June 1, 2020

“Why Not?” An online campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan that defied COVID-19 lockdown

How 14 Kurdish youth are continuing the conversation about political inclusion in KR-I, despite a nationwide lockdown. 

Right now, 14 talented Kurdish youth, who were selected among 700 others, are running a campaign to promote youth participation in society in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The campaign they’ve created, called Lo Na (meaning: ‘why not’ in English), stands up for a less polarised and more inclusive society in which talking to each other peacefully is encouraged. 

The terrible outbreak of COVID-19 in neighbouring Iran, led to a strict, government-led lockdown in KR-I since February. The whole Lo Na campaign had to be reorganised; events were cancelled and the team had to find alternative ways to deliver their message to the Kurdish youth.

The young campaigners had concerns that a solely digital campaign would not generate the desired results. However, their fears were dashed once famous Kurdish comedian and actor, Reshan Hemo, enthusiastically agreed to join the team. His wealth of online experience and vast network took the campaign team to a new level. 

In April, the team launched the Lo Na campaign online with short videos, featuring Hemo, and asking the questions: “Why not talk together peacefully?” Soon after, responses of all kinds began flooding in.

“I think there are some youth who are angry at everything, it will be very difficult to gain their trust to participate,” someone posted. “If I have potential and I don’t belong to a political party, do you think they will listen to me? I believe it is a dream,” commented some else emphasising how polarised Kurdish society is. Some comments even showed the cynicism among youth: “I don’t know if I should laugh or not, the Parliament is more concerned about their own salary now. They don’t care about the future of the young people.” 

“Youth must realise how important their role is”  

However, the campaign has sparked debate. There were also many supportive reactions. “In my opinion, if you have something good planned, a lot of the youth will back you up.” The campaign team is now monitoring all the comments and using them to develop the campaign further. Reaching youth is one thing, actively engaging them is another. 

Simultaneously, instead of in-person events, the campaign team is organising webinars in order to put youth issues on the public agenda and get young people involved in the campaign. The first webinar focused on youth participation and featured two speakers, both activists, Vania Arsalan, the first female President of the University of Kurdistan-Hawler student union, and Farman Rashad, Executive Director of the STOP organisation.

“When we study youth participation in KR-I”, said Rashad, “we realise that youth have not been involved in discussions related to their demands, hence the laws that have been passed will not cover those needs. So it is obvious that if the youth are involved in the decision-making process, the solutions will be supported by them.” 

“Youth must realise how important their role is”, Arsalan emphasised. “Political parties invest in youth when they are trying to collect votes. Youth need to participate in campaigns, talks, and also try to foster their skills when using social media. And, they need to support each other much more. They should create good networks with their peers, despite their political backgrounds, religion and tribe.” 

The Lo No campaign will continue until the end of August. For more info please see the Facebook page of the campaign. The campaign is supported by the Iraqi media organisation Yalla. The campaign is part of the Networks of Change programme at SPARK, in partnership with the Dutch media organisation, RNTC

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