Kurdistan: Tunisia or Libya of the Middle East?

Kurdishaspect.com - Dr. Goran Abdulla

Kurdistan is experiencing worrying developments. Over the last few days, more violence erupted in various parts of the region. Militias affiliated with the authorities in Kalar attacked members of Kurdistan and Iraq parliament and injured two of them. Religious leaders who showed leadership in the demonstrations were detained in Sulaimaniah. More than 50 people were injured in the city when a group of demonstrators, who organizers claim are bribed by the authorities to involve in acts of violence, threw stones at military and security officers.

These developments come at a time that authorities in the semi-independent region were empathetic toward the demands of the angry demonstrators. The latter showed resolve in their marathon demonstrations over 47 days. It all started on February 17th, when civil society activists called for a gathering in central Sulaimaniah to support the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It quickly transformed to an angry march toward the office of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party. The office was attacked by stones, an act that was answered by bullets and live ammunition by the guards of the office.  Nine people were killed, including teenagers and newly weed youths, and hundreds injured and disabled all over the region since then.

The response of the authorities in Kurdistan was nothing but a carbon copy of the stance of the dictatorships in the Middle East. After shooting bullets, accusing the demonstrators of being supported by outsiders and calling them names as thugs, hooligans, and anarchists, they started to ignore them and assume that people will get tired and will leave to take care of their usual business. When that didn’t happen, they publicized trivial signs of compromise. The president of Kurdistan Region came out and announced a series of "reform" polices. They were limited to indicating that the government is willing to implement a ministerial change that would involve ministers who failed to deliver long waited promises. Then he came out again and threatened both those who shot at and killed people and those who attacked party offices by stones, of equal legal follow up and punishment. In the meanwhile, the extrajudicial arrest and detention of activists, youths, journalists and religious leaders continued. This was all part of a systematic process to intimidate the demonstrators and organizers to give up. In parallel, the two parties of the ruling coalition (Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) treated the whole situation based on purely political standards. They accused the opposition of trying to "ride the wave" and "kidnap" the legitimate demands of the people. That fruitless media propaganda followed by reaching out to the three main opposition parties in isolation. Ignoring the root causes of the demonstrations, the ruling coalition had nothing to offer the opposition except ministerial positions in a proposed interim government. The early indications all signal to the failure of those negotiations. The opposition is rightful in refusing those offers, because it would first loose the trust of the people who are sick and tired of the status quo and second and more importantly disenfranchise themselves of a historical chance of rising to power.

Throughout those 47 days of demonstrations, the ruling coalition lost a lot of its popular support in Kurdistan. The disastrous management of the crises by the authorities combined with the fervor for change in the Middle East had resulted in the drainage of the popular support of the ruling coalition. The latter was only "successful" in preventing widespread and effective demonstrations in the governorate of Erbil and Duhok. The cultural specificities of Erbil residents together with the unrelenting iron grip of the KDP forces resulted in an anxious calm situation in Erbil. Attempts by the opposition, civil society activists, students, intellectuals or religious leaders to organize demonstrations can lead to a bloodbath. Kurdistan has been so far the Tunisia of the Middle East spring, but it can easily convert to the Libya of the region should the United States and the European Union turn a blind eye to the atrocities that the KDP and PUK forces are committing and may commit in Kurdistan. 


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April 4, 2011
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