As End of War Draws Closer, Peace Architect President Barzani Inches To Win Founding ‘Father of Kurdistan’

By Jamal Ekhtiar:

With continued conflicts and political chaos in the region, President Barzani persists in his engineering for peace and a more stable Middle East. The consistency of the Kurdish leader is wrongly interpreted as a potential cause of destabilization; thus a realistic view contrasts this rhetoric and the Kurdish referendum can instead end the decades-long conflict in Iraq and the region.

The Federal Region of Kurdistan–Iraq is scheduled to hold an independence referendum on September 25. While a yes vote is widely expected to emerge from ballot boxes, the opposing camp is trying, and using threats, to stop the Kurdistan Regional Government from holding the referendum and to delegitimize Kurdish rights to self-determination.

Kurdistani people have always been a factor for peace and stability in the region. Those views claiming the realization of Kurdish rights will lead to new conflicts are predominated by individual, sect, group and state agendas for power and control.

The place, for which Kurdish independence is now opposed, was once a part of the Mesopotamian Civilization. According to many archaeologists, the history of the Kurds in this region goes back to three thousand years BC. Some other historians and archaeologists even trace back the history of the Kurds to twelve thousand years ago. Kurds have contributed much heritage to human society. They established different empires and civilizations such as the Manayee Civilization. The Arsacid dynasty is regarded by some historians as a Kurdish dynasty and most notable there was the Medes Empire. Deioces or Dia-oku, the founder of the Medes, united the tribes and protected the people with highest rights and justice standards of his time. Historians note that soldiers of his empire had the highest moral commitment, and always refused to fight children and women; these moral codes are reflected in the conduct of contemporary courageous Guerrillas and Peshmergas.

Kurds remained powerful and united making further contributions to the region’s history until their homeland was divided between Safavid dynasty and the Ottoman Empire in the early 16th century. However, Kurds thereafter sustained semi-autonomous rule and sovereignty within emirates, in which their power was greater than in contemporary federal systems and in fact they were typically confederations, bound to pay tax to the central dynasty. The Emirates of Bohtan, Rawanduz, Bahdinan, Ardalan, Baban and so on are examples where the Kurdish population, geography, language and culture were protected. At that time the conception of the state, nationalism and ruling were different from what we have in the modern world.

The bitter tease with this issue is that Kurdish people accept narratives of their enemies about their history, while Kurdish people have a brilliant untold history. Intellectuals, writers, historian and academics have said too little about this, in particular blame falls on journalists and the media, and have failed to create enough space for dialogue that sheds more light on Kurdish history. Occupations have created tailored, distorted narratives about Kurdistan’s history. Historians at the University of Chicago played a role in the distortion of history in the region. A realistic study proves that Kurds have always been independent, powerful and have a proud history. Kurds never attempted to massacre other nations. Hence the issue of stolen history and identity starts. The only period that Kurds fully lost their independence is in the aftermath of First World War.

After World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Kurdish leaders, most notably Şerif Pasha and Malik Mahmud, struggled to protect Kurdish rights and place and establish Kurdish rule in Kurdistan. Anglo-French colonialism put the final touches on its Kurdistan occupation with notorious role of Britain in suppressing and toppling Malik Mahmud in Southern Kurdistan. The region known as Vilayet Mosul was attached to the Kingdom of Iraq, under the protection of British colonialism and with the condition of guaranteeing the rights of Kurds, but since than conflict and genocide became the experience of Kurds in Iraq.

The end of World War I signaled the complete elimination of their sovereignty and the start of a bloody, dark, tragic century for the Kurds. During the dissolution and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, liberation movements of legendary leaders such as Seyid Riza, Sheikh Said Piran and other movements were brutally suppressed, during which hundreds of thousands, some sources even claim millions of Kurds, were massacred, and everything associated with the Kurdish language, culture and identity was banned. The scale and scope of the occupation in several countries, imposed on Kurds by Anglo-French colonialism, compelled them to launch liberation movements in different parts, where great legendary leaders sacrificed their lives for their people. In Southern Kurdistan there was Malik Mahmud, Mustafa Barzani and other leaders, in Eastern Kurdistan Peshawa Qazi Muhammad and recent leaders such as Abdul Rahman Ghassemlo, Fuad Mustafa Sultani, Sadegh Sharafkandi and others. These were only a few of the leaders of the liberation movement of the most oppressed nation, some of whom were assassinated in treacherous plots.

