Iraq. Our Mission
The Eaglewatch was created in 2016. What were the beginnings of our activities? Whom and how do we help?
Before the foundation’s establishment, its founder Bartek Rutkowski was working as the chief training at the Diving and Deep Diving Training Center of the Polish Armed Forces in Gdynia. He was an officer with the rank of second lieutenant commander (the equivalent of major in the Land Forces). On the 7th of October 2015, fifteen minutes before starting his service he did his everyday press review. While browsing through the news, he came across an article describing a story that changed his life. In a Syrian village near Aleppo, terrorists from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) crucified a 12-year-old boy. He was the son of a local Christian priest who initiated the building of several churches in Syria. The Jihadists demanded that the man convert to Islam. When he refused, he was beaten up, and then crucified with his son and two other men. Bartek’s son was the same age as the murdered boy. That information shook him to the core. A man of action, he immediately started wondering what he could do to prevent this tragedy from happening again and save at least one child.
Most probably he wasn’t aware on that memorable day that his life would be turned upside down. Shortly after reading that article, he took out a sheet of paper from a printer and wrote down things that needed to be done so he could go to the Middle East. The list included small things such as taking proper shoes, buying various types of solar panels and chargers and checking required vaccinations. His aim was to see with his own eyes the conditions in which the victims of ISIS were living and whether it was possible to help them. He did not believe the media as the picture they paint is often far from reality.
The next step that Bartek took was to hand a resignation letter and retire. At the time, he was eligible for retirement because a diver’s profession is counted among the most dangerous and health-threatening ones. He knew that he would not be able to go to the Middle East as a military man since he was a NATO officer. In the meantime, he started preparations for his trip. He met, among others, a journalist who worked as a correspondent in the Middle East. He also arranged a meeting with the representatives of one TV station which he hoped to get a press ID from in exchange for press materials. He did all that to be able to get to a place which at the time was not available for civilians. Several days after retiring he was on his way to his destination.
Why should we trust you?
Although the story of a crucified boy took place in Syria, Bartek chose Iraq. That was where ISIS was carrying out horrific atrocities against civilians. In the spring and summer of 2014, the terrorists took over the cities in the Nineveh Plains (including Qaraqosh – the largest Christian town in Iraq) as well as Mosul. In August of the same year, they carried out a genocide of the Yazidis in Sinjar. Several thousands of men, women and children were massacred. Thousands of women, children and boys were kidnapped and enslaved. Hundreds of thousands had to flee their homes leaving everything behind. It was a humanitarian crisis on an unimaginable scale.
Tens of camps for internally displaced people (IDP) were created at the time in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in northern Iraq. The difference between refugees and IDP is that the former find shelter in a neighboring safe country where no war activities take place. In the case of Iraq, the refugees were Syrians who fled from territories took over by Muslim fundamentalists. Internally displaced people are those who have fled war and terror but within the same country. For example, they’ve left one region to find shelter in a neighboring province. Both groups are on Iraqi territory and both need help.
Bartek met with families that fled from ISIS and with local organizations that were trying to get aid for them. He lived with them for more than a week and listened to their stories trying to learn about their situation and needs. Initially, he wasn’t thinking about creating his own foundation, but with time he realized that would be the best solution. His main idea was that the Eaglewatch would take action after listening to people in need and provide help which they wait for.
During one of his conversations, Bartek was asked by one internally displaced person: “Why should we trust you? Before you, there were many who promised to help us but never showed up again.” He replied that he would come back with aid. Several months later, he fulfilled his promise.
Orla Straż – Eaglewatch
Many people ask what the origin of the “Eaglewatch” name is. There is no specific answer, many factors contributed to that. First, the eagle: the symbol of Poland, our national emblem which perfectly reflects an organization established by a soldier, a patriot, a man who is not ashamed to say where he comes from. Bartek says he didn’t want to include “Poland” in the name because someone could accuse him of putting our country at risk of Islamic fundamentalists. Of course, there is no reason to believe that, but a new foundation with no support from the media or large corporations needs a clean start to help people effectively. The “watch” means those whose duty is to protect the weakest and most vulnerable ones. The English version of the foundation’s name is significant too. An organization that works abroad requires a name that sounds well in English. “Eaglewatch” is simple and easy to remember and it turned out to be a great idea. Add to this the logo that was designed by Katarzyna Kołodziej, and which, as someone once said, “is great as a logo for a charity foundation, but it would also look well on a tank turret.”
Aid that meets the needs
Bartek’s trips to Iraq gained some media attention which allowed him to develop his foundation and bring help to families in need. In the beginning it mainly included single mothers whose husbands were killed by ISIS. Many of them got freed or ransomed by their families. They needed to borrow money to rescue their relatives. The women held captive by terrorists went through a real hell on earth. They were beaten, tortured and raped. It’s impossible to tell their stories without drastic details. To avoid graphic descriptions, I will only say that many of them spent up to three years in captivity. It happened many times that after being released they were trying to commit suicide. Very often they were in a terrible psychological state. That’s why one of the first ideas was to organize sewing workshops that would allow them even for a moment to forget about trauma. They would spend several hours a day in a group of women with similar experiences, so they could support each other and slowly return to society.
