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DW: Supporters of independent Kurdistan seek EU backing September 10, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Middle East, Uncategorized.
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Odaa Oromoooromianeconomist

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Supporters of independent Kurdistan seek EU backing

On 25 September, Iraqi Kurds will vote in an independence referendum. Kurdish leaders a consider state of their own a just reward for their involvement in the fight against IS. Brussels, however, sees things differently.

Iraqi Kurds stand with the flag (Getty Images/AFP/S. Hamed)

In a small room in a generic glass and concrete office building in Brussels, everything has been decked out as you would expect for a historic event. The podium is adorned with Kurdish flags; beside it hangs a map depicting the Kurdish regions in Iraq. Kahraman Evsen, the president of the Kurdish-European Society, is addressing the European press to present the case for an independent Kurdistan.

He takes up his position at the podium, with two colleagues sitting on either side. Solemnly they read out, in Russian, English and Kurdish, a declaration of independence from Iraq that had been signed by 60 Kurdish organizations. The press conference doesn’t go too smoothly, though. Every now and then the microphones cut out and suddenly start buzzing. There’s a permanent background murmur from talkative Kurds in the audience. Meanwhile, the representatives of the international press slouch unenthusiastically in their seats and leave the conference early. Here in Brussels, no one seems that interested in the upcoming referendum.

Kahraman Evsen speaks at the Press Club in Brussels (DW/Daniel Bellut)Kahraman Evsen (center) speaks to reporters and Brussels MEPs about an independent Kurdistan that would occupy northeast Iraq

Kurdistan as reward

Evsen, however, remains undaunted. This charismatic Kurdish-German argues with pathos for the secession of northern Iraq. “The drawing of artificial borders in Iraq a hundred years ago on the basis of the Sykes-Picot Agreement has brought with it, above all, suffering and forced displacement, as well as ethnically and religiously motivated persecution.”

The Peshmerga fighters of northern Iraq have proven to be a powerful bulwark in the fight against the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) terrorist militia – unlike the troops of the Iraqi central government. The Kurds have made many sacrifices and endured many hardships in the process, and now Masoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan, is pressing for them to be rewarded. Kahraman Evsen says the Kurds have demonstrated that they are a reliable partner for “the civilized world.” He calls upon the central government of Iraq, Kurdistan’s neighboring countries, Germany, the EU and the United Nations to recognize the result of the referendum.

Read more: Female Kurdish fighters target ‘Islamic State’

Iraqi Kurdish women check their weapons as they prepare to fight IS (Reuters/A. Jadallah)Iraqi Kurds who have fought in the coalition against the ‘Islamic State’ included female fighters, such as Haseba Nauzad (above with weapon).

No backing from the international community

The international community greatly values the Kurdish deployment against IS. However, with the exception of Israel, there is not one single country that supports the independence referendum. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized recently that it was far too early for independence. Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey, Syria and Iran, are concerned that an independent Kurdistan could fuel separatism among their own Kurdish minorities. The Iraqi central government is also opposed, as it is laying claim to the territories liberated by the Peshmerga – after all, the region around Kirkuk is very rich in oil. Another consideration is the fact that the region is inhabited not only by Kurds but also by Turkmens and Arabs.

Kati Piri Brussels parliamentarian from the Netherlands (picture alliance/AA/M. Kamaci )Kati Piri worries that an independent Kurdistan could further destabilize the region

Even the European countries that support the Kurds with arms in the fight against IS have taken a critical position. Kati Piri, a Dutch member of the European Parliament and Middle East expert, explained the EU’s point of view. “In the council for external affairs all 28 EU members have adopted an official position against the referendum. The European states wish to see a united Iraq.”

Piri explained there were concerns that establishing a Kurdish state at this early stage could further destabilize the already fragile region. “In the neighboring countries, Turkey, Iran and Syria, where there are Kurdish minorities, civil wars could break out … Iraq itself could also destabilize, as there are different ethnic groups in the north of Iraq. There are even rival factions among the Kurds.” The Iraqi central state must first consolidate itself before such territorial restructuring could take place, Piri added.

Read more: The Middle East’s complex Kurdish landscape

Has the time come for Kurdish statehood?

Evsen is bewildered by this argument. He believes the reverse is true – that a Kurdish state would stabilize the region. “When was Iraq ever stable? So much blood has been shed in the past between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. We would establish a reliable, pluralist and secular system that would stabilize Iraq, and that could be a model for the whole region.”

Brüssel / Press Club Brussels Kahraman Evsen (DW/Daniel Bellut)From Evsen’s perspective, an independent Kurdistan would ease tension in the Middle East

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 that established the borders did not favor the Kurds – they were given no state of their own. More than 100 years later, they are emerging rather better from the upheaval in the Middle East: The Kurds are benefiting from the ongoing chaos in Syria and in Iraq. However, given the united opposition of international community, their dream of an independent Kurdish state could come to nothing once again.

Kahraman Evsen remains unimpressed. “If more than 50 percent vote for independence, the EU and the international community will accept the referendum,” he says. “Anything else would violate the democratic principle.”

