From 24-25 October 2018 in the city of Sulaymaniyah, the second chapter of the Kurdistan Social Forum (KSF) was written. While the country is anticipating a new government in Baghdad and a new government for the Kurdistan Region following elections last month, civil society activists from across the region participated in the 2-day event at Sulaimani University to discuss the issues of today and find new ways for collaboration. Following last year’s first edition in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah was chosen as this year’s location due to its reputation for being an open city with a vibrant civil society. In addition to those volunteering, students formed a substantial part of the forum participants – this made the event an important opportunity for the KSF to reach out to young people. International activists from Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom took part, in addition to the Ambassador of the European Union and Kurdish government officials.

The Forum consisted of 2 days of plenary sessions conducted by the different working groups/paths of the KSF: freedom of expression, social justice and employment, minorities, water rights, women’s rights, in addition to income justice. Some important topics discussed included freedom of expression violations, salary cuts in the public sector, sexual harassment in the private sector and religious freedom. An additional space was given to local peace committee members from Ninewa.

The first day was opened by Peshkawt Adham (KSF Coordinator), Ebtisam Ismaeil Qadr (Dean of Humanities at Sulaimani University), Ali Saheb (ISF Coordinator) and Eleonora Biasi, Toon Bijnens (Un Ponte Per) on behalf of international civil society. Music band Mshakht, consisting of local musicians from across Iraq, finalized the day with a musical intervention.

Two high-profile guests launched the second day: Sulaymaniyah Governor Haval Abubakir and European Union Ambassador H.E. Ramon Blecua. The Governor called for political fractions in the KRG to settle their differences and unite, while Blecua expressed his optimism that after several traumatic years, Iraq and the KRG are finally bouncing back. A Zoroastrian fire ceremony was held for the Ambassador and KSF participants at the university premises. Working groups of the KSF presented their strategies for 2019 followed by a final statement by coordinator Peshkawt Adham.

Through this event the KSF demonstrated that civil society within the KRI is united across political divides that have emerged since last year’s independence referendum. The formation of a new government and new parliament present new opportunities for a government based on democracy and good governance, while participation of several key-members of the Iraqi Social Forum signals hope for improved relations across the Baghdad-Erbil divide. The attendance of high profile government officials and the European Union Ambassador demonstrates that a constructive relationship between civil society and local authorities is possible in the KRI, with the support of the international community.

A report on the KSF by KNN channel

Photo gallery of the KSF by Zhyan Radio