Kurdistan: People’s uprising, 17th of February, one year later
- 18/02/2012 00:00:00
It was a beautiful semi-sunny Friday in Sulaymaniah. I started walking down from my house towards the bazaar seeing armed police militias on all the major roads. They were stationed in most areas of the city, such as Toymalik square, Kawa square, in front of Parki Dayk (Mother Park), Peramerd St, and Orzdi St.
The Bazaar was very crowded for a Friday. It was 11:25 a.m. when I arrived in Sara Square and I could hear chanting on my way down from Peramerd St. I could not believe it! There were nearly 400-500 people, if I can trust my eyesight and my sense of counting. I counted three girls in the crowd. They were all chanting, “Yadi hevdey Shubata, cholikan am welata”, which means, “It is the anniversary of 17th of February- evacuated this country.” They chanted for nearly 20 minutes and people started lining up the streets all around the square in a matter of minutes. A larger crowd people were outside the edges of the square and they could not believe what was happening.
I, like the rest of the crowd, was caught by surprise. I could not believe that this demonstration continued on, and for the first time in nearly nine months, I was happy and optimistic. Then the cars driving by all started honking their horns as a show of support and some people started clapping. In my excitement, I called a number of my friends who were also coming to show their support and before my call could go through I heard screaming in the crowd.
A large number of men in green uniforms belonging to the PUK (The Talabanis Party) started closing down on the protesters in the square with their white and green pvc and batons. They chased the protesters all around the bazaar in different directions. All the people who were standing around Sara Square also started running. I refused to move from my spot and stood my ground. The armed forces were all wearing one style uniform, green pants and the old PUK green jacket, known in Kurdistan as Qamsalay Ameriki(American coat) which is associated with the Peshmerga fighters along with a green hat. Some of them were carrying Ak47s and other weapons, but the majority only carried their batons.
The cat and mouse chase continued for awhile till we no longer saw any of the protesters. The rest of the crowd moved around the bazaar and some of us stood around to watch. Soon I saw some Kurdish and expat friends and we all decided to stand together to watch what would happen. Now, the square was full of these Green-men who were standing in a circle all over the square and all around the bazaar. Sara was dressed in green but not a natural green but rather an oppressive and brutal green that showed no mercy. They started harassing some of the men they had chased. One man was beaten near Rasha Mall and four of the Green-Men took him by the arm. He was a man in his late 40s. He had a cut on his forehead with blood dripping down all over his face.
Not one of us could take a picture of this man. No one was able to use their camera. One of the expats standing with us told me that he had taken some pictures while pretending to be on the phone but they had followed him and stopped him. Anyone using their phone was approached quickly and was told to move away and stopped. There were some people with their cameras but they could not dare take a picture in fear of being beaten, arrested, or their camera being confiscated from them. A number of young men were beaten and taken away, some were protesters, and others were pedestrians who had used their phone to take pictures. A number of times they approached our small group of eight people and kept telling us to move away in Kurdish. We pretended we didn’t understand Kurdish and stood facing them.
Meanwhile, people in the bazaar kept coming and going around the Green-Men and watched them occupy the square like a hungry group of insects ready to attack and bite/sting anything moving. It didn’t matter if you were a journalist, civil activist, worker, intellectual, male or female, you had no business to say or do anything not in their favor, and if you dared to oppose their will, you were harassed, beaten and then taken away. Someone came and told us that among the first men beaten and arrested was Rahman Gharib, the head of METRO group for protecting journalists and photographers. This of course needs no comment-as the irony speaks for itself. Rahman Gharib knows what it means to be a journalist in Kurdistan. One is beaten and arrested as often as they believe it necessary.
We stood for what seemed to be ages but in real time- approximately 45 minutes to an hour. We all wanted more action but no one dared to do anything—for we all knew what it would lead to, to be beaten and arrested. “Move away please! Do not stand around here we ask you politely!” They repeated this over and over again but for all we knew, we were deaf!
A courageous girl walking with her mobile phone took a picture of the Green-Men lined up across the square and they all moved a bit but did not get close to her and instead shouted, “Put that mobile away!” She kept on walking with her mobile in her hand and she shouted back, “I am not going to you cowards.” When she got closer to us, I told her she was brave –“Great job!” Making sure she heard me. We started getting impatient and bored and moved next to the booksellers who stand on the sides of the square. We went straight towards the Green-Men and we made sure we looked them in the eye.