While Kurds have a common interest and destiny, the Kurdish issue advanced in varying degrees in different occupied parts of Kurdistan, with Iraqi Kurdistan currently on its path to the independence referendum.

The Case of the Kurds in Iraq

Perhaps the bloodiest stories of the Kurdish nation, during the elimination of their sovereignty in the twentieth century, happened in Iraq. The notorious genocide Anfal Campaign cost one hundred and eighty two thousand Kurdish lives in southern Kurdistan. More than eight thousand Barzanis were massacred by Saddam’s Baathist regime. The chemical attack on the martyred city of Halabja ranks second the use of weapons of mass destruction after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many other tragedies and wars were imposed on Kurds, but did not stop their liberation struggle. The struggle of the legendary leader Mustafa Barzani was defeated by a treacherous plot of the “Shah” of Iran and Saddam, coordinated by Algeria and the late Barzani passed away in 1979.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party continued its struggle in Southern Kurdistan under the leadership of Idris Barzani and later Massoud Barzani; on the other hand the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Jalal Talabani launched a new struggle for the rights of Kurds in Iraq. Both parties continued their efforts until they bore fruit in the 1991 uprising. Since then, despite differences between the two main forces and unpleasant memories of conflict, “party dynamism” played major role in the development of the region as described by a British expert. During recent years the Gorran Movement has added further dynamism and vitality to the political process in the Kurdistan Region. However, significant challenges still pose risks to the political process, and in this sensitive period of Kurdistan’s history, all parties should unify their efforts and support President Barzani in his quest to restore sovereignty and dignity of the Kurdish people and end almost one century of occupation in Kurdistan.

After 2003, Kurds voluntarily returned to Baghdad and rebuilt the failed state of Iraq, but their reward is now the threats they receive from central government, which doesn’t abide by the constitution and legal basis from which the state was reshaped. All governments in Baghdad, particularly Nouri al-Maliki’s, have cut progressively cut the last threads that reconnected Kurds with Baghdad. After a tough process of facing exclusion, while playing a key role in the fight against terror, the Kurds and President Barzani came to the conclusion that it is time for partition, to avoid a repetition of past tragedies and to sustain peace for Kurds, Iraq and the Middle East.

Internal Conflicts and Major Disagreements Between Political Parties

The two main parties played a major role in the political development and protection of the Kurdistan Region since the 1991 uprising. With relative political and press freedom, smaller parties did not have not a significant role, until the political scene changed with the emergence of Gorran movement, breathing new life into the Kurdistan Parliament. However new political disputes arose after the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) shut down parliament October 2015. Gorran boycotted the recent reopening session of the parliament, over the outstanding issue concerning the amendment of Kurdistan Region’s Presidency Law. The Gorran movement supports the parliamentary system and election of the president by parliament and a decentralized system. The KDP on the other hand support the presidential system and election of the president directly by citizens.

President Barzani in a recent remark confirmed that the Kurdistan system will be federal, guaranteeing provincial administration and parliaments for the provinces. Considering the fragmentation of Kurdish society under occupation, the model of the KDP seems to be more logical, with powerful presidents acting as a unifying factor for Kurdish identity.

Beyond this, two other factors could play a major role in the democratization in Kurdistan. First political parties need more democratic governance. The current model of parties rather represents dominance, interests and takeover by specific elites, while democratic parties should pave the way for the political contributions of every citizen, regardless of status, along with an equitable socioeconomic order, freedom of belief-religion, thought and expression. Second, the incoming Republic of Kurdistan will possibly have close relations with the West; this question remains for future, whether they (the west) will only pursue self interest and shut their eyes to the behaviour of rulers, as it is happening in the Gulf Region, or will instead support a South Korean or Japanese model for their ally in Kurdistan.

