On 21 December, after 9 months of negotiations between the different parliamentary blocks elected in March 2009, the Iraqi members of Parliament finally approved the formation of a new government, to be led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The difficulty was due to the fact that the Sunni and Shiite blocks ended up virtually neck and neck.
The new Government will have 42 Ministers, only 29 of whom have been appointed to date. It’s formation has had to be set up in a way that would satisfy all the different Iraqi political trends, as Nuri al-Maliki has admitted: “Forming a government of National Unity is the hardest job in the world, in a country with so much ethnic, religious and political diversity”.
Thus the new government includes representatives of all the Shiite political factions, the Sunni Arabs, (whose list, al-Iraqiyya, rivalled that of Nuri al-Maliki) and the Kurds.
Amongst the 13 Ministries whose incumbents are not yet finally appointed, Defence, Internal and External Security and the control of the Iraqi armed forces will probably bee allocated to “independent public figures”, that is people who are not suspected of working on behalf of neighbouring countries of being known for being too hostile to one of the Iraqi factions. Thus the Sadrists were worried lest a public figure hostile to their movement be appointed. Thus other members of Parliament would have liked all the 42 Ministerial appointments to be submitted to a vote. Meanwhile it is the Prime Minister who is filling these roles — which does not please the Members of Parliament at all as the Kurdish M.P., Mahmud Othman explains: “An agreement must be reached regarding all the posts covering security. Why are these remaining vacant and being run by the Prime Minister for an indefinite period?”.
The three Deputy Prime Ministers are a Kurd, Roj Nuri Shawis, a Sunni Arab, Saleb al-Mutlaq and the former Oil Minister, Hussein al-Sharistani, although his management of the fuel and hydrocarbons industries has been severely criticised by Iraqi public opinion, and whose relations with the Kurdish government on the subject of the Kurdistan Region’s management of its own resources are more than a little tense. Moreover, the Ministerial appointments have also dissatisfied the Sadrists, who have 40 of the 325 seats in the Iraqi Parliament, who had hoped to secure this Ministry for one of their members, although they did secure 8 or the 10 Ministries they had demanded.
The composition, to date, of the Iraqi Government:
Nuri al-Maliki, 68 years of age, and a Shiite, remains Prime Minister, as he has been since 2006.
Jalal Talabani, 77 years old, one of the major public figures of Kurdish political life, is re-elected President of Iraq.
Osama al-Nujaifi, 54, A Sunni Arab, becomes Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament. With his brother, the governor of the Nineveh-Mosul Province, he is one of the principal Arab Sunni leaders in Northern Iraq, noted for his nationalistic line and his opposition to the Kurds.
The three Deputy Prime Ministers:
Salah al-Mutlaq. 64 years old, a Sunni Arab. Close to the former Baath Party, he had been banned from standing as candidate at the last elections. However, he was re-integrated into Iraqi political life in the final agreements.
Roj Nuri Shawish, 64 years old, A Kurd, from the KDP party, former Kurdistan Region Prime Minister. He had acted as Vice-President of Iraq at the time of the Jafferi Government and as Deputy Prime Minister from 2005 to 2000. He is also acting Minister of Trade.
Deputy Prime Minister for Fuel and Power, Hussein al-Sharistani, 69, years of age, Shiite, and former Oil Minister.
Ali al-Dabbagh remains Government spokesman.
As for the main Ministries, Defence, National and Domestic Security are, for the time being, being run by the Prime Minister himself. Reffi al-Issawi, a Sunni Arab on the Iraqiyya list, has been appointed Minister of Finance, Hosyar Zebari, a Kurd has been confirmed in his position as Foreign Minister, he has also, temporarily been given the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The New Oil minister is a Shiite from the State of Law List.
With respect of the other less crucial Ministries, Dindar Nejman, a Kurd from the Kurdistan Islamic Union list, has been given the Ministry of Immigration and Displaced Persons, Majid Mohamed Amin, a PUK man, has become Minister of Health, while the Ministry for NGOs will be given to a member of the Kurdish Alliance.
