Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Kurds

Kurdish girls
The Kurds are semi-nomadic tribes living in areas that is called Kurdistan which spans Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. They are ethnically related to the Iranian people and speak Kurdish, a language of the western Iranian branch of the Indo-European language. The Kurds have a population of about 26 to 34 million in Kurdistan that live within the territory of other countries: about 55% in Turkey, about 18% each in Iraq and Iran and a bit over 5% in Syria. Kurds represent 18% of the population of Turkey, 7-10% of Iran, 17% of Iraq and 9% of Syria. In addition, there are about 1 to 2 million Kurds who are living in Diaspora. Most of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, but there are others who profess diverse beliefs such as Christianity, Judaism, Yazidi and Shia Islam.                                                                                                                                                                           
                                                                                 Kurdish-inhabited areas                                                                                                 
The rise of Islam and the Arab conquest resulted to the conversion of the majority of the Kurds to the Muslim faith. In the 11th century the Kurds were subjugated by the Seljuk Turks, and Kurdistan was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century. Ethno-linguistic and cultural differences as well as suppression by the Arab and Turkish rulers gave rise to the aspiration of the Kurds to have an independent state of their own. 
After the end of WW1 and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were promised an independent state of Kurdistan in the Treaty of Serves in 1920, but this was not kept. The proposal for independence was dropped from the provision of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

In Turkey, the desire of the Kurds for an independent state and the government’s effort for the nation’s integrity resulted to the suppression of the Turks and to their rebellion. Out of this conflict the Marxist inspired Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan or PKK has emerged. The PKK and the Turkish army engaged in an open war from 1984 to 1989. The PKK was listed by the United States, Turkey and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

In Iraq, in 1970, the government announced a peace plan that would provide the Kurds autonomy. However, its policy of Arabization was a contradiction to that plan and created an atmosphere of animosity between the Kurds and the Iraqi regime. The Kurds were subjected to harassment such as deportation from their ancestral lands and then having the lands resettled by Arabs. In 1991 Kurdish guerillas captured Erbil and Sulaimaniya from the Iraqi troops. The Iraqi government retaliated by imposing fuel embargo to the Kurds and by stopping salary payment of civil servants in the Kurdistan region. The move of the Iraqis backfired when the Kurds held a parliamentary election in 1992 establishing the Kurdistan Regional Government or KRG. The authority of the KRG and the legalities of its laws were recognized by the new Iraqi constitution that was ratified in 2005. In Syria the Kurds have also experienced persecution and discrimination such as prohibiting them from using Kurdish in naming their children and their business and in speaking their own language.

The Kurds have fared better in Iran than in other countries that include parts of Kurdistan as their territory. This is maybe due to the linguistic, ethnic and other affinities which the Iranians and Kurds share. Kurds in Iran have the least desire for an independent state than those Kurds of other countries.
The Arab Spring which toppled autocratic leaders in the Middle East also sparked the civil war in Syria. ISIS an offshoot of Al Qaeda has come out as the biggest threat not only to President Bahar al-Assad but also to the entire Middle East and the world. The militant Islamic group conquered a large swath of land in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate lead by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The brutalities employed by ISIS such massacres of men including children, mass abduction and rape of women, destruction of historical and religious sites and persecution of people on account of their ethnicity or religion have shocked the world. Some Muslim countries including clerics have denounced the ISIS and called their actions as un-Islamic.

Landlocked Kurdistan which lay on the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran with rich oil fields is a logical ISIS target. And in fact some Kurdish territories are under siege by the militants. This situation will only strengthen the spirit of nationalism and cooperation among the Kurds. Even if majority of them are Muslims, Sunni Kurds came to the rescue of fellow non-Muslim Kurds such as the Yazidis during the conflict. There is also cooperation between the Marxist PKK and Kurds who are adherents of religious belief. Therefore, Kurds fight against the ISIS has unified them.

In the conflict involving the ISIS, it is the Kurdish forces that bear much of the brunt of the battle. In contrast to the Iraqi security forces which ran away from battles leaving behind their weapons to the enemy, the Kurds are a sight of bravery in combat. With the help of the US and European countries which provided them air support, the Kurds are able to slow or halt the ISIS advance.

