Speech for Kurdish National Congress conference at University of Slahaddin and Sulaimani, November 10 and 13, 2005, Southern Kurdistan.
Since I left Eastern Kurdistan 22 years ago, I have been waiting to visit home without going through the territory of neighboring biased countries. It is my utmost pleasure to be able to travel directly from the free world to this part of my homeland and speak freely. Thank you Southern Kurdistan, coalition forces, and KNC for making this happen. The title of the conference is Kurdish Independence. Independence, the freedom from being controlled by others, is not only one of the highest values of mankind, but also a very difficult aim to achieve. Kurdistan, the foster child of the Middle East, has been dreaming of obtaining her natural right of independence for decades. While its inhabitants share a common origin, history, language, and customs that define Kurdistan as a nation, obstacles such as culture, geography, politics, and traumas have prevented Kurdish independence.
Before blaming others, it is fair to highlight some of the negative aspects of the Kurdish culture. Kurdistan has paid heavily for the shortcomings of its leaders and their inability to resolve internal conflicts and unite for their common cause. While their adaptive nature has helped the Kurds to survive under the control of aggressive central governments, at times it has become too submissive and prevented them from achieving their ultimate goal of independence. Since the collapse of the ancient Median kingdom, Kurds have not had any significant gains. Instead of striving for independence first and interdependence next, some Kurdish leaders have advocated the reverse. A prototype of Kurdish leadership is the famous Salahadin, who behaved unlike the emperors and kings of other ethnic groups; while he had the power to revitalize the positive aspects of ancient Kurdish faiths and heritage, he was a servant of an imposed foreign religion. A major shortcoming of this religion is lack of respect for the gender of our mothers, the better teacher of love and peace, which has led to fierceness and unconscious discriminatory habits in the culture.
The influence of this religion seems to have been more harmful than helpful as evidenced by ignoring Kurdish identity, and persistence of residual forms of fundamentalism such as gender discrimination, honor killing, and genital mutilation in remote areas of Kurdistan. Similarly, many contemporary prominent Kurdish leaders have rather promoted Arabic, Turkish, and Persian causes instead of their own first. While Kurds are forced to learn the language of their oppressors, no Non-Kurdish employee of the central government is expected to learn the language of the people they are supposed to serve in Kurdistan. It is not surprising to see that even today some Kurdish leaders are doing the same in Southern Kurdistan by promoting the integrity of Iraq or by agreeing with some American and European politicians, who for their own national interest, insist on sacredness of the territorial integrity of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.
To my knowledge, the most efficient way to eliminate cultural shortcoming, internal conflicts and submissiveness of some of the Kurdish leaders is unity around Kurdish independence. This will mean to start advocating for national interests over organizational and party interests, to promote and adapt to new ideas, to give responsibilities based on skills, expertise, and ability and not on affiliations, and to avoid promoting Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages in Kurdistan until Kurdish language is in an equal status. By the same token, every effort should be taken to avoid mixture of state and religion to prevent mishaps such as politicizing faiths, promoting aggression and holy wars, as well as gender discrimination.
The geography of Kurdistan is another factor that has prevented Kurdish independence. Contrary to general assumption, Kurdish land is relatively rich in natural resources. Prior to the creation of nations and states in their current forms, Kurdistan was divided between the Persian and Ottoman empires. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurdish land was further divided and artificial states and nations were created. Like other colonies in the world, exploitation of the land and terrorizing of its people has been the main policy of those who have had absolute control over Kurdistan. Such a control has in turn led to an enforced assimilation policy with subsequent lack of developing a coherent Kurdish identity to the point that many Kurds consider themselves as Turks, Arabs and Persians, the three main ethnic groups with political power in the Middle East.
To utilize our geographical handicap positively, it is important to act like politicians of other nations, and build alliances with every nation who is willing to help the Kurds in his/her own style. Although the most reliable nation to trust now is the United States, there should be no hesitancy to have economic and cultural exchanges with other countries including the controversial ones! As an example, there is no reason to shay away from building good relationships with Israel, Palestine, Libya, and even Iran, Turkey and Syria, if they are courageous enough and willing to accept mutually respectable principles. It seems reasonable to have an economic relationship with the neighboring countries, despite their past aggressive behavior toward the Kurds. More importantly it's better to develop economical as well as political relationships with those countries which have reached enlightenment and oppose the aggressive establishments in the Middle East.
The enlightenment in the 19th century changed most parts of the world politically. In the 20th century, after World War I, the plan to create a Kurdish State was put aside under the pressure of those who had a better connection with colonial powers. Soon after World War II, the 11 months old first Kurdish Republic was eliminated through the support of the West and silence of the East. Since then the Kurdish movement has tried various options, made mistakes, been traumatized, but fortunately been able to survive. The movement has been criticized not only by the right for not being on par with the demands of capitalism and the modern world but also by the left for being local, or nationalistic. Neither the right nor the left has been able to understand what it means to be a second class citizen in your own home and have no control over your own language, culture, and political affairs.
