A moment for the martyrs

by Carrie Peters

This is the story of a young man by the name of Sardasht Osman. On 5 May 2010, his body was found, shot, outside the city of Mosul. He'd been abducted from outside his university two days earlier, in front of a crowd of witnesses. He was twenty-three.


Sardasht was in his final year studying English at university in his home city of Hawler/Erbil. He was going to be a journalist, and had already amassed an extensive resume, having articles published in several different newspapers and websites. His final opinion piece, titled "I Am in Love with Massoud Barzani's Daughter" was a piece of biting satire, criticizing the wealth of the KRG's president. "If I become Massoud Barzani’s son-in-law," he wrote, "we would spend our honeymoon in Paris and also we would visit our uncle’s mansion in America. I would move my house from one of the poorest areas in Erbil to Sari Rash [Barzani’s palace complex] where it would be protected by American guard dogs and Israeli bodyguards." He goes on to say, "All my friends said Saro, let it go and give it up for otherwise you will get yourself killed. The family of Mulla Mustafa Barzani [Massoud Barzani's father] can kill anyone they want, and they surely will."

It certainly appears that they killed him. Although the official report, issued later that year, declared that Sardasht had been in league with an extremist group, who killed him after he could not meet their demands, his relatives and colleagues regard this as a load of rotten dirt. He was abducted in Hawler. His body was found, handcuffed and shot, in Mosul - a city that admittedly has quite a lot of violence, and an al-Qaeda presence. However, g

iven the widespread suspicions of a possible involvement of official security forces, many voices, Kurdish and international, have called for an independent commission to investigate Osman's death, but that commission was never created.

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OnSaturday May 5th, the two-year anniversary of his murder, us CPTers went first to the cemetery where Sardasht is buried. There were about 150 people there, including media crews from several different agencies. Laura and I wore scarves over our heads, out of respect. I'd worn a pretty green scarf with cheery red flowers, because it matched my shirt, but later I realized the bright colors were not very appropriate for such a somber occasion.

I do have a black scarf, actually. Next time.

I am afraid there will be a next time.

Laura and I, being female, met with the women in the family. It was both disorienting and heartbreaking: I was lightly shaking the hands of Sardasht's aunts and sisters and cousins and his mother, and I couldn't say anything - I didn't have the words, literally - and I felt like an interloper, but some smiled sadly, and all of them met my eyes. I tried to impart what terrible compassion I felt into my gaze; I tried to say

I'm so, so sorry and Your son is not forgotten. I don't know. I don't know how to offer solace for something like that. I don't even know if I should.

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I felt like an interloper, but I don't think I was perceived as one. That, too, was interesting. After the services, Sardasht's father and brother said, through Mohamed, how grateful they were that we'd come - that there were internationals here watching and remembering, too. So it occurs to me that I can tell Sardasht's story, tell it to an audience that likely have never heard of him, and it occurs to me that these people may expect that of me. So I feel duty-bound to write about his death, and about how he is remembered today, 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 traditional for everyone to rise and stand in silence a moment - a moment for the martyrs.

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

He would have been twenty-five, by now. Just like me.