The Celebration

I didn’t take pictures. I didn’t go anywhere near the window.

I know what goes up must come down. I didn’t want to get in the way of that process, even though it seemed unlikely that any of the bullets were aimed in my direction.

Earlier in the day I had visited a refugee camp just outside the city. The people were Yazidis who had fled their homes in Sinjar more than a year ago as ISIS attacked their community. The camp is a depressing place, a lot of people crammed into small spaces. They have taken over the houses in this under-construction subdivision. One family per room, 40 people or more sharing an unfinished house. At least they have a room over their heads, and it is probably a better place to live than the tents I have seen in other camps.IMG_2158

The day I visited though there was a glimmer of optimism. Every television set (and it seemed most had televisions) was tuned to a news station showing Kurdish Peshmerga militia as they moved back into Sinjar, driving out the ISIS forces that had been trying to retain their hold on the area.

There was excitement in the camp, but the wiser ones were aware that there would be no early return to the liberated city. Battles are won and lost, territory can change hands again – no-one would be returning home until it was certain that the liberation of Sinjar was going to last.IMG_2156

Even then, there are other obstacles to consider. The retreating forces left behind land mines; at this point no-one knows how many. Removing those will be a long and dangerous process. Until that is complete, it won’t be safe for those in the camps to return home. They can expect to stay where they are for another year, maybe longer.

None of that really mattered of course in the joy of the moment. In the evening a spontaneous parade broke out in the city, thousands of people in their cars winding through the streets, horns blaring. It sounded like a Stanley Cup celebration.

Then there was the sound of gunfire. Single shots at first, then a stream of rapid-fire retorts from automatic weapons. Not the sounds you would hear on a Canadian street, not even after a Stanley Cup victory.

The natural first impression is fear, but then the rational part of my brain did a quick analysis: I realized I’ve heard this before, on the television news. In some parts of the world people express their joy by firing their weapons in the air. Sinjar had just been liberated. People are happy and want to show it. So they grab their submachine guns, jam in a clip and discharge them into the air. That sort of behaviour isn’t allowed in Canada – but I’m not in Canada.

As much as I wanted to observe the celebration, there was no way I was going near the windows. Those weren’t blanks they were firing but live rounds. I didn’t want to take the risk that someone in their enthusiasm fired their AK-47 on an angle instead of straight up. When I’ve seen such celebrations on television I’ve wondered if anyone ever got hurt or killed by the random discharge of weapons. I made sure I didn’t find out first hand.

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