Bartek was also providing financial help to the families of soldiers-volunteers who were defending their land against ISIS. Many of them were not getting paid and that would take a burden on their financial situation. Some of them faced evictions as they couldn’t afford to pay rent. Apart from that, he would bring first aid kits for the volunteers fighting on the front line. Thanks to instructors who carried out training in first aid on a battlefield, they received a decent safety level which they lacked before. No one thought about those boys who took up arms to prevent terrorists from taking over the country. But it was their sacrifice that allowed others to sleep well.
That’s how the beginnings of the Eaglewatch looked like before major projects started to take shape, such as the Great Job or the building of houses for families returning to towns and villages which they fled from. In 2016 there was still an ongoing war there and the entire country was in chaos. It was too early to think about the reconstruction of damages. In most cases, ad hoc help was required.
The foundation’s pillar
I’ve written this article having mainly in mind people who have come across our activities only recently. But I hope that those of you who have been following our work for some time will like it as well. I wanted everyone to understand why the Eaglewatch was created, who its members are and what the main goals that we have adopted are. I will not write much about the projects. Under the article, you can find a link to a folder where we talk about them in detail.
In the next part, I will describe our flagship project: the Great Job. Before I get to that, I would like to say a few words about another person that is currently part of the Eaglewatch. Dariusz Celiński, like Bartek, is a retired soldier. He served in the 21st Podhale Riffles Brigade for six years, and for another 14 in the Diving and Deep Diving Training Center of the Polish Armed Forces (he completed his service in the 7th Pomeranian Territorial Defense Brigade). That’s where he met Bartek with whom he did diving. One day already retired Darek saw Bartek on the TV. Usually he doesn’t watch it, but on that day something pushed him to turn it on. He decided to call him and offer his help. He knew how to run an office. In the army, he was a company chief. He didn’t want to jump into the deep water at once, so he asked for some time to familiarize himself with the foundation’s activities. He turned out to be excellent and today we can say that he is the pillar which the entire undertaking rests upon. I should add that Darek is a very humble man, although he received the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity and the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland for his anti-communist activities.
The Great Job project
Before I introduce the third member of the foundation, I would like to say a few words about our flagship project, namely the Great Job. Neither the name nor the concept behind it was our idea. As I mentioned earlier, we ask people what kind of help would make their situation better and we try to deliver it. It often happened that families would refuse to take money from us as it wouldn’t change anything in their lives. Instead, they asked for help in rebuilding their workplaces that would allow them to provide for themselves and their relatives. To meet their requests, we started a project of the rebuilding of destroyed shops and workshops. The terrorists were plundering, burning things down and often blowing all the buildings up. Their goal was to completely destroy everything that was in any way related to the culture and presence of minorities in territories they took over.
First, we helped to equip a locksmith’s workshop that allowed Adnan and his eight-member family to stand on their own feet. The family returned to Qaraqosh in 2017. Their workshop was plundered and part of their house was destroyed by an artillery shell. Adnan and his sons rolled their sleeves up, borrowed some money, bought a generator and some tools and started working. They started with a mobile workshop but after four months they managed to properly open their business again. They would often decline payment for their services from the poorest residents of Qaraqosh. We bought them additional equipment which made providing their services easier and allowed them to expand their workshop. Please check out a short video about Adnan and his workshop on our YouTube channel. To date, we have opened ninety similar small family businesses.
The Great Job Project – Blacksmith in Qaraqosh
At the end I should say a few words about the third member of the Eaglewatch. It’s the most difficult part because that’s me (Dawid Czyż). And it is not easy to write about yourself. I will narrate it in the first person.
I went to Iraq for the first time in 2016. I joined one of the self-defense units that were fighting on the frontline near Mosul, which at the time was the capital of the Islamic State in Iraq. The beginning of my story was a bit similar to Bartek’s. I found an article on the net describing the atrocity carried out by ISIS on a dozen young girls. The terrorists locked them in a cage and burned them alive. They were 12-17 years old. They were Yazidis. All that happened in public, in broad daylight among a crowd of onlookers. The world remained completely passive in the face of that despicable act, and that terrified me more than the act itself. I browsed through other media reports to understand the situation in Iraq and Syria better. I came across information about a unit that included volunteers from various countries, mainly from Europe and the United States. I contacted them and asked if it was possible to arrive there and join them in the fight. It all lasted for several months. I was fighting with myself, unsure if I would manage to meet that challenge. Finally, I took the decision. I sold everything I had of any value, I bought a ticket and I went to Iraq.
I came to the frontline between Teleskoff and Batnaya, several kilometers away from the outskirts of Mosul. The unit was composed entirely of volunteers. It was established by the Assyrians from the nearby towns and villages who were defending their land against ISIS. They were supported by a small group of volunteers from around the world. I spent several months there. I was neither a mercenary nor a soldier of a foreign army. I was not receiving any salary, and I had to pay for my flight tickets to and from Iraq. I didn’t take any oath of allegiance and I wasn’t under anyone’s leadership. Any of us could leave at any moment.
When I was already thinking about going back home, I met Bartek. If any of you believes in coincidences, I will only say that he was the first Pole who I could talk to after nearly half a year. On that day I was planning to go to another city from which I would start my journey back to Poland. You can hear this story from Bartek’s perspective in a short reportage on our YouTube channel and on our website. After I came back home, we were still in touch. With time, it developed into cooperation that lasts to this day.
I hope that this long article has helped you to learn about our mission and the motivations behind our work. This time I didn’t say much about the people that we are helping as I wanted to present a different side of the Eaglewatch: the people behind the foundation.
Author: Dawid Czyż