Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
Can you wrap democracy as a present and give it to a country that has been run by a dictator for decades?
Canada recently hauled down its flag at NATO headquarters in Kabul, formally ending 12 years of military involvement in Afghanistan that cost 158 military lives, a journalist, a diplomat, and two Canadian civil workers.
Canadian politicians believe the operation in Afghanistan was worth the lives lost and the dollars spent.
"From the first arrival of our ships in the Persian Gulf, to our combat and leadership roles in Kandahar Province, to our most recent training operation in Kabul, the contribution of the CAF will be honored by Canadians as we express our heartfelt thanks for the strength of this commitment," said Minister of National Defense Rob Nicholson in a statement that marked the occasion.
However, after more than a decade of Western interventions, Afghanistan is still a war-torn land, a country covered with checkpoints, barbed wires, concrete blast walls and daily explosions.
The United Nation reports a 24 percent increase in violence in Afghanistan over the last three months and the BBC reports on negative economic growth.
More than 20,000 cases of violence in Afghanistan in 2013 alone have been noted by the United Nations. Armed violence has increased by 51 percent compared to 2012. Over 3,000 civilians have died and more than 5,000 have been injured. Insurgents target the military, the government and civilians almost daily.
The Western countries who went to Afghanistan speak proudly of the impact they have had, of a new Afghanistan and of the well-trained national army they are going to leave behind. But thirteen years on, this country that has a long history of war and conflict is nowhere close to real peace.
The story in Iraq isn’t any different. It took US troops only three weeks to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, but it took them eight years of daily battles with insurgent groups to stabilize the country. Meanwhile Shiite and Sunni militias were at each other’s throats, killing, bombing and kidnapping tens of thousands of civilians. Violence became part of the everyday life.
It certainly isn’t entirely the fault of the Americans. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, the violence stems from unresolved feuds that sometimes, as in the case of Iraq, are suppressed by a dictator’s iron fist.
If Iraq and Afghanistan had good institutions and solid education systems, they would have been able to stand on their feet and use the devastating wars as a new chapter in their lives. But with a history of repression, removing a dictator or a regime would only make matters worse.
Bringing peace and democracy requires education, patience and a lot of sacrifice. The Western countries can contribute to this with expertise not with weapons. It doesn’t help to overthrow a regime, leave a big mess behind and say, “Now you build your own future.” An oppressed people cannot do that overnight just as you can’t give them democracy as a birthday present.
It was originally published at: http://rudaw.net/english/opinion/18042014#sthash.nk3cgAyu.dpuf
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Almost 270 Iranians reportedly die each day from pollution-related illnesses. Photo: AFP
TORONTO, Canada – An invisible killer is claiming lives in Iranian Kurdistan, where the cities of Sanandaj and Kermanshah figure in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top 10 worst cities in the world for air pollution.
Sanandaj (Sina) and Kermanshah, where traffic jams and car fumes are a daily nuisance, had to issue warnings and even close schools throughout the winter to protect children’s health. The pollution has created grave health problems, for a population living in some of Iran’s poorest and most deprived regions.
Unlike other polluted cities of the world, where the air is dirtied by factories and industries, Sanandaj and Kermanshah do not have major factories or coal mines, which are seen to be typical sources of air pollution.
Almost 270 Iranians reportedly die each day from pollution-related illnesses.
After years of evading the main cause of air pollution, Iranian authorities finally officially admitted what many Iranians had suspected all along: Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh blamed sub-standard gasoline as the root of the problem.
But earlier this year authorities denied the allegation, as air pollution has become a sensitive political issue in Iran.
In 2010, after the United States tightened sanctions on Iran in response to its suspected nuclear weapons program, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly announced the launch of a “resistance economy,” declaring that Iran was refining its own gasoline.
But authorities finally confessed that the supplies were in fact low-grade gasoline, which experts blame for some 88 percent of the air pollution.
The WHO 2013 Index also lists the Iranian cities of Ahvaz and Yasouj among its top 10 most polluted. The air pollution in the Iranian cities is estimated to be three times worse than Beijing, which is often touted for its heavy smog.
Even though they live in some of the world’s most polluted cities, most Kurds are unaware of the fact, and automatically think of the capital, Tehran, when the subject of air pollution is raised.