A new institution, the National Council for Strategic Policies, has been created to include al-Maliki’s main rival, Ayad Allawi, in a position at top of the Iraqi state. He will, of course, be its President.
The issue of the referendum on the status of Kirkuk and the other disputed territories continues to erode the people’s confidence in the Iraqi Central Government. All the more so since one of the essential stages for preparing the referendum, namely taking a population census has just been postponed.
Initially planned to take place on 5 December 2010, the Council of Ministers decided, on 30 November, to postpone the general census of the Iraqi population — to the satisfaction of the Arabs and Turcomen of Kirkuk, who feared that this would confirm that the Kurds did, indeed, make up the majority of the province’s population.
These ethnic groups, opposed to the inclusion of the province in Kurdistan, accuse the Kurds of having artificially swollen their population either by falsifying the electoral registers or by massively settling refugees there or by expropriating Arabs and Torcomen. However, Turhan al-Mufti, who represents the Turcomen on the Provincial Council, claims that he is not opposed, in principal, to doing a census, but wishes to use it, oddly enough, as a “consensual” tool, aimed a satisfying all the communities in an egalitarian perspective — which will, not doubt present some mathematical problems to be solved:
“We Turcomen have fought over the last five months to delay the census, so that it could be carried out in a more correct manner, so as to answer to the demands of everyone”.
On 11 December, a committee specially formed to set up the Kirkuk census held its first meeting, attended by the Governor of Kirkuk, the president of the Provincial Council, the Director of the Census Office, the Towns Education Office, the Military Commander of the 12th Division, the Commander of the 1st Brigade of the Kirkuk guards, representatives of the Reconstruction Office as well as leaders of the American armed forces. Members of Parliament of the Kurdistan Alliance were present but not one representative of the Arab and Turcoman parties.
The discussions covered security measures and the organisation of the census, to be effected by the Kirkuk Census Office.
The civil servants charged with carrying out the census expressed an optimistic determination of being able to do their work properly. Adnan Baba, Director of the Committee, stated to the daily Aswat al-Iraq that he would be ready for this as soon as the cadres had completed the special training course they were on for this operation.
Najmaldin Karim, Member of the Iraqi Parliament, elected on the Kurdistan Alliance list, gave an interview to this paper in which he pointed out that the technical preparations and those covering security had been set up in the Province, He stressed that this census was not a “Kurdish demand” but that it would serve the interests of all the Iraqis.
Commenting on the absence, at this meeting, of the al-Iraqiyya list members, the Kurdish M.P. pointed out that this absence could not affect the work of these meetings, though he hoped the Arabs would attend the next discussions “since neither the Arabs or the Turcomen are supporting a boycott of the census”
Another Kurdish M.P., Alaa Talibani, stressed that “the formation of this Special Census Committee had been decided partly in response to the demands of the Arabs and Turcomen. That is why the absence of our al-Iraqiyya colleagues is not right. The Arab and Turcoman blocks, according to their own public statements, wished to take part in the census process, but the al-Iraqiyya M.P.s, who represent the Arabs and Tucomen in Kirkuk, did not attend the meeting, though they could have done. They do not just represent themselves but their parliamentary list, especially as there was an agreement with this list about this Census Committee.
An al-Iraqiyya M.P., Umar al-Jiburi, tried to justify this absence by an “imbalance” in the representation on this Committee of each ethnic group in Kirkuk, even if the Arab and Turcoman M.P.s who are members of al-Iraqiyya had been previously informed of the way the Census Committee would be made up by an edict from the Ministry of Planning, namely 3 Kurdish Alliance, 2 Arab and 1 Turcoman M.P.s.
