Monday, August 24, 2009

Short words from long trip

August 12th, 2009

University of Dohuk

Vice President of Dohuk University, Dr. Salim Hassan Haji and Vice President of International Relations, Dr. Dawood Atrushi graciously received the WWFL Delegation. (Dr. Khalid was in Mosul because of an explosion.)

In a brief history of the facilities, Dr. Haji explained the chief of the Baath Party used to preside from the university president’s office, that the Law College today was the former execution center and that the Medical College was once the army training center.

Gratefully, the university thrives, growing at an astounding pace. Wall charts indicate a 33% growth in the last year. Presently 10,500 students attend. Forty four percent are women.

Excellent opportunities abroad welcome 25-30 (via scholarship) to eight European countries. However, there is a need for Americans to visit Kurdistan. The press has focused on the violent Arab areas of Iraq, therefore implying that Kurdistan is the same. However, we found a safe and hospitable environment. And Dr. Atrushi has returned from Oslo with his family. He does not anticipate ever leaving again.

Following the welcome, two members of the WWFL Delegation lectured. Attorney, Lisa Gibson explained how to write and publish a non-fiction book. Lisa identified with the suffering the Kurdish people had experienced and tried to encourage them to write their stories so that the world will know what happened in Kurdistan. Lisa’s brother had been killed in the 1988 terrorist bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerby, Scotland. She has committed her life to overcoming evil with good and preventing future acts of terrorism and is doing humanitarian work in Libya, the country that was found responsible for her brother’s death.

Professor Sandra Morgan

August 11, 2009

NGO: START Social Development Organization

Director, Jula Haji and two staff members met with the WWFL Delegation. Their website and presentation were impressively well organized for an organization established less than a year.

They purpose to develop awareness of individual and community human rights, to establish principals of democracy, and to help prevent discrimination and abuse of women, children, youth, and Internally Displaced People (IDP's). They offer training on hygene, anti violence, basic first aid, and child rights.

Wise in their approach to small village assistance, START met with local leaders, jointly working to address specific, local concerns.Idle young people turned into productive contributors to their community needs through vocational training: plumbing , electrical, carpentry, air cooling and aluminium for men and sewing, baking, handicrafts, cooking and hair styling for women. This also improved the village economy.

Through the USAID, they have also provided micro loans of around $3000 to help each of the above mentioned businesses get started. Borrowers made no payments for the first 3 months to allow them to get established without undue hardship. From the fourth month, the borrower began repayment.

START's immediate success and impressively well organized short and long term plans show what a well educated staff can accomplish. NGOs like this have inspired us..

Minister of State

Ginan Ghasem

The Minister of State is obviously a women of integrity and committment. Her background of titles and positions is lengthy, too much to repeat here. She is very active in effectively helping the women and people of Kurdistan. In addition, she expressed concern for those who are still suffering from the former regime. Her extensive staff is graciously professional and the entire office exemplary. We considered it a privilege to meet her.

Movie: All My Mothers

By Ebrahim Saeedi & Zahawi Sanjawi

We were privileged to meet with Producer, Abbas Ghazali, and the director of the film as well as to enjoy a private showing. Our hearts were gripped by the continuing needs of thousands of widows of the Kurdish genocide. How little the world knows of the suffering of the Kurds!

We should further utilize the tools of media to effectively communicate the plight of innocent women and children..

TV Interviews:

The local news seems to find us everywhere. They interviewed us in the theatre and again at the University. Local concern for peace and progress could not be more evident.


At the Cultural Center of the University of Salahaddin

August 9, 2009

The delegation met with Dr.Mohammed Sadik, President of the University of Salahaddin and Dr. Mohammed Mochtar, Vice President. We learned the University was established in 1968. The four colleges of medicine became Hawler Medical Univefrsity in 2005. Presently, the University of Salahaddin hosts 18 colleges of 22,000 students and 4000 graduate students. Two thousand ten will see a remarkable increase of 25% in student enrollment. Faculty number 1358 with 4000 administrative staff. They are presently working on accreditation and connection to the Library of Congress.

Kurdistan offers strong support and opportunity for advancement. Education is free from kindergarden to PhD., even for international students.There are no experts in gender studies. Some courses are offered, though without a specific focus at this juncture. Graduates in the field of education easily find employment.

As we continue to visit universities, it is evident that women are consistently welcomed and encouraged to improve their skills and education.Women students make up 45-55% of most student bodies. Surely Kurdistan is exemplary in its rapid shift to assist and promote growth and support for their people. Proof of their success is already observable in the 25-35% annual growth in student enrollment.

