March 21, 2010

Power to the People -- Report from Kurdistan

Go to fullsize imageBy Michele Naar-Obed

Dear friends,

Today is Nowroze, the traditional Kurdish New Year. The new year was brought in with firework displays which I watched from our kitchen window. To the eye, the sky was ablaze with brilliant colors but to the ear, it was reminiscent of bombs and gunshots that I often heard when CPT worked in Baghdad. The night's events left me feeling torn between joy that the Kurds were celebrating the beginning of a new year filled with hope, and sorrow for all the death that has occurred both here in the north as well as in the south of Iraq.

Freed from a tyrant by default in a war waged by the very country that helped create the tyrant, is enough to wreak havoc on everyones psyche. It's hard to know who to thank, who to blame, who to trust or who to be wary of, as the many facets of these realities have such different meanings and consequences to all the different players in this chapter of history.

Iraq is on the cusp of rebuilding and reshaping its future. With the second national election since 2003 behind them by 2 weeks, Iraqi still waits for the final results which may come in these next days. After that, some speculate it may take months before the new government is formed. It's a precarious time because it leaves the country in somewhat of a power vacuum until the new leaders are seated and the new government takes hold. It's a time of threats and deceit and its a time of coalition building and hope.

Here in the Kurdish north, we have seen some of the worst come out of the two main ruling parties, the PUK and the KDP. Yet, at the same time, its difficult to dismiss these ruling parties since it was those very leaders who kept the Kurds from being totally annihilated by the various occupying tyrants throughout the 20th century. Somewhere along the line, the taste of power for some individuals became more appealing than the taste of freedom and dignity for all.

However, an up and coming new political entity, Gorran, otherwise known as the Change List, has gained momentum in the Kurdish north. A call for democracy, transparency, human rights, and collective growth seems to be pulsing through the veins of many of the Kurdish people following the Gorran platform. Will the leaders of this new political entity nurture that vision or will they, like so many other political leaders become drunk with power and blinded by corruption?

Some members of the PUK/KDP ruling parties have lashed out against this fledgling political entity in tyrannical ways. CPT has been working with some of the victims of this backlash, encouraging them to continue their vow to not fight violence with violence. They insist that they will remain strong, not by the gun but by the power of diplomacy, the power of human decency, and by the support of the people of good will throughout the international community. We will be putting out a video on YouTube soon about this situation.

Iraq is a country seeking to shed its roots of tribal governing in order to embrace the way of democracy. They have a ways to go. And I'm not talking about the acts of terrorism that most people, particularly in the US, think is the dominant method of ruling by the Iraqi people. Iraq is not made up of uncivilized people needing to be “trained” by the West. On the contrary, the people of Iraq, both in the north and the south have shown exemplary humanitarian leadership traits that centuries of occupation, war and devastation have been unable to extinguish. It makes me wonder how we in the US would compare if we were to experience even a few decades of what people here have endured.

Even with all that our country has done and continues to do that flies in the face of humanity, many of the people here look to the West for advice and direction for building a democracy but I wonder what they will find or who they will emulate.

On paper the democracy claimed by the US looks good. But those of us who know our history know our problems. We in the US are lucky to have had great people like Howard Zinn who studied and recorded our history from the peoples perspective. After all, isn't that what our Constitution was supposed to be built on; “We the People...”? From this history, we have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and hold on to
what is good about us for surely there is good in our collective society.

Compared to Kurdish society, maybe the ordinary people in the US feel more empowered to change the course of government when it goes haywire. We see that in our grassroots organizations filled with committed activists who have faced government persecution and loss of a safe and comfortable place in society. Even though we've lived under tyrants, albeit tyrants masked behind a “kinder, gentler” persona, we have taken to the streets or to the jail cells denouncing crimes against humanity whether it be the crime of war or the crime of poverty perpetrated on people by government.

If we can't change it's course, maybe we are more able to separate from government and
build our own little communities. Although we have never been able to fully separate from a government that's gone crazy with power, greed and corruption, some of our communities are becoming more adept at providing for each other for the common good as opposed to the good of the individual.

This is the kind of democracy that I hope for the people of Iraq both in the north and the south. Before I can pass that on to another, I need to be damn sure that I practice it myself and I need to thank those that continue to teach me including the people here in Iraq.

I expect these thoughts will bring lots of criticism from people who are threatened by the realization that the US might be less than perfect, so feel free to express your thoughts and send them my way if you'd like. After all, we live in a democracy.

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