Category Archives: Kurdistan Region

The Kurds have long considered Kirkuk their Jerusalem. The diverse city has a clear Kurdish identity, notably with the area already under the de facto control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The uproar over the decision of the Kirkuk Provincial Council to hoist the Kurdistan flag alongside the Iraqi one over state institutions ignores the reality and aims at creating a political commotion.

The objections raised by Turkmen, Baghdad, the Turkish government, and even the United Nations (UN) take a narrow view of proceedings.

Firstly, in a deliberate attempt to change the demographic make-up of the area, including governorate boundaries, thousands of Kurds were forcibly evicted from their homes as part of Saddam Hussein’s infamous Arabisation campaign.

Why would Hussein have gone to extreme lengths to Arabise the city if the Kurds did not constitute a majority? Moreover, the same parties that object to the raising of the Kurdistan flag choose to ignore the injustices committed against the Kurds. Instead, they turn the tables by accusing the Kurds of creating instability.

When the Kurds returned to their ancestral homes, the addressing of Hussein’s atrocities was overlooked, and the Kurds were accused of changing the demographic make-up of the city.

Secondly, after Hussein, the protracted and difficult negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad centered on disputed territories.

Throughout those negotiations, which led to the eventual formation of the Iraqi constitution, the Kurds had a clear stance on Kirkuk, leading to Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution that provided a clear roadmap for the resolution of all disputed territories.

Almost 10 years after a referendum that should have been held after a process of normalization, no vote was in sight. The Kurds are now accused of taking illegal and unconstitutional measures, yet why did Baghdad fail to implement a key article of the constitution?

If Turkey, regional actors, and the UN, or any other party, wishes to provide an impartial intercession to support stability, then they should have pressured Iraq to oblige by its constitution.

In short, Baghdad dragged its heel on Article 140, fully mindful any referendum would only rubber-stamp the return of Kirkuk to the KRG.

Lastly, Kirkuk has always been a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city. Its inhabitants have lived side by side peacefully for decades. Hoisting the Kurdistan flag merely symbolizes the Kurdish majority component and Kurdish identity of Kirkuk. It doesn’t imply the Kurds have chosen to ignore Turkmen, Arabs, or Christians, or have denied their rights.

In the same way, Mosul has an Arab majority, but with a significant Kurdish population, it doesn’t mean Kurds object to Iraqi flags raised across the city.

Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim recently stated, “We tell those who want to instigate chaos: this flag is that of the Arabs and Turkmen, as well as the Kurds. It is the flag of Kurdistan which is a place for everyone.”

When the Iraqi army fled in the aftermath of an Islamic State (IS) onslaught in 2014, and the Peshmerga provided great sacrifices to protect Kirkuk, they didn’t just defend the Kurds, they defended all of its inhabitants. Who else would have protected the Turkmen and Arabs against the atrocities of IS?

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani defended the raising of the flag as a legal and standard measure. Pointing to the fact the flag had been present since 2003, and especially after the IS crisis in 2014, Barzani underlined in a statement, “It was the same flag that protected Kirkuk from the threat and attacks of terrorists.”

Meanwhile, according to Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, the recent actions of the Kirkuk governorate would strengthen peace and co-existence.

“In a complete conflict like that in Iraq, the KRG and Kirkuk governorate have shown a great example of coexistence and keeping their areas from tensions and sectarian fighting,” the PM stressed.

As Karim and Kurdish leaders defended the move as constitutional, it came under a barrage of criticism and warnings.

A statement from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned against any “unilateral act that would jeopardize the reconciliation and stabilization efforts in the country.”

Arshad Salihi, the leader of the Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), claimed that “Kirkuk is a fire that if ignited will burn everyone.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued its warning “against any unilateral steps that might jeopardize harmony and peaceful coexistence.”

Karim, in a defiant message, insisted they would not be bound by the Iraqi parliament’s vote that only the Iraqi flag should fly over Kirkuk.

As for Turkey, Kirkuk was long a “red line,” but times have changed, and rhetoric aside, Ankara accepts Kurdish rule of Kirkuk that gives the Turks a strategic advantage via its warm relations with the KRG.

Either way, the time of opinion and meddling has long passed. If any side truly wants a peaceful and legal resolution on Kirkuk, then it’s time to hold the long overdue referendum.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Newroz marks sacrifice, freedom, and gallant survival for Kurds

The festival of Newroz, marking the beginning of the vernal or spring equinox, is not just any new year for the Kurds. It’s the very symbol of the Kurdish fight to preserve their nationality.

