Posts Tagged ‘Kurdistan’
Posted on July 17th, 2011 by admin. Filed under Iraq.
I finally blogged (in brief) about my visit to Iraq, in case you are curious. Difficult to put so many intense & moving emotions, stories and experiences into words, especially a few days after the fact — but I gave it my best shot.
Getting to Lalish was not easy. Mainly because I had to avoid the nearby city of Mosul at all costs. It’s amazing how close one can be to cities that are death traps, yet just a few miles away it feels safe and peaceful. Lalish is a prime example of this. Tucked away in golden hills and farming communities, Lalish attracts thousands of pilgrims to its temple — the Spiritual center of the Yazidi — a religion that can, at times, appear to show signs of Hinduism, Paganism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
It is said that all Yazidi should make the pilgrimage to the temples of Lalish once in their lifetime (like the journey to Mecca for Muslims). Considering most of the estimated 500,000 Yazidi left on earth live in northern Iraq, it seems like a realistic request. Long misunderstood, the Yazidi have come under attack by extremists intolerant of their religion (as well as an honor killing that occurred within their own community after a Yazidi was rumored to have fallen in love with a Muslim). Because of these tensions there are a number of check points to get to Lalish. Once you reach the village, you must leave your car and explore not just by foot — but barefoot.
I can’t say that I have even a remotely decent understanding of the Yazidi religion after having spent the day at their temple. I can only point out qualities somewhat similar to Paganism (the Sun as the ultimate embodiment of God, for instance, & the icons of snakes and peacocks). In each shrine in the temple are a number of colorful silk scarves that visitors tie and untie in knots while making a wish. There were no other wishes on my mind other than to hope that the people of Iraq get relief from the terror and suffering taking place on their land.
The old men hunched over with long gray beards and cataract-ed eyes, vibrant colors in silks, and cone-shaped shrines peaking out of lush greenery reminded me of Hindu or Jain temples in southeast Asia. It was a relaxing, and possibly inaccurately peaceful and spiritual feeling to be in Lalish. Kind generous people, ancient misunderstood culture, gaggles of shy giggling children, and fresh country air…. a sweet ending to my Iraq travels.
Posted on July 17th, 2011 by admin. Filed under Iraq.
Erbil is the shining capital of Kurdish Iraq; the place many dub the “next Dubai.” That’s a bit of a stretch, as Erbil will always be synonymous with a Sausage Factory to me. It is one of the most prosperous and safe cities in Iraq, as well as being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (at least that’s what my guidebook says). The ancient bazaar has been attracting people from all corners of the region as long as history has been recorded. Men still come from all across Iraq to sell their wares. Because of that there is an undeniable presence of men, with, at times, a complete lack of female presence. One day i sat on a corner and counted 8 female sightings in a 15 minute period, and 2 of them were prostitutes. I must have seen 8000 men in the same time frame.
Because of that there’s also a real lack of hotels that a female would find suitable. Most hotels have no concept of tourism, so when I asked for a room they would simply say: no. Many times what they meant was that they only have rooms with say, 4 beds, so they do not want to rent it to just one person. Never mind that there was no where else to sleep and I was desperate.
One night, after much looking, i found a double room (2 single Flintstone beds) for about US$40. Let’s just put it this way, there were human “remains” in the corner of the bathroom the ‘plumbing’ was just a hole which led to the bathroom floor, the sheets were stained with a kaleidoscope of colors, and the sheets smelled like dead animal. My last day I broke down, went to the new “suburban” Christian part of town & laid down US$100 for a windowless (but clean) walk in closet.
No matter how nasty the rooms in the bazaar may be, or how many inappropriate the come on lines from porn movies i heard, there’s no denying that staying in the ancient market, with the backdrop of the towering citadel, and the giant statue of historian Mubarak Ahmed Shraffaddin turning a million different shades of gold as the sun set, is a memory I will always cherish.
Posted on July 17th, 2011 by admin. Filed under Iraq.
Amna Suraka, which means Red Security in Kurdish, is Iraq’s first war crimes museum. It’s an imposing compound made of reddish concrete which was once one of Saddam Hussein’s most notorious torture centers and prisons. Countless people died and disappeared here, including women and children.
The rooms of the prison are now set up to illustrate what horrific crimes happened to those in captivity. Plaster models in some of the rooms depict exact methods of torture. In some of the cells the graffiti from prisoners is still in tact. In one solitary confinement cell graffiti birds and flowers are still on the wall. In 1991 the Kurdish Pershmega army defeated Hussein’s army liberating the torture center, but for many it was too late.
