April 28, 2011

Middle Eastern Spring in Sulaimani - By Srush Hamza

At the beginning of 2011, the Middle East has turned to a new era. It is the era of revolutions and protests to overthrow dictators. On 17 February, 2011, it was the day when the wave of protests and demonstrations came over Kurdistan Region from the Middle Eastern Countries such as, Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.

On 17 February, many people began to protest against the Kurdistan Regional Government for having corruption in all of the governmental offices and lacking electricity. At that day, some of the protesters attempted to attack the PDK’s office (Kurdistan Democratic Party) on Salim Street. They attacked the office with stones, but the guards of the office responded with BKC’s bullets. The PDK guards killed Rezhwan Ali 14 and injured more than a hundred protesters. This reaction by PDK pushed and made people to persist and resist ending corruption and reform in the local government.
The protests after 17th Feb have spread and extended in Kurdistan Region especially in Sulaimani. The demonstrations are happing in other cities and towns in Sulaimani province such as, Rania, Halabja, Qaladze, Kalar and Koya.  The protests were happening every day at Azadi Square in Sulaimani for more than two months. On 19 April, 2011, Azadi Square was controlled by PUK Peshmargas. The troops were attacking the protesters with guns, slingshots and teargas. As the result, many people were injured.  On the other hand, the protesters were attacking the police with slingshots too.  Also, 40 students at Sulaimani University were injured because they had a plan to go to the Azadi Square.  

“These protests have been oppressed and subjugated by the unjust government for 20 years,” says Nawzad Baban, a political prominent. “This government does not have right to rule anymore because it uses military forces against its citizens,” he stated. Mr. Baban suggests that people should choose their representatives in the villages, neighborhoods, factories, and universities in order to form a new government. Also, I tried to interview a police in the Azadi Square to know his reaction for the protests. “I cannot say anything about this issue because I am married to the government,” he said. What he meant was that he could not criticize the government because he believed that he would be fired.

“The only solution for this issue is both government and protesters should get together and solve people’s problems with dialogue,” Baxtyar Muhammed, a businessman from Sulaimani, stated. Also, he indicated that the protesters should demonstrate peacefully in order not to lead to insecure and unsafe situation in the city.  

There are many reasons why people are protesting.  As Nawzad Baban, a high member of the protest movement in Kurdistan, says, “The reason behind these protests is that the protest voices of poor people has been muted for 20 years, and now people protest against the discredited government.” Also, he stated that the wave of protests in the Middle East especially Egypt and Tunisia had another influence on Kurdistan Region to rise up and protest. Muhammad Babakr 22, a freelance journalist mentioned that, “Technology especially the Internet is the most important reason for awakening people to know about the corruption of the government, and they can see what is going on outside the country.” In addition to that, Krekar Warty 22, an AUI-S student, explicates the reason of protests as he said, “When justice is absent in the society, people protest against unjust government.”

KRG has not responded to the protesters demands yet.  The protesters might not continue on protesting if the government will not respond clearly and do what they ask for. Mr. Baban, a politician, stated, “The wave of protests will not be muted in houses again, and people will persist to get their requests.”

There are different perspectives about who is behind the protests. People have different opinions whether protests are controlled by a political party or any opposition parties. “No, it is mostly people’s voice, but the opposition parities such as, Change Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Union and Kurdistan Islamic Group support the protests and take part with the protesters. Also, they are really helpful to protect and show people’s voices on their Medias,” Soran Omer said. Hoshmand Khidr 25, a Lieutenant from Arbil, stated that, “all of these protests are controlled by the Hill (Change Movement) and by Newsherwan Mustafa, and they manipulated the protests for their interests to get power.” He stated, “At the first day of demonstrations, it was the Hill that sent some young people to attack the PDK’s office in Sulaimani.” He added that, “it was the Change supporters who shot the office with guns and stones not the guards of the office.”

The protesters have been attacked by Police and Peshmarga. The government has begun to capture journalists and protesters. Rebin Hardi, a famous writer and journalist, was captured by PUK troops and after 12 hours he was released. Also in 19 April, some troops went to Sulaimani University and injured many students because the students were protesting. Bahman Hassan, an AUI-S student, said, “Some PUK peshmarga went to inside Sulaimani University’s campus to not let students to protests inside the University.” Also at that day, many university students with teachers went to the Sulaimani Court and planned to protest in front of the court, but the PUK Peshamarga forced them to move to outside the city by buses in order not to protest in front of the court. Bahman said that, “They were moved to outside Sulaimani to control them by a bigger peshmarga force.” He explained that some of the students and teachers were swore at and thrashed inhumanely.

Although many protesters have been killed, injured, captured and abused, they are protesting everyday in different places inside Sulaimani and in other small cities and towns. The government has increased its forces in Sulaimani to control the protesters to not let them to protest anymore. On the other hand, this policy by the government makes the protesters to insist and be continued more eagerly to get their requests. Moreover, global Medias are aware from the protests of Kurdistan Region. “The protests in Sulaimani province somehow have influenced on the government, but it could have more impact if the protests would have took place in Hawler because it is the capital city of Kurdistan Region,” Soran Omer, a journalist and editor in chief of the Rega Magazine, stated. There are many embassies in Hawler which would help the protesters to be responded early. Also, he added that the reason why Mubarak lost the power because Cairo was under the control of the Egyptian protesters, but Muammar Qaddafi could not be overthrown because he has controlled the capital city, Tripoli. Therefore, PDK and PUK cannot disregard and neglect the protests in Kurdistan Region anymore. If the government does not listen to protesters and denies people’s requests, as the famous Kurdish writer and journalist, Rebin Hardi says, “Both PDK and PUK are going to dig graves for themselves.”

Srush Hamza
International Studies
(AUI-S)  Sulaimani


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