Save the Marshes and the Tigris River

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Karzan Fadhil. July 14, 2012. Save the Marshes and the Tigris River was an inaugural conference held by the Civil Development Organization (CDO) to raise awareness of local residents about the dams that have been constructed on the borders between Iran-Iraq and Turkey-Iraq. The conference was held after a long time of exceeding the international laws of natural resources rights and water laws by Turkey. Many non-governmental organizations (NGO)s attended the conference and showed their concern about the dams, especially the Iliso dam, which is a project being built by Turkey on the Tigris River without any convention signed by Iraq or Turkey. If the Ilisu Dam is constructed, it will inundate the town of Hasankeyf, which is an ancient town rich with its history, including its villages and heritage that have existed for centuries.

Now, due to the Ilisu Dam the entire region is at risk of being submerged with the completion of the project. One thing that is worth mentioning is that European countries have stopped reinforcing the project since 2008 due to the disadvantages and the adverse effects of the project on Iraq and the villages where the dam is built, but some of the Middle Eastern countries that Iraq calls them “fraternal countries” or “neighboring countries” underpin the project of the Iliso dam and show support for it.

During the Conference, Dr. Azam Alwash, the director of Nature Iraq, gave a presentation about the dams and the devastating effects they have on Iraq and the nearby regions. He stated that if the Iliso dam is finished, farmers in Iraq will starve and most of the agricultural lands in Iraq will dry up. Subsequently, the dams that have been constructed by Iran on the rivers that flow down the mountains in Iraq were discussed. Furthermore, Iran has constructed nine dams on the rivers flowing through the regions of Iraq, so since Iran built the dams, the water of the rivers has decreased dramatically, and most of the rivers in Iraq have been dry, including the agricultural lands nearby the rivers. Consequently, at the end of the conference, the members of the NGOs decided to take all the necessary actions and preliminary steps to induce the international organizations to stop Turkey from building the Iliso dam.

A Global Movement Towards a Better Future

350.org is a website that is trying to make a change towards the best. It is trying to create a solution for the entire world for having a better environment! It is creating a global movement to solve the climate crisis. The fuel that the world is burning is causing huge climate problems, and people around the globe are living with what their own hands have done. As development club members we’re also trying our best to spread awareness among people about the unhealthy environment that we’re all living in.

So, 350.org created a global awareness day on the 5th of May. The idea was that each country should take pictures demonstrating how the world has changed over the years, and the pictures should contain a dot, so on May 5th all of the dots can be connected. The idea was splendid, and our Development club was part of that action.

A week before May 5th, our club had a meeting in Mr. Kevin’s classroom. We were brainstorming through the whole session. We were divided into several groups so we could get as many ideas as possible. Each group had more than five ideas for the pictures. Some of them were rather impossible to make, still the ideas themselves were really creative. We thought of every change that is happening to Kurdistan because of the climate change, and we were trying to reflect them through the pictures. We actually discovered that the environmental effects that we witnessed over our life time are rather tremendous! Sandstorms, less rain, lower water levels, winter is much shorter, and many many more! We wanted to demonstrate most of our ideas into meaningful pictures, so people around the world would understand that a simple change can affect the entire globe.

On May 5th our club members gathered at our university, and even students who were not members in the club joined us. We started to take many great pictures, and the whole thing was a blast; we had more fun than we could have ever imagined. When we saw our picture on the 350.org website, we were all proud of what we did.

السوليون-السليمانيون (Sulyon- Arabic)

Gallery

 لقد كنت من المحظوظين الذين قاموا بزيارة المجموعة الملهمة المدعوة السوليون بمصاحبة أعضاء مجموعة التطور الآن الموجودة في السليمانية في كردستان شمالي العراق قبل بضعة أسابيع. السوليون هم عبارة عن مجموعة من الفنانين الموهوبين الشبان حيث تتكون المجموعة من واحد … Continue reading

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Qeleyasan river clean-up

Sections of the Qeleyasa river are badly polluted

A few weeks ago, I accompanied a group of approximately 20 volunteer students and teachers from the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani who went to Sulaimani’s Sarchinar district on a field trip. We went to clean up the Qeleyasa river which is considerably polluted and has major litter problems. The NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Nature Iraq helped organize the trip and taught the participants about the importance of protecting Iraq’s waterways.

Local farmers rely on the river to water their crops

 For me, it was an interesting and fun experience. Part of my enjoyment stemmed from the fact that we had such variety in our group. There were Americans, Kurdish and Arab Iraqis from diverse religious backgrounds who all worked together to clean up the river. Personally, participating in this project helped strengthen my resolve that people need to put more effort into saving our environment. We should make people aware of the size of this problem and strive to find solutions for it.

