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 Kurdish Culture, Identity, and the Challenge of Regional Co-Existence

 Source : The Elliott School of International Affairs
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Kurdish Culture, Identity, and the Challenge of Regional Co-Existence  30.11.2007

A conversation with the Special Assistant to the KRG Representative, Mr. Heyrsh Abdulrahman
The Middle East Peace Group and the Conflict Resolution Forum
The Elliott School of International Affairs, Lidner Family Commons, Suite 602, Wednesday, November 28th 2007

November 30, 2007

Heyrsh GW speech, Middle East peace Group on November 28th 2007

Good evening and thank you for asking me to join you. It was just a few years ago that I was also a university student in nearby Virginia. To me, the university was one of the greatest experiences of my life – it gave me the chance to think, to challenge and learn and to begin to see how the life ahead of me could be rewarding and meaningful.

I have not been disappointed so far!! Yet in those few short years since my graduation, much of the world has dramatically changed, including the part of the world – Kurdistan and Iraq – where I was born and that I think of when I hear the word “homeland.” The changes have been positive, for the most part, yet are a good reminder of one of the lessons I learned in university – for most questions answered, many new questions often arise.

And so we now look at the new question of where do we go from here in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the surrounding areas. And how do I, you and all of us, ensure that the path forward is one of peace and continued reconciliation, a “teaching example” to the world of how a new democracy can begin and grow, build trust and cooperation with its neighbors and ensure its citizens human rights and opportunities.

The purpose of your organization, the Middle East Peace Group, is to create meaningful encounters between people and make people think differently about their own issues.
www.ekurd.netUncensored, meaningful encounters are crucial to understanding and harmony. It’s not just what you learn in a textbook but also what you learn from the human, personal connections.

It’s an important time to be talking about Iraq and the region. Americans are engaged in debate on what their presence will be in the democracy they helped to birth. Iraqis of all backgrounds, realizing they now can actually talk and discuss politics and decide their future, are trying to build upon the framework of federalism developed in our new constitution to make it strong and vibrant.

For Iraqi Kurds, we are ready to join in this development. In a sense, we have been blessed with more than 15 years of experience in limited self-rule. Protected by the United States, the United Kingdom and France in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war, Iraqi Kurds were able to begin the rudimentary steps toward a democracy and free enterprise system. When Iraq’s liberation became complete with the multi-national intervention in 2003, Iraqi Kurds had a living, breathing microcosm of a democracy that all of Iraq could embrace.

It has been said of the Kurds that “We have no friends but the mountains.” For nearly all of our existence this has been largely true -- we have been attacked, persecuted and threatened by our neighbors, and made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in the lands of our birth.

Nowhere was the brutality more severe than when Saddam Hussein spent most of twenty years trying to liquidate our people. Through the horrors of Halabja, the Anfal and a merciless military campaign, the Baathist regime sought our complete elimination as a people. Yet, after the loss of hundreds of thousands of Kurds, and the destruction of our infrastructure and our villages and way of life, we have survived and today we are recovering in every sense of the word – economically, culturally, politically and socially.

I mention this history because it is important to understand how it has impacted our views on Iraq and our behavior today. After the first Gulf War in 1991, through the efforts of the United States and others the Kurdistan Region became essentially self-governing. We were cut off from the rest of Iraq in military terms, but also in economic terms. Saddam Hussein refused to supply us power, water, trade, food, nor any of the essentials of life. It was a time of great struggle and great challenge for our people. We were free in many ways, but we were deprived, hungry and barely able to create the conditions for life. With the help of the United States, and other friends abroad, we have come a lone way.

One of those friends is Turkey. We could not have accomplished any of these democratic triumphs without the help and support of our neighbors in Turkey. Throughout many of the struggles and violence I mentioned earlier, the Turks were our allies. They sheltered us and provided us comfort and resources when the rest of the world had abandoned us. To be sure, we have had our differences, but more often than not, the Turks have been our brothers in the struggle for peace and freedom. We rely on Turkey for most of our foreign trade. We want to work with Turkey and other interested parties to find a long-term political solution which can bring peace and cooperation back to the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey.

We are emerging from a difficult period in our history, but we are optimistic as we look to the future. After decades of repression and violence, Kurds, and all the groups who share our region are building the institutions of democracy and freedom. We are learning how to be responsible leaders and we are committed to playing a constructive and positive role within Iraq. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, has dedicated his life to re-building a federal democratic Iraq. Many of our Kurdish brothers hold high positions in Baghdad. We want the idea of Iraq to work and we want to be part of it provided that the new Iraq protects us and our way of life.

We are grateful for the support which we receive from abroad, and for the liberation of our country. We are aware that a great debate is being conducted in the US and elsewhere regarding whether to maintain military troops in Iraq. While it is for Americans to decide, I can tell you that your presence over the past four years has accomplished a great deal. Iraq is far from perfect, it faces many and difficult challenges in the years ahead. But progress is being made. We will continue this work, whether American troops remain or not.

But I want to say today the sacrifices you have made have not been in vain. Iraq is free today, and at least one part of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region, is becoming the kind of peaceful, democratic and tolerant society that America and the allies hoped when they committed to the liberation of Iraq.

Reconciliation comes in many forms. You know this well. The Middle East Group was founded by Adi Timor, who was born and raised in Israel but had never met a Palestinian until she was participating in a conflict resolution workshop at George Mason University. Now there is this vibrant student organization with the goal of sustaining meaningful dialogue about conflicts in the Middle East.

Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.” Working together economically, politically and socially is one of the strongest way to achieve that important goal.

Your two-year-old organization has the goal to build and shape a new community of young leaders that are willing to provide a fresh perspective on the ongoing conflicts and assist in introducing new ideas and ways to help achieve peace in the Middle East. I suspect I would be a member of your organization if I were a student here today.

Very soon, if not already, it will be up to our generation to provide the brainpower and strength to make our world a better place, to build on what was left us and improve upon the many things needing work. I hope all of us can find our corners of the world that call to us and, through our actions we will triumph.

Conflict Resolution Forum     


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