by Savan Abdulrahman – Iraqi Kurdistan
Saywan Hill in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, is a graveyard where lone women who were drowned, killed, and heartbroken lie.
“The non-identified” is a section of the graveyard dedicated to the unclaimed dead with no family, no name and no relatives. It is located in the lower part of Saywan hill in eastern Sulaymaniyah and has nearly two thousand graves of lone women and men there. Rauf Muhammed, who has been working as a grave digger for 45 years, describes the “non-identified” graveyard and says: “Their own family kills them and throws them away. No one visits these graves. Whilst alive and dead, they were lonely people”.
You can easily notice that the graves are different from the others that have relatives and are identified. Their tombstones consist of a single rock, with an inscription in red paint labelling the dead either by a number or their gender or a single name of the person if that was known. Rauf said: “The Municipality brings these bodies after two months of keeping them in storage. If no one goes to retrieve the bodies, they transport them to this graveyard for burial. But they don’t cover the costs of a respectful grave. Sometimes, I dig the graves myself at my own cost”.
According to the statistics of the regional police in 2019, fifty women were killed. The bodies were taken to the medical jury for assessment. If no one claimed them, the bodies would then be sent for burial by the municipality”. Sulaymaniyah’s police spokesperson, Naqeeb Sarkawt, stated that “most of the murders happen due to social problems and are committed by their own families. For example, because a girl had a relationship with a boy and she was found out”.
Women in Kurdistan continue to be victims of extreme gender-based violence. Osman the grave digger who has been working in that profession for 12 years said: “No one visits these graves. The only person who came was a young boy from Kalar. He wanted to take back a girl’s body to Kalar. She was his lover and was killed by her own parents. But he wasn’t allowed to do so”.
Rawand Sabir, the general manager of communications in the department dealing with resisting violence against women in the Kurdistan region, says: “Each statistic tells us that ‘othered’ women have become victims of violence. But the positive news is that year by year the legal complaints about violence of this kind in Kurdistan have risen. This means that Kurdish society, especially women, are now more aware of demanding their rights”. He added: “We believe that after the activation of a telephone line ‘119’ for people to call who are suffering from violence in an emergency situation, women’s legal claims increased. We ask women to approach institutions addressing violence against women instead of hurting themselves or committing suicide”.