Halabja group launches ‘Summer of Peace’

HALABJA, Halabja province – A new peace organization in Halabja is overcoming linguistic differences to promote tolerance and cultural exchange between local residents and the refugee communities that have flooded the area.

The NWE, or “New” in Kurdish, organization, which advocates for human rights and the environment, recently launched the Halabja Summer of Peace and Coexistence campaign to act as a bridge between local Kurds and the mostly Arab arrivals.

In a recent event, NWE brought together 24 Iraqi women, 18 Syrian women and 10-15 Halabjans to exchang skills and unique experiences.

The first hurdle was how to speak to each other. Halabja people speak Sorani Kurdish, Syrian refugees speak Kurmanci Kurdish and Syrian Arabic, and Iraqi  IDPs speak Iraqi Arabic.

NWE used the challenge as an opportunity, offering the group classes to learn Kurdish and Arabic.

The parliament of the Kurdistan region declared Halabja the capital of peace in September 2014 for its sacrifices for the Kurdish cause, namely the chemical attack at the hands of the Iraqi regime in 1988.

The NEW organization will offer participants language classes, crafts, and vocational courses during the three-month campaign. Some 17 Iraqi and Syrian children also receive English courses.

Suhad Abbas is an Iraqi IDP, a college graduate and mother of six children. She worked as a volunteer teacher this year at an Arabic school for Iraqi IDPs in Halabja.

As her family struggles to pay for the rent and basic needs, she is now attending sewing classes offered as part of the NWE campaign. Her new occupation, she hopes, will bring some extra income to the family.

Abbas’ hometown of Diyala was been recaptured from the Islamic State in February, but she’s not ready to return.

“We are afraid to go back since we fear being detained by Hashd al-Shaabi [Shiite militias known as Popular Mobilization Units],” she said. “All of us have been scattered in Kurdistan.”

Besides some 720 displaced Iraqi families, there are also 70 families from Rojava, known among locals as the Kobani refugees in reference to the symbolic Kurdish city.

Khansa Derbas, from the Syrian city of Hasaka, came to Halabja three months ago along with her three children. She was encouraged by her husband who had found refuge here 10 months ago.

“My husband told me the people here are good.” Khansa said, insisting that she will stay in Halabja as long as she is a refugee.

Amira Arsalan, a new college graduate from Halabja, has practiced her first Arabic conversations with the Arab IDPs.

Understanding the language, she said, makes her day even harder because she now understands how difficult the situation of the IDPs is.

The community radio station Dangi Nwe, or New Voice, has also taken part in the campaign. The radio broadcasts a special program about peace and coexistence twice a week by inviting refugees to share their experiences with their audience

Published: 30/06/2015

Al Jazeera | Iraq refugee radio programme gains momentum

Thousands of listeners are tuning in to segments produced by and for people displaced by violence in Syria and Iraq.

Jonathan Brwon, Al Jazeera

Halabja, Iraq – As the Sulaimania skyline fades and the snow-capped mountains separating Iraq and Iran draw nearer, the signal of Iraq’s first radio broadcast made by and for refugees emerges from static.

“This is Dange Nwe Radio, refugee-to-refugee segment, from 8am to 12 noon, broadcast in Kurmanji and Arabic,” a female broadcaster announces in a southern Iraqi accent. The early-morning programme includes Kurdish poetry, classic love songs by a Christian Lebanese singer, and pop music more familiar to listeners in Baghdad than in northern Iraq.

The new refugee radio programme on Dange Nwe (New Voice) Radio is staffed exclusively by Syrian and Iraqi women displaced by the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and the war in Syria.

The four DJs tailor their programming to the thousands of families who have fled the ongoing violence and sought refuge in this rural corner of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

“All the programmes we air – whether they are news, politics, health, or music – have an audience within the refugee community,” Hevy Izat Ahmed, who is originally from Kobane, told Al Jazeera. “We know what news refugees need to hear, about aid deliveries, or about what’s happening at home.”

WATCH: Displaced Iraqis find new future in Kurdish region

Ahmed, 27, was living in Aleppo when war broke out in Syria. She studied philosophy at a university in Beirut before returning to Syria. Though she is new to radio, she is confident in front of a microphone: “Being a refugee and knowing what our listeners have gone through makes me able to do this job. Another broadcaster might not understand what it means to be a refugee in a foreign country.”

The eastern Iraqi city of Halabja, nestled in the foothills of the sprawling mountain range that delineates the border with Iran, is better known as the site of a massacre nearly three decades ago, when the Iraqi air force dropped sarin and nerve gas during the Iran-Iraq war, killing thousands.

‘We know what news refugees need to hear, about aid deliveries, or about what’s happening at home,’ says Hevy Izat Ahmed [Andrea DiCenzo/Al Jazeera]

Since ISIL fighters overran swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014, millions of people have been displaced, including around 5,000 families who have been drawn to the region surrounding Halabja for a variety of reasons, for example the relatively low cost of living and employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Dange Nwe’s five-room station, plastered with fading posters of Kurdish singers, is housed in a women’s centre in Halabja, originally established to offer vocational training. In the small studio, Fallujah native Hanine Hassan, 19, reads the day’s technology news, including a report on a newly launched mobile app that can estimate the moment of a user’s death and set a countdown timer to that moment. But Hassan told Al Jazeera she prefers interviewing refugees in nearby camps, and hearing about the challenges they face while adjusting to life in Halabja.

