Today, in the United States, it is Valentine’s Day. The emotionally charged holiday that preaches that love can be bought, displayed, and won; Valentine’s Day has its moments of superficial fun and its moments of depressive tragedy. It’s the day that offers parents a chance to make valentines with their children and it’s the day of the year with the highest rate of suicide. Within this dichotomous holiday, roses are featured to the extreme. Red roses, pink roses, white roses, yellow roses—candied roses, paper roses, pictures of roses compete only with the abstract symbol of the heart for front row and center.
I woke up this morning in part dreading the day. There are parts that I hate regardless of when I’m in a relationship or not; and there are parts that I love. I put on my red sweater and some pink earrings and embraced a day of community, advocacy, and human rights at the Interfaith Advocacy Day in Olympia, WA. I couldn’t have asked for a better Valentine’s day than spending it with my Ecumenical and Interreligious Department at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry learning about advocacy and gazing at the surprise of rainbows after the rainy day.
However, across the world, in Sulimanyiah, Iraq, roses held a very different meaning today.
Back in October, when I participated on a delegation of Christian Peacemaker Teams, I spent several days in Sulimanyiah, Iraq learning about the Kurdish participation in last year’s Arab Spring. Within a country of great conflict, Sulimanyiah, fondly called the city of artists and poets, sustained a 60-day non-violent protest last spring. The protests ended on April 17th in violence most likely provoked by government infiltration, military incitement, and mob mentality. Over the course of the three months, CPT reported that at least 9 people were killed; 1000’s injured, and hundreds arrested or disappeared.
This Friday is February 17th, which marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of last year’s protests. The day is wrapped in nervous tension as rumors of possible violence fill the air. Since the violent end to the protests last year, which included the arrest and detainment of thousands of students, protests have all been banned from Sulimanyiah. Young people have been meeting throughout the year at places like the Cultural Café to keep alive the conversations of liberation, non-violence, civil rights and human rights. Concerns about the lack of jobs and the oppression of the Kurdish people continue to evolve in response to current events both domestically and internationally.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, aware of the impending unknown that Friday may bring, organized and supported a demonstration today that from a U.S. perspective such as mine, gave a very different meaning to Valentine’s Day.
In solidarity with and accompaniment of family and community members of those killed and injured during the protests last year, CPT members walked through the streets of Sulimanyiah, Iraq. The group carried pictures of the victims of the protests on mirrors and “tables” covered in black and red to the places where the victims were shot. Small memorial services were conducted leaving the tables, mirrors, pictures, flowers, letters and other memorabilia at the different locations. One CPT member played American Peace songs on the guitar. Many people cried.
The action was featured on 4 different news stations:
The action was powerful and deeply symbolic. I received the pictures in this post (featured on one of the new stations: http://kurdish.sbeiy.com/Detail.aspx?id=3938&LinkID=4) during my Valentine’s Day, and as you can see, I was struck by the very different meaning of roses. Tragedy, sympathy, hope, determination, solidarity, freedom, justice, lament, and so much more are displayed on the faces of those shown in the pictures.
In the middle of my very U.S. experience of Valentine’s Day, I paused and my eyes filled up with tears. Every rose I saw today became one of those roses, laid in memory of the innocent struck down by violence. Every rose I saw today became a family member of those lost-grieving and crying out in a kind of metaphorical wilderness. Every rose I saw today was a family contemplating how to live with the impact of violence on their lives.
The roses I give for today’s Valentine’s Day are for these victims and for their families. The love I extend to others is for those whose lives have been forever changed by the injustices of the world. May we not buy, vainly display, or defeat others for love—but live deeply into what love really could do to change and transform this hurting and violent world.