Khalid Qadir Mohammed, Rania

by Michele Naar Obed

When one looks into the eyes of Khalid Qadir Mohammed, one can't help but see the fire of passion and love for his people. When one hears his story, one can't help but be amazed that this passion and love has never been extinguished by the pain and violence that he and the Kurdish people have endured.

Born in 1975 in the city of Rania, Khalid is the oldest of 11 brothers and sisters. He has few childhood memories. “My generation was born into a troubled political time. Under the Ba'athist party, many Kurds were murdered, hurt, arrested and disappeared”. “Because I am the oldest, I was responsible for my brothers and sisters especially since my father became ill while I was still young”. “I tried to educate them and I left school to make money for my family by selling cigarettes from a cart in the bazaar” “I loved to read even though there were few books written in Kurdish but there were books written in Arabic and many Arabic newspapers and I read as much as I could”.

In 1989, Khalid vividly recalled the day he was arrested by the Ba'ath regime. Finding solace in the mountains in an area alive with trees and greenery, Khalid and his friend Omer were abducted at gunpoint by Saddam's soldiers and taken to two different prisons; first in Kirkuk then in Baghdad. “I was taken through 7 doors into the basement of the prison and there I saw hell”. Khalid spent one year of his life in this hell.

Released from prison with an order to join the Ba'athist military, Khalid hid in the mountains until the day of the 1991 uprising. Khalid recalled the day that the uprising against Saddam's regime took place in Rania. On March 5, men, women and children took to the streets and took back their lives. For one month, the people were happy and at home with their families. This time was short lived as they were forced to flee when the uprising failed.

Khalid made the long trek towards Iran where he saw many people die along the way. Many old people, and children, the two most vulnerable groups froze to death along the way.

After the UN established the “northern no-fly zone, Khalid and his family, along with many others returned to Rania. Determined to do more than just make money, Khalid saw the need to provide a safe haven and education for the youth of Rania. Working with a group of young artists, Khalid started the Rania Youth Center with the support of Kurdistan Save the Children. “We started out with one room and some broken down furniture that the government donated to us”. “We started one English language course and then a course in tailoring”. “Then we got one computer and we had 50 students learning Word Program on that one computer”. Eventually, Internet services became available. Teachers volunteered their services and taught other courses.

Khalid is now the director of the Rania Youth Center and has been with the Center for 9 years. The Center offers fine arts classes, computer programing, music and sports. It has a library and puts out a weekly newspaper. It serves about 200 youth each day. Khalid's eyes sparkle with joy and pride when he is in the presence of the young people.

Khalid knows his history and recognizes the importance of remembering where his people came from in order to make a better future. He is determined to see to it that the Kurdish people will not be erased from history.

Khalid is also trying to connect the hands of his people to the hands of the international community because he believes that we are all one human family and we need to have real human relationships with other. These are still uncertain times for the Kurds. “There are still extremist groups that believe the Kurdish people have no right to live”. Khalid knows that the Kurds still have a fight on their hands for their very existence. “However, this fight will not be with guns or weapons. This fight will be through discovering ourselves and rebuilding and the youth should be leading the way”.

Khalid has been a great friend and advisor to CPT regarding the work with village IDPs from the Qandil district. Our relationship grows stronger and deeper. Our hands are joined now and together we hope to discover and rebuild the human family.