IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION: The different faces of society


8 September 2017
IRAQI KURDISTAN REFLECTION:The different faces of society

Peggy Faw Gish

what’s it like for the people in Iraqi Kurdistan?” my friends
back home ask me over the Internet, now that I’m back on the CPT
Iraqi Kurdistan team.

answer would probably start with explaining that, of course, Iraqi
Kurdistan and its government, the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government)
continues to be the most secure and stable area of Iraq. It’s not
so far in miles from Mosul, but is fairly removed from the battles
with the “Islamic State.” From outside the country, it may appear
that life in Iraqi Kurdistan is going smoothly, but from here, one
can see that the average Iraqi Kurd is beset with various social

economy is a big one. The first thing many Kurdish people mention is
that they are in an “economic crisis.” Teachers and lower-level
government workers–people drawing a paycheck from the KRG except for
the Peshmerga and other security forces, whose salaries are partially
provided by the U.S. and their allies–have in the past year,
received just a fraction of their salaries, or in many months, none,
yet are being forced to continue working their jobs to keep society
running. Kurdish officials publicly maintain that they are bankrupt
and don’t have enough funds. They also say the KRG is still caring
for the needs of displaced persons coming in from other areas of the
country and several large refugee camps for Syrians. Kurds I spoke
to, however, say that most of the expenses of these camps are covered
by international and private aid agencies.

Teachers protest in Sulamani, 2016                     
                          Photo: Teachers’ protest in Sulaimani, 2016, by Rezhiar Fakhir

I hear is that, yes, the price of oil on the world market has
dropped. And, yes, the KRG no longer receives a percentage of Iraqi
oil revenues from the Iraqi Central Government in Baghdad. This was
cut off a couple years ago, when the KRG started selling and keeping
the profits of oil produced in the Kurdistan region. The Central
Government also stopped paying the salaries of the Kurdish Peshmerga
fighters after the KRG insisted on keeping its control over them.
Kurds outside the government tell me that the KRG has enough revenues
to pay their employees, but that money is being siphoned off and
disappeared through mass corruption of government parties and

problem still plaguing Iraqi Kurdistan’s society, is something we
learned about back in late 2006, when our team moved here from
Baghdad, and were invited to rallies protesting the attacks on
citizens who spoke out publicly against corruption and the lack of
free speech. Unfortunately human rights violations are still common.

teachers’ situation is a recent example of this kind of oppression.
For several months this past school year, teachers went on strike.
Almost daily, thousands of teachers nonviolently protested and
marched on the streets, demanding their pay. This winter, security
personnel kidnapped, beat, burned the cars, or threatened the lives
of several of the leaders of the marches. Eventually authorities
violently crushed the peaceful protests and forced the teachers,
under threat, to return to their classrooms.

is tragic that at a time when Kurdish fighters are being applauded by
worldwide media in their successful battles against ISIS in Iraq,
many Kurdish people feel oppressed by their own leaders. It is sad to
see the longed sought after dream of Kurdish self-determination in
Iraq being plagued by internal divisions and repression.

Girl students with Kurdish flags                     
                                Photo: Many students joined the teachers’ protest, by Rezhiar Fakhir

have learned, here, and back in my home country, that societies have
at least two faces. And many of us have found ways to navigate
between the two very real sides. The first involves the tragic
realities of our governments’ and economic systems’ abusing their
power and crushing the vulnerable inhabitants and the noble
aspirations of the common hard-working citizen. The second is the
reality of a beautiful culture and people that continues to care for
and sacrifice for the well-being of their children and neighbors. It
involves those who rise above local prejudices, rivalries, and
power-seeking to work for reconciliation and for more peaceful, just,
and caring communities. Both are real descriptions of what is
happening in society here and at home, but it is in walking alongside
the people in this second side that offers hope for a life-giving

The Iraqi Kurdistan team has recently published a more in-depth report covering violence against people (journalists, human rights defenders, religious leaders, civil society activists) who voice different opinions than the ruling political parties. Read and learn more.

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