Bozo the Bear and Animal Trafficking in Iraqi Kurdistan

Written by Tebeen Muhamad. From the beginning of life, God has created various creatures, most of which are wild animals. Human beings have categorized them according to their way of living and species. Wild animals, as we can see from the word “wild,” which means “living or growing in natural conditions; not kept in a house or on a farm” (Oxford Dictionary), are beasts that have to be in nature and away from people in order to live wildly. Among the carnivores, we can find a large group of mammals: bears.

Bozo, a small, charming two-and-a-half-month-old Syrian Brown Bear was found by filmmaker, San Saravan, a month ago on the streets of Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. The origins of Bozo aren’t clear. Bozo was driven to Sulaimani by car from Duhok, although the whereabouts of his parents are unknown. San stumbled upon the young bear tied to a residence in the Sarchinar district of Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan. Disgusted by the small cage and worried about Bozo’s health, San bought the bear in an attempt to prevent additional harm from befalling Bozo. People surmise his family was killed during the attacks to Kurdistan, whereas others argue that his family has brought to Syria as he is a Syrian bear.

Although I’m sure that San meant the best for Bozo, was buying an endangered animal the right choice? If I want to stop animal trafficking, should I purchased trafficked animals? I contend that purchasing trafficked animals will encourage the traffickers to continue business as usual. If we really want to minimize the number of Bozos in Iraq, we should advocate for strict anti-trafficking laws and we should report those that sell and buy endangered animals.

Although finding Bozo’s family is one of the best solutions that we, people having cared about animals and having had sympathy, should do to save Bozo, we have to keep him alive until finding his family. The question is, how can we keep him alive?

Because Bozo is a bear like the other bears around the world, keeping him in a small confined cage might cause him to die. Bears are wild animals, which require hills, forests, mountains and the abundance of nature to thrive. Consequently, the more Bozo is kept in a cramped urban environment, the more we would be responsible for what happens to him.

Many people have been voluntarily working to find solutions and help Bozo; however, nothing, unfortunately, has been found so far. Kurdistan, where there are habitats for diverse animals, has many mountain ranges, but these natural sources have to be protected by both the government and the people. Thus, precious animals like bears cannot randomly be taken to one of the mountains since wild animals might be harmful if people try to hunt them.

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite and to act so is immoral” (Leo Tolstoy)

Kurdistan is in the process of development, which means everything is developing including the substandard zoos, which don’t provide adequate housing, food or care for the animals. Yet, the more Kurdistan government abolish “animal hunting,” the more animals, like Bozo would survive.

To conclude, Bozo is a bear and an example of an animal that needs help. Bozo’s plight is not unique but he is simply one data point on an issue of growing concern both nationally and around the world.


The Green Music and Arts Festival in Sulaimani, Iraq

Although the Green Music and Arts Festival was on the 20th of April, our work in the Development Club started weeks before that. We began by sharing what each of us had in mind for the games that we needed to build for the festival. Our ideas had to be simple but at the same time they had to be creative.

We all had amazing ideas. The games had to be made from recycled materials to fit with the environmental theme, so we looked around campus for spare wood, cardboard, and plastic. We built the games, painted them and the results were perfect. Mr. Kevin practiced some songs with his Guitar Club students and they translated some verses of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon into Kurdish.

On the festival’s day, we started the preparations early in the morning, and it was lots of fun to prepare for it. We even played some games during the preparations. Azadi Park, where the festival was held, was a really beautiful place, and it was an ideal spot for students and teachers alike to gather and enjoy their time.

There were three hosts for the festival including myself, and the performances were presented by the hosts in English, Kurdish, and Arabic to enhance the ability of the audience to culturally relate to the performances and make a sense of cultural unity among the people. During the festival there was an elocution contest among the students of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. They each presented the same environmentally themed Kurdish poem that was translated into English. It was a really creative event overall, and it showed the students’ talents from different aspects.

One of the things I really enjoyed was drawing the American, Kurdish, and Iraqi flags on children’s faces and on adult’s faces too. It highlighted the cultural unity that brought us all together for one cause: helping our environment.

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Quick Update

It’s been a while since our last update.  We’ve had so many events over the past couple of months that we’ve barely had time to get back on our feet before the next arrives, let alone blog about it.  As a teaser, here is a video of the recent Green Music and Arts Festival we co-organized with Nature Iraq.  Special thanks to Martin Turner for putting together the video!

Environmental March in Iraq

Participants marching through Sulaimani's Azadi Park

I dropped a grimy styrofoam cup into the burlap sack around my shoulder and took stock of what was going on all around me. Dozens of bikers were chatting as they slowly pedaled past me on my left side. A handful of local artists were holding banners and mock-hangman nooses nailed to 2-meter-long slats of wood ahead of me. A few children holding bamboo shoots scampered beside their parents as they picked up empty water bottles and cigarette butts off of Sulaimani’s main street, and surrounding the entire 200-person-strong entourage was a perimeter of stern-faced police officers marching in formation. A smirk slowly spread to an ear-to-ear smile as I saw with my own eyes the most meaningful experience of my two years in Iraq take place.

Dozens of participants rode bikes to demonstrate easy alternatives to fossil fuels

Climate Action Day Iraq was just one of hundreds of grassroots demonstrations that took place on September 24th, 2011. The umbrella organization which made the demonstration possible was, named after the upper limit ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the atmosphere, past which the effects climate change becomes increasingly difficult to reverse, 350. Since co-founding AUI-S’ Development Club in March, I have been able to meet and work with dozens of local NGOs in Sulaimani working towards making their community a better place. When I floated the idea about an environmental march in Sulaimani out to my contacts in Suli-based NGOs, the response was encouraging; Nature Iraq, Development Now, Sulyon, Mercy Corps, and the Green Environment Group were committed to seeing this project take place.

