Monday 8 April 2013

Barzani and the Middle East’s new Kurdish player

Inset is Massoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan

My paraphrasing of today's leader comment penned in Arabic by Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of al-Hayat:
A new player has entered the terrible Middle East field, where regimes, governments, maps and minorities are either crumbling or shaking like a leaf.
That’s the Kurdish player.
In the last century, Kurds were roughed up in the game of nations, which dispersed them, independently of their will, as minorities in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Geography sentenced this people without the right to appeal, and history endorsed the ruling.
Today, we’re talking of nearly 25 million Kurds.
A decade ago many believed Kurds were destined to simply pass on story lines about their sufferings in rugged mountains and about scenes of Halabja and the Anfal Campaign.
Many also believed Kurds would forcibly swallow unjust Turkization and Arabization drives.
Denial of Kurdish rights was a fixed but tacit government policy clause in all four countries despite their claims to the contrary.
Suddenly, the crazy American adventure of invading Iraq brought this dirty game to a close.
The invasion would not have taken place had the Kurdish-Shiite alliance not made a pitch for toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime by any means and in whatever way possible.
That’s how the Shiites pocketed Baghdad and the Kurds bagged Iraqi Kurdistan under the federal constitutional republic of Iraq.
The Kurds have now had a decade of stability for the first time in their blood-soaked history.
They’re living under their own flag, though they’ve not ditched Iraq’s.
They teach their children in their native tongue and sing their ballads in their squares. They are building roads and setting up universities. They are also attracting investors and tourists.
The past decade was full of scenes as well.
Massoud Mustafa Barzani is the elected president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, managing it with the competence of a statesman after having led the Peshmerga with the astuteness of a freedom fighter-cum-politician.
Jalal Talabani sits in Saddam Hussein’s office as the president of Iraq.
Hoshyar Zebari shepherds Iraqi diplomacy, trying to uphold the interests of Iraq while walking a tightrope between America’s shadow and Iran’s clout.
Another scene is no less important.
The plane of someone named Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed in Erbil to open its international airport.
In a historic message, the visitor said the day when Kurdish rights were ignored is gone forever. Barzani struggled to conceal his delight, choosing instead to build on the phrase.
I asked Massoud Barzani about Erdogan’s Turkey and the Kurds of Abdullah Ocalan being on the same page now.
He acknowledged in his answer that he encouraged the two sides to bury the hatchet and seek a political solution.
He said success of the Turkey-PKK deal would be “a historic event inducing a sea change in the region.”
He said the two sides showed a sense of realism by kicking off implementation of the agreement to end a conflict that drained Kurds and Turks correspondingly.
I also asked Barzani if stability and prosperity in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region could incite Kurds in neighboring countries to use it as a template.
He replied: There is absolutely no need to clone the Kurdistan Region’s experience. There are circumstances, particularities, power balances and equilibriums. Chronic injustice should not stir up rashness.
“We’re not seeking to tear up maps and redraw borders. We don’t want clashes. We want to live in peace with the Turks, Arabs and Persians. We want to be a stability-and-prosperity factor.
“Surely, however, the times of usurped rights, exclusion and marginalization are defunct. Non-recognition of the ‘Other’ is a destructive culture.”
Barzani felt aggrieved by the mass killings and horrendous destruction in Syria, “which is on our doorstep.” He feared a prolonged split that would create an environment for extremists.
He precluded any role by Iraqi Kurdistan in arming Syria’s Kurds. He also hoped democracy and respect of all constituents would prevail in neighborly Syria.
Barzani refused to “personalize” his current dispute with Nouri al-Maliki, recognizing at the same time that links with Baghdad’s prevailing course of action were “nearing the point of no return.”
He stressed (Iraq’s) Kurds are not asking for more than a respect of the constitution and agreements signed, indicating at the same time that Baghdad’s course of action provoked a deep crisis with Iraq’s Arab Sunni component as well.
Turkey chose a new approach to deal with its Kurds.  Once the guns fall silent in Syria, its Kurdish component will be seated at the reconciliation table. Watching and waiting for their appointment will be Iran’s Kurds.
The triumph of Iraqi Kurdistan has helped change the way the ball bounces.
I asked Barzani, “What do the children of Peshmerga fighters yearn for?”
He grinned and replied, “They want computers, technologies, universities, job opportunities and hospitals. But, in this intricate Middle East, you have to remain on your guard. You must be prepared for war to ward it off.”
I asked, “Why do Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nouri al-Maliki, Bashar al-Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemingly lack an esprit de corps?”
Barzani smiled again, saying only, “We want to turn borders into prospects to cooperate, not clash. We have to bank on human dignity, the economy and education. There’s no turning back.”