Since protests began on 17 February in the Kurdistan Region, and in al-Sulaymaniyah in particular, 8 people have been killed, 300 injured and a number of buildings belonging to political parties, among them the
زانا رؤوف اثناء مشاركته في احدى مظاهرات السليمانية
Our problem is with the parties in power. When we talk about laws and about ruling the country, they tell us that the majority rules. When we talk about responsibility, they say it is a shared one! The laws we have proposed have nothing to do with the majority or the minority. They all serve the interests of the people living in the Kurdish region.
Niqash: Can you give us an example of these laws?
Raouf: I will give two examples relevant to the current status quo, namely the Law on Demonstrations and the draft independent electoral commission bill. When people are dissatisfied with the levels of corruption and the lack of social justice and when there is electoral fraud, they have two ways of showing their anger: demonstrations and elections.
The parties in power rejected the draft independent electoral commission law. When people expressed their anger, these parties passed the demonstrations law which was formulated in a way to prevent people from demonstrating! How can citizens express their disapproval of the election’s results, if they cannot demonstrate, especially given that the commission has been formed in a way that responds to the aims of the ruling parties?
Niqash: Is the Change Movement behind the February 17 demonstrations, which led to the death of one person and the injury of around 50 civilians?
Raouf: In the beginning, the Change Movement did not play any role in these protests and did not take part in them. The spokesman of the Movement officially announced this fact. But certainly the movement now supports the demonstrations and the demands of the young protesters. They are demanding an end of corruption. It is imperative that we support their demands.
Niqash: The February 17 demonstration came after the statement issued by the Change Movement which contained 7 demands. Most important among them is the dissolution of the region’s government and parliament. Do you consider that this statement was the reason behind the current situation?
Raouf: The movement’s statement was meant to warn the authorities because we sensed the people’s anger and we knew that a major crisis was about to be created. The statement was meant to alert the government rather than the people. The February 17 demonstrations are the best proof of risk which the Change statement talked about. If the ruling parties want to believe that people are happy and have no problems or demands, the demonstrations have proved that they are wrong. 17 February is a decisive date between the authorities and the people… It is for this reason that the Change Movement has taken the initiative to warn the government and to alert it to the increased levels of anger among the people. Our intention was to ease the tensions and not be part of these events, because we now fully support the demonstrations and the demands of the young protesters.
Niqash: If so, why did the movement’s leader describe demonstrators as terrorists in his first statement?
Raouf: It was a very sensitive issue. But let me tell you my own opinion and that of the Movement. The young protesters have legitimate demands and they are the pride of Sulaymaniyah city. They should, in no way, be described as terrorists. Even those who threw stones at the KDP headquarters are not terrorists. No one should describe them as terrorists.
Even the demonstrations law itself points out the possibility of violent acts and stipulates legal punitive measures to stop the violence. In no way did the law say that it is permissible to open fire on demonstrators and kill them.
I\'m jealous of these young people and of their courage in going out on the streets and demanding their rights. I am a parliament member and can’t do as much.
Niqash: What about those who opened fire on civilian demonstrators?
Raouf: Without a doubt, this is a crime. When there is shooting and dead and injured people, it means that a crime has been committed and offenders should be punished according to the law. Even according to the demonstrations law which was passed by the two main parties, violence during demonstrations must be dealt with by civil procedures, such as spraying protesters with water. The law does not mention anything which can be interpreted as permission for armed persons to shoot at people and cause deaths and injury among protesters. I even have doubts that the tear gas used contained dangerous toxic materials.
The ruling parties and authority say that citizens have the right to demonstrate, but they say too: we have the right to take away your lives! When I watched the video films on how demonstrators were killed, I felt ashamed of being a member of Kurdistan Parliament’s Integrity Committee.
Niqash: Who is responsible for the current situation and for passing the laws which you have mentioned?
Raouf: The KDP led by Masoud al-Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani are responsible for the current tragic situation in the Kurdistan region.
Niqash: So why on 17 February and subsequent days, did all the attacks by the protesters only target the KDP headquarters?
