Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Competition winner: Hope Renewed

The pilot short story writing competition is now closed and the winner is Sasha Greene. Congratulations Sasha! You can read her winning entry below:

 Hope Renewed

Kawan said goodbye to his friends at the school gates as usual. He hadn’t told them yet about his special olive tree. Only his grandfather. His grandfather always liked to hear stories of the world outside. Blind as he was, the two of them managed very well together. In the mornings, the old man would tend the tiny garden at the back of the house, and in the evening he would sit and mend the fishermen’s nets, while Kawan read his homework aloud.
‘It’s a special tree, Grandfather,’ Kawan told him, the day that he found it.
‘Special how, my heart?’ The rough fingers grazed the back of his hair gently and settled on his shoulder.
‘I don’t know,’ Kawan replied. ‘Do you think that trees can talk?’
‘Not to us humans,’ his grandfather said. ‘But they are very old and very wise. Maybe you can talk to it. It could be lonely.’
‘She, it’s a she,’ Kawan insisted.
‘And how do you know?’ He could see the curve of the old man’s lips in the dim light of the single lamp.
Kawan just shrugged. ‘She just is.’ And his grandfather nodded, as if he understood.
Kawan often went to sit under the olive tree, and tell her about his day at school, and his grandfather, and his friends. When the summer got hot and everything dried then he brought water to keep her leaves green and lush.
The day that he finally decided to show his friends Kawan was so excited. He proudly led them along the track. But when they got to the top of the hill they were greeted by just bare earth. A wasteland, where yesterday a full grove of trees had stood, rustling gently in the wind. Kawan just froze in shock, unable to comprehend what had happened. ‘It will be the new road,’ one of the boys said proudly. ‘My father is working on it.’
‘I hate your father!’ Kawan screamed. He turned and ran, and didn’t stop until he reached his house, where he flung himself on his bed, gasping for breath, the tears streaming down his face. His grandfather gathered him close, holding the boy and rocking him until he cried himself to sleep.
The next morning Kawan couldn’t help himself. He went back to the site of his olive tree, just to say goodbye. He found the spot where she had been, and crouched down, putting his hands on the earth. It was then that he noticed something. A tiny seedling, missed by the bulldozers, still clinging on to life. He dug it carefully out of the ground and carried it home, where his grandfather helped him plant it carefully in a pot.
‘If you look after it, the olive tree will give you more than just shade and olives,’ his grandfather said. But when Kawan pressed him to explain what he meant, the old man would just shake his head and tell him he would understand when he was older.
‘I’m going to build roads when I grow up, then all the olive trees will be safe,’ was all that Kawan would say. And he never spoke about the other tree again.
Time went by, and the while the seedling grew up into a healthy tree, the young boy grew up into a man. He studied hard, and when he finally brought home his engineering diploma his grandfather was so proud that both of them shed a few tears. But not long after that the old man finally passed away.
Kawan was sad, but he didn’t cry. The gravestone was up on the hill, looking out to sea, and he thought that it was a beautiful place to rest. He took one olive seedling which he had grown from the tree in their garden, and planted it, so his grandfather would always have shade. He would come and sit by him after work, and talk to him just like he had done to the olive tree all those years ago. He kept the little garden lush and verdant, with shady nooks and abundant green plants. His oranges and tomatoes were the envy of the village. And the olive tree, sat in its huge pot in the centre of the garden, spread its shade for him to enjoy.
Life went on. Kawan built a successful career as a road engineer, just like he had determined to do. The old lady who lived next door died, and a woman with two young children moved in. She was polite to him but distant, and Kawan sensed that she wanted to avoid the village gossip. He learned from his other neighbour that she was a widow, and her husband had died in the war. Now he understood why the children never laughed when they played.
The summer was particularly hot that year. Kawan’s plants survived, thanks to the shade of his many trees, but he watched as the garden next door shrivelled and baked and the woman’s seedlings died. She was too proud to accept the food that he offered, and he felt guilty that he had so much, while she was struggling to feed herself and her children. If he could somehow move some of his shade to her garden, surely it would solve her problems. And then he suddenly thought of the olive tree in its pot. It would take some clever engineering, but if he could put it in just the right place…
It took him a whole evening, with two of his colleagues, to move the heavy pot and raise it on a platform. But when the sun came up the next day it gave him great satisfaction to see that the shadow covered almost a quarter of the garden next door. He went to bed that night content.
He was sitting in his garden one afternoon when there was a knock at his door. He went to open it, and found his neighbour standing there with her children.
‘We came to thank you for the gift of your shade,’ she said. The children clustered behind her skirt, too shy to look at him, but their mother looked directly at him for the first time, and he noticed her eyes were a stunning, surprising blue. ‘I know you did it on purpose.’ She folded her arms, as if to defy him to deny it.
‘It was my pleasure,’ Kawan replied, with a slight dip of his head. ‘Will you come in and sit in my garden for a while? I can offer you some fresh watermelon.’
She considered for a few seconds, then slowly nodded her head. He squatted down to the height of the children, who couldn’t have been more than three and five, and spoke directly to them. ‘Do you want to help me cut it?’ They both nodded, their eyes wide, and when he turned and went back into the house, they followed him like two baby chickens.
 He took a knife from the kitchen as he went, and showed the children how to knock the watermelons to tell if they were ripe. They squealed with excitement, and ran all over the garden, loudly arguing about which one was the best.
Kawan turned to the woman next to him. She was smiling as she watched the children, and he thought that he had never seen anyone so beautiful. ‘My name is Kawan,’ he said, holding out his hand in greeting.
‘I am Nara,’ she replied. Her hand felt capable and firm, and Kawan couldn’t help the corners of his mouth turning upwards, unbidden, as he looked down at her face.
‘It’s a good name for you,’ he couldn’t help saying. ‘You deserve happiness in your life.’
A shadow crossed her face, but it was soon gone. ‘My children give me all the joy I could wish for,’ she said, smiling again as she looked at them. The children came running up to him, tugging at his hands as they pulled him towards the fruit they had chosen.

