Slemani/ Sara Square
© Aras Ahmed Mhamad
Slemani/ Sara Square
Last updated: March 11, 2016
A Kurdish uprising and the Middle East crisis: revolution or reform?

"When March arrives, the Kurdish spirit of resilience and resistance is revived"

Banner Icon Kurdistan The time has come for Kurds to use every peaceful means possible to achieve social justice and political stability, writes Aras Ahmed Mhamad.

Every year, March marks the anniversary of the Kurdish Uprising in 1991. In Kurdish it is known as Rapereen/Raparin/ڕاپەڕین. The ‪uprising started in ‪‎Ranya and spread to ‪‎Slemani (Sulaimani‪/Sulaimaniyah), ‎Hawler (Arbil/Erbil), ‪Duhok, and other towns and districts.

Geographically, Kurdistan's landlocked position and remoteness from Europe and America has made it vulnerable, while its occupiers vehemently oppress the Kurds. Historically, the Kurds have been massacred, suppressed and treated as second class citizens, and their cities and towns have been demolished numerous times.

Kurdish people have endured extermination, genocide, mass killings, chemical bombardments, and acts of terrorism. War crimes have been penetrated against them: including the confiscation of land and property, the change in the demography of land, countless land-mines that wipe out gardens and forests, the prevention of the mother tongue, the burning of Kurdish books and publications, defacing Kurdistan's multicultural dimension, depopulation campaigns, mass executions, and driving away Kurds to live in compulsory camps or propelling them to migrate.

Yet, none of these historic crimes have been successful in undermining the Kurdish spirit and resilience as much as the current corruption, money laundry, favoritism, and political party discrimination. There are 1,395,000 government employees in the Kurdistan region, while the current population of the region is thought to be around 6.6 million. Out of that number, more than 200,000 employees have two state salaries; that is to say, they receive two salaries from two different ministries and departments. Most of those shadow employees are members of the dominant parties, according to Kurdish journalist Muhamad Rauf. Kurds want free elections, exchange of power and equal opportunities, and not continuous political instability, injustice, and domination of natural resources and the oil sector. 

Kurds, every year, passionately await the coming of March to celebrate their victories against the barbarism of Saddam Hussein's regime by waving flags, wearing traditional clothes, singing the national anthem, congratulating one another and narrating ancient stories and anecdotes, this is in addition to travelling to the countryside to camp, enjoying artistic and cultural performances, going on picnics and visiting families and relatives.

When March arrives, the Kurdish spirit of resilience and resistance is revived and there is a great emphasis on the importance of charity, peaceful coexistence and generosity.

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Lately, however, these experiences and events have taken a dramatic turn towards hopelessness, with a new wave of migration (especially among the youth), depression and regret. When Saddam's brutality reached its peak, Kurds repelled. Question now is whether the Kurds will rise up against their own government, taking into consideration the threat of the Islamic State, the sharp decline in oil prices and the budget freeze by the central government in Baghdad?

In some cases, civic salaries have not been paid for up to six months, and there is a lack of electricity and water, roads and streets are mostly narrow and badly damaged, there are regular demonstrations, and teachers in the Sulaimani and Halabja provinces have not attended schools since January 26, 2016, and they strongly refuse to stop their boycott.

In a region overwhelmed by political turmoil, tribal revenge, sectarian clashes, military conflicts between regional powers, religious disagreements, dominant political outbidding, strained economies, and partisan media, an individual awakening and collective awareness is a must.

The dream of the Arab Spring turned into a nightmare in many countries, despite the fact that dictatorships ended as a result of robust revolutions, durable activism, and months of staunch demonstrations.

In Syria, people are trapped in a bloody civil war where half a million lives have been lost and 12 million people are displaced, most of them either heading towards Europe or seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

"Question now is whether the Kurds will rise up against their own government"

In Egypt, political instability and poverty are on the increase. In Libya, the country is scattered and security issues are escalating. In Yemen, sectarian tensions are alarming and elections were never held. In Iraq's mostly Sunni areas, the situation is catastrophic as religious ideological clashes and military operations have been continuously mounting. In Shia areas, corruption and lack of services have instigated numerous demonstrations against the central government.

Meanwhile, indications show that the tense political and social atmosphere in Kurdistan will further intensify. The economic situation and standard of life continues to deteriorate due to incessant corruption and bribery. People are disturbed but there seems to be neither short-term nor long-term solutions to tackle mismanagement of revenues, kleptocracy, and the rule of oligarchs.

The international and regional superpowers, who divided the Kurds a century ago, are busy accumulating more wealth through their interventions and proxies. The Turkish authorities oppress the Kurds and constantly bomb Kurdish villages on the borders of Kurdistan, destroying homes and killing civilians under the pretext of halting Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, offers financial and military support to Sunni groups in order to strengthen its hegemony.

Turkey, a Saudi ally, wants to obstruct Iran's supremacy (and interference) across the region and consolidate its historic presence. Moreover, Bashar al-Assad would resort to any means possible to stay in power as long as he can – and he has Russia behind his back.

The superpowers are trying to tackle their economic predicament through selling and giving away weapons to both sides in the war, and by doing so they are unquestionably transferring devastation to the region. As a result, political leaders and military groups of Middle Eastern societies, who are unable to provide a respectable life for their nations and people, will be caught up in a cycle of aggression and violence.

As long as the war endures, demands on weapons will upsurge because ultimately each party pursues every means conceivable to guarantee their economic interests in this era of fiscal crises. The sellers will make higher profits by selling weapons to both sides of the conflict, which will further destabilize the region politically, militarily, religiously, socially, and economically.

In that regional context, Kurds need to use every peaceful means possible to achieve their natural rights, social justice, and political stability, repel and uproot corruption, attain equal opportunities, end the exploitation of the Kurdish spirit by fake nationalist slogans, implement rule of law, carry out exchange of power and reject subservient policies no matter who the ruler is.

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