Fundraiser event held at Divan Hotel, Erbil city.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — At least $16 million and counting has been raised for the widows and orphans of martyred Peshmerga by the “Ranji Shahidan” campaign called for by Rudaw TV host Ranj Sangawi, who heads the Legel Ranj program.
At a gala fundraiser held at the Divan Hotel on Saturday, a crowd of hundreds, including private citizens and major local companies was on hand for the official to date tally of the unprecedented event. The official amount was an estimated $16 million, but other estimates said the number could reach as high as $100 million.
Before writing sums on giant oversized checks, attendees viewed videos depicting Peshmerga fighting on the frontlines and the families some fighters left behind.
Prior to presenting at the event, Sangawi said he was proud of what it had been able to accomplish so far, and didn’t know just how much could be raised.
He promised the money would be spent wisely and transparently, and in addition to direct cash payments would also come in the form of investments, jobs and seats at universities for Peshmerga families.
“I hope they have everything they need,” Sangawi said. “I’m so happy and so appreciative of the Peshmerga.”
Still, he lamented that so far the only companies that had contributed were local entities. In the last week of March, Sangawi had appealed to Minister for Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami to encourage the international oil companies operating in the Kurdistan Region to contribute to the campaign.
“Maybe [Hawrami] was not successful,” Sangawi said.
Since December 2014, the central Iraqi government in Baghdad has failed to pay the Kurdistan Regional Government its share of national revenue. This has meant pensions and compensation for the families of Peshmerga killed fighting the Islamic State have failed to materialize since the end of last year, even as fighting has intensified.
This fact was not lost to many who participated in Saturday’s event.
“Certainly, it is only right this should be Baghdad’s responsibility,” said Hama Kakarash, head of Kakarash Construction, who donated $10,000.
He added that where Baghdad failed to support Peshmerga, the Kurdish business community was proud to fill the void.
“We have great respect for the Peshmerga, we believe in them very much,” he said.
Other participants avoided discussing politics, but were still proud of their contributions.
“I’m just happy to participate,” said Faruk Mustafa Rasool, chairman of mobile phone giant Asiacell, who pledged $2.3 million.
Not all contributions were in cash.
The Bareaz Company donated $1 million in the form of furnished apartments for war widows. “We have to support the Peshmerga,” said Yasin Mahmud Rashid, Bareaz general director.
“If they did not exist, we would not exist.”
Representing Empire World, Abdullah M Agah said his company’s $1 million fell short of what the Peshmerga were willing to give, and pledged to continue supporting the families at home and the fighters at the front however possible.
“All of this money we have given is nothing compared to the blood spilled by Peshmerga,” he said.