SULAYMANIYAH, Kurdistan Region, Iraq — In a blow to artistic freedom, Cinema Salim was closed down by security forces here Jan. 8. The censorship was aimed at preventing the theater from screening the short film “Three Days in 10 Years,” which depicts the life of Sakine Cansiz. She was one of the co-founders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decadeslong armed struggle against the Turkish government’s denial of Kurdish national rights. Cansiz was killed by the Turkish secret service in 2013 in Paris.
“Those who fight for a better world cannot go home and rest when things like this occur,” Cinema Salim owner Rawaz Hama Salih told a press conference, denouncing the censorship. “So we shout and say, ‘No we don’t accept this.’” Students at the Institute of Fine Arts held up placards protesting the cinema’s closure that read “Freedom for Cinema Salim.”
The government of Sulaymaniyah is led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Turkish leaders accuse the PUK of giving political support to the PKK. The censorship was part of PUK efforts to appease the Turkish government, to convince them to reverse the closure of its airspace to flights to and from the city.
Ankara had shut down this airspace in 2017 as punishment for the overwhelming vote for independence in a referendum held by the KRG that September. Turkish airspace was reopened to flights from Erbil in March, but the ban on flights from Sulaymaniyah was left in place.
In addition to closing the theater, the PUK-led government shut down the offices and arrested members of Tavgari Azadi, the Kurdistan Free Society Movement, a group linked to the PKK. And the sale of books by PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was barred.
Turkish Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan announced Jan. 23 that daily flights to the airport would begin again in three days. The Cinema Salim was allowed to reopen Jan. 9, and Azad Baiz, head of communications at the General Directorate of Culture and Art in Sulaymaniyah, said the theater would be allowed to screen the film.