A Reflection from the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan Delegation- by Patrycja Wibe
Patrycja participated in a two week delegation run by CPT in Iraqi Kurdistan. During the delegation participants meet with CPT partners and learn about their work here. On returning to their home communities delegates are encouraged to amplify the voices of CPT partners and continue building relationships that can transform the violence and oppression in this world.
The CPT delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan in March 2019 was a unique opportunity for me to learn about the reality of life in the region, and to meet people and organisations whose stories usually don’t appear in the international media. Where I come from, all we hear about Iraqi Kurdistan is either the fight against ISIS or the question of independence, when there are so many other issues affecting people’s lives: from daily power cuts to cross-border bombings from Turkey and Iran. The political situation is complex and often hard to understand for the outsiders, and the people we met may be divided by their political views, but all of them want peace, freedom and justice.
The villagers who had to leave their houses and lands or lost their family members due to the cross-border bombings want these assaults to stop and the Turkish military bases to withdraw from their country. They want to live and work their lands without the fear of military attacks and displacement. The journalists and civil society activists want to carry on their work without the fear of arrest and harassment.
The people we met often felt neglected by their government. As one woman from the village affected by cross-border bombings said: “We sit on an ocean of oil, but have no heating for our homes”.
We visited an Assyrian Christian village which is unable to get funding for necessities like a proper road or irrigation system for their fields, because they lack political connections.
The work that CPT’s partners in Iraqi Kurdistan do against all the obstacles is really impressive. Many people have paid a heavy price for their peaceful activism, being arrested, blackmailed, harassed, and forced to leave the country. Some political parties try to suppress freedom of speech and expression by detaining the activists and journalists, like Sherwan Sherwani and Ghodar Zebari, under the false pretext of being a threat to national security. As Sherwan Sherwani said, “they believe party security is national security”.
The authorities also try to bribe the independent journalists by offering them work with the government or political parties. But they refuse to give up their principles and moral values and carry on exposing human rights abuses, political corruption, and organising peaceful demonstrations.
I was very touched by the youth group from the town of Ranya, who despite the lack of resources work on environmental and social awareness issues, and was preparing a tribute for a dog cruelly burned to death. The younger generation is establishing civil society organisations which are independent from the political parties and working for justice and equality for all.
When reflecting about Iraqi Kurdistan it is impossible not to mention the beauty of its nature, mountains, valleys, rivers, and the hospitality and friendliness of the people. I wish that more people could come and discover the rich and diverse cultures of the Kurdish, Yezidi, Assyrian, Arab and other people of Kurdistan and support their peaceful activism.
One journalist said that perhaps he hasn’t been killed because of the international involvement in his case. I think that international solidarity is crucial to support human rights activists and organisations in the region.