01/09/2015, 00.00
Send to a friend

The Kurdish dream of being able to live Christians and Muslims together

by Bernardo Cervellera
Kurdish Islam has always been moderate and lived in peace with Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrians ... But the fundamentalist pressures are shaking this coexistence. "With us there were no veiled women; now you see them here and there: they are paid by Saudi Arabia to wear the veil. Fundamentalism is the child of poverty." The war is sucking the resources of Kurdistan and enriching Turkey.

Komane (AsiaNews) - The terrorist attack in Paris is unleashing in Europe a rejection of coexistence with Muslims. Here in Iraq - and more specifically in Kurdistan - things are seen with more nuances: there is the condemnation of sectarian violence, but there are also glimmers of friendship.

Towards evening Msgr. Rabban al-Qas, the bishop of Duhok, accompanies us to present condolences to a Muslim family, whose relative has died. The bishop has known this family since the 1970s, when these Muslim Kurds, persecuted by Saddam Hussein, were driven from Baghdad. Some of them have spent long periods in prison. Msgr. Rabban welcomed them and helped them to settle in the village where they still live, also building their homes. Their gratitude to the bishop is great and they treat him like a member of their family. The younger children call him "my uncle bishop."

Upon our arrival we greet the head of the family and the close relatives of the deceased, an elderly man. We also greet some women, who - unlike what one might expect in the Muslim world - shake our hands in greeting.

Then we enter the condolence room: a large living room with pillows all around; guests sitting in the lotus position, a stove in the center. Some of them are the heads of the village and wear the distinctive Kurdish headgear, a black and white keffiyeh wrapped around the head.  There is talk of this and that, the friendship of Msgr. Rabban with them and ours with the Bishop; they recall old times, and then the conversation falls onto present: the refugees, the misery, the insecurity of the war, the Islamic State (IS).

The oldest, Hassan, the head of the family, says he "ashamed to be a Muslim" because the IS (they still call it "Daesh", the Arabic acronym for "Isis, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant") carries out all this violence in the name of Islam.

One of Hassan's sons, who also speaks English, and is a member of the Kurdish party Barzani, cuts short: "We don't want to live with Isis, we don't want to live with the Arabs: we have always had trouble from them." The reference is not only to the IS, but also to Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War: to hold on to power, he gave himself the air of a Muslim, despite being an atheist, by promoting policies of the fundamentalist type.

"Our Islam is not violent, it is a friend of the Christians: look how we love the bishop and his community. Among the people who came today to offer condolences, at least half are Christians."

Msgr. Rabban explains to me that Kurdish Islam has always been moderate and lived in peace with Christians, Yazidis, Zoroastrians... But the fundamentalist pressures are shaking this coexistence.  The men sitting around the room speak of the influence of Iran, Turkey, but above all Saudi Arabia. "With us there were no veiled women; now you see them here and there: they are paid by Saudi Arabia to wear the veil. Fundamentalism is the child of poverty." Of course they accuse Saudi Arabia of funding the radical Islam of Isis, similar to that of the Saudis in its cruelty and fanaticism.

Turkey also has its weight. Here and there in the area of ​​Duhok one sees large and small mosques that follow the model of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, with a large central dome and at least two pencil-thin minarets that rise up the sides.

Turkey is interested in crumbling Iraq because this way it is even more difficult to establish a Kurdish state, autonomous or even independent, which would give strength to the Kurdish minority in Turkey (about 16 million). In fear of seeing the southern part of the country torn away, Turkey is helping Isis: it allows them to find refuge at the border; it allows them training camps; it buys their oil...

At the same time, since the war is sucking away the resources of Kurdistan, Turkey is enriched by all that Kurdistan can sell. With Iraq divided in two by the Islamic State (the Kurdish north, the Shiite south and in the middle Daesh), the Kurdish trade can only take the road of Iran and Turkey, the two neighboring countries. There would also be Syria, but it is drowning in the war. Every day there depart from Erbil long lines of trucks and tankers carrying oil, kerosene, gasoline, agricultural products, to Diyarbakir, the Kurdish area, in the southeast of Turkey. The Kurdish government is building a wide highway that leads from Erbil to Zakkho, the last place on the Kurdish border that because of the war is becoming a large city with construction sites, shops, banks.

The member of the Kurdish party begs me: "Tell Italy to help us become autonomous or even independent. With these neighbors peace becomes impossible. Italy was among the first to help us in the time of Saddam Hussein. Do something for us also today."

Fundamentalism is also the child of ignorance. For this reason, the real way to fight it is education. Msgr. Rabban has been beating this track for at least 10 years. In 2003 he involved Church and government in a project to create a school, the International School of Duhok, which houses up to 500 students, males and females together, of all religions, Christians and Muslims, where they learn to live together and not be afraid of each other. The school covers the path from middle to high school. The courses, all highly qualified, are taught in English and French.  This allows the young people coming out of this school to compete for scholarships abroad. Many former students are now in the universities of Great Britain, France, Germany and the United States.

In school they teach Kurdish, Arabic and even the ancient Aramaic. All families are competing to enroll their children because the school offers good prospects for their future. But also their present has its fruit: the young are uninhibited, girls wearing veils are not ashamed to wear makeup, or to be close to their male companions; Christians and Muslims respect each other's holidays and customs.

A situation very different from what happens in Mosul. I was told that a Christian boy always played with a Muslim friend of his own age. At one point one day the Muslim said to the other: "I am not going to play with you anymore. My uncle told me that I should not play with Christians." And the friendship was over. At least for now.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
Rami, a refugee in Erbil: "We cannot run away, the future of Christians is in Iraq"
School and work: the problems of the young refugees of Mosul
The children of Mosul and the future: the "five-star" refugee camp
Louis Sako: Two years on from expulsion of Christians from Mosul and Nineveh
04/08/2016 12:14
Winter is coming for Mosul refugees: We need your help