In another building in the compound, the former offices of Hussein and his security forces have been turned into a Kurdish museum that displays vibrant textiles, rugs and jewelry of the very culture that Hussein tried to annihilate. Another door leads to an unexpected artistically wavy hallway decorated with 182,000 shards of mirror and over 5000 small white lights on the ceiling (video above); a shard of mirror for every person who perished during Hussein’s Anfal campaign, and a light for each village that Hussein destroyed during his rule. Beauty in a place where only misery and death had existed.
Posted on July 16th, 2011 by admin. Filed under Iraq.
On March 16, 1988 the town of Halabja Iraq, on the border of Iran, was gas bombed by Saddam Hussein’s military. WIthin 30 minutes more than 5,000 people were dead. Thousands more were left with complications which led to birth defects, cancer & terminal illness.
This occurred during the final days of the Iran-Iraq war. Halabja had been ‘captured’ by the Iranians at the time, and since Hussein was genocidal in his hate of the Kurds, it is rumored the people of the town also sided with the Iranians (understandably so!). For some reason the US, on Iraq’s side during the war, claimed that the gas attack was done by the Iranians. That has since been found to be completely false even though the CIA clung to the idea for months after the incident. In fact, before the incident, the US did not have the Iraq government on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This allowed Saddam Hussein to purchase the ingredients needed to make chemical/biological weapons. The largest suppliers of these chemicals were from Singapore, Holland, Egypt, India & West Germany. A US company was also a supplier, but not one of the biggest.
Halabja is still suffering in every way: economically, socially, and spiritually. I visited a peace memorial on the outskirts of the town of Halabja (see photos in slide show). It is filled with deeply disturbing photos of families literally stopped dead in their tracks, while doing normal every day things like cooking, cleaning, and playing. It is an eerie reminder of just how terribly evil Saddam Hussein was (something that at many times is forgotten in the ongoing debates of the war in Iraq, 8 years on). In 2006 the people of Halabja rioted and attacked the peace memorial because they were not happy that money was being spent on the dead when those still alive very much needed financial support.
As you will see in my photos, there is also life & love in the death. I accidentally stumbled on a sort of Vacation Bible School, except with the Koran (obviously) after visiting the memorial. The children, incredibly shy at first, went wild after i began to ignore them (reverse psychology works every time). A pack of about 50 then stormed my friend and I demanding that we take multiple adorable photos of them. Burly Kurdish men in traditional baggy trousers and scarves in their hair acted as our bodyguards, trying to keep the children off of us, but their efforts were in vain (we didn’t mind, really). When we finally left, we had a group of gigging stalkers slyly following us until we finally made our way out of town.
Posted on July 16th, 2011 by admin. Filed under Iraq.
Although Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, the city of Sulaimani (pop. 700,000, 40k from Iran) is the true heart & soul of Kurdish Iraq. On my way there from Erbil I encountered dozens of police checkpoints, very pleasant compared to checkpoints I had encountered in the West Bank. And, these checkpoints actually made me feel safe. I was even questioned twice but again, in a much more civilized fashion than the Israelis presented.
I stayed at a hotel in the center of “Sulay” & spent my days aimlessly walking around the hospitable city making new friends everywhere I went. Sometimes I was with a male American traveler i met & spent much time with, and other times I was on my own. Definitely a very different experience alone vs with a man. As my male friend noticed, at times it may be annoying to be a solo female traveler (ie: come on lines straight out of pornos), but it also has its advantages. He was surprised by how many more women & families we spoke to. Often these families were from other parts of Iraq: Babylon, Basra, Baghdad. I had all my answers & apologies planned out in advance, specifically for these chance meetings. I explained that I’m against the war & that the US has no business “occupying” them. Was a bit stunned that nearly everyone I met respectfully disagreed with me on that. They all had horrific tales of life under Saddam Hussein as well as the new terror unleashed in Iraq since 2004. When I suggested the invasion was about oil, several people, including members of Hussein’s former army, told me that the Americans really are ‘doing their best’ to make Iraqi’s lives better. Those I spoke with blamed ‘outsiders’ for the barrage of suicide attacks and murders. They asked me: “Who benefits from chaos in Iraq?” When i asked them to name names: Iran, Syria & Saudi.
