24 April 2014
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Syrian and Iraqi Kurds protest separation ditch
by Kathy Moorhead Thiessen
Streamers of blue, green, yellow and brown election pennants crisscrossed over the street and almost blocked out the sun. The symbols of the major parties in Iraqi Kurdistan for the 30 April election dominated the landscape. However, on Tuesday, 15 April, new flags waved from hand-held flagpoles. Many Syrian Kurds who have fled their country because of the turmoil marched through the streets of Sulaimani. They were crying out because the government of the region in which they have taken refuge has decided to create a dividing ditch. The KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) that governs the area of Iraqi Kurdistan bordering Syria has sent workers, bulldozers, and security guards to facilitate the digging. It claims that the seventeen-kilometers-long, three-meters-deep, and two-meters-wide ditch will prevent terrorists and smugglers from entering the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.
However, the people of Rojava/Western/Syrian Kurdistan and their Iraqi Kurd supporters see the ditch differently. One man CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan team spoke to said, “After WWI Britain drew lines that artificially separated the Kurds into four countries. Now Kurds are dividing Kurds from Kurds with ditches.”
Opinions about what is happening on the border—who is responsible and why they are doing it fly fast and furious. Kamal Chomani, an independent journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan told the team, “The root of this is that KDP wants to have power in Rojava and PYD (Democratic Union Party), the party in power there, won’t let them. KDP have some small “puppet parties” in Rojava but they don't have much support. PYD don't accept the demands of KDP. So closing the border is a way to punish them and put pressure on them.”
The political parties deny these allegations against them. But whatever the reason for the ditch, the ordinary people who have already experienced the trauma of war suffer the most. In the last week, there have also been several demonstrations on the Syrian side of the border, joined by men and women, old and young who are upset by the closing of the border. Some people showed their desperation by trying to fill in the ditches. They want to be able to go to Iraqi Kurdistan to work, have access to hospitals or to buy goods that are unavailable in Syria. Now they are denied these opportunities by other Kurds.