The saviour is dead - By Dr. Choman Hardi

At 2 p.m. on Thursday 17 February a peaceful demonstration took place in Suleimanya central square to support the people of Egypt and Tunisia and to warn the Kurdistan Regional Government of the need for political and economic reform. After the demonstration ended at 4 p.m. a smaller group of people (about 1000) headed towards Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) 4th Branch. Soon they started shouting slogans and throwing stones at the building. The demonstrators broke some windows and tried to enter the building and at this moment the guards opened fire. A 15 year old boy died instantly, another is in a coma and more than fifty civilians were injured. That evening a curfew was announced and soon hundreds of Zerevani forces (KDP internal guards) were heading to Suleimanya. The next day the people of Suleimanya objected by launching another demonstration in Suleimanya central square. There was another confrontation between the angry crowd who demanded justice and the security forces. Guns were fired into the sky and another dozen people were injured. These events unfolded in the context of widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo in Kurdistan and in the light of the current revolutions in the Arab world. The confrontations continue and Kurds in Koysinjaq, Kifri, Rania and Darbandikhan have joined in the protest as well as Kurds across the diaspora. This article is an attempt to discuss the context and meaning of these events.

For many years the Arab world blamed their internal problems on imperialism and Zionism. Imperialism was seen as the evil force that divided and weakened the ‘united Arab nation’ and Zionism, by imposing itself in the heart of the Arab world, was seen to pursue the same policy. Arab intellectuals and politicians considered imperialism and Zionism as the hidden hand behind their daily problems. Many of us were fed up with Arab victimhood and the hypocrisy of a people who would willingly take to the streets against America and Israel but were not willing to demonstrate against their own dictators. This was true even though these dictatorships were the makers and creators of the widespread social inequality and lack of freedom.

The events of the last two months, however, the start of revolution and its success in Tunisia and Egypt as well as its spread to other countries, changed the whole equation. This is a historical moment in the Arab world when nations no longer look for external causes to their daily problems but look within themselves and they decide to tackle the source of these problems. Instead of being powerless and oppressed victims people in the Arab world are reclaiming power, confronting the corrupt leaders, and bringing about change.

The question is whether the Kurds and their leaders, like their Arab counterparts, are prepared to look within themselves and to take responsibility for their modern problems? Isn’t it time to stop blaming the previous Iraqi regime for the current shortage of services, widespread corruption, nepotism, and social inequality?
For many years the people of Kurdistan have been expressing their dissatisfaction on the streets and through the media channels. They have been demanding improvements from the Regional Government which has been ruling the region for the past 19 years. Now, even the Kurdish government admits that there are problems and it keeps promising citizens that they will be tackled without taking any real measures to do so. In fact it seems that the widespread criticisms have become a familiar nuisance to the leaders. Their attitude towards the people’s legitimate demands is like those husbands who ignore their wives’ complaints and see them as a passing fit of whinging and whining.

And when the people get fed up with the leaders’ irresponsiveness and take part in public demonstrations (which most of the time ends in violence because of people’s rage and lack of crowd controlling experience on behalf of the security forces) then the leaders tell us that these are ‘acts of sabotage’ and ‘they will not be tolerated’. They argue that there is ‘an external hands’ behind these events. What is disappointing is that after the events of 17 February the opposition leader of Gorran (the Change List), who considers himself the true representative of the oppressed and marginalised groups, used a similar language. He announced that Gorran is not responsible for ‘the sabotage’ and ‘there is a hidden hand’ behind these events.

It seems that the Kurdish leaders are yet to accept that many people are unhappy with their leadership and they hold them responsible for the shortcomings in their daily lives. The leadership has maintained a revolutionary image of itself, an image which they had before 1991 when they were fighting the oppressive Iraqi regime. They still believe that they are the heroes and saviours of this nation; this is why they have the absolute right of ruling and leading. They believe the public should be forever grateful to their sacrifices and excuse their shortcomings. But let’s ask an important question here: who can be held responsible?

According to Aristotle, who was the first philosopher to establish a theory of moral responsibility, only those can be ethically accountable who are free to act as they please and who are rational and sane. In other words those who are forced to act in a certain way, have severe mental health disorder, or mental disability cannot be held responsible.

If we look at the Kurdish context we find that for years the leadership provided excuses for its shortcomings. They argued that since the Iraqi government had destroyed the infrastructure, the villages, and the civil society they came to rule a ruined terrain. They also argued that the Kurdish government was ‘a baby’ that needed to gain experience in governing. Until 2003 the Kurdistan Regional Government was immune from confrontation in the shape of demonstrations and riots. This was partly because people worried that their opposition may weaken the Kurdish government and the Iraqi government may seize this opportunity and come to power once again. But after 2003 the return of the Ba’ath party is no longer a threat. On the other hand, the Kurdish government has years of experience in ruling and administration and not only it is not ‘a baby’ anymore but it has passed its teens as well.

It is time for the Kurdish leadership to admit to its own failures. Now instead of asking ‘who organised the 17 Feb demonstrations’ and ‘what hand is behind these events’ they should admit that the public’s continuous complaints reveal major problems that need immediate attention and solution.

Finally, whoever organised the demonstrations of 17 February (or the 16/03/2006 in Halabja when the monument was burnt down) many people contributed to these demonstrations who did not belong to any group or political party. They are merely dissatisfied citizens who have given up on being heard, which is why they throw stones. It is time for the Kurdish leaders to distance themselves from the Arab leaders who did not take responsibility, did not pay attention to the public’s demands, and did not make amendments. This ended in their being toppled by their own people.

People want to witness change, they want corruption to be investigated, they want equality and inclusion, and they want employment opportunities otherwise the leaders will have to continually deal with various protests from different corners of the region. If change does not take place then the Kurds, like the rebelling nations around them, will no longer believe in or want a charismatic saviour. It will be the new generation who will decide the direction of change. They will continue to strike and oppose until they bring about the changes they demand.

Note: ‘The savious is asleep in his grave’ is a line by the Persian poet Forough Farrukhza


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February 20, 2011
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