Alternatives to Violence Project changed our lives.
CPT Iraqi Kurdistan engaged in joint project together with STEP (Seeking to Equip People) organisation, which works to support vulnerable children and youth, many of which have been displaced by war in Syria and Iraq. Together with eight staff members of STEP and two other NGO`s workers, we took part in the basic and advanced Alternatives to Violent Projects (AVP) training, which lasted 6 days. Three of the team members participated as trainees and two others as trainers. The workshop is designed to help people learn skills to be able to build better relationships, partnerships and improve them. The training was very interesting and helpful. We made some new friends from different cultures and backgrounds as well as gained a better understanding of violence. The diverse activities brought all of us together and gave us a wider perspective of how we can work together to transform violence and oppression in our everyday lives.
Finally, on 22th of January, after 3 additional days of a very hard and exciting work, we successfully accomplished an AVP training for the facilitators. Now, all of us are ready to facilitate AVP workshops, share the ideas of non-violence methods and spread peace around us.
Second CPT Peacemaker Training in Iraqi Kurdistan
has just started. On 28th of January 10 wonderful people from Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Colombia and Poland met to have a first session of the training. During the first evening we discussed the principles of CPT in general and the training itself. Even the lack of electricity could not dampen our spirits as we kicked off the first night. After a wonderful meal we spent the evening sharing our hopes for the next several months.
The second day was full of emotions, sharing, team building activities. We had our first skype call with Sarah Thompson, CPT Executive Director, during which she described CPT as a blooming but still growing flower. It was a very spiritual and soothing part of our intensive day.
We feel very excited about what the next 24 days of the training bring.
My tent is beautiful... a Sunni Arab IDP's story
Ahmed* watched his brother disappear in the smoke. “The bomb hit and I couldn't even see him to save him. I haven't seen him since. Then we had to quickly run away.” As the Iraqi militias faced the ISIS invaders, Ahmed fled with his wife, three small children, and eight members of his extended family. He left his farm with its fertile fields, vineyards and orchards to live in a tent camp just outside Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. He says, “We have not slept one night in a house since we left Salahadeen eighteen months ago. It is so cold here. I had never seen snow before.”
The world media report about ISIS and the Syrian refugees that fled to nearby countries. They have also told of Ezidis (Yazidis) and Christians of Iraq who left everything behind to live as internally displaced persons (IDP) in another region of Iraq. However, the media have largely neglected the story of the Sunni Iraqi Arabs of the province of Salahadeen.
Allied forces hit this region hard during the latest Iraq War. Then in the summer of 2014, ISIS invaded these impoverished communities. Because they are Sunni Muslim, ISIS overlooked them, as long as they obeyed the religious laws decreed by the militants. However, in central Iraq the Shia militia have the goal of pushing ISIS out of the region. They reclaimed the land, leaving the families living there in a precarious position. The militia viewed them as collaborators or even as part of ISIS. They were forced to flee for their lives using underground routes to reach the IDP camps of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ahmed knows that there is nothing to return to in his former home. “I used to be a farmer,” he says sadly. Soon after their escape, his neighbor sent photos of the house burning and of the militia chopping down all of his fruit trees. The text on the phone read, “You're all ISIS and Saddamis, We will do the same to you that Saddam did to us for 30 years.” This message references Saddam Hussein’s cruel treatment of the Shia people.
The IDP camp in Sulaimani is not perfect. Ahmed still has anxiety that he might be falsely accused of being an ISIS member and that Kurdish security forces will imprison him or send him back to the danger. Their new home in the camp is small and the neighbours are very close and noisy. When the temperature is cold in winter they cannot use kerosene heaters in the night for fear of fire. Then in the summer the unbearable heat beats down on the treeless camp. However, the canvas with the large UNHCR letters painted on the side represents security to Ahmed and his family. “We had a house with brick walls and a roof but there was violence and pain. We ran away in fear for our lives. Now I see our tent is a place of beauty. We are safe.”
*Name changed for protection.
Commemorating the loss of Kurds drowned on their way to Europe
On Thursday, 22 of January, 65 people died in the Aegean Sea. At least 28 of them were from Iraqi Kurdistan and 5 from Sulaimani.
