Category Archives: Global Affairs

Time to give Kurds in Iraq and Syria their due

As the struggle against the Islamic State (IS) dominates international attention, Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria find themselves at the forefront of the battle.

Although, the Kurds have proven to be the most effective forces on the ground, their rightful role in the negotiating table as regional players is often overlooked.

At the same time, the key US allies have not always been provided with the arms and firepower needed to match their strategic importance.

The White House has looked to the Peshmerga forces as key players in defeating IS, yet its stance towards the Kurds is typified by tip-toeing around Baghdad and the obsession of promoting a “unified” Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have not been invited to participate in the Vienna peace process that aim to provide political settlement to the crippling Syrian civil war as the U.S. deemed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as the “representative” for Iraq at the conference.

This ironic position is a continuation of past policy when the Kurds were omitted from key international security conferences.

This creates somewhat of a contrary approach to the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan is all but independent with very limited influence from Baghdad. Baghdad has not paid the regional budget for several months nor has it truly supported the Peshmerga forces.

The recent bill passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee that would authorize the U.S. to directly arm and train the Kurdish Peshmerga is a welcome move, even if it will not be received warmly by Washington or Baghdad.

The notion of an effective central government or a unified Iraq has long evaporated. U.S. will only alienate the Kurds the more it insists on any rational that Baghdad still represents the Kurds.

At the same time, the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been the most effective military force against IS in Syria. They are essentially key U.S. allies that Washington is too hesitant to showcase in public.

Whilst a myriad of Syrian opposition parties were invited to a recent conference in Saudi Arabia that sought to unify opposition ranks ahead of proposed negotiations with the Bashar al-Assad regime, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the YPG were notable absentees.

How can the U.S. and regional powers expect the Syrian Kurds to carry the fight to IS and yet it discards them for vital talks that directly implicate their future?

U.S. policy towards both Kurds in Syria and Iraq is dominated by political sensitivities and the need to appease Ankara, Baghdad and other regional voices, and is tarnished by double standards.

The Syrian National Council stated that the Kurds were not invited as they were too focused on fighting IS than Assad. The Kurds don’t have endless arms or manpower and they can hardly ignore IS on their doorstep as witnessed in Kobane, when they received little help from the same Arab opposition forces.

Then there is Turkish anxiety of Kurdish nationalism that leads to a narrow and unrealistic foreign policy. For example, are all Syrian Kurds simply affiliated to the PKK? It is unlikely that Syrian Kurds would back down from their hard fought autonomy which they have maintained at great cost in recent years.

Without a broad solution in Syria that covers every angle, true peace will never be achieved.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As UK and Germany vote for military intervention, the Paris tragedy should not overshadow years of brutal suffering and atrocities in Syria

The vicious Islamic State (IS) coordinated attacks in Paris last month dominated the media and sent shockwaves across Western capitals. Just this week, governments of the United Kingdom and Germany voted to intervene militarily in Syria owed strongly to the events in Paris.

But while media and public discussion has been dominated by the threat of IS, did the Paris attacks really change anything that we didn’t already know?

For a Syrian war fast approaching its 6th year, humanitarian catastrophe, bombings and bloodshed has become a daily reality. Over 7.5 million people have been internally displaced whilst a further 4 million refugees have escaped the country.

Over 250,000 people have been killed in a brutal war with seemingly no end in sight. As tragic as the Paris atrocities were, it should not mask the suffering and deaths of the thousands of civilians in Syria, Iraq and the greater region. No life should be deemed more precious than another.

The Syrian war that began in 2011 is nothing new for Western governments who are only now been prompted to take bold action. IS was as much a threat before Paris attacks as it is now. The brutality and mass hardships in Syria are as much of a reality now as they were for the past 5 years.

Western governments have a tendency to only react when problem reaches their doorstep. Too often the suffering and conflict have been seen as wars in a distant land, not a war that very much implicates them.

United States and European intervention in Syria was too slow and tepid and the greater foreign policy lacked conviction or consistency. Regional powers raced to take sides in the conflict with various interests in the outcome of the war.

IS militants and various other groups were able to roam freely across Turkey’s long porous border with little regard to the ensuing danger that would unfold.

