A common thread runs through our meetings in Iraqi Kurdistan: hospitality. As we focus on our peacemaking mission, we are constantly reminded that we are one human family. We have received such warm welcomes everywhere.
The people we’ve met have shared their homes, their hearts, and their tables. We’ve drunk their tea, eaten their magnificent repasts, and most importantly, have listened to their stories.
Some of these stories are painful. We can understand that it’s not easy for people victimized by violence to share. And yet, they do. Syrian women in refugee camps join together for fellowship and friendship, despite differences of religion, ethnicity, and language. Children meet at a drop-in center and learn that whether they are Sunni, Shi’a, Christian, Yazidi, Arab, Kurd or Turcoman, they are one human family.
On 26 May, we met with a member of the Soran Omer, a member of the Kurdistan Regional Government. He’s in the opposition Islamic Party and chairs the Human Rights Committee.
Human rights are a sensitive issue here in Kurdistan. When we passed through a checkpoint en route, we told the soldier there we were studying human rights in Kurdistan. “Human rights,” he exclaimed. “There are no human rights in Kurdistan!”
Omer described himself not just as the head of human rights but also of social and economic affairs in the “paralyzed parliament.” He basically affirmed everything we have been hearing about the oil industry. He urged us to see not the glitzy buildings but the suffering of everyday people. Kurdistan has fifty-seven oil blocs and 22,000 companies in the oil industry. How is it, he asked, that we have so much and yet the Kurdistan government has paid no salaries for nine months? Most recently, it reduced salaries by one-third.
Meanwhile, the sons of the poor are fighting ISIS on the front line and on the streets.
Yes, he said, Iraq is at war. Kurdistan is at war. Yet, the wealthy are prospering from the oil while the poor are not compensated. Kurdistan can both fight the war and implement democracy and rule of law, he said. It’s not an either/or situation. Omer also spoke of the lack of transparency. No one can see the contracts the government has signed with the oil companies.
As we experience the hospitality of all these people, it is painful to hear that appeals to our own government officers here in Kurdistan seem to have had no impact. The facts appear in U.S. State Department Human Rights Reports, but the U.S. takes no action.
It’s not that Iraq has no laws that Kurdistan could be applying to protect its citizens on lands now taken by oil companies. The problem, said the deputy, is that the government applies only 20% of the laws. People, he commented, should demand their rights more.
Divestment from corporations complicit in these abuses for us in the Presbyterian Church USA now seems the best solution to expressing solidarity with those struggling for freedom and justice here.
We have broken bread together with the people here. Their voices cry out to us. It remains for us to respond. After all, we are one human family.
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Delegation and CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team with Soran Omer
Want to get in on some of that hospitality? Oh and learn stuff and change the world? Check out our delegation schedule!