On the cycle of oppression in Iraqi Kurdistan

Photo credit: PBS 

By Gabe Soares

As the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote once, “an education that does not liberate, makes the oppressed dream of becoming oppressors”. In Kurdistan, we see clear manifestation of what Freire wrote developing across the social and political spectrum in both directions. While signs of freedom shine across the horizon for some, it diminishes for others, not only due to action of external forces, but by fellow Kurdish compatriots. In Iraqi Kurdistan in particular, one can witness a strange contradiction between independence and freedom, as well as between autonomy and rights. The heroic images of KRG’s Peshmerga fighters on the frontlines with ISIS that have been widespread by the different medias has obfuscated the issues of the internal political atmosphere experience by many dissent voices in the areas under the same government that is in charge of keeping the ISIS threat in check. The ambivalence of having your “so-called protector” being your oppressor is nothing new or specific to this case. It is often that one side of the narrative silences the other while providing a clear cut case of the oppressed becoming the oppressor and taking on elements of their previous oppressor.

The Kurdish Question was born out of the process of the disintegration of the Old Political Order centered in Empires, like the Ottoman and the Persian Empires. The onset of the Nation States in the Middle East came in the aftermath of the First World War, during which not only new borders were drawn, but people were forced to conform to them or be forcibly removed from their spaces within those borders, even through genocide, like the one against the Armenians and Assyrians. Ironically, this genocide had the support of tribes among the Kurdish people, who later would suffer the hardships of these same policies that aimed for Kurdish suppression and disappearance of the Kurdish people in the different States in which the Kurds were divided. In Iraq, the peak of this repression was during Saddam Hussein’s Anfal Campaign and led to immense destruction. It was followed a few years later by an uprising that finally lead to Kurdish autonomy in the country. Unfortunately, so far conflicts, internal divisions and repression have plagued the dream of Kurdish self-determination in Iraq.

Yet many are still trying to find ways to break the cycle of oppression through non-violence. Despite the recent crackdowns on freedom of expression, which often bring back memories and references to Saddam’s time, often in the expression of “as bad as Saddam” or even “worse than Saddam”, activists and Human Rights defenders are still committed to struggle for a more just and free society. However, the conditions for breaking this circle of violence and militarism does not look promising at the moment, especially with the growing foreign support for the continuous flow of arms to the region. Thus, local activists like Awat Hassan are now asking for more international support to counter this trend in favor of non-violence, calling in his own words: “for support from you (internationals) to protect activists and to continue supporting those that believe change can be brought to the Middle East without violence”.