He cut the smooth green skin carefully. They took four spoons and scooped out the sweet pink flesh, laughing at each other as the juice dribbled down their chins. And it was then that Kawan truly understood the meaning of his grandfather’s words. The olive tree had given him so much more than shade and olives. It had given him laughter, and hope, and would bring him love.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Problem of Syria

Thank you to my blog guest Jack Ar who provided this post. 

-Russia talks about elections in Syria while Russians themselves don't have fair elections.
- Saudi Arabia and Qatar are talking about democracy in Syria and they don't have basic elements of democracy in their own kingdoms.
- Turkey is talking about protecting Syrian civilians from Assad regime. simultaneously, Turkey is slaughtering and massacring Kurds in south east of Turkey.
- America is too busy with the next presidential elections and it can't deal with the mess it created in the middle east. They gave millions in cash and weapons to some factions in Syria and these weapons ended up in ISIS hands.
- Iran, Lebanese Hezbullah and Iraqi militants don't give a damn about all the above mentioned ones. They keep sending their fighters to Syria to support Assad regime.
- Kurds are very busy now consolidating the territory they control in Northern Syria and are heading towards self-rule. They are fighting on both the political and military fronts.
- Syrian Civilians are the only losers of this political bargain.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Learning about the Yezidi faith

Many thanks to A Burjus for answering my questions and being prepared to share his personal view of his religion with me.  In an effort to retain his voice I have largely posted his replies unadulterated.

Disclaimer: Please understand that this blog interview is a very subjective, personal view of the Ezidi faith and does not claim to be an exhaustive, academic account. Neither does it claim to represent the views of all Ezidi people.

Q: Welcome and many thanks for agreeing to share your religion with us. How do you like to be called? I've seen your religion written Yezidi, or Ezidi- what do you like it to be called? How did your religion come about?

A: Before I answer your question, I would like to mention that there is very little true information about the religion because Ezidis have faced 74 genocides and hundreds of ethnic cleansings in their history. In addition, the Ezidi were not permitted to write about their religion in Iraq and Syria, where the majority of Ezidis are living, until 2003. In addition, Ezidi people were forced to live in villages and rural area where very little or no education was available. As a result, the Ezidi couldn't write information about their religion, traditions and so on during the computer or electronic era. At the same time, many Muslim writers especially Iraqi-Arabs have written much incorrect information about Ezidis and their religion and until now there are hundreds of books and electronic pages filled with wrong information about Ezidis and their religion.

The correct name is Ezidi ( Ezi = God in our language) and the whole word means ‘God followers’, but, Yazidi or Yezidi is also true and is used more than Ezidi in the press and media. Quote: (Since their founding many thousands of years ago in India, these people have always been known as the Yezidis or Yazidis. According to Eszter Spat in The Yezidis, the name is derived from ez Xwede dam, meaning “I was created by God.” Some Yezidis maintain that it translates as “Followers of the true path.” The term Yezidi or Yazidi is also very close to the Persion/Zoroastrian word Yazdan, meaning “God“, and Yazata, meaning “divine” or “angelic being“.

For this reason some scholars have theorized a Persian origin for the Yezidis. Other scholars have associated the name Yazidi with Yazid bin Muawiyah, a Moslem Caliph of the early Umayyad Dynasty. According to the current Yezidi belief, however, the Yazidi religion has nothing at all to do with Yazidi bin Muawiyah, the Amoy leader and we believe that the Caliph Yazid was a Moslem ruler who eventually became disenchanted with his religion and converted to Yezidism). Source

Q: I’ve heard that it is linked to Zoroastrianism. Is this true? Can you give me a brief history?

A: We believe and also many historic researchers believe that Yazidism is the first and very ancient religion on the earth. This means Yazidism is even older than Zoroastrianism. Yazidism and Zoroastrianism have many common links as both sanctify the four elements which are water, soil, wind and fire.

Q: What are the main ideas in your religion? Who do you worship?

A: We believe in One God and 7 angels. We call the head of the Angels Taws Malak or Peacock Angel.  Many people believe that the Yazidi worship the Peacock Angel without God!!! And they thought that Peacock Angel is the devil! That's why they called us Devil Worshippers. Please read in this website more about peacock angel

Q: What are the main festivals?