For thousands of years, Newroz has been a reminder of ancient Kurdish culture and identity, but above all, how the resolve of the Kurdish nation has continuously overcome the fiercest of tyrants to mark new dawns.

According to Kurdish mythology, Kawa, a fearless Kurdish blacksmith ended the tyrannical reign of King Zahak. Fires were lit to mark the end of oppression and the beginning of a new dawn of freedom.

To this day, Kurds have continued to suffer hardships, repression and a battle for survival against all odds. Whether defying the Baathist regime in Iraq, dictatorial rule in Syria or challenging the harsh denial policies of Turkey, Newroz has come to symbolize the strong determination of the Kurds.

Although Kurdish lands were divided and people were separated against their will, Newroz served as a representation of the unity of the Kurdish spirit.

Today, Kurdish fortunes may have transformed, particularly with Kurds enjoying strategic standing in Iraq and Syria, but the symbolic power of Newroz is undiminished.

What should be a festival commemorated by joy and peace, more often, celebration have culminated in tensions, bloodshed and deeper divisions in countries such as Iraq, Iran and Syria but particularly in Turkey.

Citing security concerns about possible “tension and provocations between people who will participate in the celebrations and others,” the decision by governors of Ankara and Istanbul to ban Newroz celebrations this year is likely to fuel more tensions and violence.

With the festival heavily politicized, denial of Newroz celebrations has become synonymous with denial of Kurdish identity and rights.

Turkey is a far cry from the Newroz celebrations of 2013. Firstly, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, declared a ceasefire and start of peace talks, heralding an unprecedented chapter in the decades-old PKK-Turkey conflict.

Meanwhile, in the same year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was Prime Minister at the time, in a powerful statement, took stage in Diyarbakir alongside the popular Kurdish singers Sivan Perwer and Ibrahim Tatlises.

With an increasing climate of hope and expectation at the time, Erdogan promised a future filled with peace and fraternity. Unfortunately, today, in Turkey, with tensions in Kurdish-dominated parts, curfews and return to violence, this message appears as distant as ever.

As Kurds celebrate across all parts of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region continues to serve as the greatest beacon of light in the Kurdish nationalist renaissance.

Faced with a bitter enemy, the Islamic State, it is carrying the global flag against terrorism.

In a public message marking Newroz, the Kurdistan Region President, Masoud Barzani, while reiterating his drive for statehood, stated, “the month of March has been the month of triumph, joy and also the suffering of the Kurdish people.”  President Barzani added, “but it has also been the demise of the enemy and the start of new light and life, proving that sacrifice bears fruit.”

Indeed, the March 1991 uprising or “Raparin” that saw Kurds expel the tyrannical Saddam Hussein regime from their lands ended second-class citizenship and opened a new passage to the freedom and prosperity of today.

However, nothing would have been possible without the immense sacrifices of the Peshmerga and the Kurdish people throughout history, with a refusal to succumb to tyranny, no matter the odds or the strength of the enemy.

Today, many dangers and perils remain for Kurdistan. Newroz should serve as a reminder for the Kurds, to avoid slipping into a false sense of security, and that unity is needed as much as ever.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Faced with a common enemy, a new front pitching Kurd against Kurd is a travesty

Even in the face of a common enemy, and at a historic juncture, relations between Rojava and the Kurdistan Region have been blighted by political differences. A prime example is the ongoing presence of the PKK and its affiliated armed wing, Shingal Resistance Unit (YBS), in Shingal region.

Although these forces played a crucial role in breaking the Islamic State (IS) siege on Shingal in 2014, and later in fighting alongside Peshmerga forces against IS, that critical juncture has been passed.

PKK’s continued presence has been a ticking time bomb.

In recent days, an armed confrontation between the YBS and Peshmerga forces in Khanasor that resulted in casualties and scores of wounded culminates the severity of the tensions between the two sides.

There are already many battlefronts facing each side, and it’s most regrettable to open a new front that pitches Kurd against Kurd.

In the dawn of the new Middle East, which has placed both Rojava and KRG in strategic positions, Kurds have an opportunity to rewrite many of the wrongs of history.

To realize such goals, Kurds need unity within borders, but also across their geographical divide; however, political motivations usually blight relations among Kurds and division harms their aspirations.

