The Kurds: one nation in four countries
After WW I and the demise of the Osman Empire the European powers France and United Kingdom redesigned the “Middle East” disregarding ethic-religious, historic and cultural factors. On the drawing-board they created new states like Jordan, Iraq and Syria with new artificial boundaries.
They “forgot” to create one state: Kurdistan - as the homeland for then about 30-40 million Kurds.
This new design triggered multifaceted tensions and conflicts between and within the states in the Middle East until today.
Most of the current conflicts in North Africa and the Gulf region have their origin in the aftermath of WW I.
The Kurds have been a renowned high-culture nation in the Middle East.
Without a homeland about 40 million Kurds live mainly as minorities in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and they have been fighting for human rights and autonomy for about 90 years.
More than one million Kurds fled the conflicts to Scandinavia and Central Europe. It is less known that about 800 000 Kurds live in Germany.
BrigGen(ret) Dieter Farwick, Senior Vice President of WSN, got the chance to interview exclusively two high ranking Kurds in Brussels, Belgium. His interview partners were Rahman Haji-Ahmadi, President of the “Party of Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK)”, and Zubeyir Aydar, Member of the Executive Council of “The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK)”. The discussion centered about a broad spectrum of topics ranging from human rights, protection of Kurdish minorities, ethnic-religious issues to questions regarding the future status of “Kurdistan”, the situation in Turkey, Iran and Iraq well as the question of the use or non-use of violence.
Dieter Farwick: What was the situation of the Kurds in Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein? How many Kurds lost their lives? Could you safeguard a kind of autonomy for your people? Was the no-fly zone helpful?
Rahmann Haji – Ahmadi: As a dreadful dictator Saddam was extremely harmful for the Iraqi people particularly to the Kurds. During Saddam’s era hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed and over 2500 Kurdish villages and towns were destroyed. 182,000 people were killed in an operation known as “Anfal”; so far 130 mass graves have been found where the bodies of thousands of people were hidden. After Nagasaki in Japan, the chemical bombardment of Halabja was the second most catastrophic in the history. Without the American/Western support and the establishment of a no-fly zone, it seemed so difficult for the Kurds to achieve what they have now.
Dieter Farwick: How many of the 40 million Kurds live today in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey? In the past, life for Kurds was worst in Turkey. Obviously there have been some modest positive developments. In which country the situation today is the worst for Kurds?
Zubeyir Aydar: Approximately half of the 40 million Kurds live in today’s official Turkey, the other half live respectively in Iran, Iraq and Syria. In a big part of the territory of the former Soviet Union, for example in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, KaZubeyir Aydarkhstan, Turkmenistan, Kirgizistan, there is a Kurdish population. In the last 30 years the Kurdish political emigration has been mainly oriented to Europe. Around 1 million Kurds live in Europe, among them more than 800 000 in Germany.
While the Kurds in Kurdistan Region (Iraq) are ruling themselves, the Kurds in Syria and Iran are in the worst situation. The people face very difficult conditions in these countries. Some hundred thousand Kurds in Syria still dont have ID cards and citizenship. In Iran the repressions and the executions of Kurds are systematic.
The situation in Turkey used to be the most severe. In the last 30 years the Kurds lead a very determined struggle for freedom and they obtained results. Turkey realised that it cannot overcome its problems using its old political methods of pressure, violence, denial and destruction. There is also the influence of the relations between Turkey and the European Union. All these factors have been pushing Turkey to make some changes and undertake some positive steps. However, these steps are too small and far from resolving the problem. At the present moment, the law still doesn’t recognize the most basic human rights of the Kurds, including language and culture, and the Kurdish children can not learn their mother language at school. At the same time, while visiting Germany Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan criticised the German immigration policy towards the Turks, saying that “assimilation is a crime against humanity”, even though the most severe assimilation is taking place in his own country.
