A peaceful Holy Week in Iraq
A peaceful Holy Week in Iraq
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The Islamic State is in the process of being defeated in Mosul, its principal fiefdom for the last three years. However, many people are already concerned about a potential “next war” that may tear the country apart.
Sylvia Wähling, who is director of the Center for Human Rights in Cottbus, a German town located between Dresden and Berlin, refuses to give in, however. On her sixth visit to Iraq since 2014, Wähling wants to talk about peace.
She came up with an idea that she herself admits is a little crazy, namely to walk across the Nineveh Plain during Holy Week in order to spread her message.
Thus, on Palm Sunday together with around fifteen friends from several European countries, she set out on foot from Ankawa, the Christian quarter of the Kurdistan capital of Iraq, Erbil.
Their destination was Al Qosh, a village famous for its monastery, which is perched on a mountainside 100 km to the northwest.
Archbishop Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, had offered his support for the venture.
On Holy Thursday, he came to meet Wähling in the village of Malabarwan, a peaceful highway town where Kurds, Muslims, and Christians displaced from the Mosul region now live together. Here he presided over a washing of the feet ceremony for the walkers as well as local Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims.
The walkers include Axel Vogel, one of the founders of the German Greens in 1979, who is also concerned about the fate of the Yazidis.
“One week ago, Nadia Murad, the former sexual slave who became a UN Ambassador against human trafficking, visited the Parliament in Brandenburg of which I am a member,” he said.
“Several months ago we joined an initiative in Baden-Württemberg, which invited 1,000 Yazidis and their families to live in Germany,” she said.
Another walker, Fabian, a young Berliner, is here in an effort to understand these communities who are increasingly migrating to Germany. He came with Johannes and Willy, two friends from the Wandervogel youth movement, named after a German migratory bird.
Andrea, a German artist who lives in Marseille, also joined the walk because of her commitment to pacifism. And there is also Gianluca, a member of the Congregation of the Little Brothers of the Gospel, who lives in Leipzig.
Two walkers who come from Oswiecim, the Polish city located near the infamous Auschwitz extermination camps, also joined the journey.
On Wednesday morning, the walkers took a detour from their walk traveling several kilometers by bus in response to an invitation from the Kurdish sheiks of Bardarash.
There in the local community center, dervishes, members of a local Sufi confraternity, put on a hypnotic dance with their long curls of their hair displayed behind them.
Before leaving the town, the walkers planted an olive tree in the courtyard, explaining the story of the tree that symbolizes peace to the surprised local residents.
Wähling makes no effort to hide the fact that it was “Christian values” which inspired this initiative. However, she does not want to be locked in by communitarian solidarity.
“It is not a pilgrimage, it is a political walk!” she says.”I wanted to meet people not just officials.”
“When you talk to Christians or Yazidis, they admit that it now seems impossible to live with Muslims again,” she adds.
The walk is thus also a truth test confronting the idealist with the harsh realities of a country torn apart by conflict.
“The Kurds and the minorities demand that the Arabs be expelled,” notes Axel Vogel. “It will be very difficult to achieve reconciliation.”
In Vogel’s view, however, if Europe was able to achieve this, why can it not be done in Iraq? “After two world wars, we live at the center of a peaceful Europe."