March 5 was the anniversary of the 1991 uprisings in Iraq that led to the establishment of the Kurdish Autonomous Republic, or just Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan). The revolution, or raparin in Kurdish, began in Ranya on March 5, 1991, when defectors of the Kurdish militia used by Saddam Hussein against the peshmerga rose up against the regime and took control of the city with the help of peshmerga and Kurdish political parties. There were also predominantly Shi’a uprisings in southern Iraq around the same time, but the Kurdish revolution was preceded by political protests and demonstrations outlining clear political goals that were a result of the decades-long struggle for independence from Saddam’s tyranny. The uprisings were encouraged by the U.S., with President George H. W. Bush appealing to the people and military of Iraq to oust Saddam and replace his regime with one that would enable Iraq to “rejoin the family of peace-loving nations”. Ironic, isn’t it, for this call to join peace-loving nations to have come from America? But when the uprisings began the United States chose non-intervention and abandoned the Kurdish and Shi’a rebels (though no-fly zones were enforced as a token gesture for the protection of civilians). Not one of America’s finest moments, to put it mildly. So, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives – mostly civilian – and the displacement of nearly two million Iraqis, 1.5 million of them Kurdish, an autonomous Kurdish region was established within Iraq. Not quite an independent country, but enough so that you really feel as if you are in Kurdistan, rather than Iraq or even Iraqi Kurdistan.
In commemoration of the revolution, flags were strung up all around town, everyone dressed up in their best Kurdish finery, and there was an infectious festive mood all around. Classes were cancelled for the day, and instead we had an assembly where the principal spoke about the revolution, the Kurdish flag was raised over the schoolyard, and each class sung a revolutionary song for the school. All the kids were super excited to celebrate raparin, and ran around the school with Kurdish flags draped over their shoulders and flag colors painted on their faces.
I walked into school in a beautiful Kurdish dress that a Grade 3 teacher had lent me, and was immediately bombarded with comments and exclamations by the children. “Teacher, you are Kurdish!” and “Teacher, do you love Kurdistan? I love Kurdistan!” It was really quite beautiful to share in their enthusiasm and pride in their country and people. I’m normally not a huge fan of nationalism and misplaced patriotic pride, but in this case I think it’s more than well-deserved. I’m glad these children can grow up feeling proud of their country and their history.