The ‘Campaign for Peace and Mutual Living in Halabja’ is an incredible movement driven by a humanistic response by locals to a complex refugee crisis.
The refugee situation in Halabja continues to be complicated. While the Syrian (mainly Kurdish) refugees fleeing the civil war are mostly welcomed warmly, the Arabs who have arrived from central Iraq are met with suspicion. Currently Kurdish nationalism is strong and years of suppression under the Arab nationalist regime of Saddam Hussein have not been forgotten. Especially here, in Halabja,where during the Anfal campaign in 1988, the Kurdish population was targeted by sarin and mustard gas attacks, between 3,200 and 5,000 were killed or otherwise sustained lifelong injuries and illnesses.
Today, politicians voice their dismay that Iraqi Kurdistan is flooded with Arab refugees because the central government in Bagdad is failing its responsibilities, or, in fact, failing as a state entirely. While Kurdish Peshmerga are taking on the “Islamic State” and winning ground, the Iraqi army is still in retreat. The government in Bagdad is adding fuel to the fire by giving free reign to Shia militias which torment the Sunni Arab population forcing them to either flee or align themselves with the Jihadists.
Coming together, regardless of ethnicity, to help one another through this crisis.
Political analyses aside, the women at the Halabja Women’s Center understood perfectly well that politics should not be used against people. Many of the women at the center have been refugees themselves when they fled from Sadam Hussein’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds. Only by Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds and Arabs coming together would they be able to overcome this current crises and set a sign against rising racism.
In the Media: Rudaw: Halabja group launches ‘Summer of Peace’
In an inspiring turn of events in early summer 2015, about 100 women from Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, and Iraqi Arabs came together at the center to discuss the activities and programs that they could share. After much discussion, in an emotional turn of events it was decided that the program would serve Arabs and Kurds alike, regardless of which country they are from.
Through the “Campaign for Mutual Living and Peace in Halabja”, the refugees are offering classes teaching Kurdish to the Arabs and Arabic to the Iraqi Kurds – Syrian Kurds were taught in Arabic and only in Arabic in schools under the regime of the Assads.
The idea and story behind the “Halabja Peace Project” have been reported widely on Kurdish media, starting a public debate on how a welcoming culture for refugees could work. The project has also shown what refugees can contribute to the city, through the regular cleaning activities that beautify shared spaces.
The educational activities that we offer through this project have all been suggested by the women themselves. They include: vocational courses such as sewing or hairstyling, language education, computer courses, arts and crafts for children. The social and environmental activities include: cleaning up local parks and green areas, coming together for public picnics, and general socializing creating a welcome atmosphere for refugees.
This project is supported by Medica Mondiale and Wadi.