A third way for Kurds?

Participants at the Liberal Kurdish Congress in Oslo.

Participants at the Liberal Kurdish Congress in Oslo.

(Speech delivered in Oslo to the Kongress of Kurdish Liberal Parties, December 6, 2013)

Norway is home to thousands of kurds. Nobody knows exactly how many, since immigrants are registered not by ethnicity or language, but according to their country of origin. The Norwegian public has little knowledge of the Kurdish people and their situation; the only well-known kurd being the islamist going by the name of Mullah Krekar.

The Norwegian government voices no opinion on Kurdish rights, criticising the human rights record of Turkey without singling out the organised repression of Kurdishness. Norway remains committed to maintaining present borders in the Middle East, as defined by France and Britain a hundred years ago, and wants Iraqi peshmerga to withdraw to positions before the US-led invasion of 2003. In Syria, Norway recognises Arab opposition groups that deny Kurdish rights in that country.

However, the tectonic shift manifesting in the so-called Arab Spring, has also opened new possibilities for Kurds, who still are still the largest population in the world without their own state.

The Kurdish region in Iraq, South Kurdistan, is drawing ever closer to full independence. The government of Turkey is negotiating peace with the rebels of the PKK. The Kurdish areas of Syria are fast developing the trappings of autonomy. As for East Kurdistan, or northwestern Iran, oppression goes on as usual, but there is simmering beneath the surface.

The emergence of a Kurdish statelet, Rojava, in Syria has changed the international status of the Kurdish struggle significantly, even if international observers continue to downplay Kurdish importance. The dominant party in this region, the PYD, is closely connected to PKK. The military commanders have been trained by the PKK in Qandil, and many have experience from fighting in Turkey.

The PYD denies being linked to the Assad-regime, but it remains a fact that the Syrian Army handed over the control of large areas to the PYD at the same time as Turkish prime-minister Erdogan made plain his support for the Syrian rebels.

Pctures of Abdullah Öcalan are prominent in Rojava, and competing Kurdish parties are suppressed. The attempts by KRG-president Massoud Barzani to intervene have failed. Instead Barzani has marched into Öcalan’s own backyard, appearing publicly with Erdogan and others in the unofficial Kurdish capital in Turkey, Diyarbakir or Amed.

Followers of Öcalan have condemned not only Barzani, but also popular Kurdish artists Shiwan Perwer and Ibrahim Tatlises, who appeared on stage with him, as jash, traitors. The fact remains, however, that Barzani spoke in Kurdish on Turkish TV dressed in Kurdish clothes, and that he was warmly received by Erdogan who even took the once forbidden word Kurdistan in his mouth

No solution to Kurdish problems is possible without Öcalan, known to his followers as Apo, who enjoys wide support or even adulation, and is frequently likened to Nelson Mandela, the great South-African leader who recently passed away.

It is worth noting, however, that the PKK and its associated parties and organisations have violently oppressed rival groups among the Kurdish people, and that the the BDP and its predecessors have never managed to get more than half the Kurdish vote.

In Turkey, as in Syria, the apoists maintain their power in the Kurdish community by the use of force as well as charm. Indeed, looking back on Kurdish history the tradition of the warrior springs to mind. The Kurdish guerilla fighter, thepeshmerga, has been the main force in Kurdish politics, guns have been more important than words. The result is that Kurdish leaders have all been warriors in the eyes of their followers, brutal murderers in the eyes of their opponents, and terrorists in the eyes of the world.

Kurdistan lies, and historically has always lain, at the frontier between major empires. Kurdish warriors have fought against other Kurds for and against the Persians and the Ottomans, for and against Iran, Iraq and Syria. The rulers in the area – be they Arabs, Persians or Turks, be they Americans, British or French – have noted with satisfaction that the Kurds have been killing each other.

From the warrior tradition ruthless leaders have emerged, utilising the bonds of tribe and family to consolidate their power. This is eminently plain to see in South Kurdistan where names like Barzani and Talabani abound among those who achieve wealth and power.

The Kurdish world seems to be split between the right wing nationalism of Barzani, and the radical nationalism of Öcalan, with a splattering of Islamist groups on the side.

However for Kurdish society to make the transition into modern politics, there is the need of other voices. There is the need to fight with words and ideas instead of guns. Liberalism is an old and honourable ideology which should have its place in the Kurdish politics of the 21. century. I wish all the best for the Kurdistan Liberal Party.

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1 kommentar (+add yours?)

  1. Fuad Bahram
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 20:05:00

    Tack Jan för en väl skrivet artikel.
    Tack för ditt stöd för vår kamp för ett fritt Kurdistan där alla människor är lika värda oavsett deras kön, tron eller etnicitet.

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