Raouf: 17 February created a new situation. Until that date, people’s demands were mainly political, economic and service-related. On 17 February, a crime was committed by the KDP. Not only did the party kill and injure a number of people, but it also brought into the city a number of armed troops from Erbil. his was an insult to the people of al-Sulaymaniyah.
Niqash: In your opinion, what is the solution to the current situation, especially given that the demonstrations and protests are still going on?
Raouf: Above all, we have to look at the roots of the problems and attempt to find solutions. If the PUK and KDP believe that a solution can be reached through political deals, they are mistaken. It would be an attempt to take advantage of the blood of the martyrs and the wounded people and we will not accept that.
First of all, we must do our best to unarm the two parties and dissolve their troops. The budget of the region shouldn’t be under the control of the two parties. These are the two main steps that should be practically addressed and implemented. he government should be dissolved and a technocratic one should be formed to replace it… The seven points raised in the Change Movement’s statement should serve as a starting point for solving the current crisis.
These demands are not limited to al-Sulaymaniyah, but they express the demands of Kurdish citizens in all cities.
Niqash: So why didn’t we see any demonstrations in Erbil, the capital city of the region? And why were demonstrations limited to areas where the Change Movement has strong presence?
Raouf: All demonstrations start from a particular place and then spread to other cities. Even when we look at experiences from other Arab states, we see the same pattern. I am sure that all the region’s citizens share the same concerns of those living in al-Sulaymaniyah and have similar demands: social justice, end of corruption and reform in general.
Niqash: A demonstration was to be organised in Erbil last Friday. If people share the same demands, why didn’t they go out and demonstrate?
Raouf: Last Friday is not the only Friday in the world. There were great pressures exerted to prevent people from demonstrating. The KDP Students’ Union went as far as closing Erbil’s universities, without the consent of the Higher Education Minister, to prevent demonstrations. This happened, in particular, at Salahuddin University which is closed for more than a month, until 1 April. Students in the dormitories were forced to return to their home provinces and were not allowed to stay in Erbil.
If they think they can end young people’s anger in this way, they are wrong. This is another indicator that, after 20 years of being in power, they have no understanding of what Kurdish people want. I have been living here since a year and a half. I know what the people want, and I also know the demands of the young people. They are frustrated by the ruling authority and they share with al-Sulaymaniyah people the same concerns.
But despite the pressure exerted by the KDP, if young people decide to demonstrate, they will not ask for permission from anybody. They have been listening to the government for 20 years. Now, it is time that the government listens to them.
Niqash: Who burnt down the Nalia media channel?
Raouf: This is without doubt one of the biggest crimes. They claim that they embrace democracy and freedom. When the TV channel was burnt down, 6 of the attackers were injured and were taken to one of Erbil’s hospitals. A number of my colleagues in parliament visited them in order to identify them. The minister of interior and other officials were contacted for this purpose. Instead of arresting the attackers, the authorities attempted to hide them.
We accuse the interior minister and the prime minister of doing this, because the attackers were there and the only thing the two ministers did was hide the attackers.
Niqash: When the demonstrations started, the Change Movement and other opposition parties held a meeting with the government parties in Erbil. Why haven’t we seen any positive results?
Raouf: They want us to calm people down but don’t want to shoulder the responsibility of responding to peoples’ demands. The authorities should be responsive to people’s demands and it is only though such an approach that it will succeed in easing tensions. It is not our duty to calm people down while there is no intention of reform.
What the opposition political parties cannot yet understand is that the people have gone far beyond the limitations binding these parties. A solution to the current crisis cannot be reached by the conclusion of political deals. The authorities should compromise to reconcile with the people. We, as an opposition movement, have tried and are still trying to bridge the gaps between the authorities and the people. We do this by proposing draft laws and lobbying for their endorsement.
Niqash: Do you consider the seven points raised by the Change Movement as an appropriate solution to the current crisis in the region?
Raouf: Yes, the implementation of these points is considered a serious step towards reconciliation and addressing the crisis. However, it is necessary to implement all the 7 points together, because they are interrelated and would thus enable the Kurdistan region to overcome its crisis.