“I have never heard of pollution problems in Sanandaj,” says Roya, who has lived in the city for 44 years.
Originally published at: http://rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/080420141#sthash.Oa8r7vtP.dpuf
Thursday, April 3, 2014
TORONTO, Canada – Amineh Kakabaveh was 13 when she joined Komalah, learned Marxist theories and practiced using a gun. She is now an MP in the Swedish Left Party.
In parliament, she is known for her activism, outspokenness and for giving a large portion of her salary to her party. “I didn’t become a politician for power or for wealth. This is my way of continuing my fight against injustice,” she said.
As a feminist, Kakabaveh is particularly focused on improving the lives of minority women who arrive in Sweden.
“Some Swedish residents in their 50s marry a woman in her 20s from their home countries and bring her here. In order to escape the suffocation, these young women agree to marry someone their father’s age. But when they arrive in Sweden and integrate in the culture they realize choosing a partner twice their age was a mistake.”
The Swedish government, however, refuses to grant residency unless a prospective immigrant has lived with a partner for at least two years. During that time, these young women have to tolerate a lot of abuse.
“I have been fighting for years in the parliament to convince lawmakers to support such women,” Kakabaveh says.
When at age 19 she arrived in Sweden, she was classified as illiterate. She worked as a cleaner during the day, attended school in the evenings, and sent money to her family in Iranian Kurdistan.
She did not stop until completing a master’s degree in philosophy and social work. But she believes that her real education was gained in the mountains of Kurdistan. She did not have a chance to attend school, was malnourished and sometimes had to live without a shower for a long time. But she was happier there than in the life under Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary patriarch who ruled Iran with an iron hand.
“I was born into a politically active family who suffered persecution and poverty,” Kakabaveh says. At age 13, when she had to choose between marriage and execution, she opted for a third way: Becoming a Peshmarga.
“To many, a 13-year-old is just a child. But when you are given responsibilities from a very young age, when you witness execution, imprisonment and torture of your loved one, when you have to deal with poverty from childhood, you become very mature. By the time my training in the camp was over I was 14, but I felt like a 20-year-old.”
Kakabaveh sees herself as a Feminist Marxist and says the reason she joined Komalah was not just because her family was involved, or because of their ideas of equality. She joined because of the dignity that women received in the group.
Even though only 20 percent of Komalah members are female, Kakabaveh says there was a strict policy against sexual harassment, which made her feel safe. Once, her imprisoned Iranian soldiers said they were impressed that they had been captured by girls.
“Kurdish women are fighters, they have always been fighters, but cultural restrictions limit their abilities. Women cannot easily fight for freedom the way a man can choose his path.”
She lost many comrades during those years, and suffered much inconvenience. But she still maintains those were the best years of her life.
Now that she has a seat in parliament and her voice is heard, she tries her best to help as many women as she can, but her abilities are still limited. It takes an emotional toll on her to witness injustice everywhere, to see capitalism and patriarchy dominating societies, to see women in the suburbs still suffering from forced marriage, child marriage, racism and other forms of oppression.
“People think that because I am part of the Swedish government I can solve all the problems. They can’t know how hard, how painful it is to see them suffer and to not be able to help as much as I wish. It is true that I am seen as one of the most active members of parliament, but I want to do so much more, and I suffer that I can’t.”
Kakabaveh, who sees herself as a fighter, believes there is much that young Kurds can do to help the Kurdish cause. “I understand that some of the offspring of Peshmarga, who have been exposed to hardships from a young age without much choice, may feel tired of fighting. But the community needs their help and they can do much.
“Young Kurds can decide, based on their lifestyle, how much time they want to devote to improving the lives of Kurds. It can be only a day per week or 17 hours per day, but they can do a lot to create constructive dialogues, invite influential speakers, raise awareness, fight racism, reach for gender equality and do much more,” she says.
“In order for the Kurdish community to grow we need solidarity, and to achieve that we need confidence, gender-equality and understanding of our past. Decades of living under all kinds of prosecution and dictatorship, as well as the patriarchal interpretations of religion, have caused us to be who we are today. Rather than dismissing the whole cause because of our flaws, we need to understand the roots of problems and maintain faith in the Kurds.”
Kakabaveh, whose life can be a role model for young Kurds, has faith in the young generation. She believes they can do much to help empower their nation.