A: The Yezidi religious year includes four main holy festivals: The New Year, The Feast of Sacrifice, The Feast of Seven Days, Sept 23-30, The first Friday of December feast following three days of fasting.

Q: What is the role of women - are they considered equal? Do they have any religious roles?

A: Women and men are equal in Yezidism...They have the same religious role as men.

Q: What religious artifacts do you like to have in your homes?

A:  We have special shape of temple for all our religious places and I would like to have this artifact in my home...If you googled Lalish Yazidi temple you will see the shape

Q: Do you have any holy texts/ books and what are they called?

A: Our religious texts are memorised or save by heart by special religious groups and they transfer from one person to another(like school). This happens because in our history we believe that the enemy burned all our text and books and the only way to save the religious text was by memorizing by group of special people. We say that we have 2 books but we don't have them in our hand and we don't know what they contain!!! Here is some information about those books

Q: I've heard that your religion is very much supportive of wildlife and nature? Is this true and where does it come from? What is the relationship between Yezidism and nature?

A: Yezidism is very supportive to nature. We believe that the all universe and all organisms are made from nature and then we sanctify four natural elements, water, soil, wind and fire. In addition, we sanctify the sun and the moon too because we believe that they are the only source of the energy that the universe and organisms rely on. Also we see the greatness of God from the sun and the natural elements as we say if you think God is not found then think about the power of sun and the nature and you will see the God. I recommend you to read this  But even in this website there’s some incorrect information so please be aware…

Q: Thank you. That is a lot of very interesting information. I have learnt a lot more about the Ezidi faith. Just a few more queries. The special people who memorise the holy stories- can they be women too? I have seen pictures of Sheikhs on facebook, blessing people. Do these exist in your form of faith, who/ what are they and what is their role?

A: Yes they can be women and we have women who tell religious stories or text but the number of men are much more especially within Qawal categories...The Qawels
The Qawels are the bards and sacred singers. They bring forth religious knowledge, sacred hymns, songs and stories at special Yezidi gatherings and ceremonies, and they do so to the accompaniment of flutes, tambourines and other sacred instruments. Their roles are hereditary, and their wisdom is normally passed from parent to child. They reside principally in the Beshiqe-Behzani region of northen Iraq.

Sheikhs, who memorise religious texts, are mainly from the Qawal category as mentioned above however, other people can do that if they want and this is totally dependent on the person him/herself again...for example, my grandfather knows all most all religious text and role in Yazidism but he is not a formal religious leader.

We have also Kochek ...The Kocheks, or “seers,” are servants of the Sanctuary of Lalish. Because they are blessed with spiritual gifts, such as clairvoyance, they can psychically diagnose illness and they even know the fate of a soul after leaving the body of the deceased. There are only a few Kocheks left, and they mostly reside in the Sinjar Mountains of northern Iraq. The female counterpart of Kocheks are known as Faqras. They are recognized as holy women with supernatural power. Kocheks and Faqras can come from any of the three main castes.

In the Kochek category we have woman....IN conclusion, any Yazidi woman or man can do religious services and it totally depends on person...for example, if my wife tried to save our religious text and teach people and serve people in religious matters I can’t tell her not to do that and no Yazidi can stop her being a religious totally depends on the person regardless of the gender.

Q: Is anybody writing down any of the information they have memorised?

A: Recently, in 2005, the Ministry of higher Education in Kurdistan-Iraq finally agreed that Yazidi people can study and learn from a religious book called EZIDIATI...This book contains all prayers, traditional, many but not all religious texts and roles...This book is at many levels from primary school to middle school to secondary school...and now the Yazidi children are learning it.

Q: Why is there a preference for white clothing?

A: WHITE CLOTHES are a symbol of peace in our religion so almost all Yazidis
wear white clothes... We mean by that the human heart must be white, and we must act as a peaceful and truthful person.

Q: Does the faith have any formal organisation? Is there any idea yet of the amount of loss to the religion from the Daesh genocide in terms of the people holding the information in their memories?

A: Yazidi have a high spiritual religious committee that runs everything about the religion
Yes, Yazidis have lost some of the religious leaders during Daesh attacks.

Q: And finally what does your religion mean to you? How has it helped you in your life?

A: For me personally, I am not such a religious person but I believe in God and my religion but I am not doing all religious roles such as prayer and so on...My religion means for me a peace. I and all Yazidi people learn how to be a very peaceful people. For example, in one of our prayer we say '''God please save all people on the earth and all organisms including Yazidis'. This means we are pray for everyone before praying for ourselves as Yazidis. My religion teaches me how to respect other people from different religions on the basis of humanity not religion...This point makes Yazidis  a target because we never ever had targeted any people even when we were powerful  historically and we always forgave those who were killing us.

In conclusion, Yezidism and its roles and traditions are not something obligational for the believer.  I mean our religious people do not force us to pray or carry out religious roles and so on and it totally depends on person and that is the best part about my religion.

Wow, what an interesting and inspiring religion. Thank you so much for sharing this with me and for answering all my questions.