As we met with Dr. Nawzad Koshnaw, Dean of Linquistics and fluent in Arabic, English, Farsi, and Kurdish, I was again impressed with how many universtiy, governmental, and NGO representatives are multi-lingual. Dr. Koshnaw mentioned their need for more English teachers. Presently, a number of students spend 3-4 months in an English speaking nation, attending classes thereafter.

Orphanage-Children's Home

The Government cares for 40 girls and 40 boys here. While four million dollars came from the USA to fund this particular building, the Kurdistani government underwrites the needs of many children providing clothes twice a year and many other needs.

I have noticed, apart from this facility, that each jurisdiction is responsible for its own locale. Understandably, therefore, small village areas need more help than metropolitan centers. For those who are interested in helping, both the government and NGOs are open to receiving assistance and are actively working to provide food, clothing, skills training, psychological help, family training, and much more for widows, orphans, victims of violence, women, IDPs etc.

August 7, 2009

Barzan Anfal Memorial Hill

Of 8000 Barzani men who disappeared in 1988 under Saddam's rule terror, 500 bodies were recently found and relocated here. Two sons of the Barzani family met us at the gravesite where we prayed for blessing on the family and nation. Continuing down the hill to the Memorial Center where the father of President Barzani, Mola Mostafa Barzani was buried, we paid our respects. 8000 men! What a tragic loss to this country!

We next appreciated a delightful lunch, a genuine feast with gracious Kurdish company and fine tea. Thank you!

Who can help but be impressed with such a people, full of forgiveness, hospitality, and love! I was taken by the gentleness and hospitality of our host Shaikh Abdullah Barzani, an elderly man who has suffered the near anniliation of his family. And I am staggered by Kurdistan which after enduring a genocide, yet responds without bitterness, full of consistent love. The world should know of their sufferings. These are a people worthy of our trust and respect.


At the Cultural Center of the University of Salahaddin we revelled in a fine dinner and live entertainment provided by His Excellency Dr.Idris Hadi Salih, Minister of Higher Education for Kurdistan. The highlight of the night came with Kurdish dancing as we joined hands to follow in one long line. Experienced dancers taught us the movements. Though we could not all imitate their skill, all our hearts certainly bonded in perfect unity.

Thank you Kurdistan for your remarkable hospitality.

August 6th, 2009

His Excellency Dr. Idris Hadi Salih, Minister of Higher Education for Kurdistan kindly met with the WWFL Delegation. Having originally started with 7 colleges and 51 departments, 6 new collleges have been established, 9 private colleges, and 23 technical or community colleges.(I hope I have tabulated that correctly.) With 83,000 students Kurdistan flys into a hopeful future of progress and improvement. Males compose 51% of the student population and women 49%. The national strategy, both long and short term, is education for all Iraq.

The future did not always look hopeful. In 2003 PhDs were in danger of kidnapping or murder. The "Brain Drain" targeted English speaking professors as well. Dr. Salih himself had suffered. In 1991, while holding the position of Head of Human Rights, he spoke out against the Kurdish genocide. Saddam responded by poisoning him. After 20 days in the hospital and loosing his hair, Dr. Salih survived. His words today are noteworthy, "It's not my life," he explained. "I have devoted it to my people, land, and country."

The Khatuzeen Center

(for Kurdish Women's Issues)

Next, we crossed the street to meet with Nergiz Abdulrazaq at the Kharuzeen Center. Focusing on legal issues they broadcast via radio from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. daily and also publish a local magazine. They campaign in Parliament and have initiated a program for blind and disabled.

Unfortunatly Chlura Hardi the president of the center were not presented due to travel to Erurop

Professional counselors are in demand. We have heard this from the Khatuzeen Center and countless NGOs. So, if you have professional credentials, Kurdistan would welcome your assistance.

One highlight here was a poster that read, "Oh, another girl! I am so thankful for another light in my house!"

The Women's Rehabilitation Organization

Jihan , Director

Beside establishing many helpful programs for women, the Director was also very knowledgable and informative. We learned that Saddam left Kurdistan full of widows, 87% of whom were illiterate. Therefore, in 2005 Parliament in paragraph 21 required all girls to attend school. New laws include equal pay for men and women and the right of women to divorce. Culture is slowing catching up to the new laws.

The Central Office of the People's Organization

This was truly a nateable organization perhaps in its longevity and broad-reaching influence. Established in 1991, they are today a non-partisan organization, focusing on human rights and serving with a women's union, student union, and youth union. Beside the unions, a staff of both men and women work together addressing concerns such as drugs, alcohol, family related problems, etc. They host 8 centers with one in Europe and they provide shelter and a psychologist.

