This afternoon I stood in bright sunshine on a stage in London’s Finsbury Park, speaking to a crowd of several thousand Kurds, to mark the festival of Newroz. In traditional Kurdish villages, people would jump over a fire at Newroz, but as I said in my speech, although there was no fire in front of me I could feel the fire in the people before me. They are right to be proud of their long history, culture and language, and to struggle for greater rights in the Middle East. In recent years I have been to Amed (Diyarbakir) and surrounding districts in predominantly Kurdiah areas of south-eastern Turkey, monitoring elections, though I won’t be able to go to cover the local elections in Turkey next month as I’m staying in London to campaign for the European elections. I said to the crowd it is important that they — if they have British or other European Union passports — vote on 22 May for a party that supports the rights of minority peoples and is committed to Britain remaining in the EU, or otherwise urge their neighbours and friends to do so. Apart from Sarah Ludford MEP (who also has a longstanding interest in Kurdish issues) and myself, on the LibDem list for London we also have a Turkish Kurd, Turhan Ozen. The situation in Turkey is frustrating in that Recep Tayyip Erdogan made some significant moves towards recognising Kurdish rights but like so much of his policy, this has often been a situation of one step forward, one step back. In Syrian Rojava the situation is critical for many Kurds and in Iran several Kurdish leaders have recently been executed or harassed. Only in the Kurdish region of Iraq (KRG) — which I visited this time last year — is the situation markedly better. So Kurds have a lot to struggle for. But as I concluded in my short speech, today is a day for celebration. Newroz Piroj Be!
Posts Tagged ‘Kurds’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd March, 2014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th January, 2014
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has announced that Iran has now been invited to attend the Geneva talks on the future of Syria, due to be held on Wednesday. That is welcome news, though it is a little odd that the significance was almost lost in the revelation that a whole host of other states have also been invited, including Bahrain, Luxembourg and the Vatican. Given the small size and, at least in some cases, marginal direct involvement of some of the likely participants, it is maybe not surprising that Syrian Kurds — many of whom have also risen up against the regime of Bashar al-Assad — are asking, why not them too? The quick answer from the UN would doubtless be that they are not a state, though some of the other Syrian actors who will be present do not represent a state either. But of course there is a more substantial matter involved, namely the position of Kurds in the whole region. Only in Iraq have Kurds gained a high degree of autonomy; in fact, it is not inconceivable that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq could become an independent country one day. The issue then is, which other areas in the region with a high percentage of Kurds among their population would like to try to become part of some putative Kurdish state? The Iranians stamp hard on any attempts at Kurdish separatism, and Turkey — which houses almost half of the region’s population of Kurds — strongly resists any attempt to undermine the territorial integrity of the Republic of Turkey. Moreover, Kurds in Turkey are themselves divided about how far they ought or ought not to be autonomous, let alone independent. But what is clear from even a cursory study of Middle Eastern history following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire is that the Kurds were denied a proper opportunity for self-determination by the Allied Powers. And if Syrian Kurds are excluded from Geneva2 it will strike some Kurdish activists as yet more of the same.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th December, 2013
Kurdish political parties, both in the Middle East and in exile, have tended to be Marxist in orientation, or at least Socialist, so the idea that Liberal Democracy might be appealing to Kurds is intriguing (though of course there are some Kurds originating from Turkey who have joined the UK Liberal Democrats). Dividing his time between Oslo and Erbil (in Iraq’s Kurdistan autonomous region, KRG) Arif Bawecani, a Kurd of Iranian origin, formed and now leads a party, the Parti Serbesti Kurdistan (PSK), which he wants to align with Liberal forces worldwide. This past weekend I went to Oslo to attend the First Kurdish International Liberal Congress hosted by the PSK, which brought together not just Kurds from Iran and the KRG (Iraq) but other national minorities, notably ethnic Arab Ahwazis from the Iranian coastal region, also living in exile. Foreign visitors apart from myself included a Liberal (Venstre) from Norway and a French member of the International Network of Liberal Women, as well as one US Democrat and one Republican, and a couple of human rights activists from Dubai — a modest and somewhat heterodox group which nonetheless led to some interesting speeches and discussions. In my presentation, I defined from a Liberal perspective the key words of the opening article of the Universal Declaration of Human rights: freedom, equality, dignity, rights and brotherhood, in the context of diversity and tolerance. I don’t know how far this will help the PSK, or the Gorran (Change) Movement from KRG, which was also represented, develop their ideology but it will be interesting to see what evolves.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th April, 2013
