photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Speak out for women


Where were you, my Kurdish friends, after six guys gang raped a 16 year old Syrian girl in Erbil? I had expected you all to be on the streets, to protest against this hideous crime. Against the fact that a girl can be pulled out of a car and abused by six Kurdish young men. That this happens in Kurdistan. 

The only ones who demonstrated against it, were Syrian refugees. But this happens in your society, and even though the victim is foreign, the perpetrators are locals.

Kurdistan is safer than Amsterdam, I often say to people asking me about the violence that is holding Iraq in its grip. Yet on this one score that is not true: Women are far safer and better off in Amsterdam.

In Kurdistan, women get killed if they abuse the honor of the family. By doing something, or just by being talked about. When honor killing happens, family members behind it show to be proud of their crime – as happened recently. They can, because the society does not speak out against it.

Silence like this is disastrous. Because it gives off the wrong message. It makes people think that it is okay.

This goes for another crime that hits women: sexual harassment. It is growing, I found to my surprise, in the conservative Kurdish society. Because of that same society, women hardly dare to talk about the way men stare at them, comment on them, follow them and even grab their female parts. Because they fear to be seen not as a victim, but as a slut who asked for it, if they report this abuse.

The silence tells the perpetrators it is okay, and they are not punished. They can continue. It gives them a sense of power, of being allowed to abuse women.

I am sure that this attitude indirectly has led to rape, as men felt they had the right to do whatever they want to women. They only need to make sure to get away with it. It might be the background of the gang rape too.
After rape, again silence follows. Many rapes are hidden from the statistics because they are hushed and solved inside the families, by forcing perpetrator and victim to marry. Apart from the question what kind of a relationship that can be, again it sends the wrong message. Rape is okay, you get to marry the women, whether she likes it or not.

What it all boils down to is that the well being of a woman is not so important in Kurdistan. She does not have to be happy, men can abuse and rape her. In the case of the gang rape the fact that she is not deflowered has quietened possible protest. Still a virgin, so it is not so bad.

Silence about these issues are killing women, and are killing the Kurdish reputation. Kurdistan, look after your women. Don’t lock them up to protect them: tell men to stop abusing them. Speak out, please! 


This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Living together


My sister was the first in the family to go and live together with her boyfriend without getting married. It sparked discussions in the family, but eventually it was accepted. She married the guy a couple of years later. When I decided on sharing a house with my boyfriend, that was no longer an issue.

This was in the seventies, in a small town in Holland. Since then, it has become normal for two people to first live together for a while, and when it works out to get married. Or, if not, to split up.

Some couples never get married, or only marry to legalize the children, or when they want to buy a house. In the bigger towns another form of relationship is popular: LAT, or living apart together. Sharing life, but not living in the same house.

What I am trying to show is that life in Europe is not all about sex, as is often said in conservative Kurdistan. It is about finding the right person to live with. You have to try it out. And if it does not work, you have to able to split up and search again instead of being unhappy. Life is too short!

In the United States, and amongst strict Christians elsewhere, a movement started not to have sex before marriage. Young people take a vow. But does this lead to better marriages? In Kurdistan one should be married by the age of 25 and get children. Same question. Surely I am not the only one who has seen the Kurdish couples that have nothing in common, and we all know of the many secret relationships here.

Although living together unmarried in Kurdistan is not accepted, I know the first couple to do so. The assaish has been informed and has no problem, nor has the family or the neighborhood. Modern times are coming! Yet in this same town the assaish was checking up on a lady friend of mine, to see if she was really living alone, and is not allowing young men to live alone.  


I know men of over thirty still living with their parents. They should be able to leave, without the society telling his mum she is a bad mother. Good parents make sure that their children are happy and can survive without them.

In Europe men who stay long with their parents often are bad marriage partners, because they are so used to being looked after. Most wives do not want to be their husband’s mother.

Kurdistan is developing, getting wealthy, moving forward. Yet socially, little is changing because the older generation is resisting change. They risk their children’s happiness. And they keep the divorce figures at an unacceptable height. 


This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Let’s celebrate!

My watch was telling me midnight was near, but no activity in the restaurant showed that anyone was aware of it. It was December 31, the Christian neighbourhood Ainkawa in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Erbil, two years ago.

I went out for dinner with a friend, expecting to be celebrating the start of a new year in the company of others doing the same. But when it turned twelve, we were the only people toasting to the New Year. There was no champagne, no partying – even worse: the staff badly wanted us to leave.

How different this is in the West! Go to any restaurant, and the staff of the restaurant is watching the clock to make the count-down to twelve, often serving champagne then. People hug and kiss, even if they hardly know each other, and wish each other the very best for the New Year.

In the Netherlands, people then go outside – whatever the weather is – and send for millions of dollars of fireworks into the air. Every year again there is a new record in spending, and every year again people are called upon to spend their money on a better cause.

There is no way they will, as the Dutch love their fireworks. No matter that the smoke of all the Chinese beauties sent up in the air is bad for the environment and the health. No matter that every year people lose eyes or fingers. In Holland, nobody can imagine New Year without fireworks.

Partying at home or in caf├ęs and restaurants will go on into the small hours. TV channels extend their broadcasts, many showing special music and dancing shows.

Since a couple of years I have seen some fireworks being ignited in Kurdistan too, but always long before midnight. I know of the odd party with singers on New Years Eve, but it always ended before midnight. This year I see restaurants advertising for the evening. With more and more expats living in Kurdistan, change is on the way.
But it still has a long way to go. Compare the images of the international TV channels: the whole world celebrates the changing of the old into the new year at the moment supreme: midnight. Then people gather at Times Square in New York and at Trafalgar Square in London.

Kurdistan has Nowruz, that is when the Kurdish New Year starts and fireworks are lit. But almost everywhere else, the year ends in December. Kurdistan could celebrate twice.

I wonder when we will see the crowds celebrating at midnight at the Fountain Square near the Erbil Citadel, or at Saray Square in Sulaymaniya. Because when December changes to January, for the world that is when 2014 starts. And that is when you celebrate. 



This blog was first published in Kurdish in the daily Kurdistani Nwe