April 24, 2012 by matt · Comments Off
Over the last few months we’ve seen an incredible influx of new readers and supporters, so it seemed good to put our most informative and successful video to-date back on the blog.
Whether you’re brand new or if you’ve been here a hundred times, watch it and let me know your reaction. Is it naive? Spot-on? Over-the-top? Email me!
March 16, 2012 by Cody · Comments Off
On this day in 1988 the war between Iraq and Iran had just entered its eighth deadly year. In the middle of the fight stood Halabja, a Kurdish city of 50,000 just eight miles from the Iranian border.
Halabja shook under the relentless air and artillery bombardment by the Iraqi military. Then when the night fell, Iraqi helicopters and bombers dropped chemical bombs from the sky. The survivors’ stories tell the rest:
A father named Kherwan remembers, “Artillery rounds began to explode…and planes began dropping bombs on the town…so we ran and hid in our basement. Then it started with a strange noise that sounded like bombs exploding, and a man came running into our house shouting, ‘Gas! Gas!’ Later, I smelled an aroma that reminded me of apples and I lost consciousness. Sometime later, I discovered that the Iraqi air force had bombed Halabja with chemical weapons.”
Nouri Hama Ali recalled, “Many of the women and children began to die. The chemical clouds were on the ground. They were heavy. Many children were left on the ground, by the side of the road. Old people as well. They were running, then they would stop breathing and die.”
At the end of the day, some 5,000 Iraqi Kurdish men, women, and children were dead. Another 10,000 were maimed and blinded. Halabja’s soil, food, and water supplies were contaminated and the survivors began to witness an enormous increase in cancers, respiratory disease, miscarriages, infertility and congenital heart defects.
This attack took its place in Saddam Hussein’s deadly Anfal Campaign which aimed at killing and displacing the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Human Rights Watch concluded in 1994 that this campaign resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths.
Every year, on this day, there are hundreds of articles, posts, and statuses drawing our attention to Halabja.
Some use it as a time to draw attention to the fact that Hablabja’s infrastructure is still in shambles—24 years later. Others still call for justice to be served to all those involved in the genocide. Some condemn the countries that supplied Saddam with the chemicals he needed to create these weapons. Others call us simply to pause and remember.
All of these are right and we honor Halabja by advocating in these ways.
But working toward a Halabja with paved streets, running water, and constant electricity is not the best we can do. We can turn Halabja into a Dubai or a Manhattan, but if we still haven’t addressed why the bombing of Halabja happened in the first place, we continue to dishonor those who died there.
That’s why we believe in remaking the world through healing—not just through bricks and mortar.
We believe that where forgiveness is freely given, reconciliation can happen and where reconciliation happens, there is freedom; freedom from the past; freedom from always being labeled the “victim” or the “aggressor;” freedom to live life the way it was meant to be lived—in restored relationship.
So I’m taking time today to stop and remember Halabja and to encourage those I know who were affected by it. And I’m also taking time to stop and remember that reconciliation is the way forward.
Photo by Julie Adnan
Allow me to introduce PLC’s newest video!
If you’re unfamiliar with our work, we consider this our manifesto. Everything we do boils down to this belief: reconciliation happens through healing.
With your help, that which has been destroyed and ‘unmade’ can be rebuilt. It can be healed.
For all you video connoisseurs, what did you think? Give us some feedback in the comments section below, or connect with us on Vimeo.
A sobering remembrance of the 1988 chemical attack on Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan and the repercussions still felt by residents today.
June 10, 2010 by Lauren · Comments Off
On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi military used chemical weapons on the city of Halabja. The attack was meant to erase all Halabja inhabitants off the map: plants, animals and humans. A total of 5,000 men, women and children were killed in the attack, and of the survivors, 11,000 were injured.
As we walked through the memorial, I recalled an ancient Hebrew poem:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
When we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
For there our captors asked us for songs,
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy
The poem is about the Hebrew people who were exiled in the land of Babylon, present-day Iraq. They cried because they missed their homeland; they cried because they were expected to be happy and play songs for their captors. But they couldn’t.