The tenth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq has provided an occasion for reflection on the pluses and minuses of that operation and its aftermath. Having been in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) last month I know that many Kurds there think of the War as a Liberation, and I can understand why, given the dreadful persecution they suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen; it did indeed constitute genocide. But I am also aware, from my last visit to Baghdad, in December 2012, just how shattered Iraq remains as a state. Sunni have been pitted against Shia (who are now dominant) and fatal bombings in the capital are commonplace. As I said in a speech to the Cordoba Foundation and Al Sharq Forum’s Conference at London’s Commonwealth Club, “Iraq 10 Years On”, the Americans made a terrible mistake in pushing de-Ba’athification so far that they sacked the army and police force, as well as many officials — a mistake they notably did not make in Germany in 1945 after the defeat of the Nazis. Saddam was a monster, of that I have no doubt; his torture centres bore all the hallmarks of a true sadist. But the Bush-Blair invasion did not usher in a period of faultless democracy and peace. I never believed it would. Moreover, as Wadah Khanfar — former head of Al Jazeera — pointed out at the same conference, the Iraq War, together with the new Arab Awakening, and all the baggage of Western interference in the Middle East and the unresolved Palestinian situation, has left a region in turmoil. It is not just Iraq that is dysfunctional but the entire MENA region, and I suspect it will take decades before things settle down. Whether that will be within the same b0undaries as the current countries is by no means sure. After all, most of the countries in the Middle East are artificial constructs, the result of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Balfour declaration and the British betrayal of Arab nationalists led by the Hashemites. Moreover, given the Syrian civil war and renewed political activity regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey, it is not impossible that some time in the future there will be an independent Kurdish state. The KRG are currently sticking to their line that they will be happy with devo-max in Iraq, but if Iraq effectively ceases to be a coherent country then there will be a big temptation to go it alone, which could have far-reaching regional implications.
Photos by Richard Chambury (richfoto). 1: Daud Abdullah, Rosemary Hollis, JF, Matthew G Banks; 2: JF.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: al-Jazeera, Baghdad, Daud Abdullah, George W Bush, Iraq, KRG, Kurds, Matthew G Banks, Richard Chambury, Rosemary Hollis, Saddam Hussein, The Cordoba Foundation, The Sharq Forum, Tony Blair, Wadah Khanfar | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th March, 2013
The name Halabja, like Auschwitz and Srebrenica, is etched in the mind, yet it is hard to picture the place until one goes there. The photos one sees of the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish population by Saddam Hussein’s evil regime show closeups of bodies lying in narrow streets or on doorsteps. Gwynne Roberts’ films of the Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds feature smoke plumes rising from hillsides. So it was disconcerting yesterday, when I was a member of a large international solidarity delegation visiting Halabja yesterday for the 25th anniversary commemoration, to be taken to a nondescript place clearly in the plain and dominated by a museum-monument to the tragedy. Inside were lifesize maquettes mimicking the photos that I know so well, as well as lists of names of the 5,000 dead. Nearby a vast marquee had been erected, in which various dignitaries gave speeches. When the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, spoke there was a silent but effective demonstration by a dozen or so young locals, who held up small xeroxed signs with slogans calling for a distinct Halabja Governate and better opportunities for the areas youth. To his credit, Mr Barzani took the protesters head-on, saying that only the national government of Iraq in Baghdad can decide on creating new governates or provinces. But obviously the grievances of some locals are real in their eyes. And even if some visitors might have felt that it was inappropriate to take such action during an event of solemn commemoration, under the gaze of numerous TV cameras, there is a valid argument that we should not be so concerned with the horrors of the past that we ignore the needs of the present.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th March, 2013
