Over the past few months a wave of protests has been sweeping across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and many other Middle Eastern countries. Iraqis – who may have been inspired by their Arab neighbors – have intensified their demands for government reform, better public services and an end to government corruption. In Iraq’s northern region of Kurdistan several weeks of protests have been centered in Sulaimaniyah. Kyle Crawford spoke to blogger Karzan Kardozi and independent filmmaker San Saravan – who have been covering the protests since they began to learn more about what is happening.
Host Intro: This is War News Radio, over the past few months a wave of protests has been sweeping across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and many other Middle Eastern countries. Iraqis – who may have been inspired by their Arab neighbors – have intensified their demands for government reform, better public services and an end to government corruption. In Iraq’s northern region of Kurdistan several weeks of protests have been centered in Sulaimaniyah. Kyle Crawford spoke to blogger Karzan Kardozi and independent filmmaker San Saravan – who have been covering the protests since they began to learn more about what is happening.
[Sound clip of Protests]
KYLE CRAWFORD: Since February 17th, when members of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party fired into a thousand protesters gathered in front of the ruling Kurdish party headquarters,demonstrations involving up to 20,000 people have become a daily occurrence in Sulaimaniyah, a city 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Although there have been protests throughout the rest of Iraq in cities like Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra in few places have protests occurred at the daily level like those in northern Iraq. Karzan Kardozi, who has been blogging from the scene, explains why people are calling for change.
KARZAN KARDOZI: Well I mean over here the electricity, you have electricity for like 7 or 8 hours a day…And there is a lot of corruption a lot of involvement of political party in government. I mean we have a parliament right but who controls these two parties, and they put people who are related to them in higher position
KYLE CRAWFORD: San Saravan a filmmaker who has been documenting the events describes why he believes people are so upset.
SAN SARAVAN: There is no freedom of expression as they claim as the governments claim and whenever you go on the streets you are not allowed to express your feelings.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Kurdistan, which gained autonomy within Iraq in 1991, is generally considered to be safer and more developed than the rest of Iraq. The region even avoided most of the sectarian violence which ravaged Iraq after the U.S invasion of the country. But critics say nepotism, a lack of public services like clean water and electricity, widespread corruption and high unemployment have plagued the region. Saravan says that revolution in Egypt and Tunisia fomented opposition against Kurdish President Masooud Barzani and the KDP, Kurdistan’s ruling party.
KARZAN KARDOZI: And so you seen Mubarak in Egypt and Ali in Tunisia and people always had this illusion that they would be in power until they die. And so then people realize when they see Mubarak and Ali gone they think hey somebody else could fall, there could be more democracy and change and now people are going on the street and demanding that. That’s one of the biggest effect of the revolution.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Protests in the city square have led to clashes with anti-riot police and militias backed by the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK party. Government officials say anarchists and vandals have been leading the protests, but most accounts including Kardozi’s and Saravan’s say ordinary citizens made up mainly of students upset with the government are behind the protests. Though casualty estimates vary, with perhaps six killed and several hundred injured, Saravan says that he often fears for his life when he covers the protests.
SAN SARAVAN: I had been there with my camera and we were at the front and the bullets hit everywhere like next to you, and yeah it we faced bullets and gunshots everyday, not everyday but its been like 3-4 days it happened.
KYLE CRAWFORD: The Kurdish Parliament condemned the use of force against protesters but even after the statement, anti-riot police and militias led by the ruling party clashed with protesters shooting and killing several, and injuring hundreds. Here’s Kardozi explaining how the anti-riot police and militias act.
KARZAN KARDOZI: The cockroaches they refer to them as colachar, they are the anti-riot police. They are everywhere they dress in black and carry a stick that is electrocuted. And they push it into people and they electrocute people. Those guys don’t shoot , the people who shoot are militias shoot and nobody knows who the militia belong to. They are just people dressed up as civilians, sometime in uniforms and they shoot into the crowd. And after the shooting nobody knows what is happening.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Massoud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, has called on protesters to respect the democratic process in place in the region and in a written statement he said that the votes of the Kurdish people should determine the path of the country and protests by a few are irresponsible attempts to impose their will on others. However, Kardozi says that people in Iraq just don’t trust politicians.
KARZAN KARDOZI: Well nobody really believe over here the parliament, the politicians, the political party, people take them as a joke. I mean they have many promises for many years and no body every believe them any more.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Facebook, Twitter and Youtube users have been crucial in spreading information about the protests and sharing photos and videos from the unfolding events.
KARZAN KARDOZI: So within a few hours of the protests when you come home you have like many pictures and videos of the days events. People would communicate and post videos and they would say today this is the plan. Especially the university they have their own group.
KYLE CRAWFORD: At the moment it is unclear how long people will continue to gather in Sulyiamani’s main square to protest the current government. Saravan says that if the government doesn’t start to address the protesters’ demands the intensity of demonstrations will grow.
SAN SARAVAN: I think if the government don’t respond to the peoples demands. For me as far as I know it might get tougher for them it might get violent in response.
KYLE CRAWFORD: Protesters in Sulaimaniyah plan to continue demonstrating until the government takes action and smaller protests in other Kurdish cities are occurring as well. You can find a link to Karzan Kardozi’s blog, ‘the moving silent’ on our site as well as links to videos taken by San Saravan. For War News Radio, I’m Kyle Crawford.