May 16, 2018

Halmachu: A digital campaign by Erbil youth

After the first training by RNTC, the 20 young Kurds that make up the Erbil Digital Workforce (EDW) were keen to get starting on their first digital campaign. EDW empowers youth with technical skills and knowledge to create and boost online campaigns that prevent violent extremism.

The group decided upon the name of their first campaign – Halmachu, meaning ‘don’t get pumped’ – but faced many challenges in the direction they wanted to take their campaign. Namely, was the title too negative; would youth be attracted to such a campaign; and would the message immediately come across through the name?

To get their campaign ready, a process punctuated by highs and lows, brilliant ideas, scrapping ideas, doubts, clashing opinions, even moments of anxiety ensued. Continuously questioning: what do we want and how will we achieve this? For example, after intense debate, the team decided that their campaign would target young people studying at universities in Erbil, with a focus on male students. Young men are more likely to be susceptible to radicalisation, so Halmuchu intends to be a focused, but inclusive campaign.

A lack of job prospects or career options is what frustrates many young people in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KR-I). Nowadays the youth unemployment rate is around 24% for men and 69% for women between 15-24, and many are graduates of higher education institutions.

“Initially authorities told us that it was because of ISIS, but now ISIS is gone and there’s still no jobs”, one EDW member explained. “It’s hard to find ways to get a job. Who to ask? If you are well connected, via family for example, then your chances are better. Also when you have graduated from a private university”.

Suggestions for improving conditions, such as reducing the age and gender bias of employers, were made by young people during the KR-I Youth Forum in Erbil that took place in April. However, Kurdish youth lack a listening ear from their politicians, who fail to respond to young people’s needs. Upcoming elections for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are failing to engage youth in the region, who equate politics with corruption. Disappointingly, many already feel disenfranchised and unrepresented by a government only established 13 years ago.

It is evident that a lack of jobs and frustration with local politics are key drivers of radicalisation, in addition to the pressures coming from Turkey and Baghdad. When ISIS came to power across the border in Syria, hundreds of young Kurds joined them. The Erbil Digital Workforce is trying to prevent this from happening again through their Halmachu campaign. Halmachu wants to open dialogue in which paths of radicalisation and alternative options to violent extremism are open for discussion. The group will preach to their peers: ‘Don’t get pumped, don’t explode, but take a deep breath, stay cool – and feel free to talk!’

After recent trainings by radicalisation experts, Nawzad Jamal (Erbil University) and Peter Knoope (former director of ICCT), as well as a social media training by Giselle Schellekens (SPARK), the Halmachu campaign is ready to launch. Now, the content calendar is prepared, tasks are divided across the EDW members, and all are poised to start spreading their message. Halmachu in essence encourages young people to talk about the grievances that lead to radicalisation and towards discussions about alternative pathways – online and offline. These could be employment, or joining a community initiative or club, which can all help to breed a more inclusive culture of dialogue.

Follow Halmachu here.

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