Friday, November 1, 2013

Where has the time gone?!

Election time in Kurdistan

I can't believe it's been over two months since I last posted a blog.  So much has happened -- and with each event, I vowed to report it but there was always the next thing to do.  So I'll try to remember everything now.  First, in early September, electioneering in Kurdistan began and the countryside blossomed with flags, banners, candidates' pictures and more.  Unlike in the US where election campaigns seem to go on endlessly, in Kurdistan (like the United Kingdom for example), there is a very short period of time for trying to persuade voters, but what people lack in time is made up with enthusiasm. 
The sign of having voted

Each party here has its own color: Goran Party is blue, PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) is green, KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) is yellow, Communist Party is red and Islamic Parties are brown. Nightly, people would ride in trucks, cars and SUVs honking, shouting out windows and waving flags -- and regrettably, guns. Unfortunately two people were killed in Sulaimaniya; I'm not sure it was entirely deliberate because a popular way of celebrating here (and elsewhere) is shooting guns in the air and bullets often go astray.
Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani (KDP)
Even though democracy may not be perfect in Kurdistan as elsewhere (for example, the KDP-controlled Parliament voted this summer to extend for two years the term of President Massoud Barzani -- not to be confused with Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani), it's thrilling to think that 10 years ago there was no democracy here but now people are exercising this new-found right and having an impact. For example, PUK (founded and led by Jalal Talibani, now President of Iraq) has always been Kurdistan's second most popular party after the KDP (initially led by Mustafa Barzani, President Barazani's father); but in September's election, Goran (which means "change") received more votes than PUK.  
Qubad Talibani (on left)

The second Eid holiday of the year, Eid al Adha, came and went in mid-October much to the dismay of sheep around the region.  Eid al Adha marks Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his first-born son, Ishmael, to God before God intervened and gave Abraham a lamb to sacrifice instead.  So it is common here to slaughter a lamb to celebrate this holiday.  Eid al Adha celebrations start at the same time as the annual Hajj in Mecca.  Making the Hajj -- or pilgrimage -- to Mecca is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be done at least once in a lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do it. 
Eid al Adha is not a lamb's favorite holiday
At the end of September, our office held its first staff retreat in over two years.  The weather this time of year is perfect and there was lots of eating and dancing -- Kurdish staples -- as well as hiking to an ancient Assyrian stone carving thousands of years old.  And to think we almost missed it!  After more than half an hour of hard climbing and just as we had turned around to hike back to the van thinking we had come the wrong way, I looked up and there it was.  
Picnic dancers
Fall (along with spring) is a time for picnics and some of the many of the visitors to Kurdistan from the US that we've had the last couple months were able to experience this wonderful event. Others were taken to different parts of the countryside to see what a beautiful country this is.  The weather -- mild during the day, cool in the evenings -- will soon change (to rainy and cold) so you have to take advantage of it.
Assyrian Carving

On a more somber note, on the same day as our staff retreat, the headquarters of the security forces (Asaish) in Erbil was attacked and several security members were killed.  Al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), claimed responsibility for this attack, the first in of its type in Kurdistan in six years.  However, despite Al Qaeda rhetoric, security experts do not see this as the start of a time of insecurity.  As one commentator pointed out, "Kurdish parties share one major enemy: anyone who attacks the nation they have fought for long and hard."  On this Kurdistan's parties -- regardless of politics, elections and other differences -- and the Kurdish people remain united.