Travelling in Iraq 9 - 16 February 2016
Author, Hatune Dogan
My recent visit began in Frankfurt. The destination was Erbil in Iraq. A young Swedish journalist, Sanna Hill, joined me on the expedition. She had long wished to experience the situation in the Middle East and see at first hand the work that our organization does for the people there.
Sanna Hill in Shingal – February 2016 – Foto: Private
Upon arrival, we went directly to Ankawa, a village outside Erbil. Now, approximately 4000 Christians live there as refugees in their own country. Most of them fled when the Islamic State terrorists attacked Mosul, 18 months ago. Since then they had been moving around, before finally settling here.
In Ankawa the refugees live densely packed in tents, containers and abandoned warehouses. They feel quite safe within the group, but a pervasive atmosphere of depression is evident. These people’s greatest desire is to return to their homes although most of them realize, that this will never happen. Many are seriously ill, most children are suffering from some kind of infection and half of the elderly have diabetes.
They get no help from the government. The most necessary help is delivered by different churches and private aid organizations. This time we – Hatune Foundation – could contribute with medicine, clothing and money with the help of our local association.
After coming back from Ankawa, we had arranged to meet two German TV teams in Dohuk. Together, we continued the trip and went into the Shingal mountains. Our aim was to visit some of the many refugees that since August 2014 still live in the wilderness without any real resources. It is a stunning amount of people who are affected – more than 30,000 families; most of them Yazidis!
PEOPLE WITHOUT SUPPORT
It is the Kurdish Peshmerga – the national military force – that controls the area. We were not even allowed to deliver the emergency relief there without their permission! A local politician from Shingal, who also works as an administrator for the Peshmerga, reluctantly gave us permission to enter the area.
“Don’t support these people!” he said, but never explained why. The Yazidis don’t have any agreements with the local authorities. They have no greater confidence in any of the groups who are forming the Peshmerga. Peshmerga on the other hand believes that anyone that helps Yazidis and Christians is an enemy to their chief Barzani and the Turkish President, Mr Erdogan.
We had beforehand done our best to find out what those people needed most of all. At this time of year, the greatest challenge is the cold. We packed our vehicles with blankets, gas, soap, detergent and other supplies, things that we maybe don’t realize the importance of at home.
When we drove into the villages we saw children with hands, and faces, blue from the cold, smiling at us with expectant eyes. Moments like this make life easier – even in the hardest of times. In addition to the warming and purifying supplies, which were received with great joy and gratitude, we also provided survival money to many of the 2000 families who we had the privilege to help on this trip. A trip that wasn’t without dangers.
Only three hours before we arrived to our destination, a rocket attack from the neighboring village had caused panic. Even if no one was killed, many became ill after the attack and suffered vomiting and nausea and many believed that the enemy had used chemical weapons.
Despite the fact that the Islamic State has lost many of its territories since their major successes in 2014-15, they are still in control over nine villages around Shingal City. The local Yazidis, believe that Peshmerga, who actually controls the area, has made an agreement with IS. They also call Erdogan “the devil who is spinning the wheel” and say that IS get their weapons, even rockets, from Erdogan himself.
A COUNTRY IN RUINS
After our visit to the mountain villages we went through Shingal City, today completely destroyed. Only the houses of Muslims stand untouched after the IS terrorists has left the city. Again we hear reports that says that not a single shot was fired during “the liberation” of Shingal city and that IS and Peshmerga had an agreement that the IS would retreat in a controlled manner. Although, before IS withdrew – regardless of how it happened – according to several witnesses, they destroyed the houses that belonged to the Christians and Yazidis.
WHERE THE OIL FLOWS
On our way back to Erbil we passed about sixty large tankers, all with Turkish registration plates. Here in the middle of Peshmerga controlled area we had the chance to, with our own eyes, witness what the media has reported about lately. The oil traffic between Iraq (from IS controlled area) and Turkey actually occurs. It seems like the terror organization also in this matter made an agreement with Peshmerga and Turkey!
A SAD MEETING
Once again back in Turkey, we visited our partners in Mardin. They needed money to help some of the Christian Syrian refugees who live there. After taking care of that, we had a long conversation with an elderly Christian woman from Iraq. She had cancer and her story touched us all deeply.
Together with 45 Christian families she lived in captivity of the IS for nine months. They were forced to drink contaminated water and eat food mixed with drugs. Each day they had to face the most abhorrent forms of torture. Their executioners demanded that they should convert to Islam.
They repeatedly pressed a knife against her throat, or held a gun to her head, crying out their threats while she refused and screamed, that she would rather die than abide.
However, that wasn’t the worst. More and more girls, among the captured, were forced to become sex slaves. The cynical IS-barbarians gave them the news by saying to the victims: “Today you will become the bride of our master!”
Their Nightmare came to an end when a bishop heard about their captivity and, through intermediaries, paid a larger ransom.
Even though they are now safe, the woman begged us to tell her story and show her face to the world, as a symbol of the evil and the destruction that the IS beasts are spreading.
ISLAMISTS IN TURKISH UNIFORMS
Our next stop was supposed to be Cizre, a Kurdish city in Turkey on the border to Iraq. The people who live there, hate Erdogan and are all dreaming of a separate state. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to go there. The police stopped us and forced us to return. The city has been closed by the Turkish military.
Since we weren’t allowed to go any further we started talking with the residents right where we were. With wild gestures they explained the situation. For several weeks, the Turkish army had been attacking many Kurdish villages in the area, and the reports talked about many dead and wounded.
The most remarkable thing was how they described the government forces. Even if they wore Turkish uniforms they looked exactly like the terrorists from the Islamic State with their long beards. The residents also told us that these soldiers are referred to as mercenaries from various countries like Chechnya and Afghanistan. Obviously the Turkish military recruits these young Muslim men in the refugee camps in Turkey.
THE HIJAB IS BACK
The following day we continued our journey and went to Midyat, where our brave driver lives. He had been driving us around in the hostile terrain for several days, without any fear. A couple of times just a few meters from the enemy territory. When we came to his home he was lovingly welcomed by his twelve-year-old daughter. To our surprise she was, at this young age, already forced to hide behind the hijab so only the face could be seen.
“She has to“, our driver let us know with a sad face. “It’s now mandatory in Eastern Turkey, Erdogan decided” he adds.
With this decision Erdogan goes against the Turkish constitution and the protests are few. Adult women are encouraged to wear headscarves and in return they receive payment from the Turkish Government. People call it “veil-compensation”. The general impression is that the Islamization of Turkey is in rapid progress and that people are getting worse and worse off.
I know that there isn’t many good news here!
Although, we have tried to shed some light to the people who are forced to live in the rough reality there. The feedback we received where ever we came, gave us hope and comfort and convinced me that we succeeded this time!
But the goal is still far away – that all the suffering people can return to their lives, for real.
Getting no government support, we are in great need of your help to be able to help the most vulnerable among our fellow citizens in this hostile corner in the world!
Warburg 18 February 2016
Sister Hatune Dogan
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