The problems we face in Turkey are continuing, but at the same time we also have a dialogue with the Turkish authorities. It is too early for a concrete solution, but the negotiations are continuing. The Kurdish side is ready to negotiate at all levels, because our aim is to solve the problem by peaceful means. However, the Turkish side is trying to make the process difficult for us by prolonging the negotiation process and avoiding the main problems. Over 2000 Kurdish politicians have been arrested in the last two years and military operations against Kurds have been continuing.
Dieter Farwick: The Kurdish region in Iraq seems to be an island of stability and economic progress based upon oil and gas. Are the Kurds happy with their current situation in Iraq? Do they feel sufficiently represented in Baghdad?
Rahman Haji-Ahmadi: Having agreed on federalism and a multi-party system as well as free elections and decentralisation of power in Iraq was helpful for democratisation of this country; it was also in the interest of the Middle Eastern and the Iraqi people. If Iraq’s neighbours do not interfere in the domestic affairs of this country, Iraq can take the direction toward democracy. Shiite and Sunni Arabs with the Kurds can join a government in Baghdad; Iraq could become a model for the region.
Dieter Farwick: Fundamental and extreme Islamism is a threat to the whole world. The Kurds are Moslems, too. What is your view of the Islamic danger in the Middle East and in Europe? How do you see the role of religion in a state and in society?
Zubeyir Aydar: This is an important question and we have experienced this problem in our country Kurdistan. The majority of the Kurds are Muslims, but the Kurdish movements and organisations generally are secular. The countries oppressing the Kurds are using the Islamic groups and movements against us. In Kurdistan part of Turkey and in Kurdistan Region in Iraq more than one thousand Kurdish secular politicians and patriots have been killed by Islamic organisations, as Turkish Hezbullah and Ansar-Al-Islam (Al Qaida).
In collaboration with Iran in the 90’s, Turkey founded an organisation under the name of Hezbollah. This organisation was used against the Kurdish struggle for freedom. Working with the Special Warfare Department (Turkish Gladio), they executed around one thousand Kurdish patriots in the streets. The intersection area of the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq (central Kurdistan) is a mountain range (Zubeyir Aydargros Mountains). Currently this region is under the control of the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK) and PJAK guerrillas. Turkey and Iran are almost continuously organising attacks in this region. On November 5, 2007 after the Bush-Erdogan meeting, Turkey, with American support, conducted many operations in this mountain region controlled by the KCK and PJAK guerrillas. Despite all the attacks, Turkey and Iran are unable to control this region. Hence, they tried to infiltrate the area by the use of Islamic groups such as Ansar-Al-Islam and Al Qaida. However, these attempts were not successful. Its very clear that if we did not have control over that very difficult area, Islamic groups, especially Al Qaeda, would have settled there and the region would be more dangerous than the Tora-Bora region in Afghanistan.
We are not in favour of mixing religion with state affairs. Everyone should have the freedom of religion and conscience, but religion must not be an instrument in politics. We do not endorse the development of radical Islamic organisations like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas; we see that ideology as a danger to the society.
If the Kurdish problem is resolved in a peaceful manner, it would offer a major contribution to the democratisation of the Middle East and it would put an end to the radical movements in the region. Otherwise, if the Kurdish Freedom Movement is liquidated, radical Islamic groups will develop in Kurdistan. This will lead to a negative outcome for all.
Dieter Farwick: What kind of future do you want for your country? Do you have still the dream of a united Kurdistan on your own territory? Or do you accept the present divide into four countries? Could you live with improved living conditions of your people in the four countries – in a kind of cultural unity? What status do you aim at for the Kurdish region in Iraq?
Rahman Haji-Ahmadi: I wish to see a secular and democratic country where men and women have equal rights in every aspect of their lives, the rights of ethnic and religious groups are upheld and protected. We want the Kurds in their respective countries of residence to have all the political, social, cultural, religious, and economic rights, which are enjoyed by the dominant nations (Fars, Arab, Turks), no less and no more than what the Fars, Arabs and the Turks have. Such a form of co-existence of nations is evident in various places, for example in Canada, South Africa, Switzerland, Belgium, Britain, Spain etc. If the conditions for a decent life for the Kurds are met in those countries, I believe the establishment of an united [independent] Kurdistan is not necessary. Otherwise, the Kurds do have the right of self-determination at its disposal. We believe that the Democratic Confederation System is the best option for those countries in which the Kurds live, for it permits the multiplicity of national and cultural identity.