Towering over the old town centre of Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, the Citadel must be one of the largest and most imposing mud-brick structures in the world. At its entrance, up a steep incline, sits a substantial statue of the historian and scholar Mubarak Ben Ahmed Sharuf Aldia (1169-1239), who was a Minister in Erbil under Sultan MuzaFaradin. Within its walls are approximately 500 dwellings, though many of these are in a dire state of repair having suffered decades of lack of maintenance and water damage. Ten of them are currently being restored, notably the magnificent Rashid Agha House, with its courtyards and terraces and rooms that have stunning views over the town below. That house is being painstakingly conserved with the assistance of Italy’s Foreign Ministry as well as Kurdistan regional government funds. Saddam Hussein’s genocide of the Kurds included willful cultural suppression so it is not surprising that people here are keen to see their heritage brought back to its former glory. The arrival of our international solidarity delegation from paying homage to martyrs of the Anfal at the Memorial at Kasnazan caused understandable curiosity among the many Kurdish youths in and around the Citadel, but I guess in a few years time Kurdistan will have established itself on tourist itineraries and Europeans will be a commonplace. Much of the modern city of Erbil is rather identikit, with its tower blocks, shopping malls and upmarket suburban housing, though the Hotel Rotana, where I’m staying, can hardly be faulted and the Kurds are genuinely pleased to have foreign visitors.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th January, 2013
2013 is a year of remarkable anniversaries so far as Kurds in Iraq are concerned: the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War (opposed by many, including me, in Britain, but viewed bythe Iraqi Kurds as a Liberation), the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s Anfal genocide operation and the 30th anniversary of the régime’s killings of men from the Barzani tribe. But those are only milestones — however gross and tragic — in a long journey of suffering that has been the Calvary of Iraq’s Kurds. No wonder they have an ancient saying that their only friends are the mountains. But even the mountains could not protect Kurdish villagers when Saddam’s airforce dropped a cocktail of chemical weapons on them in 1987-1988. First-hand testimony of the effects of those assaults (delivered at an International Conference on the Kurdish genocide, held at Church House in Westminster today) came from Dr Zryan Abdel Yones, who was a medic in the region at the time and had to deal with hundreds of victims dying in front of him, including preganant women whose bodies expelled their foetuses in a pool of blood. Saddam Hussein was indeed a monster — and a megalomaniac, as I had cause to remember when I spent two days in his palace in Baghdad last month. But the Iraqi Kurds do not yet have closure on their suffering; they want the international community to recognise that what was done to them amounted to genocide, as the Norwegian and Swedish parliaments have already done. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of casualties — many of whom simply disappeared without trace — in one of the most sustained and horrific crimes against humanity in modern times. It was really only after the Rwanda genocide of 1994 that the international community began to realise that there was a international moral reponsibility to protect which over-ruled the usual priunciple of non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But it is not too late and a petition to 10 Downing Street has already attracted many thousands of signatures. To sign yourself click on the following link: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/31014
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd December, 2012
One of the most striking developments of the past decade has been the rise of Turkey, not only as a regional power but increasingly as a global player. The AKP government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stated that it wants to see the Republic amongst the top 10 world economies by 2023 — the centenary of its foundation. This is no idle boast, as Turkey enjoys growth rates that European states can only envy. On the diplomatic front, Ankara has seized the opportunities offered by the Arab Awakenng to recalibrate and extend its relations in the eastern and southern Mediterranean. Of course the goal of EU membership remains elusive, though officially Turkey still wishes to accede, even if many Turkish voters have become disenchanted with the idea. All these issues were discussed earlier this week at a seminar organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), moderated by Jonathan Eyal, at which Omer Celik, the AKP’s Vice-Chairman with responsibility for Foreign Relations, and Ibrahim Kalin, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Erdogan, spoke. Omer