I wonder if that’s how the survivors of Halabja felt. They didn’t want to sing songs. Their families died. Their neighbors died. Like the Hebrews, some Iraqis living in Halabja had to leave their land and flee to Iran.
I’m trying to make sense of what happened in Halabja. I’m trying to make it mean something to me. We are bombarded with images of war and genocide on the news, making it easy to forget that Halabja was a reality. We forget that congenital birth defects caused by this and similar chemical attacks are a reality.
O, Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us
I hate how the Hebrew poem ends. Instead of offering hope for a people, it speaks of revenge against the tormentors. Hate is so easy. It is our job to choose not to hate.
Many children here need surgeries and medication and therapy to address their congenital birth defects. And some of them probably need this help as a result of the chemical attacks in Halabja and other attacks similar to it. As a newcomer and summer intern, I love that the Preemptive Love Coalition response to genocide is not to seek revenge on behalf of victims, but to work alongside Iraqis to bring healing to suffering children.
|Mohammad’s family had $6,000 in-hand on loan from a friend to get their son the heart surgery he needed. Then the creditor decided to build a new house and took his loan back before Mohammad received surgery. Now the family is trying to find surgical solutions. Donate the amount of your choice by entering it in the field below to help send Mohammad to life-saving heart surgery.
His great arteries are switched around and in the wrong places. He has two holes in the wall of his ventricle, a hole in the wall of his atrium. Effectively, his heart is a big balloon without properly functioning walls and chambers like yours.
This alone results in exhaustion, frequent fainting, and the blue discoloration in his lips, hands, and feet from a lack of oxygen.
You remember oxygen? That stuff that we pretty much need to live. Ahmad needs it too, but his body cannot process it correctly due to the holes in his little heart.
His brown-booted feet hung limply from the chair. Most children wouldn’t be able to resist swinging their suspended legs back and forth in the quiet room surrounded by the seven dwarfs’ familiar faces, the Kurdish curls presumably spelling the names of Dopey and Sneezy and the rest, scattered among painted forest animals on all four walls of Dr. Aso’s combined office, waiting room and examination room. When the doctor was ready, the practiced hands of his mother removed his jacket from his tiny body, his boots from little clubbed blue feet which matched his hands, tormented eyes watching her above his oxygen deprived lips the shade of blueberries.
The doctor’s eyes widened and his brow furrowed as he looked at the Echo, turned to us and said, “This is a very serious case.” When we asked if he was inoperable the doctor shook his head and simply said again, “It is a very serious case…. I don’t know.” Whether she understood English or not Ahmad’s mother read all our expressions easily. She tipped her head to the heavens, possibly to pray, and more practically to give her eyes the opportunity to swallow the tears threatening to escape.
After the picture we snapped of him standing in front of a Kurdish Snow White & the Seven Dwarves, he hid his little face in his mother’s leg and wiped tears from his eyes…
Liz searched her purse for the third time looking desperately for something to give this poor child. She hoped a matchbox car or at least some stickers had magically appeared since she’d last checked, but her hands came up empty again. Her mind slowly absorbed the fact that even if a toy might have brought a temporary smile to his sad eyes, it would do nothing for his frail body. Instead she prayed for the Turkish doctor who will soon undergo the difficult task of setting to rights all that is wrong in Ahmad’s little Iraqi frame.
We’d like to ask you to be a part of Ahmad’s transformation. Of course, these are hard times. But if you can, please consider sacrificing that Ahmad might live.
March 9, 2008 by Jeremy · Comments Off
You’ve heard that bit about the Iranian border, terrorist crossings, tea smugglers, porous trails in between security checkpoints, etc? Apparently it’s all true.
We went to Hawraman in search of shoes yesterday. Hawraman is a typical border town, having been arbitrarily divided and thereby having been forced to grow up on two sides of the border. We didn’t go into Iranian Hawraman; but Iraqi Hawraman was phenomenal.
We did indeed see tea smugglers, with their mules packed down, weaving the windy roads into the Iranian mountains. Supposedly the donkeys know the trail by heart and can still deliver the tea (or whatever else they smuggle) if the Iranian officials get too close and the human guide has to abandon the cargo.
