JUBA, Sudan — Philip Geng Nyuol started fighting for independence with his hands.
He eventually graduated to a machete, then Molotov cocktails, then a gun.
“I crossed rivers full of crocodiles,” he said. “And slept in camps in Congo. And ate wild fruits in the bush.”
That was nearly 50 years ago — Mr. Nyuol was on the ground floor of southern Sudan‟s
independence struggle, before the rebels even had proper weapons. The memories come flooding back to him, bright but patchy, like sun streaming through the trees. After decades of war and more than two million lives lost, southern Sudan has arrived at the moment it has been yearning for, a referendum on independence. Polls opened on Sunday just after 8 a.m. local time. All signs point to the people here voting overwhelmingly for secession, and the largest country on the continent will then begin the delicate process of splitting in two.
The United States government has played a pivotal role in bringing this moment to fruition, pushing the northern and southern Sudanese to sign a peace treaty in 2005 that set the referendum in motion. A proud, new African country is about to be born, but it will step onto the world stage with shaky legs. As it stands now, southern Sudan is one of the poorest places on earth.
Most people here scrape by on less than 75 cents a day. More than three-quarters of adults cannot read. Decades of civil war and marginalization have left the economy so crushed that just about everything is imported, down to eggs. According to Oxfam, a teenage girl has a
higher chance of dying in childbirth than finishing elementary school.
Tens of thousands have flocked back to take part in the referendum, and some analysts,
possibly reinforcing stereotypes of Africa as always teetering on the edge, warn south Sudan could be the next Somalia, awash in violence. Already, aid agencies are ringing the alarm about a lack of food, water, health care and sanitation.
“We have an unfolding humanitarian crisis, layered on top of an existing and forsaken one,” said the International Rescue Committee, an American aid organization that works in Sudan.
But this is a land of shared sacrifice, and that may be a cohesive force that helps hold southern Sudan together. After all the years of guerrilla warfare and hardship, oppression and persecution at the hands of the Arabs who rule Sudan, people here are deeply invested in holding a peaceful referendum and building the world‟s newest nation.
“We are underdeveloped, yes, but we will do it,” said Gideon Gatpan Thoar, the information minister of Unity State, near the north-south border.
United Nations officials here say something remarkable has already happened. In 2009,ethnic
fighting swept the south, with several thousand people killed in military-grade attacks, fueled by longstanding ethnic rivalries and a sudden, suspicious increase in high-powered weaponry. Many southerners suspected that the government in Khartoum, Sudan‟s capital, was
instigating the violence, just as it had in the past when Khartoum fomented a civil war within a civil war.
But in the past six months, there has been almost no major ethnic violence. One of the last holdouts, a renegade general who had been leading a revolt deep in the bush, recentlyagreed
to a cease-fire. “What we are seeing is a real effort for reconciliation,” said a United Nations official in Juba, who was not authorized to speak to the news media and spoke anonymously. “All eyes are on the referendum. They‟re all trying to get along now.”
But the official added, “Everybody knows these issues will come up in the future.”
Many northern Sudanese who work in the south are now fleeing. Stocks of goods are going down; prices are going up. People are still talking about what-ifs and the possibility of war, because even after the referendum, some very thorny issues need to be carefully handled before the south can peacefully break off. (The actual declaration of independence is scheduled for July.).
The south produces around 75 percent of Sudan‟s oil, but it is landlocked, so some arrangement will have to be struck for southern oil to keep flowing through the pipeline in the north. The border will also have to be demarcated, including the tinderbox Abyei area, where Arab nomads historically have crossed back and forth. Billions of dollars of debt will have to be shared.
But most southerners are not thinking of technicalities. This is not simply a political moment, a time for a new line on the map or a new seat at the United Nations.
“This is a dream,” Mr. Nyuol said, “a dream we always hoped would come true, even if it took one thousand years.”
All over the streets of Juba, the capital of the south, brightly colored banners flaunt images of a single open hand, the ballot symbol that stands for secession. In towns across the south, loudspeakers blast messages of freedom. And salvation.
“We are going, we are going, we are going to the promised land,” sang a preacher in Yei, about 100 miles southwest of Juba.
The south is filled with people who have paid for this referendum with their own blood. Amputees hobble down the street in Juba with barely a glance up at the new ministries that their lost limbs helped bring to reality.
Veterans are everywhere, reflective of a society in which men, women and children were all mobilized to fight for independence.
Rose Hawa Simon, a copper-skinned woman with a million-dollar smile, never thought she would see this day, or even that she would be alive right now. She was one of the few female tank drivers for the southern rebels, and in March 1997 her tank was hit and she was shot twice fleeing the flaming wreckage. She does not question the sacrifice.
