Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Brief Overview of the Villages in the Kurdish North of Iraq and a Family Portrait

A Brief Overview of the Villages in the Kurdish North of Iraq and a Family Portrait


By: Michele Naar-Obed - currently in Iraq


This information may be repetitive for some readers. For others it is new. At the end of this short historical analysis is the story of one family whose voice CPT is hoping to raise. Although this is only one story, there are over 1 million internally displaced families like this one in northern Iraq.


As Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) resettled up north from Baghdad in 2006, we began to learn about the Kurds for who they really are; not just as Iraqis, but as Kurds. We learned that their history, their struggles, their culture, their language, as well as other distinguishing factors were much different from the Iraqi Arabs that we worked with in the south. It was in this process that we began to learn about the plight of the Kurdish villagers in northern Iraq.


The villages throughout northern Iraq have a tumultuous history. The Kurdish culture and identity have been preserved in the villages for at least 3000 years, if not more. Language, song, relationship to the land, and to the universe are depicted in their handicrafts and in their daily life. The villagers have traditionally been the farmers, herders, and weavers in the Kurdish society.


In the 1980’s, Saddam unleashed the Anfal campaign and over 2/3 of Kurdish villages were destroyed. Over 100,000 villagers were killed. Kurdish identity and their way of life remained under attack until the

1991 Kurdish uprising against Saddam. The uprising failed and more Kurds were killed or forced to flee. In 1992, the northern no fly zone was instituted by the UN and this offered the villages up north more protection. People went back to their villages and rebuilt their homes and their infrastructure. It was a long and difficult haul for them but they managed to re-establish themselves.


Meanwhile, the PKK and PJAK, the armed Kurdish liberation groups established themselves in the mountains along the borders with Turkey and Iran. The Turkish and Iranian governments have been waging a war against these 2 groups for over 30 years. Each government has its own agenda. The US provides Turkey with military intelligence and opens up the air space for Turkish planes to fly into Iraq. The US also has an agenda.


Up until the last 2 years, war between the governments and the 2 liberation groups have taken place primarily in the mountains. There have been incidents of spill over into the Kurdish villages inside Iraq’s borders and every year, villagers are temporarily displaced only to return home when the fighters retreated back. There were deaths, injuries and property destruction during these years but attacks deep into civilian populated villages, deliberate destruction of civilian land and threats against the civilian Kurdish population in Iraq have become quite pronounced in these last 2 years.


These attacks also raise the possibility of destabilizing the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) as well as the larger region. Some speculate that destabilization of the KRG is the aim of Turkey. Of all the Kurds spread out in the 4 countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi Kurds have gained the most in preserving their identity as Kurds and in political self-determination. This appears as a great threat to Turkey that has over 40,000 Turkish Kurds. The political situation is a complex and complicated nightmare resulting in a human tragedy.


 “What you have done for the least of these, you have done for me” is what often comes to mind when I think about CPT’s work with the villagers. These folks are for sure on the bottom rung of the ladder.

To remain silent in the face of their being systematically wiped out, would be a sin and a crime.


CPT is documenting the stories and recording the human rights violations from which the villagers are currently suffering. We are trying to walk with them as sisters and brothers in the human family, and upon their request, we are trying to raise their voices to the world community.  In attempting to figure out the best way to approach this, CPT consulted with the UN and was told that good documentation could lay the foundation upon which the international community would be able to advocate on the villagers behalf for their safe and sustainable return home to their villages.


In the process, our presence, our interest and our concern lets these folks know that they are somebody. They are not dispensable pawns to be captured and discarded in a chess game of political giants. We see life come into the eyes of a villager when we recongize all they have contributed to the world just because of who they are.


By telling their stories back home, we hope to be a window through which the rest of the world could get to know them. We hope that these steps will help reduce the lethal violence, both physical and spiritual, that the Kurdish villagers are subjected to on a daily basis.




Portrait of a family from Razga Village


Mr. Ali Hamed Ahmed, and his wife Khoshia Biez lived in the small village of Razga situated in the foothills of the Qandil Mountains. This area borders both Turkey and Iran in the northeast corner of the Suleimaniya Governate in the Kurdish north of Iraq. It is a beautiful area, fertile and green with waterfalls and clean spring water.


Like other villagers from Razga, Ali raised animals for food and dairy products and grew nut trees and vegetables that were sold at the local market.


The family has lived through the many years of intermittent shelling by Iran against the armed Iranian Kurdsish liberation group, PJAK that has bases deep in the Qandil Mountains. In order to escape the crossfire, villagers often had to flee to the nearby town of Zherawa to stay with relatives until the shelling subsided. If there wasn’t any damage to their house or property, they would simply pick up where they left off. If there was damage, they had to repair it themselves.

There wasn’t much in the way of compensation.


Since 2007, the shelling by Iran has gotten worse. In 2008, it was bad enough that UNHCR had to provide a tent camp for the people of Razga and other nearby villages. The camp was situated along a river and was flooded out during the rainy season. Tents were damaged and many of the displaced villagers moved into the town of Zherawa to stay with families until they could figure out their next steps. During this time, Ali’s wife Khoshia gave birth to their first baby boy, Mohammad.


On February 14, 2009, the Kurdish Regional Government negotiated a deal with Iran and the Iranian Government agreed to stop shelling villages in the Iraqi Kurdish territory. Announcements were made on TV and radio and the villagers were overjoyed. They wanted desperately to return home.


Within a few days of the announcement, Ali, Khoshia, and their baby boy Mohammad went home to Razga. They spent about a week in total bliss. Their joy soon turned into a nightmare.


On March 10, Iran broke its agreement and resumed shelling. The family was in bed with baby Mohammad asleep between his 2 parents. At 9 pm, a rocket went through the roof of their home. A piece of the rocket broke off and hit the baby’s head. “My son never woke up”, Ali told CPT during this interview. Both Ali and Khoshia were injured. An uncle from a nearby village rescued them and took them to a hospital in the town of Qaladze.


CPT visited the family in early April. They were living with relatives in Zherawa but knew that it had to be a temporary arrangement because the house was overcrowded. They were obviously traumatized. Both of them cradled a pink plastic picture frame with Mohammad’s picture in the center and were in tears. “We’ve lost houses and property in the past because of these attacks, but we never lost life before”, Ali’s mother told us. “I wish it was me that died. I am old”, she said. “I hear my son crying every night for his baby boy”.


On April 13, CPT visited the new Zherawa tent camp. Ali, Khoshia and Ali’s mother greeted us with kisses and warm embraces. No one knows how long they will live there. They say they will not go back to their village without some guarantee from the international community that the attacks will end.  It is the intention of CPT to document these stories so that the UN might be able to advocate for such a guarantee.


A good friend of mine here in the Kurdish north recently told me that if CPT can get one family safely home to their village, you will have done a tremendous job. “However, you must be patient here and don’t let the bureaucracy wear you down”, my friend so wisely advised.


Michele Naar-Obed - currently in Iraq

Olive Branch Catholic Worker,

1614 Jefferson, Duluth MN 55812

Ph (218) 728-0629

E-mail obedsinduluth(at)


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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