IS were in the ascendancy and gathering strength long before West eventually intervened last year and that was only prompted by IS capture of large swathes of Iraq than their already considerable domination of Syria at the time.

IS atrocities in Syria were quickly introduced to Iraq as thousands of Christians and Yezidis were slaughtered and over 6000 Yezidi girls were imprisoned under the most horrible conditions.

Now, not only is the West subject to a grave threat but also faces swarms of refugees that the European governments are struggling to deal with.

Of course, people point to the danger of terrorist elements amongst the refugees but so many refugees would not pursue perilous journeys in the first place if their homes were not destroyed and their lives shattered.

As brutal as the Paris attacks were, we must see the bigger picture of human suffering and not only react when tragedy strikes close by. Western governments must do all they can to not only implement short-term measures to bring security and stability to their respective states but finally end the tragic suffering of millions of people.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


As Kurds celebrate liberation of Sinjar, mass terror attacks in Paris show Kurdish battle against Islamic State is on behalf of entire Europe

As the Peshmerga triumphantly routed Islamic State (IS) from Sinjar, in an operation personally overseen by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, the process of healing for the Yezidi community can finally begin.

Sinjar symbolized the terror of IS as they swept through large swathes of Iraq and committed genocide against the Yezidi population that will forever taint hearts and minds in this region.

Whilst the rubble strewn buildings across the town after months of coalition airstrikes and fighting can be somewhat rebuilt, the mental and emotional scarring as thousands of Yezidis were systemically killed, thousands of girls were raped and enslaved and thousands more had to flee from their ancient homes, will take much longer to heal.

The recapture of Sinjar means that the strategic route for IS between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul is effectively cut off.

But while this operation was long-time coming and should be rightly celebrated, jubilation should not let Kurds take their eyes off the bigger picture.

IS remains very much a threat across Iraq and Kurdistan still shares a large border and frontline with the militants. As the events since the summer of 2014 highlight, IS is not a force that can be easily defeated without sheer determination, patience and a broad alliance.

The battle for Sinjar and the greater battle against IS is not a distant battle and confined to borders of Iraq and Syria. The West was too slow to acknowledge the wider implications of the IS avalanche that first started in Syria and the problem is very much on their doorstep.

If the West needed any reminder of the terror on their doorstep, then the deadly shootings and bombings across Paris on Friday night, just hours after the liberation of Sinjar, is a stark reminder that the battle against IS that is spearhead by Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq is very much their problem and their battle.

The brazen attacks across the French capital that killed 127 people and injured over 100 were seemingly planned for months. The fear and terror was not limited to ordinary citizens as German and French football players, involved in a friendly in Stade de France, as well as French President Francois Hollande who was inside the stadium were yards away from the bombings.

Hollande held IS responsible for an ‘act of war’ and vowed to would wage a “merciless” fight against terrorism. The first national state of emergency in France since World War Two tells its own story.

Terror attacks in Paris come shortly after a Russian airliner was downed by a deadly bomb in Egypt highlighting the multi-continent angle of this battle.

Fighting terror on Western capitals is one thing but fighting terror at the root is another. Kurdish gains in Syria, ironically viewed with caution by Turkey, or the Kurdish gains in Iraq such that in Sinjar, are battles the Kurds are fighting on behalf of their population as well as the entire West.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Russia’s new military drive in Syria – the making or breaking of peace?

There seems little hope that the devastating Syrian war will be ending anytime soon. Vested interest in the conflict from Russia, Iran, US, Europe, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and numerous other powers has turned Syria into a proxy playground with the end result of severe destruction, a deepening humanitarian crisis and a country at a point of no return.

Each side has much to gain and much more to lose in the deadly civil war with the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad overshadowed by another side war against the Islamic State (IS).

Fighter jets of various nationalities roam the crowded skies each with seemingly different agendas. And now Russia, who has been a key backer of Assad alongside Iran, is expanding its own sphere of influence in Syria.

The extensive Russian supply of military hardware and advisers has been a key factor of Assad’s evident stamina in the conflict. However, Russian support is not for love of the Assad regime or indeed Syrians – it is for their strategic interest in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean that want to preserve at all costs.

