Session 4: New Middle East order, threats and opportunities
Part 1: Intervention of Nechirvan Barzani (PM, KRG)
Part 2: Intervention of Gultan Kisanak (Diyarbakir, Turkey)
Part 3: Intervention of Barham Salih (Former PM, KRG)
Part 4: Questions & Answers Session
Transcription of Nechirvan Barzani (Prime Minister, KRG)
Dear respected guests,
It was late 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. Two years later, the Soviet Union dissolved, then the Cold War ended and countries became free. After 1991, talk began about the fourth wave of democracy. While politicians and scholars were talking about the emergence of a new world order, oppressed nations began lighting torches of freedom.
Many years passed and the Middle East did not witness any major change. The fourth wave of democracy did not reach our part of the world. Many said the Middle East’s political culture was incompatible with democracy. In their evaluations and views they were disappointed and pessimistic.
Only a few were paying attention to a candle of democracy in a region without democracy. The candle at that time was Iraqi Kurdistan where in May 1992 it took an historic first step in the democratic process by electing the first free parliament.
During that same year the Kurdistan Parliament decided the future of the Kurdistan Region’s relation with Iraq was to be on the basis of federalism. There were very few people outside of Kurdistan’s political forces expecting our dream to come true. Our dream, however, has always been alive.
We do not say we did not have our shortcomings. We are certain, however, we are on the right path heading towards a bright future. The late nineteenth century Kurdish leader, Sheikh Ubaidullah of Nehri, was dreaming of the day when Kurds would govern themselves. The revolutions and uprisings of the previous century were all directed toward that end.
In 2003, Iraq witnessed a great change. Within two years Kurdistan’s leaders and other Iraqi leaders agreed in a new constitution to a democratic, pluralistic and federal country. In a countrywide referendum, turnout was heavy and nearly 4 of 5 voters (80%) approved the constitution.
Since 2005 there have been three parliamentary elections in Kurdistan. Government formation and transition of power have been peaceful. We often forget the main demands of the Kurdistan’s uprisings and revolutions – democracy, human rights, and minority rights. As a form of government, federalism within Iraq was the main claim of Kurdistan’s people and their representatives. This historical background is important to understand the current transition in the Middle East.
Within the past few years political systems in the Middle East region have been facing a serious crisis and a most uncertain future. Some regimes, including those of Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and Hosni Mubarak, are no longer in power. Some countries, such as Syria and Yemen are facing civil war and extremist ideologies.
We cannot ignore the threat we face in our fight against an extremely vicious force carrying the flag of the so-called Islamic State. For us, it is an existential threat.
We live in a region where efforts to establish democracy face many obstacles, where political extremism has become a preferred solution. The Kurdistan Region is currently fighting a well-motivated, energized, fully equipped vicious force. The rights of ethnic and religious minorities have been completely violated.
The people of Kurdistan cannot overcome this form of terrorism alone. We need military, humanitarian, economic, intelligence, and moral support from our friends abroad.
Compared with many countries in the Middle East, the Kurdistan Region has become a positive example of successful progress toward reconciliation and openness. Protecting this experience is the responsibility of everyone who supports democracy and freedom. This protection offers hope to many who care about democracy, tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and the rights of minorities.
If we look at the Middle East from the outside, especially from the media’s viewpoint, we see terror and massacre in many places. Meantime, one should not overlook or forget the fact that during the past decade the Kurdistan Region has played a vital role in Iraq as a stabilizing force.
In order to stabilize the security and political situation in the country, Kurdistan’s politicians have been facilitating Sunnis and Shias, during the heights of their conflict, to find mutual interest within their divisions. The homes and offices of Kurdistan’s leaders in Baghdad have always been open to bringing political parties together, especially President Talabani’s. He expended all his efforts in bringing opposing parties together.
Sometimes our foreign guests mention Kurdistan people’s exceptional level of tolerance despite all the injustice inflicted on us throughout history in this country. They talk about the resilience of our people in the disputed territories who have been patiently waiting for the implementation of their constitutional right to return to the land of their roots. We will spare no effort to reach out to every community in our country when they are oppressed. Their protection is the same as the protection of the people and the land of Kurdistan.
If we look at the Middle East from Kurdistan’s experience, I believe we can honestly say that planting the seeds of tolerance and finding solutions to political issues are not impossible. The main challenge is how to determine mutual principles together, agree on them, and then abide and live by them?
When we talk about a new political system in the Middle East, Kurdistan’s experience can be researched in its many aspects to see how to benefit from it at the regional level. In the region’s complicated geopolitics, the Kurdistan Region today has become a stabilizing factor. In its short democratic experience, the Kurdistan Region has proved to be a lesson in stability for all neighbouring countries.
Opening Kurdistan to the outer world and encouraging local and foreign investment is effectively changing Kurdistan’s economy. The Region’s modern oil policy is helping to rapidly meet domestic electricity and fuel demands, and has added Kurdistan to the world’s energy map. These steps together offer hope to Iraqi Kurdistan and neighbouring countries that peace and coexistence are not impossible in the Middle East.
Three months ago our democratic experience, peaceful coexistence, and stability faced a critical threat. The decision of our friends and pro-democracy supporters to come to our assistance is clear proof that our political, military, economic and social efforts of several years have not been in vain. I believe in-depth examination of Kurdistan’s experience would offer lessons and insights to support the birth of a new order in the Middle East
In 1991 people all across Iraqi Kurdistan rose up against the Saddam regime. Following its defeat in the Gulf War over Kuwait, the regime’s military forces attacked Iraqi Kurdistan. The coalition forces at that time established a no-fly zone to protect Kurdistan from the regime’s military aircraft.
Some of our friends said back then that the international community met its responsibility in protecting a nation that did not have the ability and force to protect itself. Some academics and politicians said that it is possible to say that the world’s new order after the Cold War has been built based on the rescue of the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Today, it is also possible to say that the new political system in the Middle East is not only based on the rescue of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is also based on our experience of coexistence, and on our efforts towards implementing democracy and pluralism. It is also based on respecting neighboring countries along with finding peaceful solutions to our challenges. It is all this that reduces our pessimistic view of the Middle East. It gives us hope that the Middle East can take big and small steps towards freedom and democracy.
I hope that Kurdistan’s experience can become a torch to light the way toward a new Middle East that respects all its people equally, acts with openness, helps each other, confront terrorism, protects human and minority rights, revitalizes our countries, improves public services, and offers a political system that is compatible with life in this era.
With all due respect.