Hawraman is built into the mountains in a terraced manner. We climbed 540 “stairs” to one guy’s house just to buy 7 pairs of shoes. We trekked another kilometer to a roof top patio where we inspected some 200 shoes and walked away with 28. But the net result was money saved and more control over the product compared to buying in the larger city markets; not to mention greater economic impact.
We were there at the behest of a former regional commander of the Kurdish peshmerga, whose guests for the day included a few scraggly Americans (that would be us), business men decked out in Western suits and ties, a parliamentarian for the Regional Government, the former 20-year mayor of Halabja, and a number of armed guards. And though it was entirely unnecessary, he sent one of his guards with us to traipse through the city “just in case.”
As with all the former peshmerga with whom I’ve sat, I found it funny that a man would swear on the Qur’an while downing whisky shots and gambling over poker. Nice guy… but what does swearing on the Qur’an really amount to in that context?
Part of his agenda for the day was to connect us with the poorest klashmakers in the community. In this way, this protector of the people was acting as a conduit for foreign investment directly into the lives of the city’s poorest – without skimming anything off the top for himself.
The same could not be said for the parliamentarian. He tried to horn in on our bulk purchase and buy a pair of shoes at our significantly discounted mass-meets-mercy prices. To my astonishment, the klashmakers stood their ground and told him he could afford a full-priced pair!
We left Hawraman about 5:30 p.m., feeling completely at home, but having been previously warned that “it is not a safe place at night.” I’m guessing it’s not because of the tea smugglers.
We arrived back in our city a couple hours later, completely worn out from the “up-hill-both-ways” drive. For the first time in my life, I can actually conceive of my father’s “when I was a child” stories.
We’ve made some preliminary arrangements for the klashmakers to visit our office next week to make a delivery according to our specifications. We’ll be eager to see how that goes, and excited to continue on partnership with them in the event that all goes well.
Thanks for reading… over and out.
The BSSL Peeps
A few weeks ago Buy Shoes. Save Lives. took stock of our assets, our debts, our inventory, and our projected future needs and determined that it was time to give a significant chunk of our money to a child named Aras from the Kurdish city of Halabja in Iraq.
Halabja now stands as an emblem of suffering for the Kurdish people; the site of Saddam Hussein’s March 16, 1988 gas attack against Kurds in which 5,000 died in one day.
It felt significant and symbolic to make our first child the child of the city whose scars are carried on today by children who suffer heart disease – nearly 20 years later – because of the gas attacks of that day.
We were nine and younger in 1988, and yet we feel our hands are dirty and that we am somehow complicit in the problems and pains of Aras’ people. $5,000 cannot repair decades of hurt – and decades to come – but as far as feelings go, it felt good to give our money away to Aras and his family.
Today Cody escorted a very nervous Aras and his mother to the airport, where they flew for the first time, and landed many delayed hours later in Amman, Jordan. They were greeted by one of the many partners in this endeavor, Brothers Together. Aras should be headed on to Jordan later this week for surgery.
We are nearly speechless at how amazing this has been. And we’re fairly certain we’ve received new hearts in this process, as well.
November 28, 2007 by Jeremy · Comments Off
The group of children ready to travel to Jordan was completed tonight when Aras and his mother arrived in Jordan. They had to leave home this morning to get to the airport for their flight which we were told would arrive at 6 pm. We were notified by our partners in Iraq that they were very nervous and didn’t know what to do, so we were planning quite carefully to be sure there were friendly faces on the ground to meet them at the airport.
Aras, is from the city of Halabja, where 5000 were killed in a notorious chemical attack in 1988, probably the most potent symbol of Kurdish suffering. Tomorrow Aras and his mother will cross into Jordan tomorrow for his long-sought treatment for this heart condition.
Aras, 12 years old
Aras should have had surgery as an infant, and thanks to your thoughtful buying practices and great compassion Aras will now inshallah, LORD willing, get that surgery he needs. This surgery was co-sponsored by Buy Shoes. Save Lives. and other private donors with BSSL paying over 68% of the $7,000 base. With surgery Aras is expected to lead a normal life! doctors have accepted him as a surgery candidate, and we will attempt to send him as soon as possible.