An Op-Ed piece submitted by W. Karda
Recently, tension has skyrocketed in Kurdistan region, especially in the city of Silêmanî. The primary reason behind it is because of a call made by the main opposition party, Gorran (Change), for the dissolution of the current government and parliament. This reason, coupled with the latest developments in the region, prompted the locals to protest and shower the KDP HQ with stones. In return they were shot at by the security forces defending the base. This mess has led to all different factions and groups blaming each other for such unfortunate developments in a relatively peaceful region.
If we are to understand the situation, we have to analyze it and look back at what happened; at how and what started it all.
First we have to identify the flaws in the government. It is no secret that inside all the ranks of the government, corruption is rampant. In fact such corruption is apparent in all all aspects of normal daily social life and business, from a simple taxi driver charging double to a grocery store selling rotten vegetables to doctors ripping patients off with high fees. Hence politicians are no exception in such corruption and corrupted mentalities. This has become more of a trend in the local Kurdish community in which pointing a finger to any one segment of society is misleading and utterly false.
Indeed one fact is correct and it is the fact that politicians must be the ones to annihilate such corruption and lead the people towards the right path as they have the responsibility of guiding the people towards a better future. Unfortunately, neither in Kurdistan nor in many other parts of the world is the case like that. Consequently, reform is desperately needed, but the ultimate question is, or rather should be: How should we approach such reforms? Does the need of reforms justify ‘protests,’ which in my eyes, is closer to vandalism? Does it justify stoning every government building and looting shops on the streets and destroying public property simply because the people are ‘angry’!? Should any ‘anger’ in any part of the world be translated into such havoc and mayhem!?
Again, we have to look back and wonder how it all went so wrong. Since the establishment back in 2009 of Gorran, the leading opposition party, the political situation has become tense, and that is mostly due to Gorran’s policies in the region. Gorran itself was founded as a splinter group from the PUK, which had a stronghold in the city of Silêmanî. Its head is Nawshirwan Mustafa, who is an old friend of Jalal Talabani’s, the head of the PUK, the party they both founded back in 1975. Their relationship deteriorated in the late 2000s, which led to Mustafa’s resignation from the PUK and the foundation of the opposition party Gorran. Such opposition prompted the PUK and the KDP to strengthen their alliance in order to safeguard their position in the political hierarchy.
From the time of its establishment, Gorran adopted only one policy to increase its popularity, and that was criticising the government and bashing it non-stop for whatever the government was doing, regardless of considering how such ‘criticism’ would impact society as a whole, its interest and its future.
At the beginning, this method, of course, was understandable for it was a way to increase its popularity amongst the people, especially the youth, who were tired of the high unemployment rate and other problems. But then, in the latest election in Kurdistan, Gorran was able to garner 25 seats out of 111, and effectively became a part of a government they had been bashing for so long.
Expectation rose from parts of the public for words to turn into action, words for reform and such in which Gorran had been preaching for so long. But again, and as usual, Gorran restarted its anti-government rhetoric, this time talking against a government in which they were a part of!
With the latest developments in the region, such call for reform changed to the dissolution of the current government and parliament, a call that started to worry the two ruling parties and its many followers; a move that delighted a people who were made to expect that reform can be achieved only after the total uprooting of the government.
Then we come to what happened on 17 February after a relatively peaceful demonstration in Silêmanî, when a group of mostly young people marched towards Branch 4 of KDP HQ, bombarding it with stones, with virtually no security guards from the city to defend it. This prompted KDP soldiers based inside the building to respond with live ammunition, killing one demonstrator and wounding over 50. Then, everything exploded. Facebook pages were created one after another calling for protests; local media completely focused on the protests and clashes between protesters and the anti-riot police force. The two ruling parties started to come up with some weak statements condemning the stoning and the tension it brought; Gorran sided with the protesters and came up with a list of demands for the government. Locals and NGOs started dividing themselves between the two factions. Ultimately, the situation got out of hand, to such a degree that protests are now spreading throughout the other Kurdish cities like Darbandikhan and Kalar.
