At 10 o’clock we joined a large group, many of whom we had walked with through the streets of the old city during the Valentine’s Day witness, at the graveyard above the area where one of the young men killed during the demonstrations is buried. It was a solemn beginning to the day, a reminder that anything can happen when things spin out of control.
Ten minutes after leaving the graveyard, two of us from CPT and a friend from the Federation of Civil Societies stood at a coffee shop a block from the city square and watched as wave after wave of Peshmerga Armed Forces marched through the street into the square, the focal point for sixty-two days of continuous gatherings a year ago. When we arrived, the area was dominated by these troops, creating a barrier at every walkway. Each man carried a wooden or plastic baton. They appeared tense and poised to strike. A thousand citizens walked or stood on the sidewalks watching in anticipation. It felt as though almost any single unusual movement could set off a chain reaction of violence.
And with that, to our right in the street we saw journalist, Rahman Garead, surrounded by Peshmerga. He was yelling and being beaten on his side and legs. We tried to reach him, hoping in some way we could come to his aid but this became impossible as the number of security forces grabbed and took him away.
We saw a small number of men quickly taken into custody. It was unclear what, if anything these men had done though we learned that most were journalists, at least one an American.
An hour or so later, the tone of the square changed. The air was out of the balloon. The armed presence remained but was physically relaxed, body language read “at ease.” People went back to browsing the shops and moving about. We left the square to write a press release with a friend from the Federation for Civil Societies, sent it out to ninety-six media outlets and then returned to the square once more to judge the tenor of the afternoon. Same scene as when we departed earlier.
So we returned home, saddened that a friend was beaten and detained and that our feeble attempt to help him was in vain. We learned two hours later that the Peshmerga released all those taken into custody without charging them. We were grateful for that. We are grateful that our day did not end where it began. At the graveyard.