“Our people were suffering, our people were killed,” she said. “I said: „Let me join. Let me go.‟ I started training on that tank, because my heart was broken.”
Alex Taban is another former bush fighter. His son, Jackson, followed in his footsteps and joined the rebellion. Jackson was killed in 1997 and buried on the battlefield. As the referendum approaches, Mr. Taban said, “The thoughts are there.”
The British colonizers planted a political minefield in the 1920s when they drew a line across the bottom third of Sudan and declared that northern and southern Sudanese should remain separate. Part of the reason was to check the spread of Islam. To this day, the upper part of Sudan is mainly Muslim and controlled by Arabs; the lower third is mostly animist and Christian, linguistically and culturally more in tune with Kenya, Uganda and central Africa. A group of southern soldiers mutinied in 1955, a year before Sudan was granted independence. The civil war had begun.
By 1958, Mr. Nyuol, who is in his 70s (though he is not sure of his exact age), was organizing protests at his high school.
“Even then, we could tell what was happening,” he said. “They wanted to Islamize us. They were building mosques all over the place. They wanted us to change our names.”
He went to the forest in 1963. He laid ambushes. He firebombed the cars of Arabs. In the 1980s, after working as a high school math teacher, he ran underground cells to send food and matériel into the bush.
He planned to show up at the polls at dawn on Sunday, even though voting will continue for one week to allow people in far-flung areas to cast their ballots. He will vote for the open hand, for secession, he said.
“We have waited for this, we have fought for it,” he said.
And when the voting is over, he will return to his work building an archive of old pictures of his comrades who died in the 1960s.
It‟s Iraq but It‟s Not, Part 1
ERBIL, Iraq — On a recent trip to the Kurdistan region in the north of Iraq, duty required us to drive to a place here in its capital that we didn’t know. My colleagues and I, all Iraqis, stopped by the first police officers we spotted, naturally enough, to ask for directions. We asked in Arabic, then I tried in English.
The young officer did understand us, which is how I discovered the language barrier that is slowly emerging here, dividing the country not only linguistically, but also
We were in Iraq, so we presumed that Arabic remained the common language, but the trip to the Kurdish region, my first since before the war, taught me that Arabic will only go so far.
A pattern emerged. Person after person, especially the young, spoke almost exclusively Kurdish, struggling with Arabic if they spoke any at all. This, too, is a legacy of Saddam Hussein’s rule. After the Persian Gulf war in 1990-91, the international community
created a protectorate for the Kurds in the north, patrolled by aircraft in the ―no fly‖ zones.
The region, nominally autonomous since the 1970s under the Baath Party, began to separate itself from the central authority in Baghdad. The Kurdish language’s revival became part of a broader move toward freedom, if not independence outright. Now, over time, a new generation has emerged, still Iraqi, but not necessarily Arabic speaking. Only the older people, it seemed, speak Arabic well. In a government office, for example, the mayor spoke it, but his younger aides, like the police officer, spoke hardly a word at all.
Not everyone is pleased by the evolution.
Khudaida Haj, 55, learned Arabic in school and Kurdish from his family. After the war, he said, ―For nine years not a single word of Arabic was heard.‖
Standing by Mr. Haj’s side was his niece, 10. ―She is in the fourth grade,‖ he said, ―but she barely has one lesson of Arabic a week. The rest is in Kurdish.‖
He mused about her future, noting Iraq’s newly re-elected president, Jalal Talabani, a
Kurd. ―What if she wants to run for parliament?‖ he said of his niece. ―How could that work?‖
Then, as if thinking out loud, ―We are in Iraq, after all.‖
We found a simple fix to the reporting challenges the language barrier posed. We sought out the elderly. A man gave us precise directions the police officer could not. At restaurants, too, we passed the young waiters and headed directly to the old man sitting, inevitably, behind the cashier. To him we gave our orders, and the young men would politely, but silently, bring us our traditional dishes of kebab and tikka. Comments:
As a Kurd, I was a little disturbed by some of the comments, especially the one about not being able to use the Kurdish language outside of Northern Iraq. I have never commented on an article that I
knew little about. I am baffled that other people do. Kurdish IS spoken outside of Northern Iraq, and Iraq contains only about 25% of the Kurdish population. There are Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and to a lesser degree, other countries in that region.