The disconnect among Kurds is illustrated in their difficulty of arranging a symbolic pan-Kurdistan national conference over past few years. Even those arranged, such as the recent one in Moscow, were never representative, owed to ongoing friction.

The Ezidi community has endured more than its share of tragedy in recent years, and using the local community as political leverage by the PKK will only prolong suffering.

Turning the Kurdistan Region landscape into a patchwork of militias will fuel further animosity and disintegration. Ezidis and Christians have every right to protect their population, but only under the umbrella of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Ultimately, only the Peshmerga forces have the right to be deployed in Kurdistani territories of Iraq.

Anything else results in the formation of unnecessary cantons, susceptible to influence by outside forces, and potentially pitching locals against Peshmerga forces and the KRG.

Motives behind the continued PKK presence are intended for controlling the strategic cross-border area and to maintain political and regional leverage.

A statement from the Kurdistan Region Presidency warned, “No party is allowed to interfere in the Kurdistan Region’s affairs or restrict Peshmerga movement in the Region.” President Barzani had given an order to Peshmerga Ministry to bring “the situation under control and prevent it from escalation.”

The armed clashes in recent days led to accusations from both sides of initiating the conflict. The commander of the Peshmerga forces in Shingal, Sarbast Lezgin, blamed the PKK for creating problems and urged them to leave the area, while also warning that “we will not ask for PKK’s permission to move forces in the Kurdistan Region.”

Lezgin’s call echoed similar statements from the Ministry of Peshmerga affirming that they do not seek authorization from anyone during force changeover, or deployments within the borders of Kurdistan Region.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, Ezidi leaders including members of the Ezidi Religious Council (ERC) urged a stop to intra-Kurdish fighting and asked the PKK to leave the region.

“The wounds of Ezidis are still not cured, and we don’t want to face more injuries,” the announcement pleaded.

The friction centers on the presence of a 5000-strong Rojava Peshmerga force trained in the Kurdistan Region that is close to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and endorsed by Turkey. In spite of the grave battle against IS in Rojava, these Peshmerga forces have not been allowed to enter owed to mistrust.

The dominant Rojava parties aligned to PKK, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and those close to the KDP, have signed three peace agreements, yet none have been implemented.

The YBS and Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), an umbrella organization of the PKK, in separate statements, alleged the recent confrontations were a result of Barzani’s recent visit to Turkey.

The YBS see any deployment of the Rojava Peshmerga in Shingal as an “occupying force,” as they allege financing and training from Turkey.

For the PKK, it’s not just about Shingal, but keeping these Peshmerga forces off the vital border zone between Rojava and Kurdistan Region.

As many of the political leaders have condemned the incident, a political deal is needed to diffuse tension. For example, the KRG could open the border crossing, in return for PKK leaving the area.

YBS helping to stem IS in Shingal at a vital time, followed by Peshmerga forces assisting their brethren in Kobani, when the town was at its greatest hour of need, should have set the foundations for cross-border harmony.

Unfortunately, all too often, political affiliations and party interests quickly resume center stage.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Kurdistan praised in Munich, but real prize remain independence

The 2017 Munich Security Conference in Germany demonstrated the strategic importance of the Kurdistan Region on the regional and global stage, as it held bilateral meetings with a significant number of state officials.

Kurdistan was the only autonomous region to be invited alongside 192 countries, yet, as much as Kurdistan is receiving increasing acclaim for spearheading the battle against the Islamic State (IS), it remains stateless.

Almost three years since IS took control of large swathes of Iraqi territory, IS remains not just a regional threat but is a global threat that has led to deadly consequences across Europe. As Iraqi forces struggled against the IS advance in 2014, the Peshmerga took center stage in putting IS on the retreat.

The Munich Security Conference proved a vital platform for Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani, and his accompanying delegation, to boost ties and ensure continued support for Peshmerga forces.

Statements from many high ranking officials in Munich reaffirmed the standing of the Kurds.

Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, described her meeting with Barzani as “excellent” and praised the Kurds as reliable partners while expecting German and international support for the Kurds to continue for “quite a while.”

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence tweeted after a meeting with President Barzani that he discussed the “the need to accelerate plans to defeat ISIS,” while thanking Barzani for “cooperation with Baghdad.”

Barzani and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis had a lengthy meeting on the sidelines of the conference. According to a statement from the office of the Kurdistan Presidency, Mattis had “reiterating his country’s support for the people of Kurdistan” and had stated he “was familiar with the Kurdish cause and that Kurdistan and the US had made sacrifices side by side.”