There is still another concern for both the public and political people, requiring to be addressed. The Kurdistan Democratic Party establishes its rhetoric on the irritating narrative that Barzani (here the late Mustafa Barzani) is the (spiritual) father of the Kurds, imposing it in politics, curriculum, media, parliament and every possible way, and for this it has faced strong opposition. Recently a high ranking Gorran member noted, in the case of independence, “Al Barzan” will be unchangeable part of the Kurdish state. Kurdish people respect all its leaders from legendary Seyid Riza, Sheikh Said Piran, Mustafa Barzani and Peshawa Qazi Muhammad to Sarok (President) Talabani, Sarok Barzani and Kak Nawshirwan Mustafa, but a rewriting of Kurdish history should go back to the Medes Emperor Dia-oku and his prideful heritage. This (KDP rhetoric) should be altered and as Mala Bakhtiar noted in a recent seminar, Kurds can’t have peace, economy and anything unless they (re-)achieve independence.

Kurdistan’s independence should restore the dignity of Kurdish citizens to optimum capacity, in contrast to the situation in failed states in the Middle East. Surrounded by an unfriendly environment, true democracy will be the only guarantee for national security. For this purpose an acceptable version of history and identity narrative is a necessity. President Barzani in his remarks suggests that prior to the reconstruction of Kurdistan, we need to rebuild the personality of Kurdish individual. The projection of identity and vision building for individuals is an essential part of this rebuilding.

Unfriendly Surroundings and False Accusations

A few years ago the Iranian media used to refer to Sarok Barzani as a “wise” leader, but suddenly, after the announcement of the referendum, the Iranian media launched an unethical propaganda against a leader who is widely respected by all Kurds. It can’t be understood why a “wise” leader should suddenly become an agent of Israel and “estekbar jahani” or “global arrogance”.

It is the habit of the media in tyrant regimes to export their own problems and create supposed enemies. Iran should find the root cause of its problems in its own ill-treatment of Kurds, Baloch, Ahwazi and other peoples who lack basic rights within Iran’s borders. Iran plays a major role in destabilization in the region and can’t use false accusations against President Barzani, simply because he is determined to end the bloody history of the Kurds and restore peace.

Rejecting a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue has been the major obstacle to democratization in several countries during the twentieth century, consuming resources used for suppression and the military. Resolution of the Kurdish issue will be an asset for true democratic development in those countries.

Place of Kurdistan in the Regional and Global Arena

Several years ago a young Chinese writer wrote an article about the position of the Kurdistan Region. He argued the emergence of the Kurds in the Middle East looks like a monster that has broken his chains, coming out of his cave and can’t be returned to the cave. He also argued that the strategic depth of the Kurdistan Region lies in the other parts of Kurdistan, where millions of Kurds can be mobilized to protect the experience.

Today we see the status of Kurdistan is advancing as a stabilizing factor in the region. Only Kurds have the right to determine their future, as a forthcoming good friend to the world. The United States, Britain and France argue that they will not support the referendum, but the fact is that Barzani is correcting the mistakes of Anglo-French colonialism which put Kurds under the yoke of suppression for a hundred years. The Kurds could be a savior for the west and the return of the Kurds to the Middle East arena, after a century of occupation, will play a key role for democratization, if they (the west) don’t repeat their mistakes in supporting tyranny. The west needs the Kurds more than Kurds need their international support.

The Role and Prominence of President Massoud Barzani

It was the leadership of President Barzani that brought the Kurds to this point. It was his wise pragmatist political and diplomatic chess that brought Kurdistan to this point. He has significance in Kurdish history. All the people of Kurdistan and political parties, including Gorran, should rally to support the Kurdish leader and architect of peace in his quest to restore order in this most troubled part of the world. Massoud Barzani has vision and extending his presidency for two terms after the announcement of Kurdistan independence will help the new state. The past was the liberation process; therefore Kurdistani people should support and elect this leader to accomplish his vision and mission. He deserves to stay in office without election. In his remarks, he suggested that, after the referendum, his role will end, but his mission will not be completed yet. True perceptions suggest neither Barzani nor his family will become dictators as claimed; by contrast, he has the capacity to be the George Washington of Kurdistan. His persistence aims to end a century of Kurdish tragedy. Barzani is peace architect and true founding “Father of Kurdistan”. He is the true father of Kurdistan. Doesn’t a leader who is restoring Kurdish sovereignty deserve this!

Jamal Ekhtiar is a writer and contributor to various English and Kurdish media including Kurdistan Tribune, Kurdish Globe, IRIN, Kurdish Media, and several other English and Kurdish print and electronic outputs. He has also worked with civil society organisations and advocacy groups and currently manages  Iran Rights Transparency – IRT.

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