Disability in Kurdistan: The Example of My Brother

8/17/2020 7:46:36 PM

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Abdulbasd Ahmed
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There are over a hundred thousand people with different types of disabilities in Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region located in the north of Iraq. In its long history, Kurdistan has repeatedly been ravaged by war and destruction. This is the main reason why it is inhabited by a great number of people with disabilities, both physical and mental. My parents have told me many stories that are full of fear, misery and aggression, as the previous Iraqi regime was the enemy of Kurdish people and bombarded various places in Kurdistan every now and then. Owing to that, disability has become widespread in the region. Although the region is rich, disabled people live in pain and suffer from poverty, and the lack of dignity and respect in society.

There are also people who were born disabled. Many of them seek medical treatment, but most of the time it either does not do them any good or costs too much and is not affordable to the majority of people in Kurdistan. Most of disabled Kurds live thanks to the financial assistance that they receive from other people who make donations and the aid from charity organizations. Yet, some of them still live in the streets and beg to survive and feed their families, as they find no other alternatives.

Disabled Kurds are not treated well by society. Children, youth and adults with disabilities are often subjected to bullying, harassment and discrimination, regardless of the type of disability. These instances of abuse are sometimes recorded and posted on social media. There is a local law that seeks to protect the victims but, unfortunately, the courts are not unbiased and rarely punish the offenders. Such films are also sometimes used to convey a message to the politicians. People do not dare to say things frankly or openly and thus use disabled people instrumentally to criticize the government. My brother was several times encouraged to mock the government or a particular political party and recorded while doing so.

To elaborate on the situation in a more personal way, I would like to discuss the case of my brother, who is mentally disabled, in greater detail.

In 1992, when my brother was only a six-year-old child, my family used to live close to the capital city of Kurdistan, Erbil. At that time they were forced to move to Qandil, which is a mountainous area near the Iran-Iraq border and far from the city, to protect themselves from the oppression of the regime of Saddam Hussein. The means of transport were not as developed as they are now. Thus, our home belongings and even our family members were transported Erbil to Qandil in the back of a truck. How miserable it is even to think about families and kids sleeping with no beds in the truck. What is more, Iraqi jets were bombarding the people in the cars and those who just ran away from Erbil on foot. My brother is one of the victims of the war. His mental disability is the result of his childhood experience of seeing all the dead bodies on his way to Qandil and hearing the terrifying sounds of the bombardment. My parents were not able to treat his illness because of they had no access to psychiatric help due to having limited financial resources.

In time his situation was getting worse and worse. I can easily recall what happened to him when he was in his twenties. He would often leave home for several months, during which time he would pester other people, violate all the rules of behavior in public space and sometimes force cars to stop by spooking the drivers.

People are not educated well enough to treat people with mental disabilities in a courteous way. That is why my brother often met with harassment and discrimination. However, the good thing about Kurdish society is that it recognizes the importance of strong family bonds and caring for each other. My family has never neglected my brother. We respect our disabled siblings and parents and care for them. Thus, my brother always participated in all family activities. I remember my mother never took us to a picnic or anywhere else without taking my disabled brother with us.

The financial barriers that people in general and disabled people in particular encounter in our society are another issue that deserves attention. As mentioned above, Kurdistan is rich in natural resources and it sells a lot of oil to other countries, like the United States of America, but large business owners often do not pay proper salaries to the people. Disabled Kurds receive very low disability benefits and they have the lowest salaries in Kurdistan. The money that they receive is not enough to cover their expenses and they do not get it regularly, sometimes once in two months or even less often. There are a lot of problems with the accessibility of public transport, education and other services. People do not want to hire disabled people because they think disability equals inability, which is a harmful but popular stereotype in Kurdistan. When provided with proper accommodations, disabled people can work even better, as exemplified by the motivational speaker Nicolas James, the world’s first licensed armless pilot Jessica Cox and many more. These examples clearly prove that disability is not inability.

As Reving Amedi points out, “Another term very important to disability is democracy, and how the government actions depending on the democratic level of those actions influence those persons with disabilities.” This quote accentuates the impact of the government upon disabled people and suggests that it has not done enough to create an environment in which the talents of disabled Kurds may flourish. Furthermore, if we search for some basic information about disability in Kurdistan, we may find some texts on the topic that seem removed from reality. Kurdish media is mostly biased. This is owing to the fact some writers receive support from the government and they cannot use their pens to write the truth so they fabricate some facts and show only the good aspects of life in Kurdistan. The region is considered democratic but if we go deep into what is happening, we will find out that the system has nothing to do with democracy.  People, including disabled people, teachers, and people of other professions, tried to protest to get their basic rights, but sometimes they were not permitted to gather and ask for what they want and were harassed by the state police.

In this article, I have tried to briefly present the real situation of Kurdish disabled people to the world. My brother is only one member of this numerous group that face many hardship, aggression and discrimination in society. Disabled people should receive more accommodations than I do but, unfortunately, the Kurdish government turns a blind eye to their needs and to the hard situation they find themselves in.



Amedi, R. (2012). Disability in Kurdistan, a Study Seen From a Human Security Perspective. Halmstad University.


Abdulbasd Ahmed is a graduate student in Applied Linguistics and Culture at University of Lodz in Poland.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily reflect those of NRT.