The courage and determination of the Kurds to defeat a barbaric enemy has won the admiration of the world. Its defeat of the ISIS could only further their resolve to have an independent state of their own. And a victory might make many countries favorable to that aspiration. However it remains to be seen whether Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria would allow an establishment of an independent Kurdistan that is carved out from their respective territories. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Social Media and the Battle against the ISIS

The rise of the ISIS and its battle against the governments of Syria and Iraq and the Kurds and other armed groups has caught the curiosity and attention of people around the world. Negative news reports on ISIS members’ actions in combats and their treatment of captives and civilians have horrified many people.

Aside from the physical battle, the parties to the conflict also take into account its psychological dimension to boost the war effort. In this regard, the social media particularly Facebook and Twitter has become an unwitting tool or a venue for the battle to win the people’s hearts and minds in the conflict involving ISIS and its opponents.

Concerned of the bad publicity it has brought to Islam since the ISIS claims that it has carried out its act in the name of the religion, leaders of Saudi Arabia and religious clerics as well as some Islamic association of America and Europe have denounced the ISIS stating that the actions and behavior of its members are not compatible with the tenets of Islam. In fact Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Jordan have joined the US led coalition to provide airstrike against the ISIS’ members and their facilities. Other western countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Netherlands and Australia have also given support to the forces that are fighting the ISIS such as the Kurds and the Iraqi army.

In a battle, the side which has a superior firepower, proficient and well motivated troops as well as good commanders usually prevails over its weaker opponent. However, the battle to win the people’s hearts and minds including those of the non-combatants cannot be overlooked. This is proven in the American defeat in the Vietnam War. And in the Arab Spring the social media particularly Facebook and Twitter was a tool that galvanized world opinion against state of affairs in the Middle East. The use of the social media stoked the flame of people’s revolt that toppled down long serving and well entrenched autocratic rulers such as the late Col. Muammar Khadafy of Libya and former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Appalled by the atrocities of the ISIS, some internet users are bringing their opinion and sentiments against it in the internet. Some formed groups in Facebook with the aim of denouncing the ISIS and of giving users updates on news and on the battle that is raging on between the ISIS and the Kurds and other forces opposing it such as the Iraqi and Syrian armies.

The opposition to ISIS is gaining momentum in the social media. And the post and the interaction of users about the ISIS could somehow influence world opinion for or against it. A group such as the ISIS that wants people to submit to their wishes and demands through sheer acts of terror cannot possibly win the hearts and minds of the people in the world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Brutalities of the ISIS

Waging jihad to establish Islamic caliphate, the ISIS emerges as the most fearsome and well funded terrorist organization in the world. Its ferocity and determination have made it conquer large swath of lands in Syria and Iraq. During a battle Iraqi security forces fled from engagement leaving behind large quantity of weapons given to them by the Americans. The bonanza of American weapons and their initial military victories were a big boost to the morale of the ISIS fighters.

The advance of the ISIS has displaced thousands of indigenous population. Its onslaught created a flow of refugees in Northern Iraq and the Turkish borders. The ISIS which is mostly composed of Sunnis is at odds with the local Shiites, and armed confrontations are common occurrence between them. Conquering an area, the ISIS militants give the minorities such as the Christians and the Yazidis to convert to Islam or be killed. In areas that fell under their control after a military operation, the militants imposed harsh actions to the local populace. Women and children are separated from the men. The men including older male children are then killed execution style. The method of execution includes shooting, beheading and crucifying. Captured or kidnapped women are then raped or made as sex slaves. Selected young women are gifted to ISIS commanders as “wives”. Captured children are trained to become “holy warriors” or suicide bombers.

The US and western nations airstrikes have given the Kurds, the Iraqi security forces and other local militias a breathing space to deal with the ISIS. The Peshmerga the Kurdish armed forces which took the brunt of the fighting were able to recapture lost grounds. With US air support and weapons supplied by France and other European nations' the Kurds stalled or halted the ISIS advance into their territory.