Families from all corners of Iraq now seek a better life in Kurdish cities. They’re looking for jobs, cheap places to live and to finally have some peace. But no one felt sorry for themselves. They all said “It’s life, what can you do? You have to continue on.” They also made it clear to me that suffering is nothing new to them; they’ve been hurting for decades due to constant war — with Iran, Kuwait, and the US invasion. One man showed me a body full of scars — half an arm missing from the Iran war, a missing toe from being shot by the Israelis (Saddam offered his army to fight them) and scars on his stomach and sides — i’m not sure from what.
My last few hours in Iraq I spent with a 19 year old young man from Baghdad. His family fled to Libya when he was young. In 2003 after the US invaded they moved back, because things had taken a strong turn for the better. However by 2004 he said that Baghdad was again like a war zone. “There is no color, no life” he said on looking at his former city. In 2006 his father was killed in a suicide bombing. His mother, brother & he then moved to Kurdistan. Tears filled his eyes when he told me his story. I found it impossible not to cry too… out of severe sadness that anyone has to suffer so senselessly, and out of frustration because I want to do *something* — *anything* to protect these people, but I feel powerless.
I asked this young man what he thought of the US withdrawing from Iraq (soon to be decided by the new Iraq government). Everyone I had met until that point did not want the US to pull out. But he thought differently. “Why should they stay? Just to be killed? They have parents and sisters an brothers. It’s not fair for them to give their lives up and to cause their families suffering — we have enough of that here. Why should they have to experience it too?” He went on to say what many already had: it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Iran seems to be the most scary specter on the horizon in Iraq.
Once again, my mind is boggled as to why anyone has already suffered so much in their lifetime. This world makes no sense. More evidence against the rule of karma.
Thank you Tehran Bureau!
Picking up where i left off, one of my new friends in Tehran, a photojournalist, tipped me off to a man here in Kurdistan who could introduce me to the Dervish (Sufi) order here & see if he could get me a rare coveted invite to a private cereony. I followed the directions to the Sanandaj museum with my very bad Kurdish asking for “Hadi” i could not pronounce his last name (Ziaoddini) even when spelled out phonetically. The curator of the museum brought me across the way to a mansion which is now a different museum. He brought me to a basement office containging several men covered in plaster which i learned were for manequins. they wore the traditional baggy trousers yet some of the younger ones (30s & 40s) managed to even look sexy, dare i say. If i had fast enough net to post the video you would agree, no doubt.
These artists had no idea who i was except for my incessant repeating the name ”Hadi” & “spas” Kurdish for “thanks.” THey sat me down, gave me tea, and made several phone calls- I watched them smoke their cigarettes out of a long contraptions which i guess was invented so that they would not get plaster all over their cigarettes & inhale toxic fumes (?). After about a half hour a tall, lean, girlishly-handsome man in sharp western dress showed up with his head held high. THey told me it was not Hadi, but that i was to go with him. This man walked fast. His head held high in almost a beauty queen sort of a way. i imagined that he must be gay, but really what do i know with all the cultural differencesthat i do not understand. We got into a taxi- he would not let me pay (not once have i paid for a taxi here in Kurdistan)- when we got out we & walked through a neighborhood which was a mix of rubble and old beautiful manisons. Graffiti for carpet cleaners in Farsi alongside English sayings such as “Fuak you” and “I love u r” (incorrect grammar & spelling) were on the walls lining these mansions. Finally we ended up at one of ths manisons, where we rang a bell at a tall gate- after 5 minutes of waiting someone showed up & let us in. inside was a once lovely and decadent courtyard that now lied in ruins. STill, there was something extremely magical, artistic and romantic about this courtyard and garden. Chickens clucked around us and ducks swam in a man-made pond that had gutting filled with workers digging all around it. We entered a room off the garden with classical music playing where there was a painter inside and several bust of sculpted heads. THere was iron work and all the usual suspects in an artists studio space- homemade English-Farsi flash cards, dusty old photographs laying nonchallantly on a bookshelf, a pack of cigarettes, a tea-stained box o sweets, a near empty sugar bowl, and lots of plaster and paint splattered all over. The artist in the room was not Hadi- but he was one step closer. he said in hand gestures Hadi would be there in 30 minutes, and to wait. He stopped his work to serve me tea. the effeminate man who had lead me there looked at me, bulged out his eyes- motioning his head for the door. He pointed to his watch and motioned for me to chug the tea. He wanted me to leave- Of course, i figured i was interrupting this man who was obviouslly an impressive painter, but Kurdish people really do seem to get intense pleasure out of taking care of others, so that was why i was letting him stop to serve me tea.