“I hope that having these interviews with refugee families, who are talking about their suffering, is comforting for others in the same position, so they know that other people are also suffering or experiencing the same problems,” Hassan said.

The refugee radio will last for as there are refugees here, and after that, we will adapt to whatever the needs of the community are.

Falah Muradkhin, coordinator

Although the station’s refugee programming began airing at the end of 2015, Dange Nwe has been a liberal voice in the Halabja region since 2004. The community-oriented station strives for independence from political and religious factions while tackling socially sensitive issues, including female genital mutilation and polygamy.

Before the new refugee-to-refugee segments began, “the station was in a bit of a crisis”, said Falah Muradkhin, the coordinator for Wadi, an Iraqi-German NGO that supports the broadcasts. “We were exploring new ideas. We needed new ideas for the station.”

When Muradkhin suggested that Dange Nwe staff train newly arrived refugees to broadcast programmes that would address the needs of the displaced community, “they weren’t convinced at first”, he said.

But today, tens of thousands of listeners are tuning in to the four hours of refugee-to-refugee programming, including news, celebrity gossip, and health and technology updates, according to data from the station.

Shadan Habeb Fathullah, a 28-year-old from Halabja, is the manager of Dange Nwe. She mentor the new recruits, while also producing and editing most of the segments. When a traditional Kurdish pop song abruptly cuts out amid a routine power outage, Fathullah runs to the backup generator outside to keep the broadcast on air.

“It’s a lot of responsibility, but I love what I do, and I want to do my best for the girls,” she told Al Jazeera in the station’s editing room.

Some of Dange Nwe’s long-time listeners from Halabja, however – including city officials – have expressed concern over the new programmes broadcast in Arabic and the northern dialect of Kurdish, which are not spoken by most of the population.

“My brother works in the market,” Fathullah said. “Until recently, most of the people working there listened to our radio in the morning. But since we began broadcasting in Arabic and Kurmanji [the northern dialect of Kurdish], people have been tuning to other stations, because they don’t understand the broadcasts.”

Despite the station’s tight budget, Muradkhin says these broadcasts will continue until the displaced people are able to return to their homes in Iraq and Syria.

“The refugee radio will last for as there are refugees here, and after that, we will adapt to whatever the needs of the community are,” Muradkhin said.

Dange Nwe even hopes to grow its programming and frequency range to encompass the entire area of the community of refugees and displaced people in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

“We’d like to be doing even more than we are now,” Hevy said. “We’d like to be able to expand our coverage to reach more refugees in Erbil, Dohuk and the entire refugee community in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.”

Follow Jonathan Brown on Twitter: @jonathaneebrown

Niqash | The Refugee Radio Station Making Waves In Iraqi Kurdistan

Four displaced women from Iraq and Syria, now based in Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan, are running a radio show for other displaced people in the area.

Four displaced young women are making waves in the northern Iraqi city of Halabja – radio waves, that is. The four women run a radio show that is broadcast on the socially-conscious Dange Nwe, or New Voice, radio station, that’s called “By The Displaced People, For The Displaced People”. The show is broadcast every day between 8am and midday and includes news broadcasts as well as information from the camps around Halabja, where an estimated 6,000 displaced Iraqis and Syrians now live. And the show is multi-lingual, using Arabic and Kurmanji, a variant of the Kurdish language commonly used in Syria.

“We present the news once every hour in both languages,” explains Hevy Izat Ahmed, one of the girls working for the radio show. “Then the other parts of the show involve special reports on displaced people and what’s going on in various Iraqi and Syrian cities. The people on our shows are the displaced people themselves. We want to make sure their voices are heard.”

Ahmed is herself displaced – she’s originally from Kobani, a Syrian Kurdish town, and she’s only been in Halabja for a year; when she reads the news, she does so in Kurmanji.

Hanine Hassan, who is originally from Fallujah further south in Iraq and who has been in Halabja for two and a half years, presents her broadcasts in Arabic. “I often get messages from displaced people in Halabja where they thank me and also suggest new ideas for programmes,” Hassan told NIQASH. “I find that very important because it indicates they are listening to us.”



Hassan says she’s hoping to establish something similar in Fallujah when she returns home, although she worries about how to fund it and whether radio journalism can provide her with a decent living. Currently the costs of the radio are covered in various ways, with revenue from advertising and by contributions from an Iraqi-German NGO, Wadi, long time supporters of the station.

“The people of Halabja respect the displaced people because they themselves have been through so much,” says Suzan Yahya, another of the women working for the show. Her family came from Syria almost three years ago and was one of the first to arrive in Halabja. As such, they stayed in the city in rented accommodation rather than in a camp and they now consider themselves part of the community.



“My task is to communicate the problems and suffering of the displaced people here,” says Layla Mohammed, who is also originally from Syria. Mohammed says she often visits a displaced people’s camp in Arbat, east of Sulaymaniyah, to prepare her reports there. The main problems for them now are lack of water and fuel and poor roads, she notes.

Currently the new radio show is getting a lot of attention. However it is also clear that because the shows are broadcast in languages unfamiliar to the Iraqi Kurdish locals, the station as a whole doesn’t do so well with local audiences during the hours of the displaced people’s show.

However as Rankin Salam, the director of Dange Nwe, which has been operating since 2005, explains, the work that the women are doing promotes peaceful co-existence in Halabja, a city which has suffered a lot and which was named the “Capital of Peace” by local authorities in September 2014.