Martin drinking tea in the Shrine Of Man
You know you’re in a polluted place when your bogies go black and your chest starts to hurt. I’m back in South (Iraqi) Kurdistan, which is also known simply as Bashur, meaning South, to Kurds.
I’m with three friends, trying to cross the border into Rojava. Bureaucracy, politics and crooked governments have ensured that it’s difficult to enter Rojava from this border, and impossible from the Turkey side (unless we want to be shot). So we pile into a taxi to Erbil (Hewler in Kurdish) to try to sort out our papers (no-one other than me fancies hitchhiking, what with ISIS strongholds not far away, and there’s no buses).
“Shit shit SHITTT!” I moan under my breath as the taxi driver races at high speed up to the back of a truck, then just before crashing into it, swerves to overtake. He does this again and again, weaving through the hundreds of trucks that clog the safe route to Erbil. Everyone wants to avoid Mosul. The smell of petrol fills the car. We pass oil tanker after oil tanker, and truck fumes fill our lungs.
Just over a year ago, my friends and I travelled to Kurdistan in northern Iraq. It was January 2012 and we had just spent two months in Iran. Imagine our surprise when we reached Sulaymaniyah and were greeted with Christmas decorations on the streets of this predominantly non-Christian country, and imagine our confusion as we saw huge 4×4 cars rolling past expensive hotels. Within ten minutes of being in Sulaymaniyah, it was clear that the corporate takeover of the region’s resources was well under way.
Three days ago, at 5.30am on the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, myself and two others ran up to the security fence of the EDO arms factory in Brighton and locked ourselves onto the gates, using d-locks around our necks, ensuring that the gates would not open when the workers came in for their shift at 5.45am and stopping deliveries from arriving. The other two activists superglued their hands to the gates. We remained locked there for six hours until the police removed us, and we were given support by other anti-war activists, who stayed by our sides.
Kurdistan is a region that covers parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, and where the population, culture and language is mostly Kurdish. Kurds are “the largest national, cultural group that has never been able to achieve a national territory”, says Noam Chomsky. I am still travelling with my Norwegian friends, Mats and Robert, and we are given a ten day visa-on-arrival for Iraqi Kurdistan.
Our first view of Kurdistan!
Walking over the Iraq border