As i was about to finish my tea in walked a man with a beard and Kurdish (baggy ) trousers. His trousers were splatered in paint and plaster. He had a presence about him but not in a hughty way. he seems a kind humble man, who had a soft spot and had endured some suffering in his life. Although my friend in Tehran told me that Hadi spoke English, Hadi claimed, in broken English, that he does not speak English. I gave him my photojournalist friend’s card, and we tried to ring him on his mobile. However this being Kurdistan, the lines were cut & we could not reach our friend in Tehran to introduce us & translate. i tried to give him hints as to what i was there for- “Dervish” “Sufi” he then made a phone call to someone who he said would be right over to translate. AS i waited he sculpted a massive head, and his helper showed me a photo book of Hadi’s sculptures, most displayed in public places in major cities in Iraq and Iran. Even in Sanandaj my favorite centerpiece of the city is an abstract looking person with their heads reaching up to the heavens, either in desperation or in grattitude, depending on how the observer is feeling. So of course, it was my great surprise to learn that i was now sitting with the man who made this favorite sculpture. I thought: “who knew that he was a sufi too???” Even though we could not communicate he made clear that i was not to leave like my little helper’s eye and hand gestures had implied.
Before i knew it the room was filled with a group of artists from Tehran, Kurdistan, Canada and the UK. All Kurdish born but now sharing their great talents with the world. THe Canadien and the Brit of course explaiend everything to me and i explained to them that I as told Hadi was a great Sufi who could giveme the magic password enabling me to go to the Dervish ceremony at the local order. We all had a good laugh over that b/c Hadi is not a Dervish, though he does have great respect for them & of course, good relations with them. My Brit friend let me know that although i thought i was wrong in assuming he was the guru, i was in fact right- he is a guru but another sort of Guru and that i made a wonderful error which lead me to some good people including the most celebrated Kurdish artist in Iran! I realized too that the man who came to pick me up, and who motioned for me to leave is basically a groupie/entourage/wanna-be sort of person who also greatly admires Hadi’s work. Hadi let this man know that after our meeting he was to take me to another museum they are restoring and then eventually to the Dervish order where he was to arrange to get permission for me to attend their upcoming ceremony. I was also informed by my new English speaking friends that women are normally forbidden from attending these rituals because it inhibits the men from “reaching ecstasy” we had a good laugh over that. My friend let me know when i go to be extra covered and look as manly/homely as possible! After leaving my new friends & having some good conversation with Hadi via translator, his helper took me sightseeing, and then finally to another manison where we met a crazy but young Azan (man who sings at the mosque) who tried to become my husband, and a very funky 85 year old Dervish- priceless memories. By that time the helper learned I that i was “in” with Hadi and his friends, so of course he was picking me apricots, fetching tea and being a real sweet heart. I have much more to say than this but i have to run.. tonite is the ceremony & soon i will post photos of Hadi, tell you about our conversations, what inpsires him, & of course explain some of his great work, etc-… in the meantime you can read about him at www.ziaoddini.com
Posted on July 9th, 2008 by admin. Filed under Iran.
I decided to come down to Kurdistan sans bicycle since it is a more “unknown” part of Iran. Some friends back in Tehran expressed concern in my going becasue they believe Kurdistan is full of drug dealers & rapists. Guide books do not say that however, and i knew much of my well-intentioned friends perceptions are colored by the media here & their portrayal of the Kurds- they certainly have been persecuted time & time again in Iran, Iraq & maybe also in Turkey, tough i do not know much about the Kurds in Turkey. This is the poorest region in Iran, which of course has part to do with the government playing favorites, or in this case non-favorites- like everyplace on this planet. Kurdistan lies on the border of Iran & Iraq. In Iran the Kurds make up about 10% of the population and unlike other ethic groups here they have not moved into big cities like Tehran & Mashhad so little is kown about them, adding to some of the suspicion & worry. I have only been with non English speakers since arriving here so i do not know much yet about the culture or history but i hope to find someone soon – a guide or not- who can explain a bit because it seems very interesting- the politcs, and the history/customs which are very different from the rest of Iran with the exception of the intense hospitality ; )