Now in the 21st century Kurds should stand firm that it is unacceptable to live under the colonial policy of Arabic countries, Iran, and Turkey. Even if the Kurds might seem to become subservient to the United States, later it will be easier to be freed form a western power than from a Middle Eastern dictator. India's experience is a good example. It is essential to convince the West under the leadership of US to remain interested in the Kurdish cause and to keep coalition forces in Kurdistan to help the Peshmarga defend their land. In order to do so, Kurds should be aware that our contemporary empire with its advanced intelligence and technology does not do anything for free. With this in mind, the Kurds have to pay for defending what has been achieved and for preventing any future assault on Kurdistan by their neighbors. Since one can not rely on foreign forces forever, creation of a pluralistic national alliance in which all Kurdish organizations and institutions unite and take over the responsibility of self governance is an important key step. Such an alliance not only needs the methods of pragmatic main stream Kurdish parties, but also the peaceful methods of politically independent radical minds which through constructive criticism guides the mains stream to make progress. Keep in mind that Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, and Rosa Parks were considered as radicals of their time. George Bush and Hillary Clinton are also considered radicals by certain faction of the society today for their approach to eliminate dictatorship and poor health care system respectively. A national alliance composed of mainstream and “radical” Kurds could plan and execute policies for reconstruction and modernization of the land, and for building factories, roads, hospitals, schools, universities, cultural centers, etc. in all part of Kurdistan. Keep in mind there are sufficient praying center in every corner, yet it is hard to find a major factory, a music hall, or a theater in most parts of Kurdistan.
Having gone through various traumas, it's difficult to expect many Kurds to live a normal life, let alone promote Kurdish identity and independence. Many progressive Arabs, Turks and Persians have shown their sympathy toward the Kurds and against violation of human rights; however, some of them still side with their oppressive governments when it comes to Kurdish independence and justify various forms of oppression, arrests, terror, bombings, and genocide of the Kurds. They consider displacement of the Kurds to various non Kurdish areas, mass murders in cities such as Mahabad, Dersim, Quamishli, and Halabja, arrests, torture, and assassination of political leaders to be something that Kurds deserve, for not being loyal to their assigned nationality. They think independence is only the wish of some intellectuals and ignore that 98% of the Kurds in the Southern part of their land supported independence in a referendum.
Of course independence will not come easy without sacrifice, education and convincing our own people and the neighbors that peace is in everyone's interest. While standing firm for own rights is essential, forgiving the oppressors is necessary for creating peace. As Gandhi said, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”. Instead of revenge, the best solution to traumatic experiences is to forgive self and others, build alliances and create an atmosphere of trust. Kurds have not been against other ethnic groups but a bridge between them. It is important to remain such a bridge, yet with the status of an independent nation. Like other ethnic groups, Kurds have to have politicians from various camps that are able to keep Kurdish national interest as their main priority, yet build alliances with their ideological peers among other ethnic groups. This could lead to admittance of past wrong doings by previous oppressors, compensation for traumas and discriminations, as well as to returning misplaced people to their homes. This could ultimately promote developmental stages of federalism, independence, interdependence, and voluntary unions in the Middle East.
Kurds have suffered enough and are entitled to their natural and national right of independence. After decades of enlightenment and independence, the 21st century Europe is uniting. There is no reason for the Middle East not to do the same, after all its ethnic groups have obtained their right of independence. Since only those who can help themselves can help others, Kurds should prioritize to be independent first before they become interdependent globalists! Compared to other parts, a unified Southern Kurdistan has the best chance to succeed, if she declares independence. In order not to repeat past failures, compensating the West for protection and construction of Kurdistan is essential. The parliament of Southern Kurdistan should pay attention to the independent minds of its people and no longer wait to be given its legitimate right but declare independence as soon as possible. As an independent individual, and a member of a few interdependent organizations such as KAES and KNC, I will be honored to do anything in my capacity to help the Kurdish dream of independence come true.
Since my ability is limited to share what I have learned with those who might know a little less than me, the youth, I suggest to give special attention to our new generation. According to Erasmus, a renaissance thinker, “the best hope of a nation is the proper education of its youth”. The Youth needs to learn to: be hopeful, avoid a victim mentality, educate self, be tolerant and avoid the methods of previous generations of their counterparts, and master as conscious, liberated, independent, and responsible adults to be able to participate in the liberation and independence of their nation!
Dr. Kamal H Artin is a member of Kurdish American Education Society (www.kaes.us), and the Kurdish National Congress; however, his views do not necessarily reflect the views of all members.