SOUTH KURDISTAN : CORRUPTION & INJUSTICE – : Murders of an ‘unknown’ kind in the ‘Other Iraq’


By Shenah Abdullah: 10.12.2013 – Kurdistan Tribune – You must have come across articles, books, blogs, advertisements, pictures and stories about the ‘Other Iraq’ where oil is ever flowing, the cities and towns are safe and secure, the people friendly and welcoming and the economy booming like never before under the leadership of the Kurdistan Regional Government—headed by Kurdish officials for the first time in the history of the region. Life in the other Iraq, the majority of these sources tell us, is all flowery and dandy.

If you care enough to ask the locals in any of the Kurdish cities and towns in Iraqi Kurdistan, the majority of them will beg to disagree. Indeed they will welcome you into their houses and care for all your needs and make you feel at home. While touring around, you will definitely come across construction sites, along with newly built supermarkets, shopping malls, high apartment complexes and latest model cars. You will also feel safe walking, driving or living in the Kurdistan Region—this of course depends on your relationship with the ruling authority. Well, you must be pondering now, what’s the problem then? The problem? You mean, what are the problems?

Let me begin with the latest breaking story from the ‘Other Iraq’. Like the weeks and months and years before, we turned on our televisions and there was that bright redline on the bottom of the screen. What could it be now? We are quite accustomed to these redlines by now. They usually inform us about something tragic—suicide bombings, road accidents, latest from the government and countless other negative stories. Lately, these other tragic stories are on the rise. Three days ago the redline read: “Kawa Germyani has been shot in front of his house in Kalar and has died.” People are shot daily all over the globe you may say, what’s the big deal?

Kawa Germyani was the editor-in-chief of an independent Kurdish magazine and a prominent journalist writing about corruption issues in the Garmiyan region—a region filled with stories of death and pain. He has now become the fourth journalist to be murdered in the past five years after receiving death threats from the two ruling parties. Kawa was murdered in front of his house, in front of his mother by “three unknown gunmen”, all the news sources say. The oppositional sources, relatives and people in his city say otherwise. They say they know who is responsible. They have pointed their fingers to a specific official from the green zone.

The Kurdistan region since its formation in 1991 has been divided into two regions; the green and the yellow—ruled by two parties. People in the two zones as a result of political divisions have suffered a deadly civil war, economic and social disparities and countless other injustices.  Therefore, people in this region have become victims of yet another corrupt and brutal system. For nearly two decades now, people have used peaceful means and tried to show their discontent and have voiced their anger and disappointment. Different ‘independent’ media outlets have opened up to criticize this so called ‘democratic’ system. Since 2009, an active opposition party—blue, has come into the picture working with two other Islamic groups to break the strong hold of the two ruling parties.

For the past 22 years people in the Kurdistan region have found many different ways to show their discontent against their own Kurdish leaders—their own old ‘revolutionaries’ who once fought for peace, justice and independence. Unfortunately, people from all walks of life have been humiliated both symbolically and physically for speaking up against this ‘democracy’. The likes of Kawa, Sardasht, Soran, Rezhwan, Sherzad and many other young people have been shot dead in front of their loved ones. Their murderers are yet to be taken to court.

A majority of the locals in the towns or cities in the Kurdistan region will tell you how much they disapprove of their own leaders. They are Gandals (corrupt), they always say. They will tell you how the two ruling parties have taken all the region’s fortune for themselves and left people under the mercy of the mountains. A few would even go as far as wishing for the days of Saddam Hussein—the man who used chemical weapon against them and carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in their region. What would drive people to wish for the return of a dictator like Saddam?

For any of us to understand this story, we need to go back to 1991 and begin to re-live the life people in this region have had up to today. Perhaps only then can we understand what people are talking about.

Kawa was only 32 years old. Like Kawa, a large number of us were born in the 1980s—we lived the first ten years of our lives under Saddam’s rule and the rest under ‘our own revolutionaries turned leaders’. We have been called the post Rapareen generation; a young generation who has lived and experienced the inferno twice. Kawa’s story is a little different from ours because he lived his life in a city affected by the ethnic cleansing campaigns—an area which is still poor and neglected and where corruption and nepotism is widespread. He used his pen to publish stories about these corruption issues and was not afraid to voice his anger and discontent. There are videos and Facebook notes of him telling people about countless threats he received for publishing his stories. In two videos he tells everyone about his fear of being murdered. Three days ago, he was indeed murdered like three other journalists who also wrote about corruption issues.

