this is how one of my days might look like: I could be speaking to Iraqi activists about how to strategize for next awareness workshop on water issues in Iraq, talking to international law experts getting legal advice on how to make people/government/transnational companies accountable for human rights or environmental law violations related to  dams projects affecting Iraq. To academics on transboundary water issues between Turkey and Iraq and the impacts of dams on Iraqi water resources. To journalists, explaining the aim of our advocacy campaign, or to common people about the importance to take steps to demand politicians to take action to protect Iraqi water resources.

I could be on any stretch of the Tigris River in Turkey, or in Iraq, or in the Iraqi Marshlands visiting the communities that will be affected by dam projects and explaining the efforts to protect Iraq's water.
A woman on the Iraqi Marshes in Chibayish, Nasriya province. The marshes are located in three of the south provinces of Iraq, Nasriya, Missan and Basra. 
Kids playing on the banks of the Tigris River in Hasankeyf, Turkey. This town is full of historical sites and is threatened to be flooded by the construction of Ilisu dam. The campaign I work, is to raise awareness about the impacts of this dam in Iraq and Turkey.

Taking to Iraqi Media after one of our seminars in south Iraq

All this is super interesting, but is natural to be tired and even discouraged, because as colleagues from Mexico shared with us, “these are long and tiring fights.” It is easy to get discouraged when you see or hear in the news what politicians really prioritize here in Iraq. The Iraqi government’s priority is to crack on protests, increase sectarian division, exploit the country’s resources for their own interest, while keeping people hostage, to surrender to the power –in the case the Shia majority to Maliki because he is the sole protector of the Shia majority population- and to look to their own political interests:  to consolidate power. The name of the game is Fear. On the other side, Turkey continues to appropriate water that belongs to Iraqis.

On a hiking trip to Kani Shook, one of the amazing canyons in Suleimaniya.
So how do I keep my sanity and motivation? In Spanish, there is a saying: “There is no calamity that last 100 years, nor body that can resist it.” When I m overwhelmed, I try to go into nature. Here in the north of Iraq, there is amazing nature, canyons, rivers, and mountains. Being in nature helps me to forget and to relax.

I trust that Iraqi people soon realize that division and sectarianism are not ingredients to develop a democratic and inclusive society. They must stop being fearful, and start to challenge the structures that prevent development. After years of war and dictatorship, Iraqis must work together to build a place based on inclusion not division, transparency, not corruption, redistribution of wealth [and Iraq has big wealth], and justice and protection of their environment. When they understand that those who want to bring fear and terror are the ones that benefit from a terrified population, that keep their power by instilling fear, then breaking the cycle of fear, will set them free. That, of course has a price; it does not come the easy way. That is part of history, no people have been granted freedom and justice; they have fought for it. I thin we have lost many, probably too many and is time to recognise that violence and terror cannot last forever.

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