Barzani also had a meeting with a delegation of 20 US senators who expressed strong support for the Kurds and stressed the new US administration would not abandon the Kurds.

There were many other positive statements of support towards the Kurds. In fact, the Kurdistan leadership often host high-ranking figures such as UK Defense Minister Michael Fallon in recent weeks.

However, this is only the short-term game for the Kurds. Security is the important theme of today for Western and regional powers, but the Kurds are looking beyond tactical measures.

The fact remains that IS became a problem on the doorsteps of Kurdistan mainly due to the continued sectarian policies emanating out of Baghdad as well as the weak defense that Iraqi forces were able to muster.

While Kurdistan remains part of Iraq, it can never safeguard its future, let alone prevent IS from striking again.
President Barzani has openly discussed Kurdish independence over past few years, but the significant difference is the growing international support for their right to self-determination.

According to Hemin Hawrami, senior advisor to President Barzani and part of the delegation in Munich, “the main point in the agenda of Barzani’s talks has been the independence of Kurdistan,” before adding, “President Barzani discussed this issue with the US Vice President very seriously.”

According to Hawrami, “there might have been some different points of views in timing and the mechanism, but we never heard of any delegate of any country saying the question of independence and self-determination is not your right.”

Kurdistan’s right to self-determination is not bound to the fact they are playing a key part in preserving stability amidst regional fires. However, the reliance on the Kurdistan government and Peshmerga forces at a vital time only magnifies the irony of being the largest nation in the world without a state.

It’s not that Kurdistan has been impatient, almost 14 years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the same sectarian issues blight Iraq, Shiite militia forces hold more sway than the official army, and Sunnis remain as disenchanted as ever. All in all, neither sectarian fighting nor political instability will end in Iraq after IS.

Even putting these major issues aside, Erbil is unlikely ever to escape being a subordinate of Baghdad, placing doubt that a genuine partnership could ever materialize.

The fact that some countries continue to insist on delivering military support to Kurdish forces via Baghdad only fuels this sense of subordination.

Barzani remains insistent on pursuing the path dialogue with Baghdad over Kurdish independence as “this will pave the way to many other countries to recognize us.” However, Barzani stressed that as much as they will continue to push for a positive result through dialogue, they “will certainly take other steps” if this fails.

As a boost to Kurdish aspirations, Von der Leyen made clear that independence was a matter for the Kurds to decide and they would respect this decision.

This view was likely to be echoed by French President Francois Hollande, who President Barzani met in recent days. Both leaders emphasized the strong and friendly relations, and France is likely to be a reliable partner of a future Kurdistan.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Kurdistan’s migrant burden deserves international focus

The turmoil caused by the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) has created unimaginable human tragedy, not least millions of refugees and Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs). While the internationals spotlight about the refugee crisis is mainly on Turkey, the migrant burden has created unsustainable pressure on the Kurdistan Region.

The estimated 1.8 million IDPs and refugees in Kurdistan is a considerable number, but with the ongoing battle to recapture Mosul and the violence in Syria and Iraq far from over, this number is continuously increasing.

Since the battle for Mosul began, an additional 95,000 IDPs have taken refuge in the Kurdistan Region. The Kurdistan Region’s Minister of Interior, Karim Sinjari, issued a warning of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” as Kurdistan could not cope with a further flood of refugees, especially, as the battle front shifts to the west of Mosul.

Sinjari called for “additional resources to be provided immediately to deal with the increased burden.”

The strain this crisis has placed on the region is visible. Such refugees need adequate food, health care, clothes, and shelter. This is not for a week or two but on a long term basis due to the protracted and complicated nature of events that lead to their plight.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is also facing tremendous pressures caused by a weakened economy and the costly fight against IS. Adding the millions of IDPs into the mix is simply unsustainable, with the region’s infrastructure unable to cope with the increased demand.

Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Muller, in a recent press conference with Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, praised the Kurdistan Region for embracing 1.8 million IDPs, in spite of the harsh economic climate.

Muller stated, “But we have come to support you, as well as the EU, should support the Kurdistan Region,” as he vowed that the “Kurdistan Region is not alone.”

Meanwhile, Barzani stressed, “On a humanitarian level it is indeed very important that Germany helps the migrants, but it is as important to assist the Kurdistan Region to deal with the refugee crisis here and prevent people from becoming migrants in other countries.”