These ‘unknown gunmen’ in cities and towns full of police and security guards have begun a terrifying murder campaign that has taken the lives of six people in the last four months. One of those people murdered was an innocent female civilian who just happened to be walking in front of one of the headquarters of two opposing political parties during this last election campaign. These murders have been compared to mafia killings—the gunmen escape all the time. The ‘unknown gunmen’ are never arrested and not one of them has been caught or taken to court. The same is true for the murderers of the young protesters who were gunned down in 2011 for voicing their anger against their own leaders—their families are still waiting for justice.

The ‘Other Iraq’ is full of unhappy stories; stories of murder, injustice, inequalities, corruption, nepotism, lack of ‘democracy’ and censorship. Wherever you go people complain. Going around cities and towns in the Kurdistan Region, you are likely to hear 10 unhappy stories in a day for every one or two happy ones. There are plenty of good things happening too. People are able to speak in their own Kurdish language; people move around freely and enjoy a fair amount of freedom but the majority of them say that, despite the good things they have, they expected more.

Their revolutionary heroes promised to be much better than their old enemies—they promised to provide them with peace and prosperity; with freedom and equality but instead they find the gaps growing tremendously between them and their leaders. They find their leaders killing Kurdish youngsters who were conceived to live the Kurdish dream. These children were promised to be loved, protected and provided for in an autonomous Kurdish region full of oil headed by Kurdish officials for first time ever—but instead they find themselves struggling to make a living, to find a job, to share the benefits of oil revenues and to be able to speak and write freely. Many of these young, middle aged and old Kurdish civilians have been humiliated, attacked and some of them have been killed. Many of their stories have been hidden as a result of voicing their dissatisfaction. Day after day we see mothers and fathers mourning the loss of their children whom they have raised in the hardest of times, under the hardest of conditions in a region where your destiny is in the hands of multiple actors moving your string in accordance to the region’s currents.

One day they knock at his door and his mother opens the door. Three ‘unknown’ men ask for Kawa. The poor widow who raised Kawa during countless days of hardships and fear and many more years of uncertainty after his father died as a Peshmarga.  Kawa grew up to hope of a better life under the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)—he was promised during election campaigns a life unlike any other he could imagine. He spent 22 years of his life waiting for this better life but until the minute of his murder he was not able to live such a life. He nevertheless found a wife nearly a year ago—she too is an orphan who lost her mother and father during the ethnic cleansing campaigns under Saddam’s rule. Kawa’s wife is nine months pregnant today and has less than two weeks to bring another orphan into this world. While the three men are waiting outside, Kawa is searching for a new name for his soon to be born baby. The mother comes and tells him about the men waiting outside. He goes near the door and they shoot him by the wall. They shoot him three times while the mother is watching. The ‘unknown gunmen’ escape under the watchful eyes of police and guards who are less than 500 meters away from Kawa’s house. He passes away soon after at a nearby hospital due to a gunshot wound to his head. People gather again in all the cities and towns; they carry his picture, show his videos on television, ask the government to capture the killers, and they all say they will not give up until the murderers face justice. His story becomes the conversation in almost all the houses in the Kurdistan Region and everyone speaks of his loss. His story will be the center of attention for a week, perhaps two or maybe two more months but he will soon be pushed aside because another redline will pop up on the bottom of our screens.  What/ who will it be about this time?

Meanwhile, this so-called ‘democracy’ grows fatter and fatter and the outsiders pat its fat belly and promise to sing its praises in return for a bit of this and a bit of that and a much-needed share of oil and gas. The people … well, where in the world do they care about people? Who has time for another murder? “He should’ve kept his mouth shut and tried to raise his child instead of writing about corruption and injustice,” they will say and try to blame the victim.

In the ‘Other Iraq’ life continues and there are plenty of happy and good stories but we can’t keep silent about our colleagues getting killed for practising their freedom of expression in this ‘democratic’ region.

Shenah Abdullah is a lecturer and researcher in social anthropology living and working in Sulaymani, Southern Kurdistan.