So what went wrong and who is to blame for all the chaos? To answer that, we have to analyze the main factions.
Gorran bears the biggest responsibility in the latest developments. It has been campaigning for the removal of the ruling parties, despite the fact that they are extremely popular and were elected in a free election by the people. And the continuous and excessive criticism allowed Gorran to gain some popularity, especially amongst the youth who were the easiest targets to affect. This despite the fact that Gorran has not come up with a single alternative regarding any of the ensuing problems in the region. In fact, Gorran’s financial and political structure should be the subjects of scrutiny, for whilst a lot is known about the ruling party’s policies and objectives for the future, their financial bases, which are deeply rooted in the region and the neighbouring countries, with the background for its prominent members well known in detail, Gorran’s structure is completely shrouded in mystery. While it talks negatively about the economy, they haven’t come up with a single alternative on how to approach reforms aside from destroying the government. In fact, they haven’t come up with any plans, strategies or alternatives regarding any of the issues they’ve objected to. As a political entity with a presence in the parliament, they should have had such plans. Even their financial bases and political affiliations remain a mystery. Wikileaks documents also clarify that the US embassy is yet to know the position of the Kurdish opposition party Gorran. The cable states that ‘Gorran is committed to unseating the PUK (and Talabani) in Sulaimani province but needs financial backing to ensure its long-term viability in the KRG and national politics. Iran could conceivably alleviate Gorran’s financial woes, particularly through its close ties with the Kurdish Jaff tribe, some of whom are Gorran members…’
Then there are the protesters who have been empowered by Gorran with such mentality in which they envision a utopian Kurdistan by overthrowing the government. Such a mentality has made them relentless in their quest and they will use any means possible to achieve their aims. This reason led to the incidents of last Thursday, when they showered the KDP HQ with stones in an extremely uncivilised manner, which ultimately led to all the chaos.
Then there remains the main political parties and how they brought this mess upon themselves. Since 2005 and the adoption of the Iraqi constitution, these two parties have stepped up corruption to such an extent that now almost every business is controlled by them, security forces are controlled by them, and no one knows where all the flow of money goes.
Especially in this recent incident, despite all the stoning by the protesters, it is nothing short of barbaric to shower the crowd with bullets. Not to mention their weak statements and their sluggishness in solving the case in an urgent and smart manner in order to decrease the sudden tension amongst the locals.
So, to point a finger at any one of theses factions alone is completely unrealistic and false; in fact the blame lies with all of them; Gorran for not coming up with clear goals and objectives with a detailed and civilised roadmap on how to achieve them through the concepts of democracy instead of coup-like overthrow of the regime.
The leading parties, for not having formed a well-structured and democratic government in which the rights of each and every individual is respected and guarded with the fruits of the economy for all the people not just certain groups.
The people also must take their share of the blame for following some parties blindly without considering and thinking about the interests of their country as a whole and carrying out protests in an unimaginably uncivilised manner by destroying and looting public properties.
One more important player that should not be forgotten is the media, which has had a very negative impact on all the growing tension. They are divided into two main groups, one is affiliated with the government and denies any wrongdoings from their side and puts all the blame on the opposition and protesters. The other so-called ‘free’ media or press which is not so free and have clearly taken the side of the protesters and show only one side of the picture in a way that whatever the government is doing is wrong, and whatever the opposition-protesters are doing is right. And to add to the tensions, yesterday a newly opened independent TV station was torched in apparent retaliation for showing footage of the protests.
Hence it is very important for all different factions and sides to put their differences aside and work on a reconciliation programme to work hand in hand at this very sensitive moment to come up with quick, but effective solutions in order to restore peace and stability to a region heralded as the only corner of peace and democracy in the Middle East. It is clear that blaming each other at this moment will not result in ‘win’ for some and ‘lose’ for the other. But it will ultimately be a total defeat for all the factions and the most important, for the whole nation, a nation which has built what they have today by immeasurable sacrifices. For if such methods of ‘reforms’ continue, the consequences may be fatal for the entire Kurdish nation. As Stephen R. Covey said: ‘While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.’