coercion is not a viable alternative

Gulala and Awat speaking to the teachers in the city of Sulaimani. Photo by: Kasia Protz

By: Latif Hars

We were invited by the two of the main organizers of demonstrations in the city of Sulaimani to accompany them, they said “we really need you  to support us, we don’t feel safe, We fear for our lives and lives of our family members after our cars were burnt and Asai sh had arrested us last month. The security forces threatened us and continue to do so, instead of they protecting us and our property…”

During October 2015 the demonstrations started, they were organised by the teachers in demand for their full salaries. Awat one of the main organizer of demonstrations  told us  what had happened and is happening to him and his family. “My car was burnt, Asaish arrested me, they came to my home, they checked my whole house, destroyed some of my electronic devices and even my children’s toys. Later I was put in a solitary cell, I was not given any food during my time there except one glass of water, over twelve hours.”

Awat told us “the government stopped paying our full salaries in 2015, we began demonstrations in October of 2015, we continued our boycott and protests till October 27, asking for our principal rights, but the government didn’t listen to us. They brought huge army force to end protests and to compel us to quit our struggle for our rights. He said  security forces have arrested and beaten some of the teachers. At the same time government decided to keep three quarters of our salary promising they will pay us back later. Amanj who is Awat’s brother was sitting beside Awat. He told us “security forces arrested me and moved me to Asaishs building, they beated me very badly.”

When Gulala invited us to her house, she said “we just received nine months of our salaries, only a quarter each time. We have a council  of thirty three teachers, the council organizes  the peaceful demonstrations.” she said “I was threatened by Asiash then they arrested me, I was being held for 8 hours, they took away my mobile. When I received my mobile back after four days,  there was a tracking device inside it, I took it out, immediately my phone stopped working.” She added “I can not sleep because the security forces (Asaish).” Teachers stood up for their rights last year, but government still remains silent.

So the teachers didn’t open schools this academic year, they said “We started demonstrations to demand our basic rights on the 27th of October 2016, we are demonstrating in a peaceful way, still after more than a year government is not responding.”

Teachers gathered close to directorate of education in Sulaimani. Photo by: Kasia Protz

“The government isn’t listening to us, so we continue to protest for our basic rights, we care about students but government doesn’t care about them. They forced us to go teach pupils without giving us our salaries. We refused to obey to this decision, we believe teachers whose rights are denied can not provide good education for their students. The demonstrators are not just teachers, but other groups affected by the corruption in the government, they face the same problem.

During last two years CPT had observed teachers demonstrations, we heard from the demonstrators “We have a lot of oil and gas but the government has not given our full salaries, they don’t care about the future of students and our country, they care about their own interests  and positions. Everything is on hold except selling oil, gas and the goods that they bring from outside, just to make it clear, the whole business in the region is controlled by the officials.” In one of the demonstrations that CPT observed, security forces (Asaish) arrested some teachers,  they used tear gas to separate them from each other. Asaish also tried to send the demonstrators home, but they refused it, they told Asaish “We are not here just for our rights, but also for your rights and your children’s rights ” they continued “education is very important for people, we can't give up on the future of our children, our peaceful struggle is to bring real changes, where everyone can have a brighter future, Also to prepare a generation that can stand up for their basic rights and to know their duty and responsibility.”The government has been careless and did not respond to their demands instead they accused teachers and said ‘’Closing down the schools is a crime against the society, and the teachers should go back to their schools regardless if they paid or not or regardless of having a corrupt system.’’

The teachers from Hawler and Duhok cities have same problems, however a political party that is running Erbil and Duhok cities did not let them express their concerns, they forced and threatened them to open schools, and to teach without receiving their salaries.

I heard from many teachers in Sulaimani city saying that “Our struggle remains peaceful, in spite of us getting arrested, threatened, and our cars being burned. We didn’t stop demanding our rights,  and we will continue our nonviolent protests for the future of our children and country.”  During the demonstrations the teachers asked security forces “ Please don’t beat us, arrest us, and threaten us because we remember the former president of Iraq, Sadam Husain and what his regime was doing against civilians” they continued “We are brothers and sisters from the same country, our struggles and future are the same, please understand our peaceful effort.” We heard the same from Gulala, Awat and his brother Amanj “we remember exactly Sadam’s regime and what had happened to us.”  

When you go and observe teachers demonstrations you always hear demonstrators expressing their love and respect for their country,  however you also hear their desperation and heartbrokenness about what is happening here. They said “Our history, culture and humanity had been reduced to oil and gas processes, a small group is running the country with support of some super pack countries and companies, they changed Kurdistan to a small circle of violence and broken dreams. We don't trust human rights organizations and states any more because we didn't see them do anything for us, we believe they work for themselves.”

When I think of their situation I see them surrounded by barbed wired fence if they try to climb out to receive their rights they get hurt if they stay they suffocate. And The only solution is getting freedom and justice back to this region.