Getting back at the Americans, the ISIS beheaded two American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in an effort to intimidate them and their allies. France which is active in the campaign against the terror group was also given a warning that its citizens will be targeted.

Despite the US air strikes, the ISIS militants have shown their superiority over local adversaries especially the Iraqi security forces. In the middle of September 2014, ISIS militants besieged an Iraqi army unit guarding a strategic supply route in Western Anbar. Suicide bombers dressed as Iraqi soldiers on bomb-laden Humvee vehicles drove through an army camp and detonated the bombs into the Iraqi soldiers’ positions. The explosions inflicted heavy casualties to the surprised Iraqi army. Amid the chaos and confusion that ensued, the militants then assaulted and overran the camp and killed as many as 250 Iraqi soldiers. Those who were not killed were captured or were able to escape. It is estimated that the Iraqi security forces lost about 500 of its troops that are listed as either killed or missing in that battle.

The brutalities of the ISIS have made some leaders and clerics of Muslim world such as Saudi Arabia to denounce the group. They stated that the group’s actions are disgrace to the Islamic faith and are not compatible with the principles of Islam. And that the ISIS does not represent the Muslims. Putting their money where their mouths are, Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain with Qatar in supporting role have joined the coalition of countries that conducted airstrikes against the ISIS in Syria.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Divine Mercy Shrine of El Salvador, Misamis Oriental

The Divine Mercy Shrine of El Salvador, Misamis Oriental has become one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the Philippines. Pilgrims come to the shrine to pray, attend masses, make confession, make spiritual retreat or healing petition, and attend important religious occasions such as the Holy Week, the Feast of the Divine Mercy and the birthday of Mama Mary or the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.                                                                                                             
The shrine is situated on a 9-hectare Divine Mercy Hill in Barangay Ulaliman, El Salvador City. The main feature of the shrine is the statue of Jesus Christ. The statue was made in accordance with Mother Faustina  Kowalska’s  description of the Divine Mercy who is Jesus Christ who appeared to her in dreams. The 50-foot tall statue overlooks Macajalar Bay and awes visitors and pilgrims with its imposing size. Over the head of the statue is a halo. The right hand is raised in blessing while the left is placed on the breast which flows forth two rays. In the “rays” are stairs leading to the chamber of the Sacred Heart where devotees can make their petition to God. The ones in the right go up into the chamber while the others in the left descend into the ground. A well manicured garden adorns the sloping ground in front of the statue. And right below it is a huge lawn where devotees can gather to attend mass that is held in the open during special religious occasions. Devotees are required to dress modestly while inside the shrine premises. Female devotees are required to wear long skirt. Those without it are given one upon their entry into the shrine. Another important feature of the shrine is the almost completed church that is oval in shape and is spacious. On the outside at the edge of the roof is crown of thorns adornment that encircles the church.

Following pictures were taken during the birthday of Mama Mary on September 8, 2014 at Divine Mercy Shrine, El Salvador Misamis Oriental.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Kurdish Female Warriors Take on the ISIS

Flag of Peshmerga
With its military victories in some parts of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State or ISIS is able to control large swath of land on said countries. Members of the militant group are known for their ruthlessness wherever they are. They forced minorities such as Christians and Yazidis to convert to Islam or be killed. There are reports of mass rape of women and of abduction and of making them sex slaves to the militants.  Captured women are married off to the militants or are sold as bride for as low as $100. Caught enemy combatants are beheaded, crucified or tortured. Even the Al Qaeda is appalled with the extreme brutalities of the ISIS. The king of Saudi Arabia and some Muslim clerics have denounced the atrocities of the ISIS and call their actions as not compatible with Islam.
Lately, the Iraqi security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters with US air strike support are able to slow down ISIS advance and are able to retake strategic areas that were captured by the ISIS. The Peshmerga or “those who confront death” is the security force of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. In the recent conflict it is in the forefront of battling the well armed, well funded and highly motivated ISIS militants. It also take up the cudgel for their fellow Kurds including the Yazidis to protect them from the militants who consider them as “devil worshippers”, and are therefore a fair game for persecution.

