As we posted our last blog, the citizens of Iraq were about to go to the polls in the second parliamentary election since the creation of the post-Saddam constitution. When we wrote, we did not have clue as how the polling process would take place. Would it be safe? Would it be violent?
As it turned out, the election was safe in most parts of the country. Unfortunately there were around 25 deaths in Baghdad, and while any death is one too many, the country was for the most part quiet. We understand from the press that about 65% of eligible Iraqis voted overall, and that about 75% of persons in the Kurdistan Regional Government area (where we live) voted.
On election day, we walked to a nearby hotel to pick up a guest of the university and in the process walked by a school that had been converted into a polling station. Large concrete barriers had been set up on either end of the street that passed in front of the school, so as to keep auto and truck traffic away from pedestrians walking to the school. Although there were soldiers guarding the street, they said nothing to us about passing in front of the polling station even though we clearly were not local and would not be voting.
We were amazed to see that whole families turned out, often three generations, with children in tow. Many were dressed in their finest Kurdish clothing, as if they were dressed to go to a party. One particularly touching scene was of a boy too young to vote, perhaps 12 or 13, helping an elderly relative up the steps that led to the school. The scene was one more reminder of the power of family, and of urgency that even, maybe particularly, the elder folks felt to exercise this right, given all the deprivations they have been through in their lives.
As we polled our students, they too voted in large numbers. For all but the oldest students, this was their first election. By our unscientific sampling, we would estimate that 75% of our students voted. All seemed to be proud of their deeply stained fingers, made that way by dipping a finger into stain after voting, thus discouraging people from going to a nearby place to vote a second time. I don’t know what the stain is, but even now, 9 days after the election, it is still in evidence on people’s fingers.
We do not yet know the outcome of the election, and even if we did, we suspect that it would take more than one blog message to explain the complexities of just the Kurdish part of the electoral process, much less the rest of Iraq.
We took no pictures that day, but we include below four excellent photos taken by one of the AUIS English language instructors who has a phenomenal eye for what the camera can do. (About the time I think I am getting half way decent with a camera, I see his photos and know I have a long way to go.) This young man is Chris de Bruyn, and you can see more of his work at this website:
http://www.flickriver.com/photos/brownbearphotography/. He submitted some of them to BBC news that included the photos on their website. Not a shabby place to have your photos made available, eh?
The only disconcerting part of election day occurred in the evening, after the polls closed, when groups of people anticipating victory for their candidates fired their guns into the air. I’m not talking about a casual shot or two. Rather, there was an extended period of maybe 30 minutes when we heard the frequent rat-tat-tat of machine guns and automatic rifles. The shooters were not aiming at anyone, just shooting into the air. But bullets have to return to earth and we were told that around 15 people were admitted to emergency rooms with wounds. No one, thankfully, was killed. One errant AK-47 bullet returned to the earth in the middle of the university where it passed through the sheet metal roof of one of the faculty offices. It hit the tile floor with enough force to actually break the tile and penetrate into the floor. Fortunately the school was closed, and no one was hurt. See photo below of the bullet.
As I write and post this blog message, we are awaiting the arrival of Carolyn’s father, Glenn Falls, and his wife, Berny Berquist Falls. They are supposed to arrive on the 18th and will be with us for a week. This weekend is the beginning of a major celebration in this part of the world, namely Kurdish Iraq and Turkey, and most of Iran. The holiday, called Nawroz, predates the coming of Islam to this part of the world in the 7th and 8th centuries, and probably is a tradition that came from Zoroastrianism, the predominant religion in this area before Islam. Nawroz falls on the vernal equinox signaling the beginning of spring. School is dismissed for all of next week, and we intend to use our time to show Glenn and Berny around this part of the world that we have made our home since last September. It should be great fun. In our next blog we can post some pictures of their time with us.
We thank you for reading this blog and wish all of you the very best as you too celebrate the coming of spring.