Did anyone else noticed that the article was written by an Arab? Does anyone else see the very subtle hints of racism? Only a Kurd would notice such things, since we have been oppressed for so long. The nerve of an Arab standing in a land that has been occupied by Kurds for thousands of years, expecting the people to speak her language. They were forced into speaking Arabic by ruthless, primitive-thinking dictators. Now that the Kurds in Northern Iraq have enjoyed some form of freedom, Arabs are concerned. Well then, read this part carefully: If you want to visit that place again, bring a translator or learn Kurdish. Iraq is not, was not, and never will be entirely an Arab country. Look at Canada's French speaking population. I would never visit Quebec and complain that everyone speaks French. And the French have only been there hundreds of years, not thousands. The Middle East way of thinking must be changed. Articles like this one only hinder such progress. Linguistic minorities and people in small countries that have their own language must become multi-lingual. Don't the university educated at this stage of history need English to communicate with peers for whom English is not a mother tongue? It is the lingua franca of elites. By the way I recently read about indigenous people from Ecuador who relocated to Massachusetts. Teachers and social workers were frustrated by the surprising fact that they did not know Spanish. To presume that Arabic to be a "common language" for someone to be writing about Iraq and especially the Kurdistan region is of utmost ignorance. This has never been the case, I know that because I’m from there. Only Kurds who served in the military or have lived in the Arabic speaking areas could communicate in Arabic. Yes, we learned Arabic in school, but the written language is very different from the oral one. Anyone who would use that Arabic he/she learned in school for oral communication would be laughed at. It would be like speaking Latin when you are in Rome. Arabic is still taught in schools In the KRG, maybe not as intensively as 15 years ago. What the author fails to mention here is that the focus is now more on English and other foreign languages, and for good reasons. For students who want to go to college are much better equipped and prepared if they have learned English instead of Arabic, considering the fact that most learning resources and books are written in English. So they will have access to much more resources.
So if Mr. Haj wants her to daughter to learn Arabic and run for parliament, she will always have that option by taking extra curses and go live in Baghdad for a year or two to learn proper Arabic. Why would all the other children spend hours after hours to learn a language that they would never need to use, when they have the option to learn a much useful language?
I would do a little bit more research before publishing an article if I were you. And you might want to visit one of the universities instead of a Kebab house to write about.
The reporter seems to be a stranger not only to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq but also to the Iraqi constitution, which states in Article 4, "The Arabic language and Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq."
So, why is it OK that there are few Iraqi Arabs who speak Kurdish, but it's heartbreaking to Ms. Mousa that in Kurdistan "a pattern emerged. Person after person, especially the young, spoke almost exclusively Kurdish, struggling with Arabic if they spoke any at all"?
I am also curious to know as to see why the reasons for creating "a protectorate for the Kurds in the
north, patrolled by aircraft in the 'no fly' zones" were absent in the article. Can anyone understand the lack of interest among the Kurds in Arabic without knowing that the Iraqi state committed
genocide in Kurdistan?
I agree with the writer of this article that a new generation has emerged that doesn't speak Arabic, which is not a positive development, because the language is the best remedy for mutual
understanding, which is hardly needed in new Iraq. This is due to many factors and the most
important is that Kurds lived quite separated from the rest of Iraq for more than a decade.
The other side of the story is that our Arabic nationals don't make any effort to learn Kurdish, They haven't been asking to speak Kurdish fluently, nevertheless it is important to articulate your friend's or colleaque's names correctly.
Unfortunately, my experience is that many people don't even trouble to learn how to pronounce
names which contain letters that don't exist in Arabic such as ç, é or p, this fact may give you the impression that you are truely accepted and respected by your interlocutor and vice versa.
Multiculturalism, diversity and pluralism that characterise the Iraqi society, require learning each other's languages in order to understand each other better..
Perfect example is Southern florida which today is primarily Spanish speaking at nearly 90 percent.Even people who speak perfect english and younger folks speak predominately spanish unless in a comprimising or business like situation. In other words the English language is neither really acceptable or comfortable in many states today ,including Arizona ,New Mexico ,Texas and South California.One could precisely allude to it's the US ,but not. The great hidden Lie which began in earnest during the Bush government was that things were different in Iraq than here.In truth Iraq was as civilized wealthy and prosperous as any developed nation with a symphonic orchestra full universities with international students,an upper class and middle class much like the USA.The largely populated favored class shared and controlled the oil wealth much like the US today. there existed in Iraq less corruption and /or terrorism before the US invasion in Iraq than we have today in the US. The reality is we are no differrent except that in Iraq their nation has been destroyed by war ,ours by corruption and poverty.
