By Sarkawt Shamsulddin
Sulaymaniyah- On Sunday night, two cars were set on fire. The cars belong to the teachers who organize the protests in Sulaymaniyah. These teachers are among the prominent voices of demonstration organizers. This is not rare for community mobilizers to face threats and assaults and these people are not the only who were under attack. There are dozens of other teachers, especially the organizers, are under constant threat across Sulaymaniyah and Halabjah provinces. These people have been on the street peacefully asking for their basic rights; the payment. It is the longest protest in the region that has not turned into violence and also remained non-politicized.Since October, the schools remained closed, and volunteer groups mobilize teachers and public employees to pressure the government official to review the mandatory saving policy and end the payment delay. Every week, tens of thousands of civilians organized by the teachers come together and rally on the main streets, and squares. The organizers prevented any attempt by political parties to politicize the gathering. They also formed varies groups to prevent the peaceful rally turn into a riot; no single incident reported so far.
Nevertheless, the political parties have been trying to take over the crowd and capitalize on it for political purpose. Since the protests started by teachers, varies groups formed to bring the demonstrations under control such as the Council of school principles (they are mostly controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK) the group for defending people’s right which has representatives of political parties. This one initiated by the Change Movement (Gorran) and the Islamic parties. There is also Teachers Union which is dominated by both the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). However, these groups failed in bring teachers back to school.
But the leading group is the Unsatisfied Teachers Group which is the most powerful one and has a bottom-up formula. This group represents the grassroots. They have organized themselves better than others. The Group has an executive council and several committees.
Other groups were created to divide the teachers and divert the demonstrations wave. The political parties, as well as the Asayish, pushed their undercover members into the Group’s committees, but they have not able to takeover. The mission of these undercovers is two things. First, they collect information on other members; their affiliations, and motives. They report this information to Asayish headquarter. Second, they report the meetings, schedules, and venues for the meetings of the board and the upcoming gatherings. Sometimes, the undercovers try to demoralize the other members and make them return to school.
The Unsatisfied Teachers Groups in other cities are well connected, and they launch their campaigns on social media. They have got trust and a sort of legitimacy among teachers. They can speak on behalf of the majority of the teachers demonstrating on streets. Without them, the demonstrations and protests are uncontrollable and may turn to riot easily.
The main demand is payment. The teachers, like other public servants, received only half of four-month payrolls. Since last year, under the pressure of the demonstrations, the KRG has made a slight adjustment to the teachers’ payroll by adding about $80 to $100 monthly bonus to the payrolls the salary. But the Group said it is not enough and failed to meet their expectations. Therefore, the teachers vowed that the schools would remain closed until cancellation of “mandatory saving policy.” The teachers do not trust the KRG officials anyway. They say that the payment cut will stay enact forever if they go back to school now.
Now the members of the Group are under pressure. Many of them received death threat via text message and Facebook. The authorities use every illegitimate way to counter them. Last week, Facebook accounts of some members were hacked and published misinformation on behalf of the Group.
The lives of group members are not guaranteed, especially when they refused to accept KRG’s payment temporary adjustment. They have called on all teachers and civil employees to join the demonstrations on December 1st. Now, the PUK, as de facto ruler in Sulaymaniyah, tries very hard to end the demonstrations. Many members of the Group are hiding and cannot stay at home.
These pressures intensified when the Council decided to raise their demands for payment to seeking self-rule for Sulaymaniyah by delegating hiring authority from the prime minister to the governor of Sulaymaniyah. They challenge the whole system now. It will be announced on December 1st.
People already lost hope in the KRG, but the demonstrations became a place to the people to release the anger and express their opinions. The demonstrations are also a way to defuse the growing grievances. The protesters are determined to stay away from school and make the KRG “listen.” If these people forced to go home, we might expect an unprecedented wave of violence across the region which will be hard to control.