Iraqi Protests- from the crow’s nest

Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. Taken on the ‘Day of Rage’. March 25th, 2011. It’s no secret that the Middle East is in transition. The waves of revolution have been rippling through the region for the past few months and show no signs of stopping. Throughout most of my time in Iraq for the past 21 months or so, Sulaimani has been a quaint, sleepy, religiously tolerant mountain town in the South Eastern corner of Iraqi Kurdistan. As Tunisia and Egypt began bending to the will of the people, that all changed.

The watered-down version of what happened in Suli prior to the Day of Rage has elements of the following: Egyptian inspiration, frustrated youth, movement, gathering, peaceful demonstration, anger, march of angry youth to a political party’s headquarters, throwing stones, startled guards, poor training, fire into the air, fire into the crowd, dozens of protestors injured, a few killed, resentment, stewing anger.

February 25th was advertised as the Day of Rage and luckily it didn’t live up to its name. I went to the bazaar with a group of friends to see what the atmosphere around the city was like. We strolled past the bird-bridge, the money changers to a sea of black coats, prayer beads, facial hair and palpable excitement in the air. There were a few hundred peshmerga soldiers a block or two away from the protests and a group of people called the guardians. the guardians were volunteers dressed in white tunics who created a barrier between the demonstrators and the soldiers. Their role was the calm both sides down, release tension and keep the protests peaceful. The did a very successful job.

I wanted to get some good shots of the massive scale of people around, so I began working my way through the throng of protesters. I tried to approach the podium but didn’t make it too far; there were too many people, packed tighter than sardines. One of the event organizers had the foresight to assemble a media crow’s nest, from which tv stations and reporters would have a good view of the event. After trying and failing to make it closer to the action a young man in the crow’s nest gestured for me to climb up.

I ascended the rickety metal stairs and struggled to wedge myself between film crews and photographers straining for the best angle of the podium.  If someone pushed their elbow to the right and grabbed for something in their camera bag, everyone leaned right. I had flashbacks to inter-city mini buses in Mongolia. At one point I was leaning past a photographer to get a good shot of some protesters toting signs when someone barely nudged me and I nearly fell out of the crow’s nest. I managed to stop myself from toppling into the masses.

I took this photo by standing on my tiptoes and holding my camera over the heads of a dozen cameramen. I turned on the LiveView and did my best to glance at the composition, but just waited for the next roar from the demonstrators and pressed the shutter release. I love the energy in this shot; a group of demonstrators had just finished ecstatically tossing a protestor up and down ala crowd surfing. I like how the Kurdish flags help set the stage but my favorite part of this photo is the tiny tree on the left-hand side overflowing with protesters.

Since the Day of Rage the atmosphere has changed significantly. Protests are still going on despite large gatherings being made illegal, and the security forces have since taken an extremely aggressive stance against the  demonstrations, which resulted in nearly 100 people being injured on April 19th. Here’s hoping protesters and security officials can find some sort of peaceful compromise.

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One thought on “Iraqi Protests- from the crow’s nest

  1. It’s quite startling to see such massive changes in the Middle East but I suppose it’s a region of the world that has constantly been even if just a little bit, very off balance.
    Travelling in Syria was lovely before this but now since the uprising, borders have been blocked off.

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