Tartous, in the Alawite heartlands of Syria, is home to Russia’s only naval base in the Middle East. If the Assad’s regime was to suddenly crumble it would hamper Russian interests on many levels not least its military presence in the Middle East.

The weakening hand of Assad as an alliance of Syrian rebels increasingly knock on the doors of Latakia is no doubt a key trigger for Russia’s extensive military buildup around this key city in recent weeks, which has includes hundreds of marines, equipment and tactical Russian fighter jets.

Russia is seemingly determined to add to it naval base by building a new airbase. The Russian expansion in recent days naturally sent alarm bells in Washington. Russia is issuing a bold statement that it will not forfeit its strategic interests in Syria or abandon Assad at any cost whilst their interests are intertwined.

The sense of reality from the US has prompted the first military-to-military talks between US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu in over a year.

Whether the Russian role will deepen the conflict or hasten attempts to end find an elusive settlement remains to be seen.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has focused on the notion of “common ground” in recent days. And it is this common ground that will go a long way to deciding the ongoing severity and length of the Syrian war.

Russia’s active involvement could on the one hand bolster the campaign again IS that it has long insisted as a common goal but there are wider ramifications. Russia is unlikely to join a coalition when their ally in Assad is sidelined and threatened to be removed from power.

By moving to consolidate its presence in Latakia, Russia has set redlines to any rebel encroachment of this area as well as protecting its naval port.

Such redlines affectively partition Syria along the current battle fronts that may serve the basis for any future negotiations.

Although further talks are expected between Russia and US in the coming weeks, with a possible meeting between US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a UN General Assembly at the end of September, the Russia position on Assad is unlikely to shift.

Russia will not abandon Assad and their new military adventure reaffirms this commitment. This pushes the peace initiative to end the war firmly in the hands of Russia.

The US and its allies have to accept flexibility around the future of Assad with an agreement that Assad “eventually” leaves as part of a transition.

Kerry’s statement in recent days may be aligned to this reality, “our focus remains on destroying ISIL and also on a political settlement with respect to Syria, which we believe cannot be achieved with a long-term presence of Assad.”

Russia has claimed it would be even open to the idea of supporting the Assad regime with combat troops if requested by Damascus. Obama may have condemned Russia military moves as a “strategy that’s doomed to failure” but as their willingness to negotiate has shown, it must keep Russia onside.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the tragic fate of Aylan Kurdi epitomized the suffering of millions and Western failure in Syria

In a tragic conflict where thousands have been massacred and millions displaced under barbaric conditions, a single image sent a more overpowering reminder of the miserable fate and sheer suffering of so many.

The tragic picture of Aylan Kurdi, a 3 year-old Syrian Kurdish boy, washed up face down on a Turkish beach, took the eyes of the world.

Every conflict seems so far away from your step until the sheer reality of humanitarian disaster or conflict hits your door step.

This is the same beach that thousands of tourists flock to escape what they perceive as the stresses and strains of work in Western society. Yet this beach became home to a boy, who was the victim of firstly the humanitarian disaster that has gripped Syria for almost 5 years and secondly of his families unfortunate failed attempt to reach the shores of Greece and later as they had dreamt to a new life in Canada.

Although, the heartbreaking images showed the unfortunate fate of an innocent young boy, the image does not show his 5 year-old brother Galip or his mother, Rihan or the 9 other victims that drowned when same boat overturned.

For Aylan’s father, Abdullah, his children and his wife were his everything, the reason that made the perilous journey worthwhile. Now for Abdullah, who had to agonizingly identify the dead bodies of his family who were later buried in their hometown of Kobane, his life is over.

As a refugee who escaped the Saddam Hussein’s Anfal campaign of the 1980’s, after been left homeless when our village was razed and living in difficult conditions, I am forever indebted to the opportunity to build a new life in the UK.

Our difficult upbringing in a war zone and not seeing our father for 5 years, who was wounded and later disabled in fighting Saddam’s forces, always brings a stark sense of perceptive. However, it also makes me deeply appreciate that although we endured many difficult years, others were not so fortunate.

