Promoting tolerance, strengthening coexistence
By: Tim Molesworth, UNDP Iraq
An ongoing series of workshops undertaken through UNDP’s Ninewa Minorities Dialogue project, aims to promote inter-communal tolerance in the ethnically and religiously diverse governorate.
Ninewa Governorate is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse areas in Iraq. In addition to Arab and Kurdish communities, the governorate includes large portions of Iraq’s Christian, Yazidi and Shabak communities, as well as Kaka’i and Turkmen. While these communities have generally coexisted throughout history, since 2003 there has been an increase in inter-communal distance and tensions.
Through consultation with local communities, UNDP identified and trained 50 facilitators from the full range of ethnic and religious backgrounds within the Hamdaniyah, Tilkaef and Ba'shiqa districts of Ninewa . Since late 2011, the facilitators have been working in teams to design and implement initiatives to resolve inter-communal disputes and increase inter-communal understanding and to promote dialogue. Some 20 dialogue workshops have taken place so far and have received excellent support from communities.
“While each of these workshops may not have a massive impact on Ninewa or Iraq as a whole, they are immensely important for local communities,” says Richard Cox, the project manager, “Over time, however, as more and more of these workshops take place, they contribute to strengthening ideas of coexistence and consolidating tolerance in the area.”
One workshop addressed a dispute relating to water. A series of orchards had been fed by one irrigation channel but when a new owner bought up the first orchard, he cut off the water supply to the subsequent ones. Once people realised that the different orchards were owned by people from different ethnic and religious communities, tensions between those communities in local villages began to escalate and threatened to break out into violence. Two facilitators, a Christian and a Yazidi, brought the various parties together to understand the issue and the reasons behind it. After two days, the parties agreed to redirect the water channel and share the cost, resolving the issue.
Sheikh Omar was one of the facilitators in that workshop, “As a member of the community, I have often encouraged people to address their problems peacefully,” he said. “Through this project, I now have the skills and experience needed to conduct initiatives to help that process and I use these skills in everything I do.”