After setting up my peace camp here, I discovered this place has become called Azadi’s Garden, this new name has extended in use after the Arab Spring and Occupy (Wall Street, London and everywhere) – ‘azadi’ means ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ – so already people have gathered here and have discussed what was on the day’s agenda, before now!
And after I set up my peace camp a lot of people did gather to find out what was going on? I have a board, which daily I was writing on it, what I was going to discuss with people, and they were trying to read and understand it but their command of English wasn’t as good as I was expecting so I had to intervene and explain what is going on.
Soon a lot more people were joining and listening and I had to explain every point on the board, over and over, and as soon as I was talking about one topic people were interrupting and they started talking about the authorities and politics and obviously the security forces around there (called Asayash) weren’t comfortable. I had to introduce the talking stick and answering feather from talking circles which we used sometimes at Occupy London and Occupy Nomads camp, to bring some sort of order into the chaotic situation.
Finally I have managed to wrap up the thoughts of the day and was sitting there, at a mobile tea-making trolley, which was called Chayakhanay Jamawar, meaning the People’s Tea House, to have a cup of tea, and the Asayash told me “Go away from here or go into your tent”. I told them I am not comfortable going into my tent now, I am resting and want to have a cup of tea, but they told me “Come with us” and I went with them for a walk and on our walk they were saying “We do like you, it is just when people are gathered and there is no way of controlling them it will become a problem for us and we don’t want to see this, so please try not to talk to people in a group, as that will cause problems for us”. So I told them “I am just trying to speak to people one by one and not in a group, but it is them that want to gather and listen to what I want to say, so it is not my fault if a lot of people are gathering and please understand my peaceful point of view!”.
After about 5 to 10 minutes they told me I can go back to the camp and I went back there and I saw people are still around there, and I went for a little more walk, coming back after 10 to 15 minutes, and people were much less than before but, this time there were more security forces. They began asking me about who has allowed me to camp here and again questioning about my ID and passport and one of them sent me with one of the Asayash men to their headquarters for further questioning and talking about what to do with me, and my peace camp.
After getting there, there was another security person, who asked me a lot of different questions and they called the Governor of the town of Halabja to see what they can do with me? and after the security man explained to the Governor, the Governor told him that I can carry on, but the head of Asayash wanted me to sign a document that I would not cause any problem, while I am talking to people, and I told them “I don’t want to sign anything, I’ll pack my peace camp and go!, if you want, today or tomorrow,” and the person who was questioning me told me “My superior is asking me to ask you to sign such a document, and the governor is saying ‘if he is advocating peace let him do it’, so I will tell you myself, you can carry on and spread the word for as long as you want. This is because my superior hasn’t seen you and he is going by the book, but I have seen you, so you go ahead and go back to the peace camp.”
As I was coming back from the Asayash headquarters I came across a pizza shop. The person in charge of it asked me a day before, while we were talking about my mission, to contact him and go to his pizza shop for the duration of the time I am here in Halabja, so I asked the person who was in the shop and he called the owner, and the owner told them to go ahead and serve me with what I want. I told them you can make me what you can afford, so after a long day of talking I had a good vegetarian pizza, and headed back down towards my peace camp.
As I came back to the camp people were asking me what the security forces wanted from me? and I told them, “They have asked me not to talk to people in a way which will cause people to gather in a group as this will make problems for them,” and I have told them “Anyway, this is no problem, tomorrow is my final day in my peace camp due to my schedule and the position of my camp, because of the heavy rain forecast.”
That night, while I was resting inside my tent a young boy called Ameer came and asked me if I can go out and speak to him about a youth centre which he is running. He wanted me to go there and talk to them about what I am doing, he even bought two top-up phone cards as he realised I have a phone and he wanted to contribute to the peace camp, but unfortunately later on he lost his phone and we couldn’t get in touch again, to arrange the talk in the youth centre.
Next day I started to pack my camp and again a lot of people were gathering and I told them “We have discussed why I am here and what I am doing yesterday, and you all saw Asayash was asking me not to cause people to gather, so I would appreciate if you don’t gather, and I’ll pack and slowly I’ll leave the camp site.” But they told me “We all haven’t got anything to do better than watching you packing and listening to what you say, and what you are doing,” so I gave out my weblog and Facebook address again, while they were all trying to be helpful and help me packing.
At the end of a few days camping here I have spoken to hundreds of people and had a few interviews, and I am hoping this will just make all those people think and make a trigger in their brains which will go off before they do anything bad, to a fellow human being or to the environment.
When I was in Sulaymaniyeh I met Richie, who has cycled from Britain to Iraq, and I asked him to come to Halabja and see the Halabja Monument for the victims of the chemical weapon attack and also see my peace camp, before he sets off on his journey towards Iran. He has done so and he turned up on the last day of my peace camp, so I arranged to stay in Halabja for another day or two.
So, on the next day I took him to the memorial place and he saw what was Halabja like more than half a century ago and what is today’s Halabja like. We met and spoke to an eyewitness of the attack – Omed Hama Ali. After a tour round the memorial place, and after seeing a short video of the main event on the day of the attack and some other events related to the incident, he invited us for a cup of tea and then I asked him, “We would like to go and see the Governor of Halabja and also the other chemical attack cemeteries in the town”, and he did kindly arrange that.
We met up with the Governor and I personally thanked him for letting me carry on with my peace camp on that day of talking to people and the incident of crowds in Azadi’s Garden and me going to headquarters of the Asayash. He was quite grateful to have us there and he did invite the three of us for a lunch. In the afternoon Omed kindly arranged for us to see the Halabja’s Archive facebook.com/halabjaarchive and organised a car to take us to two cemeteries in the town, so me and Richie had a great day although it was a bit too much for Richie to see all these things in one day.
That night we made a plan to head out of town on 09.01.13, but due to a heavy rain we stayed inside and are now waiting for good weather to open another chapter on our expeditions, him spreading the peace towards Penjwan on bicycle and me towards Darbandikhan on foot. I hope to meet up with him again somewhere in the world soon.
Thankyou to all those kind people who are following my event as it unfolds.