A play whose plot took actors and audience alike across Iraq’s Kurdish capital of Erbil this week delivered a stinging portrait of the northern region’s leaders as power-mad and greedy.
When Karukh Ibrahim’s 90-minute production climaxed outside the Kurdistan region’s parliament building, it was the 28-year-old director’s way of adding his voice to protests that have raged against entrenched rulers throughout the Middle East.
Qabristan, or The Cemetery in Kurdish, started at a park in the center of Arbil and shifted locations in the city as the young hero in search of his mother and an old woman looking for her son were pitted against elitist officials.
From the Sami Abdul Rahman public park, the play shifted to the journalists’ guild headquarters and went on to the ministry of religious affairs before concluding in front of parliament, all with the audience in tow.
“The mother symbolizes the homeland, she symbolizes the nation and all holy sites that need to be protected,” Ibrahim said, adding that the younger man represented the Kurdish people. “Through this play, I wanted to speak to the community, to tell them that we are not going to have anything left if we forget about our homeland, if we forget our attempts to promote community.”
His last play two years ago dealt with religious co-existence in Kurdistan. In Qabristan, the unnamed young hero eventually encounters the older woman during his quest. After arriving in front of Kurdistan’s parliament, the pair run into a group of men who refuse to let them continue with their inquiries.
They declare that the youth cannot go further, saying: “Everything is in our hands — we control everyone, things move only after we give orders.”
The young hero then responds: “My mother is not like you — my mother does not crave positions, my mother does not impose her power on others, she is not from your class!”
All the while, the men physically force the older woman to move -according to their instructions.
The scenes are a direct commentary on the dominance in the autonomous region, comprised of three provinces in Iraq’s north, of two political parties that have been led by the same two men for decades.
The Patriotic Union of -Kurdistan of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of regional president Massud Barzani (and before him his father Mustafa) have lorded over the region since it gained a degree of autonomy in the 1970s.
“We have tried, through this theatrical production, to shed light on some of the problems that are prevalent in our society,” said Sayeh Hussein, who plays the woman searching for her son.
While the region is widely seen as safer than the rest of Iraq, several instances of intimidation against critics of the government have been recorded.
In the worst such incident, a young journalist was killed last year after satirizing Massud Barzani, though authorities in Kurdistan reject accusations that they had anything to do with his death.
No trouble was recorded on Wednesday evening, as Ibrahim staged his play, but security forces were present throughout.
Audience members gave Qabristan a thumbs-up, with theater director and critic Fadhel al-Jaff highlighting the play’s contemporary theme and critique.
“This is an important change, it is important that theater here becomes more contemporary and deals with contemporary issues,” he said following the performance. “The content of the play deals with important issues in Kurdish life, topics which individual Kurds and the community at large suffer from.”