Kurd survivors of ethnic cleansing to back Goran party

 

Bitter over the Iraqi army’s revenge in 1988, the people want change, reports MICHAEL JANSEN

THE ROAD to Chamchamal passes through desperately poor hamlets of unplastered breeze-block houses surrounded by lanes of rutted mud and refuse.

Shabby shops offer limp vegetables and shrivelled fruit, mechanics consult over troubled engines, clutches of children make their way round puddles on the way home from school. A slender girl, proud in a bright red coat and pristine white stockings, is humbled by messy shoes. An old man in a black-and-white checked Kurdish turban, baggy trousers, cumberbund and thick jacket waves at the car flying the blue flag of Goran, the “change” movement.

“These people are from Kirkuk,” observes Sarko Osman, Goran candidate for one of the Kurdish region’s 41 seats in the 325-member Iraqi parliament. “They came in 1988 during the Anfal.”

This was when the Iraqi army attacked and ethnically cleansed Kurds whose leaders and fighters backed Iran in the war with Iraq. “At first they lived in tents. Then they built the houses you see.” Yellow flags of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) flutter over some streets, green banners of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) reign over other neighbourhoods.

Goran is the first party to seriously challenge their hegemony over the region.

Scores of cars and pick-ups are parked in a broad green field where some 1,000 men and youths are gathering for a “party”. Dancing begins almost as soon as we arrive. Young men, arms locked at shoulder level, bound in unison round and round in ever-widening circles to music emanating from the podium. Half a dozen women are enthroned on plastic chairs alongside local worthies. The sun parts the clouds and warms the throng.

An unshaven man plucks at my sleeve. “I will vote for Goran on Sunday. I lost 150 members of my family in the Anfal. My brother was a martyr in the fight between the PUK and KDP [1996]. We have no drinking water, although there is oil under our homes.”

Yadgar, a teacher, adds: “This movement will bring change to Kurdistan. Everybody is saying, ‘Ay goreen’ .”

A third man interjects, “I was a peshmerga lieutenant but, after I voted for Goran, I was sacked. My brother lost his teaching job.”

Sarko, who is running in the provincial capital Suleimaniya (“Suli”), takes his place at the microphone along with candidates from the locality and Kirkuk, in neighbouring Tamim province. Sarko is cheered when he pledges: “We will pass a genocide law. Never again will we face mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing.”

The speeches, brief and to the point, are followed by a recitation about the Anfal by a local poet, and a performance by a popular rapper.

We hurry away and make for Suli. Half-way there, we are waved to the side of the pot-holed highway by a policeman as a convoy of armoured vehicles with turrets and mounted machine guns sweeps by – a very important personality in the PUK/PDK alliance is on his way to Kirkuk.

A pastel rainbow hovers over the rolling green countryside. Perhaps this election will bring peace to Iraq’s long-suffering Kurds.