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reconciliation and hope arise
Thanks to education,
By DR PATRICIA MADIGAN OP
the Centre for
Sister Martha Ann Kirk, Professor of
Religious Studies at the University
of the Incarnate Word, have recently
researched the impact of the Fezalar
schools in Iraq. Eight schools and
one university have been established
by Turkish Muslims since the 1988
massacres in northern Iraq to provide
a setting in which students of sharply
different backgrounds can learn
together. The teachers have been
inspired by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish
Islamic scholar, who encourages
education which builds reconciliation,
respect for diversity, justice and peace.
In the study titled "Three Generations
of Women in Iraq", the voices of
women, which have often been
marginalised, are placed at the centre
of the research. With no incidents
of violence in the autonomous
region of northern Iraq since 2006,
after decades of conflict and civil
war, daughters, their mothers and
grandmothers, were asked about
the difference the new educational
opportunities were making in
Aurora invited Patricia to share some
of the stories that have emerged from
NERGIS AND HER MOTHER
Nergis' mother said, "I had three sisters
and one brother who died. We did not
have medical help in the village. We
worked in the fields. Then we came to the
city. I was always so tired. My husband
was away being a soldier."
Then daughter Nergis started to talk
about her life. "We are eight sisters and
five brothers. We have all studied. Mother
thinks it is important for both boys and
girls to study. Mother supported us by
making bread and ice cream. My brothers
would go out with carts and sell what she
Nergis said, "Like all the people here, we
ran away to Iran. I was three when we
escaped in 1991. To lighten the burden
my oldest brother wanted to throw us
into the river. My father responded, 'Why
are we fleeing to save our lives if you
just want to throw them away?' After a
while a family took us in and helped us.
Our father was gone so much because
Saddam forced people to be soldiers.
You might be killed if you refused. Our
father had already done his time of
military service, but they came back
wanting more service. We made a false
wall in the house for him to hide, not to
be taken. Then after that war was over,
the Kurdish civil war started between
tribes that wanted power."
Nergis is now an Abla (Big Sister) looking
after 24 girls in the Nulifer school
dormitory. She said, "In these schools
they have taught me to help others.
Helping others and trusting God has
helped me. Like a miracle, I was the top
student in the first year at the university."
While people of families of different
ethnic groups, including Kurdish,
Turkmen and Arab, had often been
separated from each other, within the
Turkish schools they are becoming
friends, learning to respect each
other's cultures and religions, and
working together for peace. Stories of
Iraqi women's resilience, courage and
compassion brim with wisdom and
engender much hope for the future, for
the women themselves and for the
ongoing development of the region of
Hero and a friend walk through the Halabja
Museum in which 180,000 pieces of broken mirror
commemorate the number of Kurdish people killed
under the Ba ath regime in the 1980s.
Dr Patricia Madigan OP
HERO AND SHNO
Hero, who attended a Turkish school in
Sulaimaniya, said, "I was two months
old at the time of the chemical bombing
This massacre of the Kurdish people
took place on 16 March 1988 and
remains very strong in people's
memories. Near the end of the Iran-
Iraq war, the central Iraqi government
believed that the Kurds of Halabja were
assisting Iran, which is on the other
side of the mountains, only half an
Hero's aunt Shno said, "About 183,000
people lived in Halabja. We have the
names of 5,000 who disappeared, but
there were probably more because
sometimes whole families were killed,
so no one was left to indicate that
others had died."
Shno said, "We went to our neighbours
because they had an underground
shelter. We stayed there for three days.
We got water and a cloth to put over
our mouths and noses. It was strange;
there was no sound of a bomb because
it was just the chemicals dropping.
Then there was a strange smell. We
left the city quickly with no clothes or
anything. Hero was two months old."
Hero, whose life began amidst such
challenges, was encouraged at the
Turkish school in Sulaimaniya. Now she
is happy teaching fifth grade maths at
Nulifer, the Turkish school in Erbil. As
she was given hope, she wants to share
hope. She is grateful that a Turkish
school is now starting in Halabja.
PAWAN, JAHDIYE AND MAMIZ
Grandmother Mamiz Hassan belonged
to a family of landowners that had
thousands and thousands of sheep.
Pawan, her granddaughter, remembered
how, "From the time I opened my eyes,
there has been fighting. Mothers have
been crying for their husbands and for
Pawan told the story of her fifth grade
maths teacher who had come from
Turkey. "He had left medical school to
be a teacher. While he was studying
medicine, his father was in a car
accident in Mosul. He was not dead,
but the mafia came and took parts of
his body. I said to our teacher, 'How
could you come to teach and help us?
You could have taken revenge on us.'
This was about twenty years after his
father's death, but the teacher started
to cry and said, 'I love you.' We all
started to cry. I said, 'You have taught
us to return love and not revenge.'"
Pawan's family wanted to send her
abroad to medical school, but she kept
insisting on teacher education in Iraq,
with lower pay. She said, "When the end
of the month comes, and I have little, I
know I am doing this for God. I don't
have time to think about my salary; I'm
thinking about my students."
"As she was given hope,
she wants to share hope."
Pawan and her mother Jahdiye.
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