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CHANGE: hope after war

CHANGE: hope after war

by: Cinnamon Lynn

photos by: Cinnamon Lynn

I never imagined that I would find so much hope for change, love for peace, and passion for life that I found pouring from the people of Kurdistan, Iraq.  Before I placed foot in Erbil, Kurdistan, I had misinformed ideas of the adventure on which I was about to embark.  While in Kurdistan, I was proud to hear an abundance of gratitude to the American soldiers for kicking out Saddam Hussein.  The American media never seem to reveal the real beauty of the Middle East, but prefer to keep their audience in the dark on the positive progress that is taking place.

The Kurds are making a stand on high ground, fighting for hope after war, death, and control reigned for so many years.  Those who are fighting for a better way of life don’t have to stand only against intruding nations, but also against tradition.

Top to bottom: Culture of Life Delegation enjoying traditional Kurdish dance. Prime Minister of Justice. Ranak rouf speaking with Dr. Saman Shali

Top to bottom: Culture of Life Delegation enjoying traditional Kurdish dance.

Prime Minister of Justice.

Ranak rouf speaking with Dr. Saman Shali

I traveled to Erbil, Kurdistan with a group of five other women from Colorado Springs: Lacy Cronkhite, owner of Cronkhite Wealth Strategies; Alexandria Bingham, real estate developer; Lisa Gibson, attorney, author and Executive Director of the Peace and Prosperity Alliance on behalf of Libya; Pam Ramirez, nurse; and Dr. Lana Heightley, author and founder of Women with a Mission. Our small group met up with another 15 professional men and women from around the U.S. and Australia to form The Culture of Life Delegation through the organization of World’s Women for Life.  The delegation’s motto is “Protect Life, Improve Life, and
Celebrate Life”.

We heard presidents of parliament, governors, councils and NGOs (non-government organization) speak on women’s issues and strategies to move forward.  We also visited the villages of Halabja and Barzan, places Saddam had destroyed.

The concern that many governmental men have for their country’s growth is incredible.  In a culture where tradition is exceedingly strong, these men risk ridicule among their peers as they fight fiercely for the women of Kurdistan.

“The women are half of the community and mothers to the other half,” said the vice president of the Kurdistan’s National Assembly of Iraq, Dr. Kemal Ker Kuki.

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The governor of Erbil, Nowzad Hadi, is working hard to change the civil law and preserve the rights of women.  Some of the biggest obstacles they have to overcome stem from an ingrained cultural mind set regarding women.  Aggression toward women, honor killings, and burnings often go unpunished by the law. 

Despite the many obstacles, the Kurds have surpassed the U.S. in certain arenas of women’s issues.  For instance, thirty-three percent of the members of the Kurdistan parliament are women, and they receive pay equal to that of the men.  In comparing this number to the seventeen percent of American women in our Senate, it appears the women of Kurdistan are making forward progress that stretches beyond their Western peers.  Just a reminder:  It took 72 years in the U.S. to pass equal voting rights for women.

It was a blessing to meet a true revolutionary, Ronak Rouf.  She is an amazing woman with incomparable strength in a culture that has high hurdles for women.  She provides a place of refuge and education for women who manage to escape their captors and abusers.  Ronak has a home with armed guards to protect these fleeing women, and she provides a staff to teach them laws and empower them with education.  It was amazing to hear that there are many educational programs put in place for the men as well as for the women.  Hopefully, this will provide a foundation for change.

At the World’s Women for Life Conference, Julu Haji, Director of START, a social development organization, stated, “Your work has to have a message.  With education, women gain strength to overcome fear to stand and work toward their own message.”

The women in Kurdistan remind me of a song that delegation member, Laura Norton and I taught Kurdistan teenagers while visiting a church in Erbil, “Mighty to Save.”  The kids knew one verse perfectly, “He can move the mountains.”  That is just what is happening in Kurdistan.  More mountains are going to have to move; it seems like an impossible feat, but with the determination of the Kurdish women and men, I have no doubt that the world will witness monumental changes. 

Discovering the beauty of Northern Iraq was as impressive as the people we met there.  The food was delicious, and the hospitality would rank at the top of anyone’s list.  At every meeting, our hosts served tea or coffee.  On our four-hour drive to Halabja, the town Saddam destroyed using chemical warfare in 1988, we stopped at a roadside diner to grab breakfast.  We were served homemade butter, honey and fresh flat bread.  My mouth still waters from the memory of the honey and butter I generously spread on my morning repast.

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In Halabja we met with Mayor Foad and Dr. Ako Saeed Abdulla in which we discussed the medical needs of the people of Halabja. After the meetings, the delegation was treated to a lunch of newly-picked cucumbers, tomato salad with tarragon, hot-from-the-oven homemade flat bread, and skewed lamb that was piled high on each table.  What a treat!  Hospitality doesn’t get any better than this.

I can’t end this story without sharing my “star struck” moment.  I was honored to have dinner with Judge Ritzgar Mohammad Ameen, the first trial judge for Saddam Hussein’s trial.  He had an amazing calm and peace about him that I will never forget.

I learned so much from the members of the delegation and the people we met in Kurdistan.  They blessed me more than I could have ever imagined.

I’m not sure I will miss the flesh-colored lizard that scurried to the drain each time I stepped into the shower or the plumbing of the W.C. (bathroom), but I will definitely miss the people and the food.  Most of all, I will miss the strength and character of this nation, Kurdistan.  

HEALING: selfless love

HEALING: selfless love

VOLUNTEER: people who make a difference

VOLUNTEER: people who make a difference