The refugee crisis has taken Europe by storm which has only been intensified by the shocking image of the lifeless body of Aylan. However, taking millions of refugees is not a long-term solution either.

European governments must finally address the root cause. While the Syrian conflict has spiraled out of control with genocide, destruction and massacres a frequent theme, Western government policy on the Syrian war has been labored and inadequate.

Cities such as Aleppo and Kobane are almost unrecognizable. But for families such as that of Abdullah Kurdi, they risk their lives for a better beginning as they lose hope at home and yet they find themselves unwelcomed by European governments.

Would they escape their country if their homes were not destroyed and their kids were safe with food and a means of livelihood?

Western governments must do all they can to finally bring peace to Syria and help the millions of people still trapped in dire condition in camps.

The solution is not open doors to millions of refugees – not just from Syria, but Iraq, Libya and many other African conflicts. But solution is not sit idle as conflicts fester and humanity reaches new lows.

One image, as grave and shocking as it may be, should not be needed as a wake-up call to a conflict in Syria that has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives that did not start last week but has been raging violently without an end for almost 5 years.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

As UK tourists instructed to evacuate Tunisia, is UK succumbing to terrorist wishes or does it need to rethink its strategy?

The devastating attack on the Tunisian beach resort of Sousse by an Islamic State (IS) linked Tunisian militant in June was the worse terror attack on Britons in a decade. In a brutal daylight rampage, Seifeddine Rezgui shot dead 38 with 30 of these Britons.

The attack sent shockwaves across the UK, with harrowing tales of tourists shot dead guarding their loves or in their desperate attempts to escape. As the coffins returned to British shores in recent weeks, the chilling nature of the attack could not be closer.

This placed the British government in an awkward position to react, with extension of air strikes to Syria been discussed by MPs. In recent days, the UK Foreign Office went a step further and advised that all UK tourists should leave Tunisia immediately.

UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond’s statement might be contradictory in that another attack was “highly likely” even though they have no firm intelligence on any impeding plot, but the UK government could not afford the backlash if more Britons were caught in the crossfire.

The Sousse attack has put the Tunisian government in a tough predicament. It has increased security across the beaches but now faces the threat that its vital tourism industry, which constitutes approx. 15% of GDP, could be ruined. Hammond defended their advice and stated “more work is needed to effectively protect tourists from the terrorist threat”.

The actions of a few tarnish the lives of millions and the image of a country but that was the intended objective of such attacks. The Tunisian people deserve huge respect for their actions that prevented an even larger massacre with many putting their lives in front of their “guests”.

It was not Syrians or Iraqis dying under the hands of IS but the attacks were much closer to home forcing the EU to rethink its stance on wars in Syria and Iraq.

The attack in Sousse follows the attack in March on Bardo Museum in Tunis which 20 tourists were killed. Tunisia was the trigger for the Arab Spring in 2011 and arguably the only success story of the Arab uprising. It has only recently recovered from the turmoil of such an uprising but with a civil war and Islamic State rampant across the border in Libya, Tunisia is in a precarious position.

It has tried portray itself as a democratic and secular country but at the same time Tunisians comprise the largest source of IS militants.

Ironically, Tunisia only ended years of security state rule in 2011 but are now in the ascendancy towards a new one. The government has been forced into tough action that risks alienating the population. For example, 80 mosques were closed in recent weeks with conservative Muslims feeling unfairly targeted.

Such is the threat emanating from Libya that it has even commissioned a new wall across its eastern border with Libya.

As a result of the UK decision to withdraw tourists, Irish and Danish governments quickly followed suite. Although, other European Government have not gone as far, tourism is already feeling the straining with some hotels almost empty and the ever popular tourist destination, the ruins of ancient Carthage, was reportedly devoid of a single tourist on Friday.

Ultimately, Nabil Ammar, Tunisian ambassador to the UK, is correct in labelling the actions of Westminster as “…what the terrorists want….By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets.”

Evacuating all tourists may seem reactive short-term stance but this is not a solution. What if there was an attack in Morocco, Egypt etc, does the UK just keep adding these countries to its black list or does the Sousse attack serve as a wakeup call to the UK and European governments that their passive policies in Syria have failed and that they must alter their strategy on dealing with the threat of IS?

