Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kurdistan Gets “Youth Parliament”

The plan is to create a new channel for young Kurds to express their concerns, but will it be hijacked by the political parties?
By Farman Abdulrahman
Youth groups in Iraqi Kurdistan are forming their own “parliament” to address the concerns of increasingly disgruntled young people.



The youth parliament plans to tackle problems including unemployment, housing shortages, emigration to Europe, marginalisation of young people by the traditional Kurdish parties, and a general apathy toward politics. The assembly is being organised by the Kurdistan Youth Empowerment Organisation, an Erbil-based non-government organisation, NGO.



"We want this parliament to bring together different voices… so that their rights and demands can be defended in a democratic way," said Shad Muhammed, 26, who is leading the project.



The parliament, which yet to be convened, was conceived earlier this year as young Kurds became progressively more vocal about issues affecting their region, and about their dissatisfaction with the two main Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.



These two parties have run Iraq's Kurdish region since it gained a form of autonomy in 1991. As many young people have abstained from voting over the past year, the parties are making campaign promises intended to win the support of young voters in next week's Iraqi parliamentary election.



Organisers have not yet decided whether their assembly will function like a traditional parliament with elected members, or whether it will be more of a formal gathering of leaders and representatives from youth groups.



The Kurdistan Youth Empowerment Organisation held a preliminary conference in October that brought together about 150 young people, including party members, independents and representatives from approximately 50 youth-focused NGOs from across Iraqi Kurdistan.



Before the parliament sits, informal discussion meetings will be held after the election to allow young people to air their grievances.



"We want to have an accurate reading of the problems that the political factions have created for the young," said 32-year-old Aso Abdul-Latif, coordinator of the project in Sulaimanyah.



Rashad Hussein, deputy head of the PUK’s office in Sulaimaniyah, said he hoped the assembly would encourage young people to go to the polls. "Young people are fed up with politics, and they don't participate in the elections as they should," he said.



While they may have opted out of past votes, young people in Kurdistan are becoming more active. Students at Sulaimaniyah University last month protested over their lack of electricity, fuel, water and housing, and accused political parties of interfering in academic affairs.



"If we have our own parliament to express our interests, we will be able to intensify our pressure on the government," said Azad Marf, a 19-year-old student who took part in the mid-November demonstration.



Both the PUK’s Hussein and KDP politburo member Falakadeen Kakayee were less optimistic that the new body would have much impact on the Kurdish regional assembly’s policymaking.



Hussein said youth organisations have been ineffective and scattered to date, but promised that "if the parliament works to achieve the demands made by young people with no discrimination or political or ideological aims, then we will fully support it".



Some young people were sceptical that the youth assembly would be truly independent. "The youth parliament is another political game played by the parties," said Salar Ismael, a 25 year old teacher in Sulaimaniyah. "They want to suppress the resentful voices of youth."



Muhammed insisted that if young people believe in the project, the government will not be able to interfere.



"We don't want this to become a youth parliament for the parties," he said. "We want it to have the space and the opportunity to serve an independent and neutral young population."



Farman Abdulrahman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.