The European Commission has allocated €241 million since 2015 in humanitarian aid to Iraq, with expectation for Iraq to receive another €50 million from the EU in early 2017, of which €28 million has been allocated for the KRG.

But even this much welcome aid is unlikely to be sufficient.

While the focus is primarily on international aid, Baghdad could certainly do more. After all, a large proportion of the migrants is made up of Arabs escaping the violence south of Kurdistan’s border.

Moreover, the weak security provided by Iraqi armed forces and the continued sectarian policies emanating out of Baghdad contributed to this crisis.

Ironically, Baghdad failed to pay salaries of Peshmerga forces, at the heart of the battle against IS, and pay Kurdistan’s fair share of the budget, let alone help with the region’s migrant crisis.

As welcome as international aid will be to alleviate the crisis in Kurdistan, these remain tactical measures. The real focus should be on ensuring the rebuilding of shattered areas so that IDPs can safely return.

Unfortunately, if aid was an issue to sustain internally displaced persons, any rebuilding efforts will run into tens of billions of dollars.

Also, political measures must be taken to ensure the same policies or mindsets do not allow further unrest.

In a recent statement, the KRG stated it has no “intention whatsoever to close the camps where the displaced populations are hosted,” in spite of the great difficulties it has to face. Further, it would only support cases of “safe, voluntary, and dignified” return of any displaced persons.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Global powers cannot deny legitimate Kurdish rights

In the tumultuous new age of the Middle East, Kurds have risen as strategic players, and this exhibits their increasingly influential position in settling regional conflicts.

The by-product of this new prominence is strong relations with regional powers such as Turkey but also with the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

With Kurds at the center of the battle against Islamic State (IS), both in Iraq and Syria, their role is vital to achieving long-term peace in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the greater Middle East.

Both the US and Russia have worked with Kurds as key actors in battling terrorism. As much as Kurds have grown in strategic standing and received increasing acclaim, they are still stateless.

However, more and more countries are supporting their legitimate rights, and it appears this is something that Russia is also willing to do. Russian President Vladimir Putin, while responding to a Kurdistan 24 reporter, emphasized their “special and very good relationship with the Kurds” who he believes had “a very difficult past.”

When pressed about Kurdish independence by the same reporter, Putin added, “ultimately, the legitimate rights of the Kurds will be ensured, but what will be the form and how it depends on Iraqis and Kurds themselves. We have been and would continue to be in contact with Baghdad and Kurds, but we will not interfere in domestic affairs of Iraq.”

US President-elect, Donald Trump, has also praised the Kurdish role in the fight against IS while acknowledging that wrongs were committed against them. Trump stated that they should be “using and utilizing those people, they have a great heart. They are great fighters, and we should be working with them much more so than we work (now).”

Trump’s appointment of Rex W. Tillerson, ex-CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State may bode well for the Kurds. It was Tillerson who supported Kurdish rights by insisting on working in Kurdistan in 2011 in spite of opposition from Baghdad and Washington.

Clearly, global powers, as much as their short-term foreign policies center on the sovereignty of Iraq and having normal relations with Baghdad, cannot deny the legal right of the Kurds to self-determination while much smaller nations have been able to secure these rights long ago.

If neighbors such as Turkey that were historically opposed to any notion of Kurdish nationalism, let alone autonomy, are coming to terms with the reality of Kurdish Independence, then little stands in the way of the Kurds.

In a recent interview, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani underscored that the question of independence has gone from a “red line for Turkey no matter what” to an “opportunity to open this dialogue.”

While Barzani only emphasized that the aim was to get Turkey to “listen,” in reality, Turkey has long acknowledged the end-game, and they have directly or indirectly already supported the foundations of this emerging state.

The deal to export oil through Turkey independently of Baghdad is one such act that boosted the Kurdish bid for statehood.

Barzani believes that the road map for Kurds to secede from Iraq is “a very serious dialogue with Baghdad.” He added, “For argument’s sake if we do declare our independence without consultation with Baghdad or any form of dialogue, our independence won’t be viable.”

The question is not permission from Baghdad, but rather to establish the ground rules for an “amicable divorce.”

Iraq does not have the resources or national will to oppose the Kurds, even if neighbors such as Tehran are against the idea of independence.

The common line has been that Kurdish independence would cause instability in the Middle East, yet the Middle East has never been stable. On the contrary, a Kurdish state will help bring stability to the region. A century after the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the Middle East, no side can justify the Kurds remaining as the largest nation in the world without a state.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Kurds must look within to secure future

Kurdistan is crossing through a unique and sensitive juncture, yet lack of unity is threatening to hamper the region at a crucial time.

