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MERI Forum 2018, P3: Kurdistan in the New Middle East

Panel – 3: Kurdistan in the New Middle East

  • Mala Baxtiyar, Politburo’s Executive Chair, Patriotic Union on Kurdistan
  • Nazmi Gur, Former Deputy Leader, People’s Democratic Party, Former Member of Parliament, Turkey
  • Khalid Azizi, Leadership Committee Member, Kurdistan Democratic Party (Iran)
  • Dlawar Ala’Aldeen, President of MERI (Chair)

In his introduction, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen defined the framework for the debates in this panel, which is designed to explore  Kurdistan’s role in the political and security dynamics of the Middle East, and discuss the weaknesses and challenges the Kurds face in the states they live in. He asked the speakers to identify the opportunities the Kurds have for winning their civil and political rights, and address the question of the presence or absence of shared visions.  Ala’Aldeen emphasized that the speakers have been invited not as party or country representatives, but as individual political leaders to present their own personal visions which must have been shaped by their experiences.  They were invited to extract lessons from the past and predict the role of the Kurds in the new Middle East.

Mala Baxtiyar characterised the major problems of the Middle East as “the persistence of backward social and ideological beliefs and governing systems”. In his view, while enlightenment in Europe paved the way for the ascendance of democracy, in the Middle East enlightenment and consequent social, religious, administrative and philosophical reforms as prerequisites of democracy did not occur.  As a result governing systems in this region, whether monarchic, republic or leftist etc, have all been anti-democratic. These regimes never hesitated to use brutal force in the face of challenges to their visions or viewpoints. “We did not commit any crime when we asked for a referendum”, but the Iraqi government used force against us.

Baxtiyar also stated that in both the unipolar and bipolar systems, the Kurds were the victim, as they were sacrificed in agreements such as Algeria agreement of 1975. He concluded that the current chaotic world is more in the Kurdish interest, as problems rose among global powers, and regional powers have created opportunities for Kurds. He referred to the case of Rojava Kurds in Syria that gained control over their areas due to presence of disagreement between the USA and Russia as well as among regional powers. Furthermore, Baxtiyar counted lack of strategic vision for domestic and international policy formulation and lack of “real friends” as two main problems of the Kurdish parties and Kurds.

Nazmi Gur divided the Kurdish status and struggle in the Middle East in to two phases, the one hundred years before the second Gulf War and the new phase after the Gulf (and Syria’s) war. In the first phase, the Kurds were divided and oppressed by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Kurdish movement was faced by incremental cruelty and bloodshed.  However, in the new stage the Kurds have been able to secure a federal status in Iraq and made great progress in Syria. In Iran and Turkey the situation is different and centralized regimes continue to stand against the Kurdish political rights.

Nevertheless the democratic struggle of the Kurds continues in Turkey and Gur was optimistic about the long term future.  He saw the solution for the Kurdish fragmentation in holding a national conference to select representatives who can represent the Kurds internationally. Otherwise, the four countries Kurds are scattered in will continue dividing the Kurds and setting them against each other.

Khalid Azizi tackled the issue from an Iranian Kurdish perspective. He stressed that he always called for dialogue between the Kurds and Tehran as the way to solve the Kurdish issue in Iran. “My call was responded by missiles forty nights ago”. Azizi believes that Iran’s decision-makers do not want dialogue, instead they resort to their military might.

Moreover, Azizi does not think that current level of democracy provides the ultimate solution for the Kurdish issue in the Middle East, as democracy is not yet institutionalized. Instead, he believes political agreements would work better and advises that the Kurds should search for partners in the Middle East. While he is pessimistic about openness of Iran to the Kurdish issue, Azizi hopes that the federal system in Iraq succeed and become a model to be applied in Iran and other countries where the Kurdish exist as minorities.

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