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Snapshots from a Disputed City

Diaa al-Khalidi
It seems that residents of Kirkuk do not care about the political controversy hanging over their city. Daily life continues as usual, undisturbed by heated and partisan statements between Baghdad and Erbil.
28.07.2008  |  Kirkuk

In one of the city’s yards, a football match plays out between teams who reject ethnic and religious divisions. We watched al-Somoud take on al-Wasiti. The first team’s name means resistance, implying that resistance is something of concern to Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen together; a resistance not challenged by constitutional articles and not claimed by one or another of the team’s members. The al-Wasiti team had a similar composition, but also included players from the Yarisan sect. Al-Somoud won the game 1-0 and its supporters cried out victory slogans in a multitude of languages. Following the final whistle, the winning players carried the cup and celebrated their prize of two imported footballs.

None of the players or their supporters expected that only one day after this game, Baghdad’s parliament would endorse a law stipulating how their own provincial council would be elected and that politicians would trade accusations over the city. None of them cared about the electoral division of their city; instead they were all gathered around one ball!

The world of books

Behind the court building there are a number of book shops where intellectuals, students and readers gather. Baker is a Kurd who owns one of these book shops which he fills with Kurdish book brought from Sulaimaniyah. Arabic books also line his shelves, but most of them are old. Printing and publishing these days is slow and there are no new books except those that Baker brings from Baghdad with personal help from the representative of the cultural affairs department at the ministry of culture in Kirkuk. “Books that sell are religious, and translated literature books” said Baker. He added that “the majority of buyers are Kurds and Turkmen,” saying that “most of the Arabs opt for religious books.”

In al-Zaman, a library where intellectuals and thinkers gather, I sat and listened to the on-going discussions and debates. I was expecting to hear intellectuals talking about elections and related challenges. Yet two hours passed and discussions were focused only on cultural issues. People there belonged to the three major ethnicities and I felt like there was a deliberate attempt to avoid any political discussion. I tried to redirect the discussion saying that “a cultural vision remains imperfect without a political vision of reality,” describing their discussions as "virgin love." I expressed my surprise at the lack of serious and in-depth discussions of issues related to their city, while Iraq and the whole world talks about it. But my comments did not motivate any discussions other than comments saying that politics has its own people and culture has its own. Perhaps they really mean what they say, and perhaps there are fears and concerns among intellectuals with no desire to express what they really think so as not to incite and to stir the purity of the “intellectual atmosphere.” If one visits al-Zaman, this year or next year, before and after the endorsement of the elections law, one will not feel any difference; there is no space for those who love politics or those who support political parties in this library.

Crazy Abbas

Ninety percent of Kirkuk people know crazy Abbas. He is the most famous man in the city. He has his own habit of taking off his clothes and wearing only his underwear. His other hobby is to walk straight without answering anybody who dares talk to him. At one time he is found in Dumez, a mixed neighborhood, and in another in Rahim Awa, a Kurdish neighborhood or in Tis’een, a Turkman neighborhood. He hates clothes because they limit his freedom and he practices his rituals of taking them off in public places not caring about the feelings of religious hard-liners. Nobody knows his ethnic origin; some say he is an Arab and others say he is a Turkmen whose family died in a fire that broke out in his house. Kurds think he is a Kurd who came on foot from Dakouk (south of Kirkuk) and opted to stay in the city. Abbas does not speak, and this habit of silence has made everyone love him and sympathize with him. When people talk about the city’s ethnicities, they always mention Abbas as having his own! During the 2005 elections, one of the political parties wanted to make use of Abbas’ repeated tours by forcing him to wear a t-shirt with the name of a rival party and its electoral number on both sides in order to make fun of this party. But Abbas refused and ran away – straight forward as usual – not wearing the t-shirt and uttering words that nobody could understand. Another party tried a different method by giving Abbas a flag of their ethnic group. Abbas carried the flag for some meters and then threw it away in one of the streets.

Abbas keeps on walking while wearing nothing but his underwear, freeing himself of everything that would restrict his movement. He goes to Kurdish, Arab, Turkman and Christian neighborhoods. He is welcomed by the old and by children who walk behind him with their laughter. He is always silent. One might think that Abbas, with his simple mind, is planning a crazy revolution. A revolution that would bring crazy people to rule the city!

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