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

OPEC, IS, oil games and plunging prices

When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was created in 1960, it brought together a powerful club of oil producing countries that wielded considerable influence on the oil market. Such was the power of the cartel that it has been used to promote political goals as well as economic leverage over the years.

But the latest crisis in oil markets, which has seen oil prices plunge by around 45% since June to between $55-$60 a barrel, has demonstrated the increasingly difficult predicament that OPEC faces. In a surprise move last month, OPEC members decided not to intervene by reducing output and theoretically providing an adequate floor for oil prices, thus accelerating the plunge further.

No doubt there were also political connotations with such a decision. Some members, particularly Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil producer by far in the cartel, refused to cut supply as it would threaten their market share.

The simple fact is the global thirst for oil is no longer so firmly in the hands of OPEC. Vast jumps in technology to extract shale oil and gas has seen the US, a historic consumer of Saudi oil, become a net exporter and flood further supply.

Then there is of course the huge oil supply of non-OPEC producing countries such as Russia and Norway. The math is simple. There is a glut of oil supplies and not enough global demand. Fears over the strength of the global economic recovery are true, but even then it doesn’t warrant a 50% drop in oil prices in merely a few months, leading to prices at levels not seen since the 2009 global economic crisis.

The majority of the OPEC countries rely heavily on oil revenues as main source of income to support their economy and balance their books. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, can survive in the short-term due to vast foreign exchange reserves but even then the games cannot last.

Each country has a base price they need to maintain revenues and almost all cannot survive at circa $50 a barrel in the long-run.

What it does in the short-term, is inhibit or even bankrupt some shale producers whose operational costs will much higher owed to more expensive hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling extraction methods from shale rock. Less shale oil will of course mean less supply of oil.

The declining prices hurt Iran and Russia more than most. This places additional pressure on the respective governments. First sanctions and now drastically lower oil prices has severely crippled the Russian economy. It remains to be seen how much the economic bite may force a stubborn and determined Russia to change course over Syria and Ukraine. Iran is hardly in a much better economic position with its own sanctions never mind its expensive foreign policy in propping Bashar al-Assad and other Shiite forces in the region, and low oil prices over the long-term may influence its negotiating stance over its nuclear program.

And one can hardly forget the newest member “state” of the oil export club – the Islamic State (IS). The richest terrorist organization in history is bolstered by a reported daily income from oil fields they control of anything between 1-3 million USD per day.

IS would not be running a fairly productive oil market if it didn’t have willing buyers across the Middle East. IS oil was sold at anywhere between $30-60 per barrel, at over 50% discount from market prices, before the oil crunch, making it a tempting option for many.

But if IS has to sell oil at $15-$30 per barrel that obviously greatly diminishes its financial clout and its appeal on the black market.

The problem with any cartel is that it must benefit all members, regardless of any political pressure-cards. Long-term splits amongst members will further dilute OPEC influence. OPEC may be forced to strike a deal with other non-OPEC producers over supply to bring long-term stability.

In the short-term prices will remain low, but if shale producers and certain other countries cannot meet export targets due to cost, this may use up remaining spare capacity and the second half of 2015 will see a spike in oil prices.

But then what? The games resume with some casualties out of the picture but fundamentally the problem remains the same (lack of control of supply versus demand)

Many oil producing countries are no way near their capability. Take Iraq, which has potential for the most growth in exports amongst the OPEC members. Add to its symbolic deal with the Kurdistan Region over oil-exports and revenue sharing that ended a bitter long-running feud, then the scene is set for a new dominant role for Iraq. It needs billions of investment to support its oil export growth targets and of course oil itself will need to be the main source of that funding.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

As Russia claims Crimea, West struggles amidst threat of a new Cold War

The growing crisis in Ukraine has threatened a new Cold War. Ukrainian civil unrest and protests gathered pace only recently leading to the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovyc, but in reality it had been on the cards for several months with the West reacting too slowly.