I decided it would be best to make the 400 + kilometer journey to Sanandaj (the main hub of Kurdistan as far as i can tell) by savari, which is like a share taxi. In Tabriz I was the only person in the share car and the driver spent much of the time talking to me, laughing at me, and in general actually making me nervous. He kept motioning to me to take off my headscarf (some say the Kurds have different rules & do not need to always wear scarf) & also sit up front with him. I am sure he was just trying to be nice, but I was more concerned that he would misinterpret that I want to be his girlfriend, or something like that. We drove through barren desert, where at one point i saw tanks with fires blazing all around them (some sort of training exercise?), as well as a nuclear reactor which i was sure to pretend i did not see. When we were close to Pianshur, near the north border with Iraq, i became a bit nervous. we stopped at some sort of station, where i was the only woman, while all sorts of taxis traded passengers and goods. Oddly enough there was a group of very handsome well dressed men- who looked Iraqi to me- smiling very friendily, saying “hello” -not in a creepy way. After we left we then we stopped in other towns where i was then traded as a good- and sent into one new savari after another until I finally reached Saqquez, the half way point- where i had to again bargain for a new savari to the town of Sanandaj. Again, people do not speak any Engish, particularly in these parts- and they are not used to tourists. So my lack of KUrdish and Farsi caused quite a stir of concern. After much discussion- with hand motions and drawings- I hopped in a share savari with 4 others and was thrilled to find out that one passenger, a 33 year old female doctor, spoke very good English. She let me know that every one was concerned about what i would eat (my default cheese puffs), where i would sleep in Sanandaj (i have a book of hotels), and if i was comfortable and felt safe. JUst a glimpse into what i would learn is the unparallelled hospitality in this region, which at times gets to be so much that it is downright embarassing. My new travel partner was on her way to the nearest town (Sanandaj) that has a psychologist- a 2 and a half hour drive each way. Talk about a dedicated client! We talked at length about psychoanalysis vs. cogntive behavioral therapies, good self help books (I have noticed Iranians are nuts about Wayne Dyer), and heart disease (her profession). Our car stopped on the way, they took photos with me, and as usual, my driver bought me juice and fresh fruit. When we arrived to Sanandaj the passengers argued over who was going to have the “honor” of paying for my fare ( for real, aye?), and then they all accompanied with me to look at hotels. The driver- a nice man with a kind smile and good energy really wanted me to come stay in his home with his wife and 2 daughters. My friend said she knew him from making the journe to her shrink each week & she thought it would be okay. THey all insisted, and i thouhgt: “hey i have never stayed at my taxirivers’s house before, and it is only possible-if not typical- in Iran (supposedly a den full of terrorists according to the CIA) so why not go & experience it, aye?” (side note: i keep saying “aye” b/c one of my Tehrani friends lived in Canada for some time & says it all the time, i guess it is contagious).
My taxi driver picked up his wife and daughter & we immediately went for ice cream. After that they brought me to a park, had their relatives join us, while we looked over the dusty brown view of the city of Sanandaj. It is a sprawling city with houses & apartment buildings built on hills.. there is lots o traffic too, of course.. over the hills, or mountains- lay several valleys with traditional villages (which i will visit in the coming days before i get back on my bike) & then Iraq. Things always steadily move in the direction of food here- it is how Persian people show their love and respect i am told. SInce no one spoke English it was really tricky how to communcate that i am a vegetarian, wihtout doing my chicken, cow & fish impressions- which i have to admit i did do, but they did not understand it. Luckily, my friend in Tehran is just a phone call away when i am really in a jam & needing translation. THey made me “macaroni” and i made a veggie sauce. We drank tea, looked through 4 photo albums, and then watched 3 wedding videos. Again, the Kurds have afew different rules.. so unlike the rest of Iranis, they are allowed to have their traditional co-ed weddings. People get dolled up with makeup- ladies wear sparkely dresses, with lost of gold coins strung on their head, on necklaces and on belts. They dance almost belly dance style in front of the bride and groom as they sit, waching with little expression on their faces- almost in a daze. THen bride & groom each take a turn dipping their pinky finger into a jar of honey then placing their pinky in the other’s mouth as the suck the honey away. We then watched more videos- for what seemed to go on forever- of Kurdish style dancing, which in my opinion is one of the easiest dances to do. you stand in a line, arm in arm (co -ed or not) face blank which you put one foot infront of another bend at the hip ever so slightly- you then move as one unit slowy in a circle- or not– these videos really do go on forever! i have video to share when i return in case you are wondering!
Now I am off on a wild goose chase to find the Sufi-Dervish Monastary here, meet the guru (using a secret passord, so to speak- meaning an artist-connection from Tehran) to be invited to attend their ceremonies thursday & fiday nite. Sasparilla leaf!!!!
- Some photos from Misrata… stories to follow.
- The Boat to Misrata (Libya): Men’s quarters vs. Women’s quarters
- Why I had to visit Misrata (Libya).
- Greetings from Benghazi, Libya
- Just another day in Cairo…