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Priest urges peaceful solutions in Kurdistan

18 September 2015


A CURATE has returned from northern Iraq committed to non-violent solutions to the conflict engulfing the region, and with his resolve to oppose the arms trade strengthened, he said this week.

The Revd Adam Dickson, an assistant curate in Wythenshawe, returned to the UK on Thursday of last week, after a ten-day visit to Kurdistan (News, 21 August). Despite hearing stories of "horrendous violence", he retains his conviction that peaceful solutions must be sought.

"I take the view that more violence will not solve anything," he said on Tuesday. "We need a greater emphasis on what we do to try to reach peaceful democratic resolutions, to try to treat this as a war not of weapons but a battle of ideas, that will not be solved by more and more violence."

During his visit, he stayed in a house an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the Islamic State (IS) front line. He met some of the two million people displaced by violence in the region, including Yazidis, Christians, and a community displaced after land was "confiscated" by an oil company ("a consequence, however indirect, of the US-led coalition force invasion back in 2003"). Another village lay empty after 100 families fled bombings by the Turkish government, which says that the bombings are pre-emptive measures against Kurdish militia.

"I feel very keenly the tragic cycle of violence, that seems to lead to conflict after conflict without any end in sight," he reflected. IS has emerged from an "incredibly destabilised nation".

He had felt "challenged" by what he heard, he said, and experienced a "pervading sense of helplessness", feeling "as though we had come empty-handed".

The group he travelled with, Christian Peacemaker Teams, had wondered: "Are we just disaster tourists?". They had been reassured by a Kurdish host, however, who said that "what they actually need the most is to be heard, and to know people are paying attention to what they have gone through."

He has come to the conclusion that "we can’t very easily change the choices of violent extremists, but we can change how we respond. . . A Christian can respond to extraordinary violent acts with bold acts of grace."

Some would argue that such a perspective is a luxury afforded to Christians not living in the region. While acknowledging that "there is always going to be diversity of opinion among us," he reports that he found, among the Kurds, "still a lot of hope that peaceful, democratic solutions can be reached". He gave the example of human-rights organisations which are "trying to break down the more subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice that exist within the region. . . While they are not on the front line confronting IS, this is a fight that does not involve killing.

"Groups like IS emerge when attitudes of prejudice and division are allowed to grow unchecked and unaccountable. They [the human rights organisations] are trying to promote a more egalitarian society in the region, an alternative to violence."

Having previously held a eucharist at a vigil protesting against the hosting of an arms conference at Church House conference centre, he left the region with his "resolve strengthened" to campaign against the arms trade, he said.

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