Ukraine’s pro-EU and pro-Russia split is hardly new and Russia remained determined since the break-up of the Soviet Union to ensure that Ukraine toed the Moscow line – with various economic and political sticks and carrots.

Now with the focus heavily on Crimea, the West is scampering to deescalate the crisis and calm the drums of war. However, Russia is seemingly two-steps ahead of the West. Whilst Western powers and Russia tried to find common ground on the negotiating table, Crimea was already preparing for its formal reunion with Russia and had set a 16th March referendum. Whilst Vladimir Putin claimed that only pro-Russia militias existed in Crimea, thousands of Russian troops were pouring in to besiege Ukrainian bases.

With historic emotional and strategic ties to Crimea, Russia did not need a second invitation to create a pretext – protecting its ethnic Russians. After all, this is the same Crimea that Russia deemed worthy of sacrificing hundreds of thousands of troops to safeguard in a bloody war against an alliance of European and Ottoman forces in the 1850’s.

Putin is an opportunist and knows that a chance to reclaim Crimea does not come every day.

Yet the ethnic pretext in Ukraine is the same one that saw the West stand virtually idle in 2008 when Putin invaded Georgia to protect its citizens, thousands of whom Russia had provided passports, and practically annexed the break-way provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The crisis over Crimea has many more twists and turns. The Russia parliament has already promised to help their “brothers” with their nationalist wishes if they formally request this as part of the upcoming referendum.

Such a unilateral annexation is in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, Russian treaties with Kiev and international law and is unlikely to be recognised but is Russia really deterred? It has long calculated and presupposed Western reaction and positioning and limits of any repercussions. Threats of sanctions, visa restrictions etc is too predictable and do not carry enough substance.

Indeed as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned, any sanctions would certainly have a “boomerang effect” on the West. For a start, Ukraine already owes millions in gas payments to Gazprom. In 2009, a two week Russian suspension of gas supplies to Ukraine and in turn to the rest of Europe via transit pipelines crippled the Ukrainian population and countries that relied on Russian gas. All because Russia wanted to hike transit fees and extend the lease of its Black Sea Fleet and ensure that Ukraine remained in its sphere of influence.

Western rhetoric, in particular of the Unites States and its President Barrack Obama, however strong in nature, has become too predictable. War of words will not solve any crisis that turns into a war of guns.

The US has tried to “reset” ties with Moscow in recent years but Moscow has pursued its national interests first and has not hesitated to take action that alienates Washington.

This could not be truer of Syria. Obama has tip-toed, repeated the same rhetoric against Bashar al-Assad and has drawn and redrawn “red lines” for 3 over years. Russia on the other hand, did not hesitate to go neck-deep in the conflict to protect its strategic interests in Syria and the Mediterranean.

Russia has single-handedly propped the Syrian regime and has done it with little regard to Western or regional pressure.

A lack of US muscle and more importantly a united Western stand in Syria has led to a disjointed foreign policy and an even more disjointed opposition movement.

Now in Ukraine, the West has to find a united position quickly. Western goals of seeking a diplomatic solution and continuing dialogue would certainly make Russia “smile” as they recently stated. After all, it just buys more time. Before the West finishes discussing Crimea, it may long have become a de facto part of Russia.

Any policy of appeasement is certainly going to back-fire. Western allies or Ukrainians do not have the appetite to fight Russia militarily so if sanctions and political pacts do not have the desired effect, will the crisis stop at Crimea? How about most of Eastern Ukraine which is pro-Russian and has been the subject of many protests?

Protecting its citizens becomes a template in which Russia policy can be repeated for its benefit.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Nelson Mandela’s virtues of peace, struggle and forgiveness in the Kurdish question

“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95, will forever remain an icon of justice, peace, patience and perseverance. His life was a journey against the odds underlined by determination, belief and passion for the cause. In a remarkable transformation, Mandela went from imprisoned activist of 27 years,  18 years of those years in the harsh confinement of Robben Island, to freedom in 1990 and just 4 years later as South Africa’s first black president in the country’s first multi-racial fully representative democratic elections.

Mandela’s primary struggle was against the apartheid system of the all-white National Party of South Africa that oppressed the black population and whose policies “separated” the black and white societies ensuring contrasting lives and conditions.