At the same time, on 10 December, the Congress of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massud Barzani, was taking place, with a broad panel of guests, including the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Osama al-Nujafi, the President of the Security Council, Iyad Allawi, an official Turkish delegation led by Abdulkader Aksu, one of the assistants of Prime Minister Erdogan. Speaking to the 1,300 delegates and his guests, the President of Kurdistan recalled the Kurds’ right to self-determination in the event of their demands remaining ignored by the capital, particularly the referendum on the regions claimed by the Kurds and reaffirmed that the Kurdish identity of Kirkuk was not “a subject for bargaining”. Masud Barzani further stated that the government of Kirkuk could not be unilateral and that all the communities had to be represented.
This solemn reminder, which reflected the general feeling of the Congress delegates, was loudly applauded, nor did any of the Arab or Turkish guests react in any way. However it had considerable repercussions in the Arab media, although mentioning the right to self-determination is nothing new, especially coming from Masud Barzani. Thus although none of the Iraqi officials present took umbrage, these simple words had an inflammatory effect on the Arab press and some Iraqi political movements that saw it as his brandishing the threat of a future “independence”.
“The right of self-determination only concerns peoples living under foreign occupation, which is not the case with Kurdistan, that has a special status in Iraq”, protested an M.P. from the Iraqiyya list, Alia Nusayaf. “It makes ma wonder whether the Kurds demanded federalism essentially so as later to separate from Iraq. It is shameful that none of the political figures present got up to protest”.
The same story cane from the Shiites, especially amongst the Sadrist supporters. Thus Jawad al-Hasnawi, a Shiite M.P., considered that such a statement could only stir up tension: “I think that an Iraq that stretches from Zakho to Basra is much better than a divided Iraq”.
However, the Kurdistan Prime Minister, Barham Salih, reminded people that Masud Barzani had only expressed a widely felt attitude of the Kurds, recalling that this in no way necessarily meant a declaration of independence:
“There is a consensus, among the Kurds, that their fight to self-determination is a legal and legitimate fact. When we agreed to a federal Iraq, we had said that it was a form of self-determination, and we never abandoned that right”.
Two days later, after the Congress was over, Masud Barzani’s nephew, former Prime Minister Neçirvan Barzani, explained that “the right to self determination” did not mean that the Kurds had, at this time, any will to be separated from Iraq.
“The Kurds have a right to self-determination but we have decided to remain in a united Iraq. President Barzani’s remarks have been misunderstood. If we had opted for independence, we would have declared it — however, we did not decide anything of the sort. We want to remain in a federal Iraq (…) Self-determination is a natural right for the Kurdish people but with what we won in 2003, in a new Iraq, we decided to remain in a federal Iraq”.
A few says later, Masud Barzani himself referred to his statement, without retracting an iota of what he has always said since the beginning of his Presidency: keeping the Kurdish Region within Iraq depends of the Central Governments observance of its Constitution and that the Kurds “will remain in a federal Iraq but not in a dictatorship”.
“Some people have said: 'the Kurds want their independence, let them leave them, once and for all’. To them we reply — Iraq is our country. My message to our Arab brothers, both Sunni and Shiite, to our friends and allies, is the following: We are committed to a federal and democratic Iraq, to its constitution. The Kurds are a nation and, consequently, we are not prepared to remain in an Iraq dominated by chauvinism. The Kurds are a nation, and consequently have a right to self-determination. The Kurdish Parliament has decided so to remain — but on one condition: Iraq must be a federal Iraq”.
On 10 December the Paris Kurdish Institute put on line its digital library on line as part of its web site. This digital library consists of writings about the Kurds and Kurdistan. Its aim is to make the Kurdish cultural heritage available in digital form.
The library is designed as an encyclopaedic collection of material relating to the Kurdish cultural heritage, and its digital form makes available for consultation by any kind of public.
Broad chronological area can cover most fields: science and the history of science, economics, law, politics, philosophy, literature, travellers’ tales, history and ethnology. The reader, whether a student, a research worker or just someone who is curious can find there old publications, reference documents, rare periodicals … that have hitherto not been easily accessible.