Many of the participants held banners and slogans promoting environmental protection.

I’ll spare you accounts of the mind-numbingly inefficient trips back and forth from the governor’s office to the special police headquarters as organizers and I prepared official permission for the event. According to Nabil Musa, one of the organizers for Climate Action Day and a staff member of Nature Iraq, the process for getting approval for a demonstration has become much more difficult following the heated public anti-government demonstrations earlier this year. In preparation for the event, Nabil, Azar Othman from Sulyon and I scouted the bazaar in search of sponsors for the event. We were able to use dozens of planks of wood thanks to donations from local woodworkers. Local bike shops granted us reduced prices for renting 35 bikes for the day. Not only that but Zara Supermarket not only donated use of its garbage truck but also subsidized bamboo plants which we purchased for Climate Action Day Iraq participants.

It was inspiring to see so many groups of people work together on a project like this. Many of the development club students I had been working with for months took ownership of the issue of climate change in Iraq. A number of my students help prepare the banners and paint t-shirts before the event at Sulyon’s office. Amanj Saeed, the leader of the Green Environment Group wrote much of the initial proposal, which helped many of the organizations explain and fund the project through donors. Local and international media came out to film the event and interview participants, which were able to spread the message of environmental protection to many millions of viewers nationwide.

Have you been involved in this project? Please feel free to rate this project using the stars below and leave specific comments so that projects like this one can become more meaningful over time.

Green Environment Group

Written by Karzan Fadhil.  A few weeks ago, AUIS’ Development Club met with a grassroots environment-focused organization based in Sulaimani, the Green Environment Group (GEG). We chatted with the group leader Amanj Saeed about the organization and  some of its recent projects intended to spread awareness about some environmental issues that affect Iraq, such as climate change, global warming, pollution, etc.

Amanj Saeed giving a short presentation about the state of the environment in Iraq

There are roughly 30 members in this active, grassroots organization. Many of the members are young adults, and some of their strengths are their ability to communicate and their passion for environmental protection. This group is an offshoot of the Mercy Corps-funded Global Citizens’ Corps (GCC) program. The GEG focuses on environmental education in Iraq, and hopes to increase the green areas and make its community a healthier, better place. One of GEG’s most successful projects involved visiting eight primary schools to tell students about the threats of the environment in Northern Iraq. They explained for the students about many environmental topics, such as: trash art, global days, earth hour, environmental education activities, etc. In total, roughly three hundred students participated in this project.

A presentation given by GEG at Azadi park during Climate Actin Day

The most recent project the GEG was involved in was Climate Action Day, a march through the Iraqi city of Sulaimani, during which participants picked up garbage and raised awareness about the importance of environmental protection. Amanj Saeed gave a presentation at the end of the march in Sulaimani’s Azadi Park.

The GEG makes good use of social media as tools to help group members communicate and spread messages about their projects with community members. Feel free to pay a visit to their Facebook page. Hopefully the GEG will be able to continue its meaningful work on mobilizing communities to be aware of issues and take action towards improving the environment in Iraq.

Have you been involved in this project? Please feel free to rate this project using the stars below and leave specific comments so that projects like this one can become more meaningful over time.

Doku 5: Filmmaking Workshops

Some of the equipment used during the Doku 5 workshops

In a field trip to the Red Museum, the scene of a group of men and women who were sitting next to one another, circling around a television caught my eyes. Each member was saying his/her opinion while others listened attentively.

From looking at their faces, I knew that they are not all from one ethnic group. When we started talking to them, it became even clearer that Kurds, Arabs, and French were members of this group. Doku 5 is a group of filmmakers who all work together on producing documentary films about thought-provoking issues in Iraq.

Doku 5 participants taking part in the workshops

The word Doku is an abbreviation for Documentary, and the number “5” stands for their fifth project. ARTE television, the C.F.I organization, and Iraqi French Institute help organize and fund the Doku workshops.

They have produced over a dozen short films from their previous four workshops and are well on their way to completing a fifth set of films.  Throughout the course of the workshop, participants sharpen their skills with creating a story, filming, sound, and then finally editing their works in Erbil in September. Doku 5 usually shows its works in a number of European film festivals, ending with a show in Paris, France. After the initial festivals the films also appear on the ARTE television channel.

What is interesting and fascinating about this group is that each member has his/her own idea, but in making that idea become a film, all the other members participate and spend time and energy to bring it to life through the use cameras, microphones, and other filmmaking equipment. despite the success of the project there have been some criticisms about the efficiency of funds and the prerequisites of participants to be conversational in French or English.

Development club students interviewing an Iranian Doku 5 participant who plans to document his journey to U.K. without a passport

Group work usually facilitates success in a project, especially when each member of the group shares information, listens to, and more importantly trusts, one another. A Kurdish proverb says “what is hard to be accomplished alone, is easy to achieve when cooperating with one another.” Given the success of the past five Doku workshops, I am hopeful that one day my grandchildren will be writing an article about Doku 100.

Have you been involved in this project? Please feel free to rate this project using the stars below and leave specific comments so that projects like this one can become more meaningful over time.

السوليون-السليمانيون (Sulyon- Arabic)


 لقد كنت من المحظوظين الذين قاموا بزيارة المجموعة الملهمة المدعوة السوليون بمصاحبة أعضاء مجموعة التطور الآن الموجودة في السليمانية في كردستان شمالي العراق قبل بضعة أسابيع. السوليون هم عبارة عن مجموعة من الفنانين الموهوبين الشبان حيث تتكون المجموعة من واحد … Continue reading

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