Teenage resistance to oil extraction

Kathy Moorhead Thiessen

“These are my fields and these are my guests”, fourteen-year-old Ibrahim spoke boldly to the security guard who blocked the way leading to the oil field near the tiny Kurdish village of Haji Ahmed.  He and his younger brother Zaid sat on the bus with CPT delegates waiting to be able to look at their vineyards as well as the oil exploration site.

As we planned the visit, we had discovered that our friend, Kak Mirro, was serving his military time on the front against ISIS but his teenage sons were quite willing to show us around. We knew that the bus would not be able to navigate the tortuous farm road and so we wondered how we would be able to overlook the fields. However, we were very surprised when Ibrahim guided the driver onto the paved road and up to the guard cabin with the barrier stretched across the entrance to the oil field that had once been the village’s land.

The discussion began with Ibrahim’s definitive statement. There seemed to be no doubt in his mind that he had the right to show his guests the land and crops.  Finally after much conversation and an obligatory scribing of all our names, the guards allowed the delegation to pass. Ibrahim and Zaid were grinning from ear to ear and did not stop until we had passed the exploration site and moved on to the vineyards covered with small green, unripe grapes.

CPT Iraqi Kurdistan has walked alongside the members of the village Haji Ahmed since 2013, when we heard word of their resistance to Exxon Mobil’s oil exploration activities. We created a video, Voice of the People

, telling the story of the villages nearby the site. CPT has raised the voices of the villagers by bringing media attention and accompanying their visits to parliamentarians and government officials. We have watched the oilrig activities, from afar, with the boys’ father, Kak Mirro, many times. This day we witnessed the firm resolve of the next generation.

As we passed the deep excavations of the site we noticed that the tall drill was dismantled and gone. Huge white plastic tarps covered the mound and the only people there, other than us, were two guards in small huts. We don’t know what the next step is for the extraction. We know that they have struck oil. We assume that the crude will wait underground until the time is right to begin work again.

These young men know very well how the oil has affected life in their village. They showed us the damage to fruit trees caused by the extreme heat of the burning gas, three months earlier. They have smelled the oil reek that has permeated the valley. They have sat through many meetings with the villagers and CPT discussing next steps and strategies. Now, they have taken on the task of resisting in the way that is available at this stage. They brought a busload of twelve foreigners and three Kurds to the fields that represent their livelihood. They insisted and succeeded. That is resistance.