The site can be searched accessing indexed bibliographies; the digitalised bibliography also provides the possibility of full text search through the table of contents, covering books, and periodicals. The chronological set of themes gives an overall view of this digital library and gives the reader another access route to the collections. A general presentation of the stock, which also includes hypertext links, will also add another method of navigation, particularly for non-specialists.
The majority of the collections of digitalised documents chosen are in the public domain. The form an encyclopaedic library of the human and social sciences, consisting of original documents, critical publications, standard reference works and some hard to find series of periodicals, which are of importance for research.
Most of the contents accessible are digital reproductions of works that have fallen into the public domain and come from the Kurdish Institute’s own digitalised collections or some other freely accessible libraries. They can be found on the site http://bnk.institutkurde.org .
Initially the project limited itself to digitalising the most important of the works in the Institute’s Library. However, after wide-ranging consultations with users, it was agreed substantially to extend the project to 12,000 works, in 25 languages and the thousands of documents n the Paris Kurdish Institute’s Library. The project thus updated was planned to take 3 years to complete.
Despite the technical difficulties encountered and a reduction in the number of voluntary helpers, a considerable amount of work on the digital library was achieved in 2002. The database of the Digital Library was created in MySql. The creation of this database was completed and could thus receive the monographs. A substantial amount of work was done on digitalising the monthly bulletins that the Kurdish Institute published from July 1983 till October 2010. To date, these Bulletins, covering 300 issues, total 50,000 pages.
The digitalised publications are divided into 15 themes: Art, Dictionaries, economics, general information, history, linguistics, literature, memoirs, music, philosophy, poetry, politics, religion, sociology and university theses.
The execution of a Kurdish student, Habibollah Latifi, which was due to take place on 26 December, was postponed following a campaign by Kurdish NGOs and newspapers for a revision of his trial. Perhaps even more decisive, the action by the Kurdish President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, asking for him to be pardoned may have been taken into consideration by the Iranian government, according to the Kurdish newspaper Awene.
However, the fact that the execution was postponed does not mean that the prisoner won't be executed later. Habibollah Latifi was sentenced as a “meharebeh”, an enemy of God, which automatically carries a death sentence, by the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj (the capital of Iranian Kurdistan) on the basis of his membership of PJAK, the Iranian branch of the PKK.
On 25 December, over 200 people — activists of political parties, members of clubs and associations and journalists — demonstrated in the Kurdish city of Suleimanieh, to protest against the carrying of the sentence. In Paris, very early on the 26th, about twenty people gathered before the Iranian Embassy, some of them chaining themselves to the railings.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, had appealed to the Iranian authorities to commute the death sentence to one of life imprisonment.
The Director of the Middle East department of Amnesty International, Malcolm Smart, had expressed his doubts about the legality of the trial, as did Joe Stork, assistant director of the Middle East department of Human Rights Watch: “It is clear that Habibolah Latifi did not have proper trial by international standards. The cicumstances surrounding Katifi’s arrest, his detention and sentence strongly suggest that the Iranian authorities have violated his fundamental rights”.
Habibolah Latifi is, at the moment, detained in Sanandaj prison. Several sources indicate that he is suffering from intestinal infection, as well as some heart and kidney problems.
Habibolah Latifi was arrested on 23 October 2007 and taken to Sanandaj prison. Rumours of his impending execution have been current since 7 June last. His family has asked to see him several times but always in vain. On 27 December, Iranian security forces even raided their home, confiscating several documents. They also arrested three of his sisters, three of his brothers, his father and his sister-in-law. The youngest of his sisters, aged 10 received a dose of “pepper gas” and was unconscious for several hours. She has had no news of those members of the family who were taken to an unknown location. Other news indicates that some people who had supported the family in their efforts to save Habibolah Latifi have also been arrested, including journalists and activists. A provision list of those affected is being passed around:
Abbas, Latifi, (the father of the accused), Iraj Katiffi (brother of the accused), Eqbal Latifi (another brother), Shahin Latifi (sister of the accused), Elahe Latifi (another sister), Bahar Latifi (another sister), Ilyan Matapour (sister-in-law of the accused), Samin Chaichi (a poet and writer), Hamid Malek al-Kilany (Human Rights defence activist), Saeed Saadi (journalist), Mahmoud Mahmoudi (journalist), Ilyan Zafari (a former political prisoner), Wahid Maiidy (a former political prisoner), Zahid Moradian (an activist), Hashem Rostami (an activist), and Padram Nasrollahi (an activist). It is also reported that a student activist, Mokhtar Zareri, has also disappeared.
