Iraq: Protesters Die Demanding a Homeland

Aya Mansour
Iraqi Journalist
May 26, 2021
Dozens of people fell. Friends were kidnapped and disappeared. And yet the chairs of power did not budge. This hurts me, makes me cry and hate myself and the day I was born here. To see such injustice and not being able to change it, even though we tried. I swear, we tried. We tried so much that we wasted the blood of 650 dreams, and thoughts, and laughs, and innocent faces. But our attempts were not enough. We lost and the government did not lose a thing. Its influence and tyranny only increased.

One day in October 2019, a group of women of no more than twenty went out in support of the demonstrators at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. Yet, as soon they arrived, live bullets flew over their heads. I was one of them.

We ran fast, our dreams racing with us. We did not want to die so soon. The road was long, yet many young people had already fallen before us. I was able to hide from the government forces’ attack in the house of a friend’s relatives. I stayed there until night fell. It was hard to leave, as the street had changed into a battle front. From one side that is, for what weapons the protesters had other than Iraqi flags?

On October 25, there had been many girls. The revolution was female, heart and soul. They were strong, inspiring and courageous. And insisted on creating a homeland in the public arena: some women were kneading bread and washing protesters clothes in their front yards, while others were helping the injured or making falafel and hamburgers.

The square became like “the kitchen of the nation”. It had all the features of “home” with both women and men participating, without distinction. I did not witness a single moment of harassment, as is so often the the case. However, many accusations affected the women who participated in the revolution afterwards. Militia and party leaders blamed them for “cooking up” change.

My friends and I had decided to enter Tahrir Square together, so that none of us could be kidnapped or killed. And we were to leave together too. However, this was not a PlayStation game with mercenaries and murderers. This was much more severe. Some of our friends were assassinated. Others kidnapped. Every day we would wake up to the tragedy of another demonstrator being stabbed.

Numbers

Our dream had turned into a nightmare. Fear had its eye on us. We, young men and women, became more careful. We became numbers. Just numbers. “Forty protesters died today.” We do not say their names, we do not preserve their dreams, we do not keep their pictures, we do not remember their mothers, their sweethearts, and we do not hang their possessions in the “Museum of the Revolution.”

They did not dream of anything more than what other people live in distant lands. They only dreamt of a country like other “easy” countries, where dreams are simple. Is that too difficult?

I want an “easy” home like a morning greeting. Good morning. Simple. Like that. For our morning to be good, we do not have to pay for it with blood and souls. No need to waste the lives of 650 young men and women in the blink of an eye.

For a while I asked myself: was it correct for the revolution to take place? If so, why then did 650 people die? Could it have been me? What did these people want? What did they do to die? Who said they wanted to die? When a protester screams “I want a homeland,” all he gets is a grave?

The demonstrators are tired of the crying of the many mothers, which has not subsided today. They are tired, and no longer get up easily. I do not know whether the revolution wants to return or if it is hesitant whenever a cry is heard. I do not know. What I do know is that the October Revolution feels exhausted, yet has not died. The martyrs left the seeds of their dreams under the monument of freedom. And one day they will grow.

With the Corona pandemic, even the last remaining few stopped protesting. The ones who had stayed were very brave, as the square had been subjected to suppression, deportation and threats dozens of times. Those who remained, even after the killing of some 650 revolutionaries, were like suicide bombers.

As life gradually returned to the city, the authorities removed the ashes of the revolution, sweeping away all traces of the martyrs, taking away their pictures. Even the words and phrases we had memorized were erased. And so, unexpectedly quietly, the revolution stopped temporarily.

Yet, the revolution remained in our heads, even as I learned not to walk the Bridge of the Republic leading towards Tahrir Square, because so many martyrs were brought down there. Every time, I stand for a few minutes in front of the Turkish restaurant and remember everything: us standing there, us laughing and cheering, and even the sudden attacks of the anti-riot forces that made us run and get away with our friends. Perhaps this is the only “real” thing I ever lived in Iraq.

Was our demonstration right? We have survived and now here we are, living our miserable lives, while others who were with us were killed and no longer exist. This notion was and still is stabbing my love for my homeland with a knife of questions.

Dozens of people fell before me. Friends were kidnapped and disappeared. And yet the chairs of power did not budge. This hurts me, makes me cry and hate myself and the day I was born here. To see such injustice and not being able to change it, even though we tried. I swear, we tried. We tried so much that we wasted the blood of 650 dreams, and thoughts, and laughs, and innocent faces. But our attempts were not enough. And maybe the blood was not enough. Maybe Iraq was not yet satisfied with our blood. We lost and the government did not lose a thing. Rather, its influence and tyranny only increased.

Was the October uprising the beginning of our confrontation with disappointment? Was the October uprising a shelf on which we temporarily put our dreams? Will the arena call me to repeat the experiment?

I wish and dream, but I cannot. Between me and the square stand the eyes of the martyrs. I fear others will be killed. Sometimes I feel no revolution in Iraq will never succeed because of the many divisions and stories of betrayal. How can we stand as one facing an army of murderers? How can we get back our homeland that has been looted for 18 years?

I dream of a homeland and cheer for it. I do not hesitate to say it. Yet, I am afraid to demonstrate again. Not only for myself, but also for everyone else. No protester wants to demonstrate just for the sake of a homeland. Whoever goes out to demonstrate wants to live, not die.

As I am writing this, chills run through my veins. I remember every detail. For me and my generation, the October uprising was not just a demonstration against injustice. It was the wave of fresh air that we wanted for so long. Tahrir Square had become the homeland we begged for and longed for. In the name of the country they stole from our hearts, as a child stolen from his mother’s bosom, let us have it.

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