Watch video04:30

Turkey: Dreaming of Kurdistan

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What role for Western powers in Kurdish democratic agenda? December 17, 2016

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Odaa OromooOromianEconomist

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The Kurds have organized and risen to the point where it is impossible for Western powers to ignore them. As Kurdish aspirations rise, many regional powers would like to see a 21st century equivalent of the Treaty of Lausanne, sacrificing Kurdish interests to those of other regional powers. The Kurds, however, are more organized and more powerful than they have ever been. It is unlikely that they can be betrayed without consequence.

Still, it is essential that the Kurds not wait for a hand-out from the United States, European Union, or other entities. Western assistance is no substitute for Kurdish leaders getting their own house in order. The simple fact is that Kurds remain divided. In Iraqi Kurdistan, family interests trump nationalism. The Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga remain as divided today as they were a decade ago. Masoud Barzani, the de facto regional president, speaks of an independence referendum only when grumbling about economic mismanagement and unpaid salaries gets too great.

Turkey’s Kurdish organizations face a crisis given the information and military campaigns waged against them. Many Turkish Kurdish leaders assume that they stand on the side of justice and popular aspirations, but they have done little to bring that message to the non-Kurdish audience in the West.

Too many politically-active Kurds write for Kurdish websites or portals and debate with fellow Kurds in coffee shops and restaurants catering to a Kurdish clientele. They must write for the Washington Post, New York Times, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel, rather than for Kurdish outlets of which few congressmen, parliamentarians, or ministers have heard. Unfortunately, Kurdish leaders make little effort to reach out to the broader policymaking community whose decision-making may not be based upon a Kurdish consensus about social justice and morality. If Kurds want Western countries to offer support, they must first inform non-Kurdish audiences. If Kurds march under flags bearing the hammer-and-sickle, the symbol of an ideology that contributed to the deaths of tens of millions of people during the 20th century, they risk losing sympathy from mainstream officials in the West. Ditto any embrace of Che Guevara, a man responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocents. Simply put, Kurdish movements must decide whether they want to cultivate support only from the left, or from the right as well. Unless they win the support of both, Kurds will likely fail to achieve broad Western support for their political aims and national aspirations…. 

The World’s Next Country: Kurdistan. #Oromia January 22, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Catalonia, Kurdistan, Kurds, Self determination.
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oromia  Oromia

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The World’s Next Country

(EBIL, Iraq) — As you walk around the streets of this city of 500,000, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the capital of a small but up-and-coming Middle Eastern country. Police officers and soldiers sport the national flag on their uniforms — the same flag that flies proudly on public buildings, and, in a giant version, from a towering pole in the center of town. There’s a national anthem, which you might hear on the national evening TV news, broadcast solely in the local language. You’ll also notice imposing buildings for parliament and the prime minister, as well as thediplomatic missions of a number of foreign states, some of them offering visas.

Yet appearances deceive: This is not an independent state.

Yet appearances deceive: This is not an independent state. You’re in Iraq — more precisely, the part of northern Iraq known officially as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). You’ll be reminded of this fact when you open your wallet to pay for something: the local currency is still the Iraqi dinar (though the U.S. dollar circulates widely). Nor do any of the foreign governments that maintain consulates in Erbil recognize Kurdish statehood; nor, for that matter, does the government of the KRG itself. For the time being, Iraqi Kurdistan is still under Baghdad’s writ.

Emphasis on “for the time being.” In July of last year, KRG President Massoud Barzani asked his parliament to start preparing for a referendum on independence. It was a suitably dramatic response to the stunning disintegration of the Iraqi state under then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Earlier, in January 2014, Maliki’s government had cut off financial transfers to the Kurds as part of a fight over control of oil resources, enraging Erbil even as his repressive policies toward Iraq’s Sunni Arabs were fueling the dramatic rise of the Islamic State (IS). Last summer, after IS forces shocked the world by seizing control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, the jihadists pushed from there deep into Kurdish territory, at one point getting within 25 miles of Erbil.

Buoyed by U.S.-led airstrikes on IS positions, the Kurdish army, the Peshmerga, soon rallied, forcing the Islamic State to retreat. But the Kurds didn’t stop there. The collapse of the demoralized Iraqi Army in large swathes of northern Iraq had created a vacuum that Kurdish troops were only too happy to fill. Almost by accident, KRG leaders abruptly found themselves ruling 40 percent more territory than at the start of the conflict.

This expansionbrought a particularly important prize: Kirkuk, the city long hailed by Iraqi Kurdish nationalists as “our Jerusalem,” the spiritual and political focus of a future state.

This expansion brought a particularly important prize: Kirkuk, the city long hailed by Iraqi Kurdish nationalists as “our Jerusalem,” the spiritual and political focus of a future state. It also helps that Kirkuk sits at the center of one of Iraq’s biggest oil fields, and that gives the Kurds a lucrative source of income that could help to sustain the economy of a new country. Iraq’s Kurds, Arabs, and Turkmen have long squabbledover control of the city; in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein poured huge resources into an “Arabization” campaign that used forced population transfers to undermine Kurdish influence there. In June 2014, by contrast, the government in Baghdad could only look on helplessly as Peshmerga forces supplanted fleeing Iraqi troops and took over the city.

