“There are 800,000 refugees in Dohuk,” Hani Andrews, a UNHCR officer told us, “and last year half of their tents blew down during a massive windstorm.”
But big tent cities are not the only place that refugees are housed. Every possible cubby hole in Dohuk has its share of refugees: in an abandoned shopping mall, in wedding halls, in school dormitories and in other buildings scattered around the city and its suburbs.
We visited one of those sites, a wedding/reception center of the Assyrian
Church of the East that houses three floors of refugees, with each family living behind a stack of boxes that separates them from the other.
As an aside, one of our group of pilgrims to Irag, Greg Rhodes, a very competent photographer, has been posting pictures on Facebook over the past week. You’ll find a link to his Facebook Page in the Links: Traveling Team Facebook Updates page of this website.Continue reading “15 September: Dohuk and thence to Diyarbakir”→
“Welcome to Kurdistan!” our driver said with pride as we crossed the border, a procedure requiring seven different checkpoints, two changes of transport, and a heavy coating of diesel fumes in the 102° heat.
En route to Dohuk we passed a UNHCR refugee camp set aside specifically for Yazidis, with a population of 30,000 living in a massive tent city.
Deir Abuna Our first stop, was hard by the camp, at the town of Deir Abuna—”the Monastery of the Fathers.”
Eighty of this village’s 200 houses had been abandoned a few years ago when the PKK went on a rampage against Christians during the cross-border Turkish incursion. Now these homes are filled with Christian and Yazidi refugees, thanks to the heroic offer of the town’s mayor, Mochtar Zecharia.
We crossed the Turkish Iraq border with only 7 stops and 3 changes of vehicles and arrived in Dohuk with little difficulties.
At least five miles of trucks were lined up on the Turkish side of the border, held up by a thorough border inspection by the Turks…just another harassment of the
Kurds by the Turks.
We have been going at full speed ever since, with little time and internet connectivity to post on this blog. We’ve visited a number of refugee camps and non-profit agencies and we’re out the door again in 15 minutes.
We’re hoping to return to the border by 2:00PM in order to be in Diyarbakir tonight, after which I’ll try to process and capture what I’ve heard and seen.
In the meantime, it’s great to be traveling with a rock star. Fr Dale is a big attraction to all the Christian refugee kids. All he has to offer is a blessing, which is exactly what they want.
Border Crossing. The Turkish government has put a curfew (as of Sunday night) on border crossings, but, thus far it seems that the border is clear.
Bishop Daoud in Iraq has arranged for a driver and a van with all the necessary paperwork to carry us into that country, and we’ll have some additional escort as well. More to follow about the border crossing on Monday night.
Church. Morning Prayer started at 5:30, Eucharist started at 6:00AM and lasted until 8AM, and then we witnessed a baptism at 10:30 that lasted another hour. That’s a lot a church in one day.
We visited some churches that may not survive the next 10 years, as well as some local Syriac Christian families that don’t see a great future for Christians in Iraq.
The Tur Abdin Region. In the hilly country of eastern Turkey, the Silk Road passes nearby a number of Syriac monasteries. And it was to three of these monasteries we went to on Saturday. The first we visited was to check in with the Metropolitan of the Tur Abdin region of
Turkey, Bishop Samuel Akatas, who is also helping to make arrangements for our transportation across the border. We also visited monastery Mor Augin, the oldest monastery in the Syriac Orthodox church, which has been and will continue to be Fr. Dale’s current home.
The region we’re in now known as Tur Abdin, Syriac for “Mountain of the Church of God.” This mountain range of barren hills was the home of hundreds of monasteries. Now only five remain.
A brief pause for a three-paragraph history of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Suriani Christians (those who follow the Syriac Orthodox faith) speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The Syrian Orthodox church broke off from the Greek Orthodox faith early in the third century, but it traces its origins to the church founded in Antioch in 37A.D., where church members were first called Christians. Continue reading “On the Silk Road”→
The Good. Call it serendipity, or the work of the Holy Spirit: a chance meeting with a team from World Hunger, Germany.
