Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Monday, March 14, 2011

From Sulaymania to Erbil: Repalcing the In Sha Allah, Erbil, Iraqi-Kurdistan

The other day I took a taxi back home. As I was talking to the taxi driver, a young Kurdish man, who was 27. I asked him if he was married, and he said no, that he didn’t have money. I said “Don’t worry, In Sha Allah (God willing) you will find a wife’ and he replied “I have been waiting for four years for that “ In Sha Allah” and nothing has happened.

While this conversation happened in Erbil, there have been demonstrations in Sulaimanya-the second largest city in Kurdistan and cultural capital- since the past three weeks, when citizens of Kurdistan took to the streets to demand jobs and the end of corruption. About 8 people have died so far and more than 200 have been wounded in clashes between protesters and heavily armed militia forces linked to the two ruling parties of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) government did not condemn the killings of civilian perpetrated by its own militia, while Mr. President Massoud Barzani, was receiving the Atlantic Peace Award in Italy.

The banner reads: GO OUT. Thousands of protesters in Maydani Azadi, Sulaymania province of Iraqi-Kurdistan

Also Aswat al-Iraq news agency reported a group of armed men set fire to the office of the Kurdish NRT Channel in northern Sulaimaniya and wounded one of its guards. The network was the only broadcasting the Kurdistan demonstrations and the killings that started on February 17th.
The University of Salahadin was closed and the non- erbilian students have been sent home out of Erbil by force. The students have not done anything wrong. Mr. Dlawar Abdulqadir, the Minister of High Education, has called for the reopening of the university and the return of the non-erbilian students to their dormitories, but the KDP has forbidden this.

In a news report from AK News, it was stated that the protesters in Sulaimaniya accused the Kurdish authority of "monopolizing the political and economic authority." On the first days of their protests, they chanted "down, down," with the leaders of the KDP and the PUK. Though the slogan wording has changed, its essence has remained consistent; they demand "reform, the end of corruption and the monopolistic power, better living conditions, and employment." Many pointed out attachment to either of the major parties was a "must" to get employed and hence were deprived from the right.

The President Massoud Barzani spoke to the people in Erbil on March 11, in the citadel, and stated that no one will threaten the stability of Kurdistan, meanwhile has refused to listen to the thousands protesting for the past three weeks in Sulaimannya. The Kurdish Parliament has held 6 emergency sessions and rejected a vote of no confidence in the current government 67-28 in the 111-seat parliament

Gorran (one of the biggest opposition parties) called late December for dissolving the current Kurdish government and parliament and allowing for a transitional government and early elections.

Gorran enjoys wide support in Kurdistan region. It has emerged in regional elections in 2009 as a rival to the two main ruling Kurdish parties and won 25 seats in the parliament. Gorran is challenging Talabani's PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), and the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party), of regional president Massoud Barzani and accuses the parties of corruption. It’s headed by the former senior PUK-leader Nawshirwan Mustafa, who was Talabani’s deputy until 2007. Since the July 2009 elections in which it secured almost a third of the seats of 111-member Parliament of Kurdistan.

The yellow represents he area covered by the Kurdistan Demcratic Party (KDP) and the green which covers the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (which includes Sulaymania where the protests have been taking place since February 17)

Massoud Barzani, the KDP chief and current Kurdistan president, and his relatives control a large number of commercial enterprises in Iraq's Kurdistan region with a gross value of several billion US dollars. The family is routinely accused of corruption and nepotism by Kurdish media as well as international observers. One important thing to note is that the dominant political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan -- Barzani's KDP and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- both have their own militias.

The situation looks different in Erbil province (where I live). Here, the KDP have cruelly prevented people from demonstrating and assembling to express their legitimate grievances. The KDP has distributed its forces, which have different names and organization such as Zerevan (special commando forces belonging to the Barzani family), Parastn (the intelligence unit of the KDP), Qutabian (the Student Union of the KDP), Asayesh (the security forces belonging to various areas of the KDP area), and other special party forces in both military and civilian clothing, in the city of Erbil and the surrounding areas. KDP forces have detained and tortured individuals who have not committed any illegal actions. The regional president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, has repeatedly said that the people have the right to demonstrate freely. What actually happens not only contradicts Barzani’s claims but is a cruel violation of human rights. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both issued statements urging investigations and criticizing the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

The banner reads Hawler-Erbil: Be my friend in Ending corruption.

But despite of all the injustice, torture, killings and the government deaf ears, people believe there is hope. They go every day to protest, with songs, poetry, art, speeches and everyone is allowed to participate, at the end of the day, they clean and go home to rest. “Clean it and leave it ready for tomorrow”, the protesters leave but their banners stay on the walls of Maydani Azady. The events of February 17th, uncovered the regime and its illegitimacy. Now people know who their rulers are and what they are capable of. The mask was put off and the Insha Allah has been replaced by concrete demands for action.