The case and struggle of Mandela is certainly true for the Kurds. Whether discrimination is on racial, religion or ethnic ground, the end product and crimes are no different.

As the old saying goes “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Mandela may have been despised by the white regime as a “communist” or “terrorist” but for thousands more he was a true revolutionary and a symbol of sacrifice, bravery and determination. Mandela was a true advocate of peace but he was not afraid to use other means when peaceful pleas went unanswered and when oppression against the blacks continued.

Much in the same way as the blacks in South Africa, the Kurds have suffered oppression at the hands of their rulers, often with a second-class label in their lands of forefathers. The Kurds did not desire violence to achieve their means but would the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey really be where they are today without the great struggle of their leaders and people?

There was uproar in many a Turkish circle when the Turkish government turned to imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as a key interlocutor of the peace process.

But as Mandela put so wisely – “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

When Mandela became president, in spite of his harsh ordeal, he advocated reconciliation, forgiveness and employed a lack of bitterness or hatred.

In Turkey, the Kurds and Turks can truly turn a new page by embracing the same ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation and swaying away from hatred or animosity. As Mandela put so well himself, “courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.”

A look at Turkeys past needs a balanced approach. Killings of Turks or Kurds are as tragic as each other. Is a mourning Turkish mother any different to a mourning Kurdish mother?

There can never be reconciliation in Turkey without reflecting on the past. Mandela did not oppress those who did wrong against him or side-line them from his government – after all, that would make him no better than the perpetrator of crimes against him but he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses and to ensure the past is not merely swept under the rugs of history but is purposely taking forward to build a better future.

In December 1993, in a symbolic moment both Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, the leader of the National Party at the time, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It highlighted that when it comes to peace, there should be no hero or villain or bitter taste.

Whether it is Nelson Mandela, Massaud Barzani or Abdullah Ocalan, they have all struggled for their people.

Mandela himself was acutely aware of the Kurdish struggle. In 1992, he refused the Atatürk Peace Award citing human rights violations, before later accepting the award in 1999.

In April 2009, Essa Moosa, the lawyer of Mandela on an official visit to Turkey, denounced the criminalisation of the Kurdish struggle for freedom, likening Ocalan’s struggle for the Kurds to that of Mandela.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Discussion on UN decision on Kosovo Independence

The murky distinction between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity – As UN rules Kosovar unilateral independence legal, a new precedent is set for nationalist struggles

The secession of Kosovo from Serbia concluded the bitter and bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. However, the onset of independence for Europe’s newest member of the family has been the most contentious.

Kosovo Albanians clearly suffered great atrocities under Serbian rule, leading to NATO intervention and UN protection thereafter. Despite strong opposition from a number of countries including Russia and China, Kosovar’s determination for statehood was undeterred resulting in a unilateral declaration of independence in February 2008.

Although, now recognised by over 69 UN member states, the issue of the legality of the Kosovar independence, facilitated with the support of its American and British allies, has stirred tensions and debate ever since; and crucially has initiated a sense of weariness for a number of countries with their own separatist headaches.

The recent ruling by the International Court of Justice, the first case of secession raised before the World Court, declared that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was in fact legal and did not contravene international law.

This was a highly significant development for Kosovo in its quest for full recognition and UN member status, but it also carries significant ramifications for future cases.

Key global powers in support of Kosovar’s rights have continuously pointed to the notion that Kosovo was a special case, that Serbia’s brutal campaign had forfeited their sovereignty over the province and, as a separate ethnicity, the Kosovar’s were free to choose not to reside with their Serbian counterparts.

However, no matter how this is masked, clearly a strong precedence has been set for nationalist struggles across the world. Furthermore, this is another demonstration of the stark double standards employed by western powers that plagues the notion of a new world order and the ideals of freedom and democracy that the West is desperately trying to promote.

