17 May 2016
IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: Racism based on my name
by Mohammed Salah Mahdi
|At the Hawler Checkpoint October 2014|
Two of my Kurdish friends were deported from a Russian
airport because of their names and assumed religion.
But I have experienced racism also in my region.
Last Thursday, together with my team mate and my youngest
son, I drove the CPT car on our way to Hawler (also known as Erbil, in Arabic),
the capital of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to renew our NGO (Non-Governmental
Organization) registration for CPT. After waiting for about fifteen minutes in
lines of cars to pass the security checkpoint at the entrance of the city, an
Asaish (security officer) asked for our IDs. When he looked at mine, he asked me if I was
Kurdish. In a moment, I was thinking,
“Do I have to swear that I am a Kurd?” So,
I said, “Yes, but why?” He answered that
my name looks like an Arab name.
He thought it was weird that a Kurd has a fully Muslim name.
So he started to check the car and asked
me to open the trunk and also to open the petrol tank cap. It was not usual at
all. Then he went to show my ID to his
boss, who in turn came to ask me if I am originally from Sulaimani. He also
asked if the car was registered in my name. Then he pointed to my teammate,
asking who was he and where was he from. When he replied that he was Czech and
that it was a CPT car, the security officer let us pass and enter Hawler—perhaps
because Czech government is a good military ally for the Peshmerga and I was
driving an international organization’s vehicle.
We arrived to the Department of NGOs. The person in charge
of the registration renewals was not there. However the staff allowed us to
talk to another person in the office. When he looked through our registration
documents, he noticed my name on the list of the organization’s staff, and
asked me. “Why don’t you change your name?” For him and many others, Mohammed
or a Muslim working with a Christian organization is too unique.
I started to think more and more about those people who are
facing these kinds of situations every single day. How do they respond?
I did not want to argue with any of them, my only goal was to
enter the city of Hawler with my teammate and to submit CPT documents for the
NGO registration renewal. Being a human rights activist it made me feel like
there are times that I should keep silent and not even advocate for myself. I
felt very disappointed.
However, what makes me proud is that I am working with a
faith-based organization in which people of any religion can work together to
change the mentalities of others, and that only together we as human beings can
bring peace to the world.