Voices from a brave city

By Shenah Abdullah:militia

When we gather these days anywhere in the city of protest, the brave city of resistance, we speak in melancholic voices about that corner of the city which we once occupied and called our own. A place that was full of hope of what we might achieve, despite the challenges. Yes, I am talking about Maidani Azadi, the Freedom Square in the city of Sulaymani. Is it now but a faint memory? Did we achieve anything there? What about tomorrow and the future? Where shall we go next and what is our new strategy? These are the questions we ask each other.
We sit and reflect and exchange ideas with the optimism of five-year-old children waiting to ride their first bicycles. But: when, where – and how? Those of us active during the protests – as photographers,  journalists, ordinary protesters, intellectuals, teachers, and others without any label – run to one another on a daily basis, in the bazaar, during a panel discussion, in the corner of the street and at our work places and we whisper about Then and Now.

“I feel extremely bored and frustrated these days. Then we were able to do something about it all,” she says and he replies back, “Well I guess we just have to be patient. You don’t want to be beaten and arrested, do you?” Yesterday, a group of us from the golden days of Maidani Azadi met again and started to reminiscence about the days of Azadi. I shall start with a reflective narrative and move on to that of my colleagues – or shall I call them comrades?

Personal narrative:

Freedom Square in Sulaymani

Freedom Square in Sulaymani

Then, I rushed out of my capitalist dream job, having worked under a repressive system of ‘money rules, so shut up and work, who cares about the others’, to enter the real world—a place where injustice, corruption, money, politics and social problems were woven into a colourful banner carried by thousands of brave and optimistic men and women refusing to remain silent. There, in the place we called the Freedom Square- Maidani Azadi – I breathed freely and stood as a human being with a purpose in life. The momentum of the crowd and its contagious energy dragged us deeper and deeper into its core. Then, after a hard day’s work and a night of planning, we dreamed of the future of this brave generation. Together as one entity, we were able to shake 20 years of corruption and nepotism and for 63 days we were able to bring our leaders to the edge of suicide. We were in the centre of a brave city, among a crowd of hopeful protesters who had nothing to lose but their energy. The ruling body on the other hand was standing on the edge, terrified to jump in fear of losing it all and refusing to join us because our past 20 years, like rest of our history, was painted with blood, tears and sweat.

Now, we are agitated, annoyed and ready to be active again. We have seen better days and we are not satisfied to remain captive in our own city, to be fed a daily mixture of official poison and lies. They were successful in using violence to burn our gathering place, destroy our signs and memos and stop us from standing on the streets against everything they represent. But they have not been able to destroy our will to gather again, find another place, speak and plan for better days to come.

If they were only to glance back at the pages of this city’s history, they would learn that not the British Empire, nor consecutive Iraqi regimes, nor Saddam Hussein’s mighty military was able to control Sulaymani and its population. We, like many other well-known brave cities in the world, refuse to allow injustice and cruelty to gnaw at our city’s foundations and our bones. On 17th February we did what we have done many times before: go onto the streets united against those who harm us. We did not, and do not, care whether ‘they’ were our own people. When you are cruel, corrupt and repressive, it matters not what label you carry. Today, our city is sad but it continues to function because to stop would be un-Suli like. What this city and its brave people have refused to do, however, is to remain silent and hopeless. We are working together to find other ways and means to stand on our feet again. With hope, a brave mentality, and the refusal to accept oppression, the sky covering mount Goyzha and Azmar is our limit. Time is on our side.

Ardalan Mohammad:

women protesting with child

“As an independent journalist and photographer, I was actively involved with the protesters since day one and stayed with them until Maidani Azadi was burned down and the voice of the street was silenced through violence. The protest dressed this city, particularly its young population, in a new cover. This was something the city of Hawler and its population failed to achieve because of the repressive ruling power. I still view the demonstrations as a mirror which I see every day. I am truly saddened when I think how it was all violently suppressed through the use of weapons. I am very optimistic that the freedom-loving population of this city will rise again to show their faces to the world. As an independent journalist who is unable to cover stories and take photographs without fear of being beaten, harassed and arrested, I hope this government will stop using violence against its own people. They must not let their ugly side rule. They must stop violating the rights of ordinary people and journalists”.

Kamaran Hassan:

“I believe the protest has entered its 90th day and, after the death of 10 protesters and more than 200 injured, the movement has not stopped: rather, it has taken a different form, mainly public activities instead if marching and chanting on the streets. What took place in Southern Kurdistan in the past 90 days was something very meaningful and crucial for us; something we can be proud of. We were able to show the two ruling parties that 20 years of corruption and family rule is not acceptable and has failed. The two ruling parties have tried to de-humanise Kurdish youth, make them powerless and control their every move. They have brought in outside forces from all parts of the world to weaken our Kurdish culture, political ability, economy and the fate of our youth and women. On the contrary, what happened during the protest days was a movement united against these failed tactics. We were able to see a generation of youth that is brave, aware and able to resist their oppression. For the sake of a better, more free and equal world youth stood facing weapons aimed at their friends; weapons that injured and killed. This is a young generation that has shed its blood for freedom and democracy. Therefore on this day, the 90th day of a brave movement, I condemn those who shot and killed innocent people and salute my friends who carried the torch of the revolution”.

San Saravan:

“Today, they have made the city like the mountains. The ruling authority knows that that the Kurds,bloodied youth lies on street as individuals and as a society, are not free here in Southern Kurdistan. Those same people who once fought for freedom are now the oppressors. The masses continue their peaceful fight for freedom. In the mountains everything was smaller and easier to control. Then, they did not have to deceive us. The city is a much larger entity for the ruling authority to understand and control. That is why they have cut off the so-called ‘free’ cities to isolate them like the mountains. They responded to the protests by isolating and violently controlling them with weapons, something they are familiar with.

But if in the mountains you can do something as a fighter and go into hiding, you must know you can’t behave like this in the city. You can’t cover up reality and say that a tank is a military humvee! It seems that you don’t understand that the city is a public space occupied by civilians. Alas, with your mentality you were unable to treat Sulaymani as a city of people rather than as the mountains you once occupied”.


So we speak now and shall speak again and again. Hear our stories for there shall be many more narratives in the coming weeks and months. The two ruling parities in this region have under-estimated the power of the people united together for a common cause. People of this region have been on the streets many times and will continue to protest as long it takes This was not the first time, nor will it be the last. We have had countless struggles and faced many obstacles before—this was just another thorn on our road. We were hurt; we bled and we fell but we are slowly recovering from yet another blow. They took our freedom away from us but they have not been able to control us fully, nor can they take away our hope.

I shall leave you with George Orwell for the ending of this beginning story:

“And yet the animals never gave up hope. More, they never lost, even for an instant, their sense of honour and privilege in being members of Animal Farm…. Not one of them, not even the youngest, not even the newcomers who had been brought from farms ten or twenty miles away, ever ceased to marvel at that. And when they heard the gun booming and saw the green flag fluttering at the masthead, their hearts swelled with imperishable pride, and the talk turned always towards the old
heroic days, the expulsion of Jones, the writing of the Seven Commandments, the great battles in which the human invaders had been defeated. None of the old dreams had been abandoned… Some day it was coming: it might not be soon, it might not be within the lifetime of any animal now living, but still it was coming.”


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