Members of Peshmerga forces include women, and an all –women Peshmerga Battalion is in the frontline against the ISIS militants. The reported violations of some Kurdish women by the ISIS militants made many women that include the youth and housewives to volunteer for military service. As combatants the women can help protect their homeland and stop the ISIS militants from making them booties of war if their village is overrun. 

For the terrorists it is ironic that women who they think are inferior to men are challenging them in the battlefield.  It is believed that this ruthless group considers it to be a worse nightmare for a jihadist to fight female enemy warrior. They believe that they would be denied entry into paradise if women killed them. Indeed the Kurds know the mindset of the terrorists and turn their absurd beliefs against them.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Higalaay Kagay-an Festival 2014: Religious Procession (Street and Fluvial)

The feast day of Saint Augustine on August 28, 2014 started with a mass at Saint Augustine Cathedral at about 4:00 am. It was followed by a street procession which passed through the city’s urban villages or barangays . Later in the morning at about 10:00 a.m. a fluvial parade of decorated boats and rafts from the different barangays went upstream from Macabalan to the Duaw Park at the back of the city hall buildings. The fluvial parade is a part of the religious procession of the fiesta. In addition to the boats that carried the icons of Saint Augustine and his mother Saint Monica, participating barangays had with them the icons of their respective patron saints. Also in the parade was the boat boarding Miss Beatrice Alvarez Pohl, the newly crowned Miss Cagayan de Oro and the other young ladies that participated in this year’s beauty pageant. The procession is a way of seeking divine providence and of promoting endeavors that protect and preserve the environment. 

Higala-ay Kagay-an Festival 2014 (the Fiesta)

Every year, August 28 is a holiday for the people of Cagayan de Oro. It is the feast day of Saint Augustine, the patron saint of the city. The date is an official public holiday in the city and public and private employees are given a day off from work to observe the occasion.

Local residents call this occasion simply as the fiesta. The celebration is inherited from the Spanish colonizers who introduced Christianity in the Philippines. The fiesta used to be a purely religious occasion. But through the years Filipinos infused or added some Innovations of its practices making the fiesta not only a religious but also a cultural occasion. Since non religious practices are introduced or added to the celebration which involves people of diverse faith, the fiesta is also a secular holiday. Most of all, the local government and the people of the city view the fiesta and its related activities as a way to promote tourism and economic growth to the city and its adjacent places.

The present administration of the city dubbed the fiesta as “Higala-ay Kagay-an Festival”. “Higala-ay” is a word that is fitting to the occasion. It is a local word which means friendship in English. The word also aptly describes the admirable traits of a typical “Kagay-anon” or a native resident of the city. The locals of the city are generally known for their hospitality and friendliness- the traits which they believe are responsible for making the city a prosperous and peaceful place as it is today. And indeed “the City of Golden Friendship” is the nickname of the Cagayan de Oro.

In connection with the fiesta, local residents as well as visitors are treated with beautiful and enjoyable events and show such as “kumbira”, garden show, “kahimunan”, cowboy festival, beauty pageant, street dancing, fireworks display, fluvial and street parade among others. Those events precede the most important one- the fiesta.

Like Christmas, August 28, the fiesta, is also the day when family members, relatives and friends gather to see one another and enjoy the day together. The fiesta starts with a mass at the Saint Augustine Cathedral, and it is followed with a procession in the streets and a fluvial parade. In that day local residents prepare or cook sumptuous foods which are then serve on the table for friends, relatives or even total strangers to partake. Drinks such as wine, beer and others are also served. Some “Kagay-anons” serve foods to their guests on the eve of the fiesta. Others do it at lunch on august 28 and still others prefer to entertain their guests during supper. Most often the show of live band in public places and fireworks displays in the evening accompanies the celebration. Aside from the eating of foods people also entertain themselves with singing and dancing. In their homes, in the streets and other places people greet others with the words “Viva SeƱor San Agustin!”