Iraqi Kurdistan: Villagers to Exxon-Mobil: Leave

by CPT Iraqi Kurdistan

Sharing tea with Kak Latif and Kak PshtiwanOn 15 August, CPTers visited the ancient mountainside village of Gullan. Oral tradition places the village’s founding in pre-Islamic times. Abundant ripe fruit hung from trees leaning over garden pathways of moss-covered stones. Wisdom and joy emanated from words spoken and smiles exchanged.

After a lunch of locally grown food, we drank tea with Kak (Mr.) Latif and Kak Pshtiwan, who shared their concern about Gullan’s future. “Our ancestors have lived here and worked on this land for centuries,” they said, “but now we are afraid that our water sources will soon be destroyed and we will have to leave this place.” U.S.-based ExxonMobil has started to drill for oil above Gullan and other area villages. If they proceed to exploitation, Latif and Pshtiwan are concerned that the process will eventually contaminate the water that sustains two dozen villages.

Latif, a law school graduate, and Pshtiwan, an Islamic Science student, together with others recently founded the Council for Environmental Protection and Common Rights. The day of our visit we attended their first public action. They had invited media to broadcast their demand that the government withdraw ExxonMobil’s oil exploration permits. According to the group, government representatives signed the contracts without the agreement of the villagers, who want the company to leave. “We are a peaceful community and would like to work against the company in a peaceful way. We try to speak in one voice,” said the group, which had requested CPT accompaniment.

Gullan village: “The beauty of our land above is our resource, not the oil under ground.Over a hundred villagers of all ages, mostly men, gathered that afternoon. CPT was the only international organization present. At first, people stood at the side of the road, but as they saw the oil company trucks returning from the work sites, they threw wooden logs in the middle of the road, blocking all the traffic. Holding banners displaying sentiments such as, “The beauty and abundance of our land is our oil” and “Do not destroy our environment to fill leaders’ pockets,” the villagers spoke to both independent and political party-affiliated media.

They maintained the blockade for about an hour until armed government forces arrived and cleared the way, first for private cars and later for the oil company trucks. An ExxonMobil representative arrived with a group of security guards and met with the villagers in a nearby mosque. He told the villagers what they already knew: that the company works with government permission. One villager told CPT, “Today was the first time we were able to gather and act like this together. We are writing history.”