The 30 million Kurds of the Middle East don’t only live in Iraq, of course. But all of them are feeling the tremors of change. Iran, which has a significant Kurdish minority of its own, is strengthening its ties with the KRG, which it views as a vital ally in the fight against IS. In Syria, the civil war has enabled Kurds to set up wide-ranging self-administration in the northeast of the country — thus eroding the border between Syrian and Iraqi Kurds, who now travel back and forth across the line without visas. And in Turkey, home to the region’s largest Kurdish minority, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has abandoned long-held policies aimed at the suppression of a distinct Kurdish identity and is conducting peace talks with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), responsible for a decade-long insurgency in eastern Turkey.

All of this means that the Kurds, who enjoy the unenviable status of the world’s largest nation without a state, now find themselves on the verge of establishing their first viable national homeland — nearly a century after the Great Powers carved up the post-World War I Ottoman Empire into the countries of today’s Middle East, ultimately leaving the Kurds out in the cold. (The Soviet Union sponsored the creation of a Kurdish republic in Iran in 1946, but it quickly collapsed when the Soviets withdrew their support.)

“An independent Kurdistan is something that all Kurds dream of,” retiree Ramzi Maaroof, 65, told me as we chatted in the Erbil bazaar. “I’ve been waiting all my life to see it.”

“An independent Kurdistan is something that all Kurds dream of,” retiree Ramzi Maaroof, 65, told me as we chatted in the Erbil bazaar. “I’ve been waiting all my life to see it.”

If the dream finally becomes a reality, there is one nation in particular that the Kurds will have to thank for it: the United States. Even though U.S. policy toward the Kurds has often been subordinated to the same spirit of realpolitik that defines so many of Washington’s policies in the region, today’s Iraqi Kurdistan traces its origins to two key events: the establishment of a no-fly zone over the region after the Allied victory over Saddam in 1991, and the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. As a result, Kurds tend to be overwhelmingly pro-American — to an extent that comes as quite a jolt to anyone who’s spent time in other parts of the Middle East.

And yet President Obama and his predecessors in the White House have all been notably reluctant to give their blessing to Kurdish statehood — out of the not entirely unreasonable fear that creating a new player in such a volatile neighborhood could invite serious instability. To name but one possible risk: a declaration of secession by Iraqi Kurdistan could prompt the final collapse of rump Iraq into separate Sunni and Shiite statelets, intensifying sectarian conflict throughout the region.

This climate of uncertainty helps to explain why Kurdish leaders respond to questions about their timetable for statehood with perceptible caution. “The path is full of obstacles,” says Fuad Hussein, President Barzani’s chief of staff. Iraqi Kurds, he says, are still a long way from standing on their own feet economically. Kirkuk may give them a promising source of petroleum, but since they have no access to the sea, they’re dependent on the goodwill of Baghdad or their neighbors to ship their oil to world markets. And even if matters have improved in recent years, Hussein notes, that goodwill is far from given. Over the past century all the governments that harbor big Kurdish minorities have embarked on brutal efforts to tamp down any hint of Kurdish self-determination — and Kurds haven’t forgotten. More urgently, Iraqi Kurds still face a major existential threat from the new Islamic State stretching along a 600-mile border to the south. Andcollapsing oil prices certainly don’t help.

Far from wholeheartedly embracing President Barzani’s announcement of the independence referendum, most Kurdish officials now hasten to downplay it. “There will come a time when Kurdistan will become an independent state,” Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani told me. “Whether now is the right time is not clear.” For his part, Hussein stressed that the Kurds are intent on giving Iraq another chance — especially now that the troublesome Maliki, who resigned in September, has given way to the much more congenial Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who recently signed a deal with the Kurds ensuring them a 17 percent share of Iraqi oil revenues as well as funding for the Kurdish military. (Indeed, Barzani’s referendum announcement may have been aimed partly at pressuring Baghdad to get serious about negotiations.)

“We want to give Iraq a chance to be a democratic state,” Hussein assured me.

“We want to give Iraq a chance to be a democratic state,” Hussein assured me. He didn’t have to add that the Kurds have been waiting for just such an outcome for more than a decade now, and that they can’t be expected to wait forever.

But they’ll still need to proceed carefully. Given the vulnerabilities of their position, the Kurds can’t afford to be seen as the ones responsible for the final demise of Iraq. If Iraqi Kurdistan really does decide to grab the ring of independence, it will need to make sure that Baghdad, its own neighbors, and, perhaps, most importantly, the United States, are all more or less reconciled with the move. Hussein compares the birth of a Kurdish state to a newborn baby: “We don’t want to have a child that has many illnesses, and that will pass away after a few months. A child must have a good environment, and parents that will take care of it.” If Kurdistan is to be born, he says, “it must be a part of stability in this area.” Of course, even the healthiest babies have sometimes been known to give fits to the neighbors. The Kurds may yet pull it off. But don’t bet on it anytime soon.

Read at:  https://foreignpolicy.com/category/christian-caryl/