photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Offer Iraq’s Christians the safety they need to go home

On Christmas Eve church bells rang for the first time in two years on Christmas in Bartella, a predominantly Christian town outside Mosul.


Even though the Mar Shimoni church has been badly damaged by ISIS, it was filled with Christians who returned to their town for this occasion.


For the most part, they would return afterwards to their places of refuge in Ainkawa, the Christian enclave of the Kurdish capital Erbil, where they fled when ISIS entered their town in August 2014.


Not only because they had since found homes, work and income, and not even because their houses have been looted, or have been used as bomb factories and pharmacies, or damaged by tunnel building or air strikes.


The reason why hardly anyone has in the past two months returned to the liberated Christian towns of Nineveh was clearly illustrated by the gunmen that guarded churchgoers on Christmas Day from the roofs in Qaraqosh, where hundreds attended mass in the Mar Yohanna Church.


ISIS had left its graffiti there, as a warning for those daring to consider returning, written inside the church, declaring that ‘the Islamic State remains and extends’.
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Journalists must be able to witness the war

For over ten days the Iraqi arm’s Golden Brigade has refused to allow foreign journalists into eastern Mosul to cover the battle against ISIS.


The army is upset about the high death toll published by the foreign media, fearing that it is something ISIS could use in its propaganda. The order to ban the media has supposedly come from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.


Dozens of journalists have come to Iraq to report the war by embedding with the Golden Brigade, other divisions of the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Peshmerga or the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi militia.


Since the Peshmerga have finished most of their fight, the attention now is mainly on the Iraqi army in Mosul.


These are stories of soldiers’ heroism, of civilian suffering, of ISIS method of fighting and of weapons and explosives factories.


It is clear that the use of car-bombs and snipers has claimed the lives of hundreds of people with ISIS even shooting at playing children, but the army death toll has remained a secret.


And I do not think the only concern is ISIS propaganda.
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No pills, but art therapy for trauma victims

With a shortage of therapists in the country, many of the thousands of traumatized victims of war and violence in Iraq are treated with pills that often do not offer a solution for their trauma.

The most well-known cases of trauma are among the many Yezidi victims of ISIS. But as the militant group gets pushed back further, more victims are emerging in towns and villages around Mosul, and from the city itself.

As the number of people needing therapy is rising, it is increasingly important to find ways to educate more therapists. A training of trainers in art therapy program was, therefore, set up in the Kurdistan Region capital Erbil.

“The training teaches trainers to use skills that will be an alternative to the medicine,” said Bahar Ali of the local Emma Foundation, who organized the training. “Art is an easy tool. We can use it in schools and shelters, anywhere in the society.”

She pointed out that “especially now after ISIS, it is a good time to start with this therapy, as we do not have the experts.”
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Moving on from an overstaffed idle government to a vibrant private sector

He was photographed in his graduation costume, with some sheep on a Kurdish mountainside. The Kurdish student who graduated earlier this year as one of the best of his year from the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Duhok, had not been able to find a job, and therefor joined his brother as a shepherd.


Citing the young man who said he would like to continue studying for a Masters and Doctorate of Philosophy, but that the economic crisis and lack of support from the government had compelled him to become a shepherd, his fate drew the attention of the Kurdish press.


Message: bright young man wasted years of studying because the government does not help him get a job.


Apart from the hardship the economic crisis in the Kurdistan Region is causing him, the very expectation that the government should give fresh graduates a job is very much part of the cause of the crisis.
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Struggling against winter cold: Life inside Debega camp

The young woman holds her sleeping baby tight; the little girl is ill, because of the cold wave that has suddenly set in, and because they have had to sleep on the floor, she says.


The 22-year-old mother from Qaraj, near Makhmour who has been in the camp for less than a month, says her little Sabrina is two years old, but with a pacifier in her mouth and bundled up in a small blanket she looks a lot younger.


On top of the cold the baby is dealing with the consequences of a malnutrition she suffered under ISIS. Her mother searched for baby milk from village to village for almost a year, and this has left its mark on her and her two children.


Baby milk is still scarce, so is nappies, warm clothes and bedding.


“I stay with my husband’s family, and they have everything, I have nothing,” she complains.
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Iraq’s heritage sites must be sealed off, documented after Mosul liberation

The damage done to archeological and heritage sites in Iraq under ISIS did not stop when these places were liberated and the radical group expelled, says Abdullah Qader, the director of Iraqi institute for Conservation of Antiquities and Heritage in Erbil.

He believes that the damage to major sites such as Nimrud and monasteries and churches should have been documented immediately after liberation, which was not the case, for lack of planning and money. Qader, who also heads the Association of Archaeologists in Kurdistan, argues that the sites should be closed until proper documentation is done to make ensure that nothing is or will get stolen and so rebuilding will be possible.

What should be the policy for the archeological sites, after ISIS?


Abdullah Qader If I were to decide, I would send teams of archeologists with the army to start documenting the sites. But we are an institute for training, and this is an issue for the authorities in Baghdad. Only in Mosul we had ninety archeologists working, as guides, supervisors, teachers; most of them are now living in Duhok, Sulaimani and Erbil. What is their role now? In Amman, a workshop has been held for ten archeologists in Iraq and Syria, who even got a bag with cameras and other things to use for the documentation of liberated sites. But we see on TV that churches are being liberated and then people go there and start cleaning. That should not happen. First the damage needs to be documented, then they can clean. I would prefer these areas to be closed so that nobody can go there until the specialist teams have done their work.

Read the whole article here

Friday, September 2, 2016

Banning burqinis means a ban on emancipation

The mayor of Cannes has banned so called burqinis from his beaches because he connects them to terrorism, in the same week the female Egyptian beach volleyball team in Rio was criticized for wearing body suits instead of bikinis.


With the fight against ISIS and its radical strain of Islam leading to attacks everywhere in the world, not only the burqa that completely covers women is under fire, but also clothes Muslim women put on to dress modestly during sports and leisure-time.


Long before ISIS started to impose first the face covering niqaab and then the completely covering burqa on women, tradition just as much as Islam made women dress modestly.


Often it was the combination of habits, the pressure of social control and a conservative society that made women cover up, although not as completely as ISIS made obligatory.


Recently, I was in an open air swimming pool at a hotel in the Kurdish capital Erbil, watching two women getting into the water dressed in pants and top, although their hair was uncovered.
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