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 Barham Salih (Former Prime Minister, KRG)
Thank you very much respected attendees and thank you Dr. Dlawer for the invite. This topic is an important one; Kurdish perspective about the changes which taking place in the Middle East. First, I would like to state that holding such a forum at this time in the capital of Kurdistan Region is commendable and I hope that this becomes an initiation for a series of further fora, meetings and conferences, in an attempt to specifically comprehend the fact that the Middle East is now confronting serious and momentous problems. This has also enveloped Kurdistan Region which is now a very important and well-known centre for these changes and unrests.
It could be said that the security and the political systems in the Middle East are undergoing drastic changes. The security and the political system that was brought about after the First World War, which is often referred to it as Sykes-Picot agreement, is overtly questioned and radical changes are about to take place. Part of what happened in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, mayhem and unrest, is a reflection of these big changes. It could be said that what happened in the 20th century, is today questioned and is going through a process of redefinition of the political and security system in the Middle East.
Certainly, there a number of reasons for these changes, the reasons cannot be hastily discussed as this requires research, investigation and follow up, but, for the people of Kurdistan, as we consider ourselves to be the main victims, we need to understand these changes are of big-scale and also great opportunities. At the same time, if we don’t deal with these changes carefully, the new system which will emerge, might not consider the rights of the people of Kurdistan. In my personal point of view, there are plenty of causes, but we could say that the history of the Middle East was often caught in a conflict among three main constituents, Anatolia, Iran and the Arab countries. These three parts, usually, in Mesopotamia have been in conflict. The result of the conflict in Mesopotamia and the valley of the two rivers, Iraq, was the establishment of a system. We could say that even before and after Chalderan, even now, indications of incorporation of that system can be noticed.
After the First World War, the Europeans came to this region, such as Britain, France and then the Americans in the 21st century. After the Iraq War, we could say that the powers are now competing to achieve their political and security interests. The difference between today and the past is the considerable and effective stance of the Kurds. We need to understand this fact and work on the basis of these new developments. I hope that, the new system in the Middle East would not look like the one in the past 100 years which was a source of sorrow and misfortune for the people of Kurdistan. Rather, I hope it will emerge on a new ground where the rights of the Kurds are established and proven. KRG enjoys a considerable experience. Many of us, especially our people, perceive our shortcomings rightly and we do have some grievances, but we, the Southern Kurdistan, have accomplished milestones and greatly stepped forward in comparison to our neighbours. We are moving forward towards development and a good example of co-existence can easily now be seen. Many times we ourselves undermine what has been achieved. It requires going out of the bubble to look at the Middle East so as to value the achievements.
I was for a while in the US and the UK. Our Kurdistan today enjoys a very considerable stance and is also considered to be an active component and partner in the national coalition against terror. This is an opportunity and achievement and the result of the hard work and other various factors which are related to our status. However, what is needed from our side is to benefit from these achievements in order to have a future different from our past. To avoid what we suffered after the First World War in the establishment of the new system on the Middle East. In this process, the Kurds of Iraq enjoy a valuable position. Peshmarga in the frontlines are now the top examples of defending values of coexistence and humanity, but perceiving the Kurdistan of Iraq isolated from the Middle East and the other parts of Kurdistan is just not right. What is happening in Syria now in defending Kobane is itself a direct reflection of the empowering stance of the Kurds. Kurdish women, Kurdish fighters in Kobane, especially our daughters and sisters had a very important message to the world, namely that the people of Kurdistan provide a different example of religion, belief, coexistence and confrontation of forces standing against humanity. The US and Europe are now trying hard to eliminate ISIS without having boots on the ground for their own political reasons and because of the situation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the burden they have on their shoulders. Today, the people of Kurdistan are not fighting for the sake of America and Europe but to defend our own country and interests. We are fighting in Zummar in Dibis and Daquq and Jalawla. We are facing the misfortunes here and in Kobane inflicted by ISIS. This is a great message.
Here, I would like to say, this will put a very great burden on the shoulder of the Kurdish political leadership and the political elite, if we look at the war with ISIS as a mere military war, we are committing a fatal mistake. If the position of the Kurds is looked at only from the security point of view and become just what Pakistan is for the West in the fight against Taliban, we will cause huge affliction and inflict misfortune on our people and we will only be a controlled force to implement other people’s agendas.
This war has caught our nation and humanity, but geography and politics have forced us to be at the very front of the confrontation. Weaponry and valour of the Peshmarga are important and essential resources for us. At the same time, good governance, coexistence, freedom and other systems different to the dictatorial systems around us should be incorporated in our system. This is for me the long-term resource for the people of Kurdistan.
In my opinion, the research and the analyses conducted in the centres and institutions around the world, reference is made to this redefinition of the system in the Middle East. They believe that dictatorial systems, just like those we have seen, even if ISIS was defeated, the son of ISIS will emerge. The situation in these countries and the failed political systems will generate ISIS and the aftermath of ISIS. This can be talked about even more, but I believe to radically resolve these problems, a number of important means to be created in Kurdistan, such as improvement and enforcement of the good examples we already have touched upon, and to find solutions of our shortcomings.
I want to touch upon another important issue; most of us know each other. There were days where the Kurds were considered the cause of instability. Even now I remember, in 2003 while we were discussing defeating Saddam and the fight against him, the centre around the world were loudly blaming the Kurds for being the reason and the cause for unrest, instability and chaos in the Middle East. The last ten years proved this incorrect. Not only that, the Kurdistan of Iraq is the safest place in Iraq and enjoys the best relationship with Iran, Turkey and the Arab world. This Kurdistan which was considered the centre for the creation of turmoil and disturbance in the world, proved to be the exact opposite. Therefore, the experience of the last 10 years provides another important resource; acknowledging the rights of the people of Kurdistan, the stance of the Kurds is a source of stability and safety as well as another example of governance which can confront the extremist forces with real examples.
At this phase, I say to the dear attendees how we can benefit from this very important opportunity in order to avoid what happened in the last 100 years? Collaboration and coordination amongst ourselves is undoubtedly important. Coordination to reform and empowerment of governance principals is important as well. Similarly, we need to work hard together to provide solutions for the problems that exist now. Supporting the other parts of Kurdistan is important too. KRG’s support to Kobane is invaluable and is commendable. I should also say that we should not underestimate international community’s support for Kobane. The airstrikes conducted by the US is of great value and consideration. I would like to also say that the Arab Coalition, something which is not addressed in Kurdish Media, Saudis and Emiratis participated in the strikes against ISIS in Kobane. This is a turning point; what has been said in many of the centres in the Middle East, most of them look at the situation in Kurdistan anxiously, but today they perceive Kurdistan as an important partner and collaborator to those centres in the Middle East in order to face these problems. There are onerous duties for us in the future. I hope our actions and thinking are proportionate to the level of this task. It is such a historical time; Middle East is in transition and we enjoy good resources. I hope that together we could make use of the resources well and I also hope that the next 100 years will be the years where the rights of the people of Kurdistan are well respected.