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Iraq Reflection: A small miracle in Suleimaniya

21 March 2012 No Comment

Kathy Moorehead Thiessen

Kathy Moorehead Thiessen

“If remembrance was done for the victim, then it had to be for the assailant as well.  Both were human beings who were equally loved by God.”  

(This article originally appeared on Christian Peacemaker Teams.)


The news spread through the city of Suleimaniya so quickly.  Within an hour, Kurdish news outlets let the locals know that something bad had happened.  From there, it moved even more quickly across the ocean.  By the evening of 1 March, I was shocked to read it in my Manitoba prairie city’s newspaper: “Iraqi student kills American teacher in Christians school murder-suicide. “  Along with the bare facts, the questions and rumours arose.  Why had the eighteen-year-old Kurdish boy carried a handgun to class in a Christian school in Suleimaniya and shot his teacher to death on 1 March?  Was this the consequence of religious disagreement?  Was there some other kind of conflict between the two of them?  How could a handgun have entered the classroom?

Some of our Kurdish partners called a meeting to see if some sort of action should take place.  None of us had known either the teacher or the boy. Reports said that this type of shooting was not so unusual, that it happens in the USA all the time, but violence like this had never happened in a school in Kurdish Northern Iraq.  Kurds were reeling and asking themselves, what is it about their country that allows people to settle differences with a gun in a classroom?  They were sad, angry, and even embarrassed.  We all left the meeting with some ideas, but many of us had the feeling that if remembrance was done for the victim, then it had to be for the assailant as well.  Both were human beings who were equally loved by God.  Both of them were victims of the weapon.

The traditional three days of funeral for Bayar Sarwar were finished when the announcement was emailed notifying the community of the funeral of teacher Jeremiah Small.  However, this funeral was to be a time to remember both Jeremiah and Bayar.

On the morning of 6 March the large city cultural hall was almost full of students and their families, the expatriate community, religious leaders, and many others.  The media was out in full force as well with bright lights and padded microphones.

Funeral for school shooting victims in Suleimaniya

On the stage stood two large photographs, one of tall, strong Jeremiah and one of a smiling younger man, Bayar.  There were prayers, hymns, and eulogies from students who loved the teacher and messages from officials.  There were mentions of Bayar by fellow students who were obviously struggling to come to terms with a comrade who had caused this tragedy but now was dead.  Bayar’s father stood and spoke with emotion about knowing that there was conflict between the two, but having no idea that it would lead to this tragedy.  He apologized to the Small family and said,  “The shooting was a painful thing to us also.”

After Mr. Small stood with his family on the stage, a bit of a miracle happened.  We saw a Christian family who had traveled from Washington State to bury their son in Kurdistan, because Jeremiah had no insurance coverage for transporting his body and because he had lived here for seven years and loved it.  We saw a Muslim family grieving the loss of a son who had committed murder and then ended his own life.  But Mr. Small said to the gathered crowd,  “The killing of our son should be turned into an event to call for peace and coexistence.  We do not have any hatred for the family of the student who killed our son.”  Then they filed down from the stage.  Instead of returning directly to their seats, they moved down the aisle to Bayar’s family.  They reached out their arms and invited them to join in their mutual grief.  The Kurdish family accepted the invitation and they hugged and cried together.  Something very small, but something also very big.


Read more of Kathy’s work on her blog, Go in peace, not to pieces.

 The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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