Nowhere in the world is the case of Kosovo more significant than in Kurdistan. The similarities are striking. Ethnic Albanians have suffered under the hands of occupiers and dictatorships as have the Kurds. Albanian’s pose a minority in a number of countries, including Serbia, Macedonia and Greece as do Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

However, while Albanians may have suffered great crimes, their existence as a distinct ethnicity has never been denied and they have an independent state in the form of Albania. Not only was Kurdistan forcibly assimilated, but Kurds in Iraq suffered great campaigns of genocide under the noses of the West; and in Turkey they have never been officially recognised as having a separate identity.

To date, the Kurds still form the largest stateless nation in the world. This begs the question of the criteria for judging the merit of nationalist struggles and just who has the authority to determine and endorse such moves.

Clearly in the case of Kosovo, many countries still refuse to recognise their independence including the veto-holding powers of Russia and China. It was the ardent support of the US and key EU states that was all that was necessary.

The concept of self-determination is not new and was first championed by the then US president Woodrow Wilson after World War I. From colonialism and the fall of great empires, suddenly appeared numerous new countries in the international arena.

Even today, nationalist struggles rage in many countries including Russia, Spain and Georgia.

The issue of self-determination is evidently complicated as it in direct contrast to the principle of territorial integrity. By international law, nations have the right to full sovereignty and the enforcement of their borders but as highlighted in the past, international law can be misconstrued and misapplied based on the strategic goals of global players.

The Kurds, like numerous other nations that encompassed the Ottoman Empire, were afforded the right of self-determination under the Treat of Sevres but somewhat ironically within a few short years, the Kurds were scrubbed-off the map by the Treaty of Lausanne.

No Kurd was ever consulted about the division of its land or its people and the new borders that they were suddenly bound to. This was the decision of global powers and regional actors on the chessboard who held the Kurdish population as inferior pawns that could be ruled and submerged. Once great amounts of oil were discovered in Kurdistan this was the final nail in its quest for statehood as it’s carve up intensified and powers sought to reap the benefits of its immense wealth.

Ironically, although the Kurds have steadily risen in prominence and strategic standing in recent years, any notion of independence would gain no support from the US or other major powers due to geopolitical considerations. By the same token, it is doubtful whether it was purely legal considerations that saw the US support the secession of Kosovo or if it was strategic reasons.

More ironically, the same geopolitical constraints that the West allude to in justifying why Kurdish independence would create instability and a nightmare scenario was created by the West themselves.

Evidently, anarchy would ensue if the principle of self-determination was vaguely applied to all cases. This would amount to great global instability and further bloodshed. However, self-determination can only be applied based on its own merits and not double standards.

The basis of any nationalist struggle is primarily ethnicity. Any established nation has the right to unmolested existence, to decide its own affairs and to express cultural freedom. No nation has the right to submerge, rule-over or deny outright another nation.

These fundamental principles are one of the main reasons why the League of Nations and later the UN was created and why many wars have been waged against rogue regimes and dictators trespassing international charters.

No case demonstrates the lack of international standards than that of Turkey. With a highly nationalistic driven constitution and an oppressive military existence, the Kurds were historically sidelined or merely referred to as “Mountain Turks” and even today do not enjoy key rights granted by UN charters.

The best judge of a nationality is history, culture and heritage. Kurds have existed in the areas that they reside for thousands of years and have been recognised as a distinct nationality throughout history, with their own language, culture, customs and traditions.

In the example of Turkey, the Kurds could benefit immensely from a peaceful and prosperous coexistence with their Turkish counterparts and with it possibly the carrot of EU membership. However, this unison by the virtue of international law must be based on voluntary association, democratic rights, culture freedoms and an equal status.

It was highly significant that Turkey was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovar independence. It was also its flagship of Turkish Cypriot rights that led to the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and the establishment of a state in Northern Cyprus that was widely condemned.

The Turkish Cypriot right to self-rule and peaceful existence was the vehicle for Turkish intervention. However, what the Turkish Cypriots desire is hardly clear given that they became outnumbered by Turkish settlers brought by the Turkish government.

The principle of “self-determination” is best explained in the words itself. However, by clear contradiction, it is still obvious that owing to the colonial mentalities of Western powers, it is not “self” that determines such a principle but “others”.

As the old English saying goes “what is good for the goose is good for gander”.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, eKurd, Peyamner, Various Misc.