ERBIL, Iraq – We arrived at the checkpoint that separates Iraq from Kurdistan and
waited to get in, counting the seconds. It felt as if we were in a prison and now waited to be released to a place where other Iraqis feel free – and fearless.
We live in Baghdad, the capital, which in most countries would be the cleanest and most developed city. Now, nearly eight years after the invasion, we feel only disappointment. The lack of security and services made us excited about leaving.
We were traveling to another part of Iraq, the Kurdish region in the north, but it felt like we were visiting another country.
The checkpoint, on the road from Kirkuk to Erbil, feels like a border. You don’t need a visa, but you can’t just cross either, the Kurdish authorities checking everyone, especially
Arabs from the rest of Iraq.
The Arab-Kurd divide in Iraq is often called a potential flashpoint, a ―trigger line‖ of a
conflict not yet resolved. It’s more than a political barrier; it is an ethnic one, a social one, a psychological one.
―That checkpoint seems to be a separate line – between paradise and hell,‖ one of my
We passed into Kurdistan and started making plans, just like tourists. We didn’t want to waste a single moment, to take photos of everything.
One of the most striking things in Erbil – almost inconceivable in Baghdad today – is a
shopping center, the newly opened Majidi Mall.
It could be in the United States or Europe, in another country in other words. ―It looks like we are in a dream,‖ my colleague said. ―The lighting, the floor, the shops – and even
the people are different.‖
He complained, not unhappily, that the quality of the goods for sale — many of them from
Turkey — ―took my attention and took my money‖.
Such a mall is new to Iraqis. In Baghdad, despite improved security, such a place would just be a target for attack.
Most Iraqis would love to see the time when one could be built there, in Baghdad. Another friend back home told me he dreamed of a place where he could go with a girlfriend ―watch a movie and eat popcorn as any other man in the world.‖
Maybe that day will come. Until then, we have Erbil. On the road back to Baghdad, getting closer to the checkpoint again, we felt sadness again, but also eagerness to return the next time.
U.S. Will Counter Chinese Arms Buildup
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — The Pentagon is stepping up investments in a
range of weapons, jet fighters and technology in response to the Chinese military buildup in the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Saturday on the eve of his visit to Beijing. Despite billions of dollars in proposed Pentagon budget cuts that Mr. Gates announced this past week, he said that the Chinese development of its first radar-evading fighter jet, as well as an antiship ballistic missile that could hit American aircraft carriers, had persuaded him to make improvements in American weaponry a priority.
“They clearly have potential to put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them, we have to respond appropriately with our own programs,” Mr. Gates said.
At the same time Mr. Gates doused China‟s proud rollout this past week of its new stealth
fighter jet, the J-20, saying that even though it was a matter for concern, there “is some question about just how stealthy” it is.
Mr. Gates made his comments to reporters on his plane en route to Beijing, where he is due to arrive Sunday for three days of talks with Chinese generals and President Hu Jintaothat are
meant to promote a more open and stable relationship between the American and Chinese militaries.
It is unclear what effect Mr. Gates‟s comments will have on the talks, which are occurring a
week before President Hu is to meet with President Obama in Washington.
The American weapons that Mr. Gates was referring to included investments in a new long-range nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, which the Pentagon had stopped developing in 2009, as well as a new generation of electronic jammers for the Navy that are designed to thwart a missile from finding and hitting a target. At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Mr. Gates said that the jammers would improve the Navy‟s ability to “fight and survive” in waters where it is challenged.
Mr. Gates was also referring to continued investment in the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon‟s newest radar-evading fighter jet.
The Pentagon provided no estimate on Saturday of the total cost of the three programs or others meant to counter the Chinese buildup in the Pacific.
Although Pentagon officials say that China is a generation or more behind the United States in military technology, Mr. Gates said he has been worried about the Chinese buildup in his four years as defense secretary. And acknowledged that the Pentagon and intelligence agencies had underestimated how quickly the Chinese could act.
“We‟ve been watching these developments all along,” Mr. Gates said.
“I‟ve been concerned about the development of the antiship cruise and ballistic missiles ever since I took this job,” he added. “We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft. I think that what we‟ve seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted.”
Mr. Gates said he hoped his talks with Chinese leaders would reduce the need for more American weaponry in the Pacific. He also said that if Chinese leaders considered the United States a declining power because of the financial crisis, they were wrong.
“I‟ve watched this sort of cyclical view of American decline come around two or three times,
perhaps most dramatically in the latter half of the 1970s,” Mr. Gates said. “And my general line for those both at home and around the world who think the U.S. is in decline is that history‟s dustbins are filled with countries that underestimated the resilience of the United States.”