We stopped at the Church of the Holy Martyrs in Mardin to make a courtesy call with the Bishop on our way to Mardin and the refugee camp located next to Mor Abraham monastery.
At lunch at a past parishioner of Fr. Dale we just happened to bump into Ulrike Dufner, the team leader of effort being undertaken by the German nonprofit Wert Huner Hilfe, to provide for the refugee’s education for children, health and warmth,, a cash card system and advice. (http://bit.ly/1XVxzBo)
Ulrike was very excited to hear about the Seeds of Hope- Nineveh program. This was, she said, precisely what was needed by the refugees. Not only was it a means of bettering the nutrition needs of those in the camps (lots of rice and other carbs), it also provided a means to the next step in leaving the refugee camps in Iraq with hope for a better life.
The Bad. Or visit with the refugees (Yazidis and Muslims) in the refugee camp at Mor Abraham was postponed as we awaited the final approval of the local governor. He hasn’t yet said, “No,” but based on what I know about Middle-Eastern bureaucracy, no one every gives a flat-out refusal, but we’ll never get an approval, either.
The Ugly. The road to our next stop at the monastery at Mor Gabriel, Fr. Dale’s home before he moved to Mor Augin. Unfortunately, the road was blocked by the Turkish
Army who were facing a crowd of Kurdish Iraqis who were protesting the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq, the closing of the border crossing at Jizreh, and the deaths that occurred in the crossfire. So it was back to Mor Abraham, where we spent the night at a hotel in Mardin.
Fr. Dale met with a group of German reporters very early this morning. They have heard some reports that the border crossing should be open soon. (They’re here to cover that). We have their cards, and they will keep us updated.
We’re in the Hotel Karavansary, on the old Silk Road, a hotel built right into the basalt walls of the Byzantine fortifications built by Julian the Apostate.
Diyarbakir is the city where we’ve just purchased seeds for the refugees. It is also, at the same time, one of the early-20th century killing zones of Christians and well as the present-day unofficial capital, apparently, of Kurdistan.
First the seeds: After consultations with those who routinely cross the border, Fr. Dale was told that the customs agents on both sides would be suspicious of a tourist party carrying a thousand pounds of seeds in which could easily be hidden a wide variety of illegal substances.
Fr Dale determined that the best course would be to have a commercial trucking company haul the seeds, and we would bring a variety of samples of what the big haul contains.
This afternoon’s shopping, then was to pick up the samples of the larger haul and package the samples for distribution.
We’re also hearing reports that the Turks have escalated their military maneuvers against the PKK Kurds. We understand that there were some hostilities at the border crossing yesterday, and Fr. Dale’s people are keeping a close eye on that. It worse comes to worse, we may be obliged to take a plane across the border.
The Turks have taken the opportunity—as they join the coalition conducting airstrikes against ISIS—to resume their air campaign against the PKK. Sadly, the PKK had laid down their arms two years ago in an armistice with the Turks, but apparently, the Turks considered an opportunity to drop bombs on their old adversaries an opportunity they could ill afford to pass on.
Fr. Dale Johnson, is no stranger to refugee crises.
This Syriac Orthodox priest has aided the UN High Commission on Refugees all over the world—in South Africa, Mongolia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Fr. Dale now resides most of the year at the Mor Augin Monastery in eastern Turkey, where yet another refugee crisis moved into the neighborhood, right across the Iraqi border, in Dohuk.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, Yazidis and Zoroastrians have escaped the genocide of the Islamic State and are massed in the hills (and even abandoned shopping malls) around Kurdish-controlled area of Dohuk.
The Islamic State seems to be hell-bent (truly!) on eliminating all the minority religious peoples out of the region. Now, for the first time since the time of the apostles, we fear that those Christians who speak the Aramaic language (the language of Jesus and his disciples) will disappear from the Middle East. Continue reading “Preparing for Takeoff – Seeds of Hope-Nineveh”→