AKFA: The American Kurdish Friendship Association

Harry Schute, Vice President and Dara Yara

As we were a large delegation, we divided into two rooms. Consistent with Kurdish hospitality, the AKFA served tea and sweets. Vice President Schute explained their aim to build bridges of friendship and understanding and urged us to return home as Ambassadors explaining the gratefulness of the Kurds for what the US is doing. One misconception is of danger in Iraq. News focus on the negative. The truth remains there are more terroristic insidents in London than Erbil where security forces are good. The Kurds protect Americans.

We have seen that the Kurds are indeed a unique people, different from Arabs. Kurdistan has a culture of its own, embracing love and peace.They are truly allies to the USAAugust 5, 2009

On the road by 6 A.M, we experienced a long and emotionally moving day. We first met with Mayor Foad of Halabjah. He urged, ”We need everyone’s help to rebuild lives.” Twenty one years after Saddam’s (1988) chemical attack, 65 residents are in critical condition and 350 still need specialized medical care. The town suffers a greater than normal mortality rate and the water is still undrinkable.

Here, the role of women is very clear. Women from Halabjah serve in Parliament, following their example, Adlelh Khan. When the mayor, her husband died in 1911, Adlelh served her town by continuing in his position. She helped not only Halabjah, but surrounding towns as well.

From here, we visited Adelahan Memorial Park leaving a large bouquet of flowers. Sobered by the gravestones representing 5000 deaths, we left silent and sad.

Dr. Ako Saeed Abdullah welcomed us to the hospital clinic. Gratefully the Kurdish National Congress of the USA through Hope for Children have donated $420,000 in medical supplied for his hospital. However, there remains a great need for specialized doctors.

Dr. Abdullah generously provided lunch for the entire delegation, a welcome respite in a heart-heavy day.

Halabjah Memorial Center gripped out hearts. The model of Saddam’s massacre of innocent families and children were graphic and the photo gallery could only bring tears. Film captured the pointless suffering of toddlers and two adult survivors testified of their experience.

In Sulimany the Women’s Media and Education Center-Rewan introduced us to courageous women standing for life. Director Ronak shelters abused women, threatened with death. Every two weeks she and her staff of volunteers publish a high quality free paper to educate others about their legal rights. In four towns, they host four offices and an increasing number of shelters. The newly passed law making honor killing of women illegal has helped protect their humanitarian efforts, though one staff member had to flee the country due to repeated death threats.

August 4th, 2009

Dr. Shali with Soroya Fallah, President of WWFL and 16 members of the delegation met with the Head of Parliament, the President of the Kurdish Assembly of Iraq, Adnan Mufti and Vice President Dr. Kamal Kerkuki at the Parliament building in Erbil. President Mufti explained, “Culture puts women down and one of the biggest problems is the honor killing of women. Under Saddam, killing a woman brought only the lowest punishment, 6 months in jail. We are slowly passing laws to help women.” Through the last election, women now hold not less than 30% and up to 50% of parliamentary seats. Though Kurdish civil rights are the most advanced in all the Middle East, there is need for education.

When asked, “What lessons have been learned that we might to apply to the Culture of Life to help others?” He replied, “Dialogue is so important. We must fight corruption, but power comes from the people and we must be close to them and listen. Women must rise to the occasion.”

We then met with the Committee for Human Rights which included their Secretary, two courageous and supportive male attorneys, a female member of Parliament, and others. They explained that work was slow and that it was not enough to just change laws. Education is badly needed and laws need to change in Bagdad as well as in Erbil. An encouraging advance proceeded from a recent conference in Lebanon where judges from Bagdad attended and took recommendations to change laws there as well.

Erbil Governor, Nowzad Hadi with his Relations Manager, Rekan Mohammed Zeki hosted us at his office. With one more year in office, Governor Hadi, a civil engineer, has already accomplished a remarkable feat! Working day and night, he has changed the face of Erbil with extensive new roads, but he has also opened roadways into the rights of women with his compassion and concern. And he encouraged that we need a lot of experienced NGOs to help.

We would like to thank everyone for their gracious hospitality and generosity with their time.

1 comment:

Zinar Ala said...

Thanks Soraya to write about the actual situation in the kurdish region.

In this post i reed nice description about the development in the suoth of Kurdistan.

Unfortunately, i can´t express well in english, just i hope more steps from KRG to fihgt violence agianst women.

Silav from Spain