Independence or Human Rights? We Should Commit to Both

By Chiman Salih:

A friend recently posted a questionnaire asking which of the following do you support as a priority: the viewpoint prioritising the foundation of an independent state for Kurdistan, or that which puts independence on hold and demands first the promotion of human rights and individual rights?

For me, I couldn’t make a selection. Without any hesitation I choose and support both. Why are both needed equally? Perhaps it’s my feminine style of love for my country that won’t let me choose between the two. But also I believe that having no preference is the best way towards overcoming all the hardships we’ve faced in history and still face today and towards building the unity of the Kurdistan Region.

As for an independent Kurdistan state, we cannot make any headway without securing this long overdue right. The international community should support the Kurdistan people along this path. The current situation with all its political, economic and social whirlpools and instability that afflict our people provides the sharpest testimony of this. Without having an independent state, even after gaining some or even many rights, we will remain like a fragile straw under threat of winds coming from all four corners. We have gained much that we didn’t have before, but none of our achievements has made us sufficiently strong, and now many of them are in danger. These achievements are all gifts emanating from the blood of Kurdistan’s martyrs, the sacrifices of those who survived genocide, mass exodus and the destruction of thousands of villages and the historical opportunity that was backed by the most powerful world forces. We could lose all this in a short time because of internal political divisions, a decision based on the interests of world and regional powers, a plot, or an agreement between enemies. You know how all dreams and achievements can be lost during a wink?

The danger is greater because we don’t have that which is called a state. Of course some states in the world are very weak and they face even more dangerous threats than us, but they don’t have such fear of losing everything, because they are protected by international laws, conventions and treaties made for states’ preservation.

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In Kurdistan, there is a general obsession with political arguments because people feel wary and insecure and politics impacts on their everyday private lives to an unhealthy degree. And yet Kurdistan has many distinguished things that qualify it to be dealt with like a state: for example, its role in the launching of the war against terrorism, resources, widely-established international relations, recognition by many international organizations including, for example, bodies like the World Bank and IMF which have these last couple of years prepared their own detailed reports to help the region to survive severe economic crises and diversify its economy resources. There is also support within the USA to endorse a law for the direct arming of the peshmarga forces; not only this but the Republican Party (GOP) has made this part of its platform for the US presidential election this year. And so on. There is much endorsement by many powerful centers and decision-makers in the world for an independent Kurdistan state and we can see many development as signs paving the way towards its realisation.

The second choice, the promotion of individual rights and the advancement of the capacities of human beings is no less important than creating a roadmap to establish a state; it is the cornerstone of every modern state. Indeed, the state needs both internal and external support to stay strong. We need Kurdistan to stay strong and we cannot reach this strong position without making a good life available to all without discrimination and elitism.

You (who have the power) may face many enemies, because you’re leading a nation that has many enemies, and they (the enemies) will confront you to the extent that they can. Furthermore, in the new world system and globalization era the eyes of the international community are everywhere. Sometimes the world organizations are working in the right way and truly implementing their principles and other times these institutions are penetrated by different kinds of people implementing different agendas and you should have a strategy to deal with all of these issues. The most powerful strategy is reliance upon the support you should be getting from your own people. This is a crucial pillar for keeping your home strong. The most powerful evidence for this is the example of countries with very strong protection forces and police and security agencies, but still they are effectively in the hands of terrorists. We in Kurdistan, despite all of the bluster, like living in security: the majority of the Kurdistan population want stability for their home and to live in security and they are very hopeful not to lose this.

Alongside giving importance to human rights according to international law and treaties and embedding this in domestic laws, having adequate public services is also part of promoting human rights and individual rights. Having good functioning public services is very important. Sometimes the government has limited capacity for this in terms of a lack of finance or skilled human resources. But it should seek solutions in the global system as there are many solutions to be explored.

At this point we can turn back to the importance of having an Independent state, which will be a means to a better life for the people benefiting from the privileges available to states according to international laws. States can place themselves inside global families and groups based on treaties and mutual interests that can protect their peoples, and when the people of the state feel secure about their rights, they will give the state the power to be strong inside the global family. So one path can pave the way to the other path, especially for the Kurds.

Kurdistan is blessed with having abundant natural resources on and under the earth, and it’s a legitimate right for Kurdistan to exploit these resources. It’s true that it is still linked to Baghdad by the constitution but there is an obligation for the constitution to be implemented by both sides of the contract. There is evidence that Baghdad has left the region without financial assets — many observers have said this. “Here’s why — Iraq is leaving Kurdistan, not the other way around” said a retired US general working as advisor to the Peshmarga forces in the ISIS war in his article published in the Washington Times.

The natural resources of Kurdistan should be used as an influential lever to foster the struggle for both objectives, there’s great potential for this. Dr. Rachel Havrelock, associate professor at the Univercity of Illinois writes about the link between gaining sovereignty and the exploitation of natural resources by the owner of these resources and she gave the Kurds as the example who will eventually participate in building peace and modernising the Middle East. “Kurdish oil shares made all the difference when ISIS emerged in 2014. The largely effective Kurdish Peshmerga fight against ISIS owes to Kurds’ desire to protect not just their homeland but also the resources within it. Kurds harbor longstanding desires for autonomy, but their jurisdiction over local oil is a form of sovereignty—over resources rather than territory—that models a truly post‑Sykes–Picot Middle East. Because Sykes–Picot divided territory in the name of extracting and transporting oil to Europe, reforming the ownership of oil is the first step in dissolving the legacy of colonial administration and authoritarian rule”, she said.

Axiomatically, leading an administration according to international standards is welcomed by the international community. It is a step towards gaining more sovereignty and becoming a stronger state.

The third part of my opinion, which I will end with, comes on top of all of the above mentioned points about the importance of both objectives. We should take up both because simply we don’t have time, our rights are overdue. If we don’t reach the tree of hope soon, it could be eaten by whom? Everyone has a different answer in mind and there are many! We should bear in mind that our future is still unknown. We are both supported and unsupported by the international community. The only factor could increase the probability of gaining more support is internal unity and the end of infighting.

History has betrayed the Kurds many times but let us take guidance from the words of Thomas Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”. And towards resolving the subjective conditions that have helped stop us reaching our goals — first and foremost of which is the issue of long-running internal division – here is another quote, from Edmund Burke: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”.

Chiman Salih is a legal consultant, writer and journalist.

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