With Kurdistan at war with the Islamic State (IS), experiencing unprecedented economic crisis, and housing nearly two million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees in an increasingly volatile region, the challenges are already high.

However, the constant bickering between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Change Movement (Gorran), at this vital time undermines Kurdish goals and aspirations.

The Kurdistan government took just shy of seven months to form in 2014 after Kurdistan parliamentary elections in September 2013, underscoring the fragile makeup of the coalition cabinet.

Deep divisions over the state of the presidency, protests in October 2015 that turned violent with KDP offices getting torched and the subsequent prevention of parliament speaker from Gorran, Yousif Mohammed, from entering Erbil, culminated in the political standoff that remains today.

There have been various attempts to find a political breakthrough but the political parties have mainly blamed each other for the stand-off and lack of progress.

Kurdistan Region President, Masoud Barzani, recently urged political parties to kick start negotiations to resolve the current deadlock. The president urged the political parties “to solve the current crisis…activate the parliament and elect a new presidency,”

However, Barzani stressed that “it is not possible for those who have been the source of the crisis, remain in the chair of the parliament.”

The deadlock has seen a threat of a return to the dual administration of the past with KDP on one side and PUK and Gorran on the other. There has been notable differences in their respective approaches to working with Baghdad, relations with Ankara and Tehran, policies on Syrian Kurdistan region, handling of oil revenues and budgets and even moves towards independence.

Gorran’s suggestion of governorates establishing direct relations with Baghdad would merely intensify these divisions in Kurdistan and would undermine the hard fought Kurdish gains.

The new initiative by President Barzani is a welcome step to thaw tensions and end the deadlock. However, giving the likely nature of a slow process of compromise and with legislative and presidential elections set for 2017, Kurdistan may well have to wait for next elections to achieve a breakthrough.

Kurdish parties cannot afford to focus on short-term measures to bridge divides. Greater unity, especially outside of Kurdistan borders, should be a red line if Kurdistan wants to achieve its long-term dreams.

The new historical passage for the Kurds amidst the unravelling Middle East places Kurdistan into a dominant strategic position and ever closer to independence.

However achieving statehood, the dream of all Kurds, is a lofty task if the region itself cannot find greater unity, a shared vision and a long-term strategy when it’s facing grave security dangers and economic crises.

The imperial powers had already tainted Kurdistan by forcefully dividing and annexing the Kurdish regions to neighbouring states; however, Kurds are not helping themselves with further divisions in the respective segments.

Kurds are already looking across to see how the United States President-elect Donald Trump could benefit the Kurdish position. But with globalization on the decline, a new anti-establishment mindset in the US, rising Russian influence and the European Union braced for right-wing revivals, the world is braced for more change and unpredictability.

As history has proven, Western interests will always be through the narrow lens of their governments. At the same time, Kurds should not expect Baghdad, Ankara or Tehran to come running to solve their economic crisis or defend their region.

A polarized Kurdistan, faced with economic difficulties, increasing social unrest and political deadlock will only undermine the Kurdish position.

These unique historical junctures do not come often. After suffering for decades under repressive regimes and a second class status, Kurds are in a position to rewrite their own destiny. This is an opportunity that they dare not waste.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

The courage of Nadia Murad and recognizing crimes

The fate of the thousands of Yezidi’s under the hands of Islamic State (IS) has come to epitomize the brutality of the group. Thanks to the courage and determination of Nadia Murad and some prominent Western figures, the plight of the Yezidi community may finally receive the international focus it deserves.

Over two years since the atrocities in Sinjar, thousands of Yezidi girls remain under barbaric condition as sex slaves. In addition to the thousands of women and girls, thousands more men and boys were systematically slaughtered.

Murad, is a young Yezidi who was captured by IS in 2014. She witnessed the murder of six of her brothers before she was subjected to sexual and physical abuse along with thousands of other girls. She was sold as a slave a number of times before managing to escape.

The bravery of Murad and her determination to the take the Yezidi plight first hand to the international arena saw her travel to Europe and the United States. She recounted her experience first-hand to international audiences, including the UN Security Council in December 2015 where she briefed the first ever session on human trafficking on her experiences.

Murad stated at the time, “their cruelty was not merely opportunistic. The ISIS soldiers came with a pre-established policy to commit such crimes.”

