Iraqi Kurdistan: A Moment for the Martyrs

by Carrie Peters

Iraqi Kurdistan - Surviving Family MembersThis is the story of journalist Sardasht Osman.  On 5 May 2010, his body was found, shot, outside the city of Mosul.  He had been abducted from his university in Hawler (Erbil in Arabic), two days earlier in front of a crowd of witnesses. 

Sardasht, 23, was in his final year studying at the university and frequently published articles critical of the Kurdish Regional Government and prominent party leaders.  His final opinion piece criticized KRG President Massoud Barzani’s wealth in biting satire.  He said, “All my friends said, ‘Saro, let it go and give it up or you will get yourself killed. The [Barzani family] can kill anyone they want, and they surely will.’”

It appears they did.  The official report, issued later that year, declared that Sardasht had been in league with an extremist group that killed him after he could not meet their demands.  His relatives and colleagues consider this rubbish.  Voicing widespread suspicions of official involvement, Kurdish and international observers have called for an independent investigation, but the authorities never launched one.

Iraqi Kurdistan - FuneralOn the second anniversary of Sardasht’s murder, CPTers joined 150 people, including journalists, at his gravesite.  Activists, politicians and diplomats spoke of the importance of a free press within democratic societies.  One member of the Kurdish Parliament said, “We lost a brave journalist that wanted to use his pen and write about the corruption and inform society about how both governmental parties are stealing money and oil.”

As I lightly shook the hands of Sardasht’s aunts, sisters, cousins and mother, I could find no words or ways to offer solace for their loss.  After the services, Sardasht’s father and brother said how grateful they were that we had come, that internationals were watching and remembering, too.

So it occurs to me that I can tell Sardasht’s story to an audience that likely has never heard of him, tell about his life and his death, about how he is remembered, and how journalists under the KRG are still risking their lives every day to report the truth.

Here in Iraqi Kurdistan, before a meeting or gathering, it is customary for everyone to rise and stand in a moment of silence, a moment for the martyrs.

Let’s have a moment, then, for Sardasht Osman.

See 6 May 2010 video “Sardasht Osman - We Will Not Forget” at http://goo.gl/Kwz89.

Carrie Peters, from Pennsylvania, USA, joined CPT in January 2012.