From a grocery store to minister in Iraq
– Many of the participants of this conference didn’t know much about Iraq and Kurdistan. By coming here, however, they really got the chance to get to know us. Then they understood that we are Kurds, and that we have our right to freedom, after many years of suffering. If we hadn’t had this conference, we would never have gotten to know each other, says Osman.
Like many of the other parties working together in the project From Bullets to Ballots, the PUK has a history of resistance against authoritarian rule.
– The transition from a bureaucratic dictatorship to a democracy is not a very easy one, we can’t just take one big step and expect the whole country to follow.
After the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and the removal of the trade embargos, the social situation in Iraqi Kurdistan has changed dramatically.
– Both the agriculture and the industry have improved. Life is easier. There is a social safety net for widows, children and the poor, and the parliament has legislated for the empowerment of human rights. But that doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect, there are still many needs of the people, waiting to be adressed, says Osman.
The persecution and discrimination of the Kurds, was continuous in Iraq during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. Narmin Osman carries memories from many years of resistance, and from the loss of those who paid the highest price for the struggle for freedom.
– I’m from a family that’s always been politically active. When I was I student, I joined the students’ union and then the secret resistance movement, called Komala. In 1974, a few of our members were captured by the Baath-regime and forced to reveal names. That’s how my uncle and brother were arrested and then executed. My husband was also imprisoned, she says.
After graduating from the university in Bagdad, where she studied to be a teacher, Osman joined the Kurdish guerilla movement in the early 1970’s. The following years the violence intensified and culminated in 1988, with the Anfal Campaign. At that time Saddam Hussein ordered several offensives against the Kurdish population, ravaging over 5000 villages and murdering between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians. By that time Narmin Osman had already fled the country together with her children.
– I fled to Sweden in 1984. First, I began working at the Blackeberg Hospital, then I opened a mini grocery store at Södermalm in Stockholm. I came back to Kurdistan in the beginning of the 1990’s when my husband had become a minister in the regional government. I worked with different NGO’s, and together with them I started a Kurdish branch of Save the Children.
As one of relatively few women in Iraqi politics, Osman could eventually make career advancements.
– After the fall of the Saddam-regime, I was appointed minister of gender equality in the federal government in Bagdad. I was the first Iraqi minister of that kind, and took part in building up the ministry. That just lasted a year though, then there was a new prime minister and I was appointed minister of environment and vice minister of human rights. After a third term in Bagdad, I wanted to go back to Kurdistan and to my people, so I began working for the PUK once again, says Osman.
Today, life in Iraqi Kurdistan is characterized by development and restoration. Many years of armed struggle has left old structures in need of reformation.
– To become a minister today, you have to be aware of your surroundings, acquire knowledge and work hard. Then maybe you can compete as a worthy alternative to represent the people. Earlier, the leaders were nominated because of their family heritage or that they fought Saddam. Today it’s different, and therefore, things gradually improve.
The conference was arranged by the International Olof Palme Center and the Social democrats, together with the PUK, as a part of the development project From Bullets to Ballots.
Text and photo: MARTIN KARLSSON
Translation from Swedish: JOHN RUNESON