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Conference Calls Bridging Worlds

Four Iraqi university students during the teleconference with American students.

Sixty Iraqi students collected in a conference room, eyes glued to a TV that showed about forty American students smiling back.  After a brief introduction from both sides, students bravely shuffled forward to sit in a chair fitted with a microphone and a webcam with their peers surrounding them.  Students’ hesitation turned to confidence as the conversation progressed.  The questions morphed from the innocuous “What do you do on the weekends?” and “Why are Americans always smiling?” to the contentious “Do you ever feel physically threatened?” and “Why does the American government like controlling the whole world?”.  Thought provoking answers fell on fascinated ears from both ends.  As it turned out, both sides shared similar interests and difficulties.  Almost everyone enjoyed going to the movies and hanging out with friends and almost everybody faced too much homework and hard economic times.  After an hour and a half of meaningful exchange, my Iraqi students exited the conference room beaming on account of the bridge they had just constructed linking the two worlds.

The teleconferences were held via skype and projected onto a screen.

The idea started as a small pen pal exchange and quickly evolved into a full teleconference.  Students exchanged questions before hand, setting the basis from which a fantastic cross-cultural conversation blossomed.  Using the first conference as a stepping stone, I organized another one albeit with a more intimate atmosphere.

Four waving Iraqi students sat in a row facing a webcam and a microphone.  On the other end four American students waved back.  Based on information exchanged before the call, they traded probing questions about problems facing their societies.   The protests sweeping the Middle East including Iraq were of particular interest to both sides.  Identifying the corruption that runs like rain through Iraq, one student emphasized “before the war, we had one lion: Saddam.  Now we have many lions”.  Discrimination, corruption, and economic issues were highlights.  Of course, with the American students being in Cleveland, my Iraqi students were curious as to how a river could catch on fire.  Though we all had a good laugh about that one, it was a sad reminder about the pollution problems that both societies face.  As the conversation pushed on, superficial differences melted away, and students again realized that the similarities outweighed the differences.  After an hour and a half, everybody was all smiles; another bridge had been erected.

Out of focus students realize that there is much more that brings them together than that drives them apart.

The most recent teleconference involved about twenty of my Iraqi students and five American students.  Though politics made a brief appearance, they mostly wanted to escape to the land of pop culture.  Excited students listed American TV shows they loved (24, Prison Break, Lost) and exchanged their opinions on pop icons.  Sadly, only one American student knew some Arabic pop culture (none knew any Kurdish pop culture) but the others replied that they were eager to learn.  At the end of the teleconference, everyone was enthusiastic about continuing the conversation.  The American students set up a Facebook group and invited the Iraqi students to join.  They have since traded numerous messages back and forth.

This Fall I am planning a more intricate teleconference with Development Now members discussing sustainable development issues and conflict resolution in Iraq with masters students in America.  I hope it will be as successful as the other teleconferences have been bridging worlds.

Iraqi students and their English instructor

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Photography auction: Raising funds for Iraqi artists

Chris De Bruyn with members of Sulyon

Last year I met with Dr. Nicole Watts, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, in a café in the Northern Iraqi city of Sulaimani. We looked through a collection of photographs I’ve taken over the past few years and after a few cups of coffee we decided to pursue a photography exhibition in California. Over the following six or seven months we solidified the theme of ‘Constructing Kurdistan’, got in touch with a handful of people at U.C. Berkeley and made all of the necessary preparations for the show.

straightening the photos for the exhibition

A few weeks prior to flying to CA for the exhibition, I stopped by another café in Suli and once again, conversations over a steaming cup of joe fanned the flames for another big project. Along with Leah, the Athletic Director of AUI-S, and Tanya Mewmaw’s help, the three of us decided to organize a photography auction of the ‘Constructing Kurdistan’ photos right here in Kurdistan, and give all of the proceeds a worthy local organization, Sulyon.

Sulyon is a group of Iraqi artists that is doing some wonderful things. I was first introduced to the group of young artists  when I stumbled upon a street theater performance they put on this past October. The performance dealt with issues of tolerance and racism and was one of the most interesting things I’ve seen since coming to Iraq. The group consists of roughly 45 members, the majority of which are students or recent graduates of visual and theater arts from Iraqi universities in Sulaimani.

Tim Mewmaw helps auction the photos

On February 4th Leah, Tanya and I held our breath and had the auction. Staff and faculty from AUI-S and NGOs based in Sulaimani as well as local community members were in attendance. The auction lasted approximately two hours and it raised over $3,000 for Sulyon. I’m looking forward to checking in with them soon to see what projects they have planned for the money.

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