UPDATE: Displaced by bombing, Kurds camp near Rania

RANIA, Iraq - All Bapir Haji Kakamin wants is to return to his village near the Iranian border and look after his crops and take care of his sheep. He wants that deeply not only for himself and his family but also for the 137 families from the ni...

Sharing a meal
Brooks Anderson digs in at a lunch at the home of Qarani Aga Abdulla in Rania. Qarani is the representative of Jalal Talabani and the PUK party. Talabani currently is president of Iraq. At Anderson's left is Nishtiman Karany, a high school English teacher. At Anderson's right is Arno Kahn, a member of the American delegation to Rania. (Tom Morgan / For the News Tribune)

RANIA, Iraq - All Bapir Haji Kakamin wants is to return to his village near the Iranian border and look after his crops and take care of his sheep.

He wants that deeply not only for himself and his family but also for the 137 families from the nine villages he represents that are now occupying an internally displaced person camp near Zharawa about 27 miles from the Iranian border. Bapir is the elected representative of the villagers, all of whom have fled the Iranian bombing of border regions.

This camp, about 14 miles east of Rania, was erected by the United Nations last month.

"You are very welcome here," he told the American delegation from Duluth through an interpreter. "You have saved us from Saddam, now we hope that you can help us again.

"We sold everything that we had to buy this land by ourselves. Then the UN put up tents and added bathrooms and showers."


Each tent occupies 100 square meters, and families range in size from four or five to double-digits. In some cases, family members live with relatives in nearby towns, creating additional crowding and hardships. Sometimes relatives turn over their homes to these refugees for a while to give them a break from camp life.

But this is by no means an acceptable permanent solution for them.

"We can't live here," Bapir said. "We are used to the mountains, fresh air and water. We're afraid of diseases."

Bapir said they spend most of their time at the camp looking for shade so that their children don't get sick.

"How will we be able to live in these hot tents in the summer?" he asked. "What about our babies? We have no refrigeration, no electricity, nothing."

Bapir spoke about the difficulties of life in this camp. "We support each other, and we encourage each other emotionally. And we look for help from anyone -- the government, the United Nations, you Americans - anyone."

The villages of Bapir's people are located from nine to 24 miles from the Iranian border. The bombing had been going on for the past three years, but it intensified in March 2008, forcing them to leave.

"The bombing would stop and then start again without warning," Bapir said. "We couldn't live like that. They should create another no-fly zone like they had in Kurdistan before. We need international protection."


Iran reportedly is bombing these border areas to empty them of the Kurdish Liberation Party that is fighting for autonomy for Iranian Kurds.

"Iran wants to use the territory where our villages are to train terrorists to fight against us in Iraq," Bapir said. "Why doesn't the United States do anything? They will use this area to train Islamist terrorist groups to fight against both of us."

Bapir said that he is trying to work with his political representatives in Kurdistan to get some relief. Last week he sent an appeal to Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Regional Government.

"Our leaders are trying," he said, "but Iran doesn't keep its promises when it says it will stop the bombing."

Turning to his American guests, he said that he and his people had a good life in the villages and took good care of their guests. "Now, I'm afraid, we have nothing for you," he said.

"We are being bombed. Our property is being destroyed, and our people are being killed and injured. What do we have to do to get international attention?"


When Shirwan Mirza, one of our interpreters, heard me refer to this town as "Rania, Iraq," he corrected me.


"You should say 'Rania, Kurdistan,' " he told me gently.

Shirwan's sensitivity to this distinction reflects on the intensity of national pride and identity the Kurds feel here. They believe that they are surrounded by hostile forces -- political parties and nation-states -- that threaten their existence.

So they seem to be hanging tightly onto their culture.

"Our culture is in danger," said Bawar Mahmood Qadir, headmaster of the recently opened Fine Arts Institute in Rania. "We need art to renew and rebuild our nation."

While it is true that you can get a Coke here in Rania (or a can of Turborg beer), the daily life of people in this community is strongly connected to their culture.

Many of the men wear the traditional loose-fitting pants with cummerbund (PISHTEN) and head covering (JAMADANI). And substantial numbers of women and girls are covered.

There is no McDonald's restaurant. But there's plenty of "fast food," Kurdish style. The Kurds love yogurt, walnuts and honey. The streets and shops are bulging with a wide variety of fruits and berries.

Women typically greet one another with vigorous hugs and repeated kisses on opposite cheeks. Men, however, do not kiss women in public.


The Rania area seems prosperous and on the move. There are reconstruction and rebuilding projects everywhere. The people are friendly and demonstrative.

But, under the surface, the visitor will find a certain anxiety that hostile forces again will take away their freedom, suppress their culture and rob them of these good times.

There are lots of police officers, and bodyguards are a common sight. And most of them are armed with automatic rifles.

It seems the Kurds aren't taking any chances.

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