Dieter Farwick: As a Christ I am very interested in the fate of Christians in the Kurdish region. Is the Kurdish region a safe haven for Christians and other religions which are under high pressure in the Middle East ? How ethnic minorities fare in the Kurdish region?
Zubeyir Aydar: This is a significant problem. One of the first places for Christianity to spread was in the Middle East/Mesopotamia/Kurdistan. Unfortunately, very significant massacres took place in that area at the beginning of the last century. During the First World War the Ottoman Turks conducted Genocide against the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Greeks and the Yezidis. All the non-Muslim population in the Ottoman Empire has been killed or deported according the Turkish plans with the help of different Muslim groups, including some Kurdish clans, which have been also used against the Kurds as well.
For all religious minorities, including Christians, the Middle East is still not a safe place and the pressures continue. A safe and stable Kurdistan will be also a safe haven for Christians and for all religious minorities. More than 60 000 Christians have been fleeing from the terror and the violence in many parts of Iraq into the relative safety of the Federal Region of Kurdistan. It is our obligation as Kurds to protect the Christians in the Middle East so they can live in their own land.
Dieter Farwick: Let’s talk about the image of the Kurds in Central Europe. To be frank to you: Many Europeans regard the Kurds using violence in order to achieve their aims. Many Europeans have still in mind images of violent demonstrations in European cities and on motorways. This perception is counterproductive to a better integration of the Kurds. Is violence for you still a tool to achieve your aims and objectives? Is there a different approach in Europe and the Middle East? What is your relationship with the PKK?
Rahman Haji-Ahmadi: Obviously, I would not say that the Kurds had not made mistakes in the past, but I can not say that these mistakes were made in a one-way manner, and that only the Kurds did mistakes. A question raises here: Kurds live in all parts of Europe and in relation to the population of host countries in the equal proportions as in Germany. Why should violence only occur in German cities and motorways? Kurdish people are of the opinion that such an image upheld in certain European countries is an untruth and illegitimate image: 1). It has been carved to serve the economic interests in relation to Turkey and Iran; 2). It has been carved under the diplomatic pressure of Turkey. It is a political, untruthful, and illegitimate perception against the Kurdish nation. To prove such an assertion, in 2008 the European Court decided to remove the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from the European terror list, since the organisation has not engaged in violence for a long period of time. However, the European Commission put it on the terror list again. The Kurdish nation hopes that European countries, particularly Germany will reassess their policies in relation to the Kurds and help to solve the Kurdish issue through the use of dialogue and peace which would certainly be in the interest of Germany, too. Our relation with the PKK: We are two Kurdish parties and we are brothers, for instance, in the European countries, what sort of relations do Social Christian Parties, Social Democrats, Liberals, the Lefts and the Greens? We have a similar relation with the PKK.
Dieter Farwick: I was told that you are aware of plans to kill both of you and a third Kurdish high-ranking politician. What is the motivation behind those plans? What do you know about those plans? Who is the mastermind behind those plans? Where should those plans been executed? Do you get support from the European side?
Zubeyir Aydar: As we know, the Iranian regime has assassinated many opposition politicians abroad, including Iranian Kurdish leaders in Vienna and Berlin. In September 2010 we received news of an assassination plot against the three of us (Mr. Haji Ahmadi, the Chairmen of PJAK, Mr. Remzi Kartal, Chairmen of KONGRA-GEL and myself) with Iranian links and Turkish support from a European source. At first we did not take it very seriously. But within less than a month, we received for second time the same information from a high-level source inside the Iranian system. This made us more worried, because our Iranian source is trusted and has been tested earlier. According to both sets of information an Iranian killing team was holding Turkish passports and ID cards. We reported this information to the Belgian authorities via our lawyers and contacts. The Belgian authorities took it seriously and took precautions; similar measures were also taken in Germany for Mr. Haji Ahmedi (German citizen).
