A Kurdish family's loss symbolizes northern Iraq's unmet promise
A 16-year-old protester was among the first to be killed in democracy protests earlier this year against the corruption and authoritarianism that pervade Kurdish politics.
Proud as he was of his youngest son, Zahd Mahmoud Qaradaxi never wanted him to become a martyr for democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan.Skip to next paragraph
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And yet, the 16-year-old student photographer Swrkew (pronounced Sir-kee-yew) was one of the first to die in the 62-day pro-democracy protests that rocked northern Iraq earlier this year. He was shot with live ammunition as thousands took to Sulaymaniyah's streets to challenge the corruption, nepotism, and authoritarianism that today pervade Kurdish politics.
“You can feel his absence, [people] cannot express their feeling and miss him so much,” says Mr. Qaradaxi, a large man who was a constant and prominent figure in traditional Kurdish dress during the “Freedom Square” protests that began in mid-February. “Swrkew has become a symbol in this neighborhood, in Sulaymaniyah and in Kurdistan.”
The Kurds' backers in Washington and elsewhere in the West for years portrayed Kurdish areas of Iraq as a democratic model. But many who took to the street here last spring demanded more accountable rule, and less corruption.
At the consulate opening, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) president and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani – the highest ranking of a host of Barzanis in top-level Kurdish positions – praised Washington’s support in recent years and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, which he said gave a “golden opportunity” to Iraqis to build a “democratic country.”
US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey spoke of America’s “fondest wish” that a “strong and vibrant Kurdistan region” exist alongside a democratic and federal Iraq, according to McClatchy newspapers. Thomas Nides, the visiting US deputy secretary of state, described a “20-year friendship” with Iraq's Kurds.
But those who felt the sting of the crackdown against protest tell a different story about overbearing rules and rulers. In the streets earlier this year, before a systematic crackdown disbursed protests for good, the signs read “No to Dictatorship” and “We are so angry.”