This wave of arrests could be a new tactic of the Iranian authorities aimed at intimidating those close to condemned people to prevent international campaigns to save them or information being spread abroad.
This, at any rate, is the opinion of Mahmud Moghaddam, spokesman of Iran Human Rights: “We must not forget that Mr. Latifi’s execution is only postponed and we do not know for how long. It is possible that the members of his family have been arrested to silence them when the authorities want to go ahead with the execution”.
The arrests, however, have not prevented other demonstrators in front of the Sanandaj Court from demanding news of the detained people. In response, the security forces have surrounded the town, while telephone and Internet communications have been considerable slowed down,
Thus there are a number of Kurdish prisoners waiting in the Iranian death rows. Twelve of them have been condemned for membership of PJAK. In November 2009, the execution of another Kurdish activist, Sjirkouh Moareti was announced them postponed
The London-based Institute of Race Relations recently published a report on the origins of the people turned back by the European Union. Among these, Kurds from Syria are ceaselessly increasing, although many of them have been obliged to flee because of their political activities.
Kurds from Syria were in the news from the beginning of 2010, with the arrival of about a hundred illegal immigrants on the Corsican beaches, the majority of whom were Kurds. That year ended tragically with the suicide of another Kurd from Syria, whose application for asylum had been rejected by Denmark. Between the two events that hit the headlines, there were a good number of hunger strikes, trials, arrests and expulsions, which did not attract the same attention.
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) commits signatory countries to protect any people who are in danger of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment in their own countries. The Convention even considers that accusations or evidence of terrorism levelled against such people do not justify expulsion if this exposes the person to the danger of such ill treatment. Despite this, many NGOs state accusingly, Kurds from Syria, a country frequently exposed for its violations of Human Rights, whose political struggles remain peaceful, are regularly the target of arrests and expulsion.
Yet, Jawad Mella, President of the Western Kurdistan Association in London, points out that anyone who has applied for political asylum, especially if they have also been active on Human Rights issues, is inevitably sentenced, on returning to Syria, to an “unlimited” number of years imprisonment.
The Institute of Race Relation’s report reviews several E.U. member countries where Kurds from Syria have applied for political asylum.
On 22 January 2010, a ship landed at Bonifacio, Corsica, with 123 passengers, mostly Kurds from Syria. There were 57 men, 29 women, five of whom were pregnant, and 38 children. They were taken to 5 detention centres, widely spaced around the country: Marseille, Lyon, Rennes, Nimes and Toulouse.
On 26 January, the judges to whom their cases were submitted declared, one after the other that the detention of refugees was illegal and ordered that they be freed to enable them to apply for asylum. The majority of them very quickly left France for England, leading British politicians to accuse France of once again getting rid of illegal immigrants by letting them cross the Channel to Britain.
In Norway on 18 August 2010, Abdulkarim Hussein, born in 1959, a Syrian Kurd originally from Aleppo, was forcibly expelled to Syria. He had applied for political asylum in 2006.
Jan Erik Skretteberg, of the Norwegian association SOS Rasisme, had declared at the time that Abdulkarim Hussein’s life was at risk, since he had both worked for SOS Rasisme and was also Vice-President of the Association of Syrian Kurds in Norway, as well as having been a Human Rights activist in his own country, where he had already been arrested and tortured.
Indeed, as soon as he arrived in Damascus, Abdulkarim Hussein was arrested by the Syria authorities and transferred to the Al-Fayha Prison, which is run by one of the branches of Syrian Security services. There he was placed in solitary confinement, beaten and had his testicles crushed.
