European-funded organization ends 9-month youth deradicalization campaign in Kurdistan Region

The Dutch-funded Spark organization holds an event at Erbil’s Rotana Hotel, Sept. 29, 2021. (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Kurdistan 24)
The Dutch-funded Spark organization holds an event at Erbil’s Rotana Hotel, Sept. 29, 2021. (Photo: Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Spark, a Dutch-funded non-governmental organization (NGO), on Wednesday concluded a 9-month youth-led program countering extremism and radicalization in the Kurdistan Region through an event co-sponsored by Kurdistan 24.

“Youth from Sulaimani, Erbil, and Halabja successfully completed a nine-month campaign as part of the Network for Change Program, which was organized by Spark and financed by the Foreign Ministry in the Netherlands,” said Dutch Consul-General to the Kurdistan Region Hans Akerboom in a speech.

“Young campaigners work together to prevent extremism among young people. I am pleased that the Netherlands financed this activity,” he also said in a tweet.

“This is for the Netherlands one of the top priorities: stability and security for the region. And we all know what happened in 2014 and after, the rise of ISIS and the war to defeat them and as the Netherlands together with our allies we supported Iraq and the Kurdistan Region to fight ISIS.”

“But the threat is still there, and the Netherlands, together with US, UK, and Germany, support Peshmerga reform and we have around 150 troops here in Erbil to protect us,” he added. “But an important way to keep Kurdistan secure and stable is through awareness campaigns.”

About 400 to 500 Kurds from different countries are thought to have joined ISIS, but most of them were reportedly killed in battle. The majority of Kurds who joined the extremist organization are young, according to Spark, with up to 75 percent of them between the ages of 14 and 29. Also in 2018, three ISIS-affiliated assailants, all of whom were killed when security forces stormed Erbil Governorate building, were Kurdish in origin.

Read More: The threat from within: Erbil attack exposes radicalization in Kurdistan

Pari Abid Osman, a 28-year-old youth campaigner for Spark, said the goal behind the campaign was to counter radicalization in the Kurdistan Region after the rise of ISIS in 2014.”

“It affected our community and especially the youth,” she said, adding that some youth were misled due to various factors including unemployment and were “sacrificed for those radical groups.”

She explained that Spark, with support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tried to spread a message of peace and “involve youth in our activities and in our platform group 22+, a closed group for youth.”

Part of the plan is to unfollow toxic influencers on social media that spread hate in society, she said, and to encourage women to actively participate and be part of the volunteering community.

Raheil Aziz, the country manager of Spark, said that the campaign “focused on creating opportunities for youth to create a platform together and participate in different positive activities, including seminars.”

A total of about 1,000 participants participated in the campaign, for whom it tried to create a bridge between youth in different cities and “through alternative messaging, provide alternative activities.”

Furthermore, he said they would organize an international event in January or February with international and local experts on the topic of countering violent extremism. 

“Even the Rotterdam Mayor is one of the candidates we are considering inviting,” he said. “That would be basically the first step towards creating a national action plan for the Kurdistan Region for this kind of activity.”

He concluded, “The Kurdistan Regional Government needs such a national action plan and we as Spark can try to help the Kurdistan Regional Government with this.”