Fitting of Murad’s courage and efforts to highlight the crimes against the Yezidi, she was announced in September as the United Nations’ first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Nadia that “there is no greater testament to human resilience and the spirit of solidarity than the strength, dignity, and extraordinary courage you show everyday in telling your story and working for a better world.”

Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani congratulated Murad on her appointment and vowed to provide her all the support she needs.

Recounting her story at the United Nations upon her appointment, she urged the Islamic world to stand with her against IS before adding “I call the international community to take actions and rescue Yezidi captives.”

Renowned Human Rights lawyer Amal Clooney has been instrumental in highlighting the Yezidi plight in spite of the obvious threats to her safety this entails. A high profile figure such as Clooney, who now represents Murad, brings much needed clout in efforts to recognise the genocide against the Yezidi.

Sitting side-by-side with Nadia at the United Nations, Amal denounced IS’s “bureaucracy of evil” and the “industrial scale” of IS crimes against the Yezidis.

Clooney stated her shame as a lawyer that nothing was being done about IS crimes and her shame as a woman that the likes of Nadia could endure such abuse.

Whilst the suffering of the Yezidis is beginning to receive the attention it deserves, it should not mask the lack of action from the international community. It has now been over two years since the acts of genocide took place and the Western powers only reacted in August 2014 when the crimes had long been committed.

Furthermore, it begs the question whether Western powers could have done more to prevent the rapid rise of IS in the first place.

The fact that thousands of girls remain in IS custody is a stain on the international community. There is little doubt that the reaction would have been much fiercer if the captured girls were of American or European descent.

Murad summed up perfectly when she addressed a recent UN refugee and migrants summit, “if beheading, sexual enslavement, child rape, if all those acts will not force you to act, what will?”

First Published: Kurdistan 24

 

New ceasefire plan and Kurdish angle in any Syrian settlement

The latest Syrian ceasefire plan between the United States (US) and Russia that was hoped to form the foundations for an elusive peace deal came to an abrubt and controversial end. Much like previous ceasefires, the latest planquickly unravelled as the regime’s forces and the rebel groups violated the agreements. Consequently, any peace plan excluding any of the major components of the Syrian society, including the Syrian Kurds, will likely fail.

If the latest ceasefire was able to hold for  at least a week, the intention was to establish a Russian-US Joint Implementation Centre (JIG) that would see Russia and U.S. in a symbolic coordination of air strikes on Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front targets.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the joint implementation center would allow Russian and US forces to “separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition”. However, agreement on what the terrorist list would include proved a difficult proposition. Moscow and Damascus have long insisted that all groups taking up arms against the regime are terrorists.

Moreover, groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which renamed itself from the al-Nusra Front to distance itself from al-Qaeda, are deeply intertwined with so-called moderates. The task of delineating zones that are permissible for attacks by the new Russian-US command was always going to be challenging.

There are dozens of rebel groups in Syria, and the US will have a difficult job in reigning all these groups, many who are increasingly distrustful of Washington and suspicious about US plans to work directly with the Russians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had stated that if the deal could be implemented it would “provide a turning point, a moment of change.”

But the multi-pronged Syrian war is far from been straightforward. If upholding a ceasefire was difficult enough, then a long-term peace deal after five years of bloodshed is even more challenging.

And one of these vital angles to any ceasefire agreement and any long-term peace deal is the Syrian Kurds amidst Turkish anxiety.

The Syrian landscape was already complex enough before Turkey’s sudden intervention. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are key allies of the U.S. in the fight against the IS in Syria, but Turkey entered Syria with one eye on IS but with a deeper gaze on pushing back YPG forces that they deem as “terrorists.”

With Turkey venturing deeper into Syria to strike Kurdish positions south of Jarablus, increasing battles between both sides has alarmed the US.

As Russia urged the Kurds and FSA forces to halt fighting, YPG released statements that they intended to abide by the US-Russian  ceasefire agreement. This was unlikely to be reciprocal from Ankara for a group that it deems as terrorists, meaning that there is little prospect of  any calm between YPG and Turkish-backed forces.

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently hit back at recent concerns raised by Washington and some European powers such as Germany over clashes with Kurdish forces.

Erdogan insisted that they would not allow a “terror corridor” on their border and refuted US claims that YPG forces had relocated east of the Euphrates, “we will not believe that the YPG or PYD crossed east of the Euphrates by listening to statements in the US.”