On 2 September, Abdulkarim Hussein was released without any charge being levelled against him. Less than a week later he succeeded in fleeing Syria through Turkey and on 8 September applied to the High Commission for Refugees for international protection. Several people in Norway are demanding that he should, at last, be granted political asylum.
In mid-May 2010, the Kurdish community in Cyprus organised a protest campaign by going on hunger strike as well as by pitching their tents round the Ministry of the interior, so as to draw attention to the situation of Kurds in Syria and secure political asylum for refugees.
After 4 weeks, the Cyprus police raided the camp, arrested the demonstrators and placed 149 of them in detention centres. Of the 42 under age children, just over a dozen were released with their families. Eighty-two of the Kurds were living on the island illegally, since their applications for asylum had been rejected and so were under expulsion orders — as, indeed, happened to 37 of them on 11 June.
The Kurdish Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights and public freedom in Syria (DAD) reported last October that the Syrian Security forces had arrested 3 of these Kurds were had been sent back to Syria. They were: Rakan Elias Iunbuli (arrested 5 months after his return), Mohammed Sheffa Junbuli (arrested one month after his return) and Hassan Elias Junbuli (arrested a week after his return). Hassan Junbuli was still, in October, being detained by the Security services. Mohammed and Rakan Junbuli were being held at the Hassaké central prison.
Even if they return voluntarily to Syria, these Kurds face legal action. Thus Faiz Adnan Osman and his wife, who returned voluntarily from Cyprus last August, were arrested at Damascus on their return in November 2010. Adla Osman was rapidly released, but her husband is still in detention. The Syrian security services accuse him of having taken part in the demonstrations in Nicosia. According to some sources, Faiz Adnan has been tortured.
On 4 December 2010, the Hassaké Directorate of Political security arrested Ciwan Yusuf Mohammad (born in 1982). Ciwan Mohammad had been extradited from Cyprus in June 2010, along with 26 other Kurds. He was obliged to surrender his passport to the authorities at Damascus airport. Since his arrest he has been interrogated by several different security services.
In September 2010, 28 Kurds in Denmark started a hunger strike in from of the parliament. One of them declared to the press: “If once you’ve been in a Syrian prison, you’ll do everything possible to avoid returning there”.
After three weeks, one of them ended his hunger strike, both for health reasons but also because the Syrian security forces had begun to harass members of their family still in the country, according to the Kurdish TV channel RojTV. Several of the hunger strikers, in fact, had to be taken into hospital.
On 22 September 2010, Adnan Ibrahim was expelled to Syria after 18 months in Denmark, where two thirds f his family were living. Ibrahim’s sister, Golzar, let it be known that she had had no news about her brother from the moment the Danish police had had handed him over to the Syrian Police at Damascus airport.
On 15 November 2010, Abid Mohammed Atto, born in 1982, was expelled, despite the efforts of a group of Danish activists to prevent his boarding the plane at the airport. Born in 1982, he was one of the Kurds from Derik deprived of citizenship. He was taken into detention on his arrival in Syria by section of the Syrian security forces. He had fled the country in August 2009.
Finally, one of the most tragic cases is that of the 26-year-old Kurd, Ramazan Hajji Ibrahim, who committed suicide in the Auderød asylum seekers centre. Those close to him state that he feared what awaited him in Syria following the rejection of his application for asylum. Paradoxically, he was only extraditable alive, and his family was thus unable to recover his body: its return had been arranged by Kurdish associations but refused by the Syrian authorities, as he was officially stateless! He was, consequently, buried in Copenhagen on 18 December, the Kurdish Cultural Association organising the funeral.
On 22 November, in Switzerland, Sarbast Kori stared a hunger strike in the Thum prison, where he was detained, in protest at his impending extradition. He was taken to hospital ten days later, after losing consciousness. He also suffers from psychological trauma, partly due to his fear of returning to Syria.
In Germany, on 3 April 2010, Anwar Daqouri, an asylum seeker, was arrested by the German police and taken to an expulsion centre, being due for expulsion three months later.
