Caveat: The following story is my own, as a friend of Mohamed’s who traveled with and supported him as such, it does not represent by my presence at the action, an endorsement of CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) nor any of it’s holdings in the action. I stood at a distance, with no CPT regalia and simply watched the events unfold.
One Man and a Sign
Yesterday Mohamed told me he was going to do an action. It was late in the morning and he had been telling me of his frustration with the recent physical altercation that had took place in the Kurdish Parliament. Yes, Kurdistan has now joined the ranks of South Korea, Japan and a host of other nations, where fights have broken out on the floor of the legislature during heated debates on emotionally charged issues. The debate here is whether or not the current leaders of Kurdistan, who have served many years, can now run for additional terms since their pervious terms were held prior to the constitution being ratified.This issue I guess was introduced to the floor for a vote without prior notification of all effected parties in the closing hours of the Parliamentary session, (political shenanigans are not only in the U.S.) and the debate became quite heated turning to fisticuffs. Mohamed then also tells me that there has been a call by some that there should be an action at the government offices to show their dislike of this behavior. He then creates a poster written in Kurdish and said to me in Kurdish, “Bahbroin!” (let’s go!) and we’re off.
We get into our tired and nearly worn out Russian Volga and begin the trek to somewhere I do not know, winding up the back alleys of Sulaimani, over the the main highway, through round-a-bouts and end up parking at the entrance of a large imposing building set back on a hill far from the street which is surrounded by trees, fences and guarded by fierce looking camouflaged dressed, beret wearing, armed security force at the gate. But I am wondering, where are the other protesters? Are we just early? At the wrong place? I ask Mohamed this but he assures me we are where he wants to be and we get out of the car, cross the street and he takes up his position right in the middle of the intersection of the building entrance not far from the gate and holds up his sign. He is not a very imposing sight, just one man and a sign, standing in the middle of a street on a hot sunny day, yet people stop as they walk by, read his sign and begin talking to others. Soon there are numerous people standing and watching, some go up to him and talk. A few seem to be nervous and begin texting, making phone calls and approaching me to ask questions, unfortunately in Kurdish, which I haven’t mastered yet and I am thinking like, “What’s happening, who is he upsetting and are we going to end up in solitary or a hot box in some nefarious prison courtyard? Then, in less time that I would expect to get a response from a 911 call, a film crew arrives from the local news media and begins filming and interviewing Mohamed! How crazy is this?
This is just one guy with a sign! Still people come and gather around him. Then security forces begin their move! They leave their posts and begin to quickly walk towards me and to Mohamed, this is it, I wonder how the hot pavement will feel as they crush my face in it to cuff me, dragging us off to God knows where! But instead, they courteously hand us cold bottles of water and leave with a smile! I am dumbfounded, this isn’t right, where is the abuse of power, the aggression? Not long after this, a big grey SUV moves up, the guards hustle around moving traffic cones and two burly guys jump out and approach Mohamed, this is it, here we go, the arrest comes! But yet again, my wild imagination is proved wrong. Its the leader of the opposition party who’s come to greet and have a chat with Mohamed! Everyone stands around for a photo op and I am left scratching my head wondering whats going on.
Later on the ride back to the CPT office Mohamed explained to me what had happened, who the people were and all the goings on.
It was then that I realized that under the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein that no one was able to voice dissent without being tortured or killed and the fear of this still lingers in the hearts of many and for one man, to stand alone and speak his voice, is a brave act indeed.
Mohamed’s sign read, “Mr. Nawshirwan, Come lead us for demonstration.” and Mr. Nawshirwan, the head of the opposition party, is the gentleman standing to Mohamed’s left in the dark blue shirt who came out to greet him.