Then we pretended we were interested in the books. I grabbed a copy of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and discussed its importance with my friends. With me, I had four brave females and a brave Kurdish man. Not one of us hesitated for a moment. We walked up and down around these men for a while. While we were in the square, they beat another young man and took him away. “What makes them any different from the previous brutal regime?” we all said. Not much longer after that the hungry green insects closed on another man who was driving around the square. The white car was stopped forcefully in the middle of the road and the man was taken out by three Green-Men and brought towards the square. They accused him of taking pictures with his mobile phone while driving. I and my friends encountered all these incidents with our own naked eye. This is not out of 1984, nor is it a Hollywood suspense story.
We decided to head into a male tea shop. We were three girls and one man and we drank our tea. Here, my friend was able to take a photo. On the 17th of February, you were only allowed to take photos indoor. Walking down Mawlawy Street a little later, we saw more armed forces wearing different colored uniforms. It was more of the same. Curious and angry people all over the bazaar and lots and lots of armed men ready to attack. The militia men were playing with their batons as symbolic gesture to scare away people. “You move; I beat you!”
In the evening, I and my female Lebanese friend walked up all the way from Salim Street leading to Mawlawy Street and could not believe how crowded the bazaar still was. At the end of Mawlawy Street in front of a small garden-where usually the men sit in the evening, two green men started beating up a young boy who only appeared to be 15 years of age. “We told you not to sit here twice!” The poor boy stood facing them and replied, “I am not allowed to even sit?” Could it get any worse than this, I thought!
We approached the square and the scene we saw was breathtaking. Despite the massive number of green armed forces who were still occupying the square left, right and all over, we could see a large group of young boys who were circled around them and all over the square. They were literately facing these green men like a mirror reflection of the same image; standing still and ready for a signal to act. A signal came just when we walked in front of the booksellers. We saw movement beginning in the crowd and I heard someone say, “Awa bawki Surkewa!”, “That is Surkew’s father (one of the boys who was killed last year during the demonstration). We could see the father with his cane moving slowly among the green armed men inside the square. There were some brave boys who started following him inside the square and others followed. I and my friend also walked inside and watched while Surkew’s father stood facing the armed men and said, “You are like my son. I hate to see you beat these young Kurdish boys. I hate to see you beat people for money. Please stop using violence.”
Everyone stood silent and listened to him. Then one of the armed militias replied back and said, “You are also like our father!” This was the most moving moment of the day. This is the reason I was out. Blood had been shed the year before and we wanted to show our support. We wanted to show this father that we felt his pain and stood united for his sons’ and his peaceful cause. The old-heartbroken man slowly walked down the square with his cane and the rest of the crowd followed him. Before he was even five meters away the armed men chased the boys out again and people ran in all directions. Some of us stood watching angry and astounded at what was happening in our town. These Green-Men were once our revolutionary fighters and the old father of dead Surkew once fought along with them for the same green Kurdish cause. Now, Green is the color that silences, tortures and stops people from speaking peacefully.
Enough of green and of those of us, who observed, participated and walked today on the anniversary of the Kurdish spring. Where were our bright loud mouthed intellectuals today? Where were the artists, singers, painters, and musicians? Where were the three oppositional parties who pump the youth of this sad and injured town day and night from their television screens? Where were the rest of you who complain of injustice and corruption every hour of your day?
You didn’t have to throw rocks. You did not have to scream or chant; you did not have to do anything but show you support to the young poor and passionate boys who were beaten and humiliated again for expressing their discontent and love of “azadi” or “freedom”. They were once again left on their own. We are grateful that no one else died on this day. It would have been yet another life lost. What I and my friends and the rest of the population saw today was yet another show of unity and support by the people for the people. What I saw today from the civilian population of Sulaymaniah is what makes me want to stay in this city. It is what makes Sulaymaniah unique, vibrant and lively. The city didn’t accept silence and for brief number of moments in different times of the day on the 17th of February, 2012 people opposed injustice, oppression and violence and chanted out their inner discontent.
Shenah Abdullah, 17 February 2012, Sulaymaniah
Shenah Abdullah was a distinguish voice of the protests of Kurdistan of February 2011, in which dozens were killed and hundreds were wounded as the protests oppressed by the PUK and KDP men.
- 18/02/2012 00:00:00