20 February 2011
IRAQ: Blood and roses—a valentine for the five who died
by Bud Courtney
Last year during the demonstrations in Suleimaniya, five young men were gunned down by Kurdish Regional Government security forces. The 17th of this month commemorated the one-year anniversary of the start of sixty-two days of demonstrations in the streets, demonstrations that saw thousands speaking out for justice and meeting with severe repression from military and police forces. The climate surrounding the anniversary was tense. All police forces were on standby from the 15th to the 18th. There were calls for demonstrations on the anniversary but no one was clear as to who or what group is calling for them so it appeared that activists were taking a wait and see attitude as to what, if anything, they would do.
The previous week, we attended a meeting at the Culture Café discussing the murders. From that discussion, a seed was sown to have a Valentine’s Day vigil to be mindful of these five men. On Valentine’s Day, the seeds grew.
Sixteen of us met in the public garden. We had brought mirrors with pictures of each of the five attached and a heart drawn around the picture in blood red. We walked solemnly to the five places where the young men died. Our numbers grew to forty. We each carried a rose. At each stop, we placed roses at the memorial site along with the picture of the man who had died there. One of us in CPT sang a refrain from a song at each site and then we walked on.
Two fathers and two sisters of the five walked with us. At one station, I was singing “We Shall Overcome,” and I glanced next to me and realized one of the fathers was right there and he was crying. I continued singing, but stopped playing the guitar and put my arm around him. I was overcome.
We walked to give voice to the senseless killings of youth. We walked to be one with the families who lost a son a year ago. We walked because no one knows when each of us will end our time on this earth and we must make the most of what we do. We walked together to say to the authorities, “You can gun us down but you cannot silence us.” Our silence as we walked spoke loudly.
Valentine’s Day. A day we give thanks to loved ones generally with cards, chocolates, and flowers. On this Valentine’s Day, we gave thanks for the gift of being on the street together. To be able to look at others and silently say, “I am here with you.”