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 March 1, I was shocked to read it in my Manitoba prairie city’s newspaper: “Iraqi student kills American teacher in Christian school murder-suicide.“
Along with the bare facts, the questions and rumours arose. Why had the 18-year-old Kurdish boy carried a handgun to class in a Christian school in Suleimaniya and shot his teacher to death?
Was it the result of religious disagreement?
Was there some other kind of conflict between the two of them?
How could a handgun have entered the classroom?
Some 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 United States 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, than it had to be for the assailant as well. Both were human beings that 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 March 6, the city's large 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. 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 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 told the 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 the 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 also something very big.