"We are ready to protect our homeland"

May 28, 2016 

Waking up Saturday morning to the birds chirping in the mountains of the village of Gullan was such a powerful reminder of the beauty found in this region’s land and people. Kaka Latif and his family so generously offered us their home for the night and provided us with incredible meals and hospitality.

After breakfast Latif shared with the team his work with the community of Gullan against Exxon Mobil. In Kurdistan, there is a Ministry of Oil, but nobody knows how this government group works. It contracts with oil companies without communicating to the people of Kurdistan. About two years ago Exxon Mobil began coming to the valley and speaking with village mayors about what potential things Exxon could do for the region, such as build hospitals and schools. Latif said, “Making promises, but cheating people.” These things Exxon talked about were things that the villages needed, so the leaders agreed and Exxon started to scout the area for oil.

A friend of Latif’s knew about how the oil companies were making false promises to villages to set up for oil and the two of them gathered people in the community and created a local council to discuss Exxon Mobil’s involvement in the area and what they had learned. The people of the community still didn’t agree with them and thought the oil industries improvements to the area would be helpful. The council gathered up as much information as they could – data on environment impacts, reports about land law, how the oil companies worked in other villages, etc. The council wrote and published two reports and asked the media for a press conference. For the first time in this region there was a council looking to defend human rights.

The company continued to scout the region for gas. The council called for the government and the oil company to join one of their meetings. The council told them both, “We do not agree with what you are doing. We are ready to protect our homeland, people, and way of life.” The council made a decision to go to the road where the Exxon cars came through and the council blocked the road. CPT joined them in solidarity. Exxon Mobil was shocked. The police came and asked the council to reopen the road. The council peacefully refused. Then, the media came. And the council shared all of the research they had done and the impact this oil company would have on their land and region. They stood on the road until night and finally the Exxon cars turned around. Exxon continued to come back for the next few weeks and the council continued to communicate with them saying, “You will continue and we will continue. We will not sell our land.” A leader of the council took a rose and showed it to the Exxon workers saying, “This rose will not change with all of your money. We want our agriculture and our land in front of our eyes, not oil.” The people of Gullan stood against Exxon Mobil until Exxon stopped returning to the land.

Exxon Mobil has not been back to Gullan in one year. Still now, the council doesn’t know what will happen, but they are ready to defend. They do not fear the government.

Other villages have started using their posters and models to work against the oil companies. There are currently 57 blocks in Kurdistan prepped for oil excavation.