Faruk al-Issa, another Kurd from Syria, was also arrested in Germany on 21 June 2010 and detained in the Hanover centre, pending his extradition. He had been living as a refugee in Germany since 2004, his application for asylum having been rejected.
The English translation of Jalal Barzanji’s account of his imprisonment in Saddam Hussein’s jails is due to be published shortly entitled The Man in Blue Pyjamas, Prison Memoirs in the form of a Novel.
Jalal Barzanji is a Kurdish poet and writer and originally wrote a first version in Kurdish in 2007. This has now been revised, reorganised and translated and will be published by the Alberta University Press (Canada) in April 2011.
“It is an account of a part of my life that have kept to myself in my memory for many years. It was rather hard to return to these memories in writing. However I want to share knowledge of what happens to people, to writers, when they start to write about peace, beauty and human desire. I want to tell my story without passing judgement but only telling the truth as I feel it. Secondly, I want to show the power of words and how, while I was in prison, they gave me the strength to resist”.
This is how the author summarises the three years spent in prison, from 1986 to 1989, for his literary and journalistic writings under the Saddam Hussein regime. Neither torture or the loss of freedom got him to give up writing and throughout those three years he continued writing secretly of paper smuggled in. “If I had not written I’d have I was losing something. Writing is part of my life and of my spirituality”.
His imprisonment had not surprised of Jalal Barzanji, who even expected to be executed: “The regime was hostile to freedom — and I was demanding freedom. I was not a follower of the regime’s ideology and mentality.
My burden was twofold: I was a modern writer and a Kurd.… I lived in fear because I knew how to do something dangerous by talking about peace, democracy and freedom”.
One evening in 1986, a group of soldiers broke down the door of his home and carried him off blindfolded, handcuffed and in pyjamas. He remains in solitary in a tiny cell for an indeterminate time. He was then transferred to a larger cell, shared with 15 other prisoners.
With the collusion of a prison guard who secretly supplied him with pieces of paper and a pencil, Jalal Barzanji continued to write, this time letters to his wife, in which he described in detail his life as a prisoner and that of the others with him.
At the end of three years Barzanji was pardoned and released, as part of the celebrations of Saddam Hussein’s birthday.
Although still being watched and living in fear, he continued writing. In 1991, following the Kurdistan uprising and the withdrawal of the Baathist forces, he was asked to be chief editor of a Kurdish review.
In 1996, during the very temporary return of Saddam’s forces to Kurdistan, he fled to Turkey with his family and applied to the UN High Commission for Refugees for refugee status.
He succeeded in emigrating to Canada in 1998 and settled in Edmonton. There he helped form a Kurdish-Canadian Friendship Society and a society for the assistance of immigrants in Edmonton.
In 2007 Barzanji was selected to benefit from a fund granted by the PEN Club of Canada to supporting writers in exile who had fled from persecution in their own countries. This enabled him to return to his career as an author, this time in Canada and to complete the first version of The Man in Blue Pyjamas.
Jalal Barzanji was born in a little village in 1953, which was so isolated that there was no school there until 1960. The author, nevertheless, describes it as “a peaceful place set in the middle of beautiful mountains” and says that it was there that he learnt “the simplicity and beauty of life” and also listened to the tales the villages told round a fire in winter or on the flat roofs of the houses in summer. It was while listening to them that he began to dream of things that he had never seen.
However, all that came to an end one might, when Iraqi forces bombed the village and forced the inhabitants to flee. His family emigrated to Irbil where, he said, he saw cars for the first time in his life.
At University he read foreign authors who aroused his desire to write as well. In 1979 he published a collection of poems, Snowfall at dusk. The appearance of his second collection of poems, Without warmth, in 1985 led him straight to jail.
His other works, which were all published in Iraqi Kurdistan, are War (1996), Thank God for the rain (2002), published by the Kurdish Ministry of culture, Leeward memories (2006), and Return to my birthplace (2007).