On the last Saturday of January, the whole group of the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan training attended a vigil for these people. The event, organised by CPT partners, was to bring awareness to the situation of so many people losing their lives in the sea on the journey to a freer and safer life. It was a time to express grief for the loss of lives of people from this region and this city.
Our team is getting bigger and more diverse
January was very special for Iraqi Kurdistan team. We started a new year full of energy, new ideas and excitement for the upcoming trainings and work. Two new members joined our team to support four other long- term members. So, this year we have with us: Mohammed, Lukasz, Kathy, Alicja, Julie and Rezhiar.
Rezhiar Fakhir comes from the Kurdish mountains and currently works as an intern with CPT. He is very determined to bring change to Kurdish society on a cultural, social, political and traditional level. He realized that education is the best way to bring change to Kurdistan and that he had the duty to educate himself further to achieve real change for his society. Growing up in a war-torn environment, he has been writing about conflicts and issues related to the political, cultural and social situation in Kurdistan. In his articles, he insists on the human dimension of conflicts to highlight that people at war have more in common than they think and should concentrate on that instead of their differences. He shares some personal insights too. Since he has not travelled abroad a lot, his favourite place to be is his kitchen where he finds refuge and can set his creativity free.
Julie Brown joined CPT in November and became part of our team in January. For the past several years she has been working on social justice issues surrounding poverty, U.S. militarization, and War. Julie is also part of a Catholic Worker community that runs a day shelter and soup kitchen when she's at home in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. In her free time she enjoys making things with her hands and creating art.
Mohammed Salah Mahdi, is a Kurdish Muslim. He met CPT in 2006. At the beginning he worked as a team driver for about 2 years, then he became a translator, adviser and sponsor until 2014. When Mohammed finished the CPT training, he joined the team in Iraqi Kurdistan. Currently, he is the only person who can sponsor the foreigners for their residency in Iraqi Kurdistan. He loves CPT. Mohammed enjoys cooking and driving.
Alicja, an activist from Poland, has been an intern on the Iraqi Kurdistan CPT team since September 2014. Previously, she studied ethnolinguistics and worked as a volunteer in a Polish ngo, delivering workshops on peace and antidiscrimination as well as working in the refugee camp in Poland. She cannot live without sport. Last summer she came from Poland to Kurdistan by her bike (from Turkey to Sulaimani by bus). Alicja loves travelling and learning languages.
Lukasz Firla fell in love with Kurdistan, its wonderful and diverse people, passionate history and beautiful nature in 2009 when he came here for the first time with a CPT delegation. In winter of 2010 he joined the team as an intern. A year later he trained with CPT, joined the organization, and since March 2011, he has been living in Iraqi Kurdistan and working full-time with CPT. Together with his wife and son they call Kurdistan their home.
Kathy Moorhead Thiessen has worked part-time with our team since March 2011. During the summers when she is in Canada she enjoys gardening and growing healthy food. She also loves to make colourful patchwork blankets. Kathy has had a wonderful 5 1/2 years working with the fantastic people of Iraqi Kurdistan but in April she will join the CPT Indigenous Peoples Solidarity team that works in Canada.
Our dear team member, Kathy, celebrated her birthday just few days ago. We were lucky to be with her during this special day. Alicja and Julie went to the Bazaar to buy a special gift but the mission turned sour as we came back with a very strange garland of tassels with a piece of carpet at the top. There was a miscommunication while we were at the shop and trying to figure out what would be the best choice for our creative, gifted Kathy. When we came back home and showed the gift to the rest of the team they were not sure whether to laugh or cry. Kathy was laughing a whole lot, too. We finished this extraordinary day having a delicious feast at the traditional family run Kurdish restaurant.
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Mission: Christian Peacemaker Teams: Building partnerships to transform violence and oppression. Vision: A world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation. Values: Christian Peacemaker Teams is committed to work and relationships that: Honor and reflect the presence of faith and spirituality; Strengthen grassroots initiatives; Transform structures of domination and oppression; Embody creative non-violence and liberating love.