Celik pointed out that before the AKP won its first landslide election victory in 2002 the economy in Turkey had collapsed and inflation was rampant. There was no effective foreign policy. Some in Turkey have described what then happened as a Silent Revolution as the country was turned around. Ibrahim Kalin stressed how the rise of a comopolitan world has offered new challenges, not least to th eurocentrism of recent centuries. He thought the evolving relationship between Turkey, the new government in Egypt and the rest of the Middle East coul be a crucial turning point. Mr Celik said that Mr Erodgan has lobbied Bashar al-Assad to help Kurds in Syria gain equal rights, though this rather begs the enormous question of why no workable settlement with Turjkey’s own Kurds has yet been achieved.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th May, 2012
İt was odd to go straight from the London elections to an academic conference on multiculturalism in İstanbul, organised by the İslington-based Dialogue Society, but at least London was the subject of the paper İ presented at it at Fatih University. The precise topic was ‘How successful a multicultural model is London?’ I showed how London had developed its multicultural nature empirically through immigratıon over the centuries from the Empire, as well as through refugees from central and eastern Europe and more recently migrants from the New Commonwealth and other EU member states. But London’s multiculturalism is normative as well, in the sense that successive governments — at national, regional and local level — since the 1980s have stressed the need to celebrate diversity as well as extending service provision to take into account the diverse population. That remains true despite comments by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in Germany last year, subsequently contradicted by his Liberal Democrat Deputy Nick Clegg. İn my paper, İ judged that London has become a successful example of multiculturalism, though whether it can be a model for others is maybe a different matter. To an extent London is sui generis, not least because it is now an indisputably global city, whose inhabitants can see themselves as not only living in the UK but also as being global citizens. Therein lies much of the city’s economic and financial success. But which other cities in the world might emulate that? New York, possibly, and, interestingly, İstanbul. During Ottoman times, İstanbul was the captital of a multicultural empire embracing many peoples, religions and languages. Everything changed after the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a new Turkish Republic with its capital ın Ankara and a state-driven policy (in the interest of nation-buıldıng) of One Country, One People, One Language. But despite the departure of signifıcant numbers of Turkey’s minority inhabitants — not least the Greeks — Turkey is still de facto multicultural. The question now is whether the AKP government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has the courage and the confıdence to not just acknowledge this but follow through the consequences. İstanbul meanwhile has become empirically more multicultural, with many foreigners, including Arabs – as well as a huge number of Kurds from Anatolia – setting up homes here. So maybe indeed it can aspire to being a multicultural global city, as well as Turkey’s largest urban centre. The benefits would be considerable.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd March, 2012
London Kurds and their friends in Parliament gathered in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons this lunchtime to celebrate the spring-time festival of Newroz. The event was hosted by Jeremy Corbyn MP, a stalwart supporter of minority rights, as well as a representative of one of the areas of north London with the highest concentration of Kurdish and Turkish inhabitants. His colleagues David Lammy and Andy Love also spoke, as well as Lord Rea and London Assembly member Jeanette Arnold and the women’s rights campaigner and lawyer Margaret Owen. In my short presentation I recalled my experiences as a writer and broadcaster covering Kurdish issues for the BBC and other outlets ever since the Halabja massacre in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I have twice monitored Turkish national elections in the Diyabakir region and have sat in as an observer (for PEN) on trials of writers, publishers and others who have fallen foul of Turkey’s byzantine laws relating to the Kurdish issue. This is a matter that is constantly being taken up by the European Parliament, as it reviews Turkey’s progress towards possible EU membership, as Sarah Ludford MEP outlined in a written statement she sent to today’s gathering. There have been some genuinely positive steps in the granting of some cultural rights to Kurds in Turkey in recentyears, for example with regard to language, but much more still needs to be done. And although Newroz is a time for celebration, many of the speakers today were sombre in the wake of hundreds of detentions of Kurdish inside Turkey and curbs on Kurdish Newroz celebrations there.