Iran has not updated important information about our movements in Europe. But the Iranian regime is supplied with information by the Turkish authorities, because they have a common enemy – the Kurds, and especially KCK and PJAK. I am sure that in the last years U.S. and EU Intelligence services, cooperating closely with Turkey, have understood how the information they are forwarding to Turkey, has been received by their own enemy, namely the Iranian regime.
Dieter Farwick: The Kurdish region is in the middle of a very fragile environment. Which countries try to influence the future development in your area and in Iraq as a whole? In which way?
Rahman Haji-Ahmadi: That is true; the Kurdistan region in Iraq is in a fragile situation. All the neighbouring countries try to make it unstable. The antagonism of Turkey and its vice policies toward the Kurdish people have provided Iran with opportunities to successively increase her influences over Iran in general and the Kurdish region in particular; currently we could say that Iran governs Iraq. This is the major threat for the future of the Middle East. Provided the Kurdish issue is solved in Turkey, the Iranian impact and influence would decrease in Iraq, and Iraq would, to some extent, be saved from the threats of the Iranian direct interference and it could also take a significant role in the reconciliation and the stabilisation of the Middle East.
Dieter Farwick: What are the main obstacles to improve the living conditions of the Kurds in the Middle East? How can ordinary people benefit from the revenues of oil and gas exports? Is the partition of Iraq into three parts still an option? Could the Kurdish region sustain a status of independence?
Rahman Haji-Ahmadi: Failure to recognise the rights of the Kurdish people, failure to solve the Kurdish issue, and the war of denial and annihilation of the Kurds directed by Iran, Turkey and Syria are the main obstacles to the growth and development in Kurdistan. If the Kurdish question is solved in Turkey, Kurdistan’s oil and gas would, to a significant extent, meet the energy needs of Western countries. At the same time it would be a considerable source of national income that would enable the Kurds to reconstruct their country, upon which war has been imposed for decades. Thousands of villages have been destroyed and no sign of economic remnants can be seen. We need peace to reconstruct Kurdistan and provide the Kurdish people with a humanistic live. As long as democracy is not solidified in Iraq and the nations of this country are not able to find a mechanism for coexistence. It is evident that the interest of the Western powers in the region is one of the major factors. Independence of the Kurdistan Region without the support of the West would seem very difficult.
Dieter Farwick: What are reasons of hope for a better future of your people in the Middle East? What more should Europe and the United States do to support your movement? What could be done better to improve the integration – not assimilation – of Kurds in Central Europe and Scandinavia?
Zubeyir Aydar: The latest developments in our struggle and the strength of our people give us hope for success and a better future. We paid our price, we believe we will succeed. The United States and Europe approach the Kurdish question with a framework that will favour their national interests. Their approach is pragmatic and they have double standards. They turned a blind eye when Saddam was committing massacres as they have good business relations with the regime. When these relations ended after the degradation, they declared the Iraqi Kurds “good” and the Turkish Kurds “bad”. This is when you encounter double standards. There are Kurds on both sides of the border and in many instances they have close relatives on the other side. The Kurd that was the freedom fighter against Saddam’s regime became the good Kurd, but the Kurd across the border struggling against Turkey became a terrorist and a bad Kurd. These are double standards. Our expectation is that they give up the double standards and support the justified struggle for freedom of the Kurdish people and support a peaceful solution.
Dieter Farwick: If you had three wishes free? What would you ask for?
Zubeyir Aydar: I’ve been living in exile for 17 years. What could an exiled person wish whose country is banned? My only wish is to go to a free Kurdistan with dignity.
Rahman Haji-Ahmadi: My three wishes look more like dreams than wishes: 1). A world with no racial discrimination and religious fundamentalism. 2). A world, in which all the oppressed nations achieve their rights. 3). All the ethnic and religious groups regardless of where they live, be secured with their political, social, cultural and religious rights.