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Exclusive: If we don't so anything it will be the end of the Kurds, Slemani detainee tells Star after release

35-year-old teacher Aso Hiwa talks to Steve Sweeney

ANTI-WAR protesters have told of being kidnapped at gunpoint by security services in Iraqi Kurdistan at the behest of Turkey and the region’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Giving an exclusive interview to the Morning Star just an hour after his release, 35-year-old teacher Aso Hiwa said that he and his fellow protesters refused to back down despite their three-day ordeal.

“The Asayish [security service officers] caught us on the way to the demonstration. We were walking in pairs carrying flags and leaflets,” Mr Hiwa said.

“But they surrounded us and held us at gunpoint. This wasn’t anything else but a kidnapping. We were held as political prisoners.”

He was part of a group from Tevgara Azadi, a legal political organisation linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

They had called a demonstration against what has been described as a genocidal attack by Turkey in the mountainous province of  Duhok, which lies in the north of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.

“If we don't do anything, it will be the end of the Kurds. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan wants a demographic change, to eliminate us. This is a very serious operation and part of a genocide," Mr Hiwa said.

He explained that more than 40 Tevgara Azadi members were held in a single cell and moved to at least three separate locations.

Among their number were innocent bystanders hauled in during a mass operation, which saw hundreds of Asayish officers swarming Salim Street, Slemani's main thoroughfare.

“One was a 19-year-old student from Amedi,” Mr Hiwa explained. “He was just taking a selfie and was arrested. Another man was on holiday from Istanbul with his family. He popped out to get some food and the Asayish grabbed him.”

Those arrested remained defiant, refusing to hand over their mobile phones or to sign documents pledging that they would not protest.

“We laughed at them and said: ‘We are revolutionaries. It’s our job to protest.’ Some of them recognised this and apologised to us. But others were really rough.

“We kept our spirits up by chanting Biji Serok Apo [Long live Chairman Apo, a slogan referring to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan], which made them listen to us and bring us things like tissues.

“But we refused food and started a hunger strike, saying we would not eat until we were released. This frightened them as they knew we were serious and there were people with medical conditions, heart problems and this kind of thing.”

Mr Hiwa said officials had told them that they were under orders from Turkey and KDP leader Masoud Barzani to make the arrests.

They claimed to have been threatened that the area, which is controlled by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), would have money withheld from the budget if they failed to comply.

Last year, mass anti-government demonstrations swept the region as anger boiled over at a failure to pay public-sector wages for months. 

At least nine people were shot dead in a violent crackdown as the offices of political parties were burnt down.

Fears of fresh unrest have been raised by a recent government announcement that the wages of teachers, nurses and civil servants will be slashed by 21 per cent. 

While unrest over a lack of basic services and the rising cost of living continues, critics have condemned the Kurdish region’s government for refusing to speak out against the latest invasion by Turkey, in which chemical weapons have allegedly been used. 

Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s only comment so far has been to demand that the PKK leaves Iraqi Kurdistan, echoing the words of his father Masoud last year. 

But Mr Hiwa said that the authorities were afraid of the PKK and despite government threats and the recent arrests, they would not back down one inch. 

"We will keep protesting and holding more demonstrations against the war," he vowed. 

At least 38 Turkish soldiers are believed to have been killed in clashes with PKK guerillas since President Erdogan launched Operation Claw Lightning on Saturday. 

He will be keen to avenge the humiliation suffered by Turkish forces in an operation in February, when they were defeated in the Gara Mountains within four days. 

Nato and imperialist forces have remained silent on Turkey’s latest military incursion, leading many to believe that they support Ankara’s action.

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