Turkey has stated they are not in Syria for the long haul, but the pro-Turkish Syrian rebels rely heavily on Turkish support to hold gains, making it inevitable that a “safe-zone” will remain in force.

For any real peace agreement in Syria to last, Turkey, Russia and the US must strike a deal on the Kurds. There appears to be a much better platform for a deal on Syria between Ankara and Moscow.

The recent statement from Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildrim, who stated that after normalizing ties with Russia and Israel, “Turkey has taken a serious initiative to normalise relations with Syria”, highlights this.

Other than terror corridor referred to by Ankara, Kurds rule large parts of northern Syria which Turkey deems as a “terrorist” zone. It is not clear how Turkey intends to tackle this long-term and if the US and Russia will continue to support the Kurds.

In the multi-pronged and intricate Syrian civil war, the principal elements, including the Kurds, must be appeased before any peace deal or ceasefire could ultimately stick.

How “iconic images” of suffering become meaningless

Often within the borders of European countries, any murders, loss of life or missing children, receive broad coverage. A famous case of a missing British child in Portugal in 2007 led to a protracted search costing millions. Recently, a young child who died following a fatal dog bite in the UK was one of the headlines on BBC News and received wide media coverage.

Let’s be very clear. It’s not that such cases are not deserving or insignificant. Anyone with a child will know they will give up the world and more for their kid. Children are priceless gifts that no amount of power or riches can ever compensate.

It’s a fact that the West often narrows its focus of tragedies to internal borders. Massacres, humanitarian catastrophes and acts of genocide do not always get the full justice they deserve.

Take the thousands of Yezidi girls who remain under the brutal hands of ISIS with little media coverage, what would be the reaction if the girls were English or French?

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, recently stressed that “… it is of paramount importance that the perpetrators of these heinous acts (against the Yezidis) are fully and properly held to account.”

Unfortunately, on the second anniversary of crimes against the Yezidis, thousands of girls remain under barbaric captivity.

As the recent terrorist attacks in Europe have highlighted, the West is only alarmed and outraged only when it’s on their doorstep. The other daily terrorist attacks or atrocities in places like Iraq and Syria are seen as distant lands.

Then every so often, the West is shocked by so-called “iconic images” of war. This week it was the shocking picture of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, injured and dazed from a deadly airstrike in Aleppo. Omran, along with his three siblings and parents were pulled from the rubble of their apartment building.

According to one of the rescue workers, they tried to speak to Omran as they took him to the ambulance but he said nothing. Even iconic pictures never tell the full story. Omran was relatively calm and not tearful and screaming as we would expect. It is because Omran had already cried his lungs out from fear, pain, and solitude amongst the piles of rubble.

Mustafa al-Sarout, the Aleppo-based journalist who filmed the video of Omran, decried “these are children bombed every day. It’s not an exceptional case”.

19th August marked World Humanitarian Day that commemorates the devastating bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 mostly aid workers.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering,” as he emphasized for people to raise their voice against injustice and work for change.

However, the reflection of misery should never rise as a result of a single day or iconic images. These milestones come and go, but the suffering continues.

Kurdistan is no stranger to such a predicament. It suffered decades of repression and genocide in Iraq culminating in the unforgivable chemical bombing of Halabja. Pictures of dead mothers and fathers holding on to their babies symbolized the grave murders.

While the event was largely forgotten as the population continued to suffer physical and mental trauma. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell when visiting a cemetery filled with lines of headstones of Halabja victims in 2003, stated “What can I say to you? I cannot tell you that the world should have acted sooner, you know that.”

Closely connected with Western view of iconic images of war is effect of Western foreign policy itself. For example, in Syria, the US and EU response was too tentative as the Syrian crisis deepened and the Syrian regime crossed various red lines. Then action against ISIS was only taken after they had had long established their influence, overran cities such as Mosul and killed thousands of Christians and Yezidis.

European powers became more entrenched against ISIS when they witnessed terror first-hand on home soil.

The view of Bradley A. Blakeman in News Max echoed many others, “ISIS should have never been able to attain the power and gain the territory it has…Why did they not build a coalition earlier to stop them? Why did we not have a strategy? Why did we not stop them?”

Ultimately, the West is too often swayed by the aftermath of events. Just like in Kurdistan, Srebrenica and Rwanda, there is a post mortem on western foreign policy and how such crimes were allowed to be perpetrated when it is too late.

Iconic images change little when cities are left to rubble, communities remain starving under siege and millions of people are left displaced.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc