Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chomsky On The Prospect of Kurdish Independence


Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s most influential thinkers. --------Photo/IOA.

Noam Chomsky, one of the world’s most influential and sought-after thinkers, recently agreed to an interview with Rudaw English’s editor-in-chief, Namo Abdulla, on the longstanding Kurdish question in the Middle East and the prospect of an independent Kurdish state in the north of Iraq. Abdulla here introduces Chomsky and discusses the significance of the man and his work:

Five months ago, I sent Noam Chomsky an email asking if he was interested in giving an interview on the Kurdish question in Iraq and Turkey. Chomsky’s reply indicated that the 84-year-old American philosopher and political activist was still closely following the Kurdish issue.

“Just back from Istanbul, a conference on freedom of speech, concentrating mostly on the Kurds,” he wrote. “I wish I could manage another interview. I'm afraid I've had to turn down all requests until at least January. Just not a moment free before that, hard as it may be to believe.”

Chomsky’s first interest in the Kurdish issue perhaps dates back to 1975, when he joined a group of some of the world’s most renowned thinkers in signing an open letter to the international community entitled “Plight of the Kurds,” which strongly condemned the Iraqi government’s atrocities against the Kurds and called for the Kurd’s right to self-determination.

Although I have often read Chomsky’s political writings with great interest, it has always been a difficult task for me to try and say who Chomsky is. Actually, I don’t think anybody could do that in a few lines, or even a few paragraphs. Although he is perhaps beyond conventional description, Chomsky has been described as a thinker, linguist, philosopher, anarchist, anti-American, anti-West activist, and a supporter of the oppressed. “Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought,” wrote the New York Times, “Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He has written over 150 books and hundreds of articles.

The following interview was conducted by phone on February 15th, with Chomsky speaking from Boston, United States, where he now lives:

NAMO ABDULLA: In my last interview with you, we focused on the Kurdish question in Iraq, but this time, I want to be broader and talk to you about Iraqi as well as Turkish Kurds. Given all the changes we are seeing in the Middle East, and what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, I am interested in having your thoughts on the Kurdish situation in general, especially in Turkey and Iraq?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it is not just Turkey and Iraq. It is also Syria, Iran, parts of Russia. Kurds, you know -- I don't have to tell you -- are the largest national, cultural group that has never been able to achieve a national territory. There are steps forward. So, for example, in northern Iraq, there is a degree of autonomy that never existed before, and also a security. There is a question of how the Kurds there will be able to exploit this opportunity to create a really decent society for themselves and a model for others.

In Turkey, where actually I just was a few weeks ago, the situation has improved. First time I was there, over 10 years ago, it was pretty awful. It was right at the end of the period of extreme violence, repression and destruction. People were afraid to use Kurdish colors and could not talk their language except in secret, and so on. So that's improved slowly. So now, there is some recognition by the government, and by a large part of the population, of the legitimacy of Kurdish identity. Kurds no longer have to be identified as “mountain Turks,” just speaking some strange dialect. So now, Kurdish is recognized to an extent. There are options for a Kurdish broadcasting of radio and television. There is a promise about teaching Kurdish in schools -- [an issue] that has not been resolved. And there are steps backward. When I was there in October, there were trials coming up of 150 Kurdish leaders, including some well-known ones, like Osman Baydemir, the mayor of Diyarbakir. [They were] non-violent activists and the charges were completely frivolous, but they were there, and I think they have been delayed. The government likely doesn't want to pursue them. In general, there are steps forward, there's some degree of progress. But, I think over time that could and should unify somehow with the Iraqi Kurds, and then there is a serious problem [about] what happens elsewhere.

Turkey has improved its government-to-government relations with Syria and with Iran, but, as far as I know, it has not affected the status of the Kurdish minorities in these countries. So there is a long distance to go, but I think there are…steps forward, and the relative autonomy in northern Iraq has given many impetuses to this, and opened up opportunities that can be pursued.

NA: As you said, there are definitely developments happening in Turkey, but, it seems that the Kurds are not happy with those developments, especially the BDP [the Peace and Democracy Party] and the PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party].

CHOMSKY: In fact, the current trials are about organization of political party. It still has not been possible for a legitimate Kurdish political force to be recognized within the country [Turkey], and that is a struggle that is going on. But there are possibilities I think. I mean, the conference I was [at] in Istanbul just in October, was a conference of mostly Turkish journalists, artists, intellectuals, activists, and some foreigners were there, like me and others. There is a growing recognition, considerably more than in earlier years, that the suppression of Kurdish identity is illegitimate, and will have to be overcome.

It is true the Kurds have a lot to be dissatisfied with, like the persecution of the political party and these completely frivolous trials that are coming. They may or may not happen, I don't know; they are being delayed. But still, overtime, there is progress that I think we should be encouraged by and regard it as an opportunity, as a kind of legacy that you can build on to proceed further.

NA: Do you think these developments that you mention in Turkey are a result of the fact that an Islamic party is in power, that is the Justice and Development Party [AKP], under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

CHOMSKY: I mean, it's complex. You can't sort of give it a grade. But there have been some positive developments. And in general, I think the policies of the Erdogan administration have been pretty sensible, like the policy of opening toward the East and having no enemies. That is in general a sensible policy, I think, and has improved things. For example, Erdogan is now the most popular figure in the Arab world, in recent polls. If you take a look at the Egyptian uprising in the last few weeks -- a spectacular uprising in Egypt -- Erdogan is about the only political leader who has given a very strong support from the beginning. Everyone else was isolated, and that has an impact on the region.

NA: But recently, [Abdullah] Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, called on the Kurds to just do what the Egyptians did to get rid of Hosni Mubarak, their president. He said the Kurds could only be free if they pour on to the streets and call for their rights in the Kurdish cities, like Diyarbakir. Is that a reasonable thing?

CHOMSKY: They should call for their rights, but you have to have goals. In the case of Egypt for example, there was a very narrow but explicit goal: get rid of Mubarak. Then there was a broader goal: get rid of the ruling elite. They are just now beginning to formulate broader goals. In fact, just yesterday, or a few days ago, I think for the first time, the coalition of human rights and activist groups [in Egypt] came out with a longer-term program for civil and political rights that they want to see achieved. That is actually the first time that was done since January 25th. That makes sense and they have got to do. It is going to be a struggle to achieve those rights. There's plenty of established power that is not going to give it up easily. But what they are doing in Egypt is kind of an inspiring model, but you can't duplicate it elsewhere. So for example, what is happening in Tunisia is not identical to what is happening in Egypt. They have different circumstances and different problems. The same is true with the Kurds. They have to consider carefully what the circumstances are they are facing, and ask, what are the right tactics in these circumstances? I mean that is an old problem. It goes back to the origins of the revolutionary or even reformist movements in the nineteenth century, and think of, say, what Marx wrote about revolutions. Karl Marx was in favor of socialist and communist-socialist revolutions, but he had a pretty nuanced view about it. For example, he said that, in England, where there was more or less a functioning parliamentary system, he believed that it would be possible for the workers to gain their rights, including control over production, industry establishment, the socialist state and society, through parliamentary measures. There are now other places that would take popular revolutions. He may have been right, or he may have been wrong, but his general attitude was correct: you have to adjust tactics to existing circumstances and situations. There is no mechanical rule as to what the right tactics are.

NA: But as far as I know, sir, you are an anarchist and a great supporter of civil disobedience. Don't you think it's time for the Kurds in Turkey -- whose political parties are still banned, and they still can't study in Kurdish in schools -- to just do what the Egyptians did to have a more democratic state?

CHOMSKY: Take civil disobedience: I have often participated in it and been in jail or faced long jail sentences, but it is a tactic; it's not a principle. You do it when you think it is going to be effective. Civil disobedience's main goal typically is to try to arouse and inspire others to join and do something. Well, sometimes that is a good tactic, sometimes not. As for the Kurds, the Kurds cannot demonstrate on the streets of Diyarbakir and say get rid of the president. That is not a sensible tactic. But it was a sensible tactic in Egypt, in Cairo. But it is not a sensible tactic in Diyarbakir, because the circumstances are different. And, remember that the Egyptian protest -- while quite spectacular and [it showed] courage and dedication -- right up until the present has had a pretty narrow goal: Mubarak must leave. That was the goal and there is no comparable goal for the Kurds in Turkey, northern Iraq, or Syria -- or anywhere else. I mean the goals are broader. Again, a much broader range of civil rights, and you have to ask yourself what tactic would be useful for that: would civil disobedience be helpful or are there better ways? That is a delicate problem. I would not even try to give any advice from the outside. It needs careful evaluation of the circumstances and the likely consequences.

NA: Talking about Iraqi Kurds here: as you said, there has been a lot of economic prosperity, and massive oil reserves have been discovered here in Iraqi Kurdistan, and it is much safer than the rest of Iraq. You know, many Iraqi Kurds, especially in the Kurdistan region itself, are now saying that is time for them to secede from Iraq, a country that is still war-torn and volatile. They say it is the best time -- after what happened in the broader Middle East -- for them to breakaway from Iraq. What do you make of that?

CHOMSKY: I think there are a lot of questions to think about seriously. For one thing, Arab Iraq will of course be strongly opposed. Turkey would probably be opposed. Iran will certainly be opposed. The end result could be that a move for an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq, even if it could be implemented, which is very questionable, could lead to a country with no access to the outside world. That would be devastating. So if any moves in that direction are going to be taken, you have to think carefully about the relations with the neighboring regions and neighboring states. You can't move towards that without bringing those questions into consideration. Now maybe, on balance, when these things are thought through, it will appear to be a good thing to do, but you can't just say let's do it, it's the right thing. It could lead, for example, to a major military conflict, which could be devastating. Look how hard it is just to try to settle the issue of Kirkuk.

NA: As you said, there is the issue of Kirkuk and the other areas that are disputed between the Arabs in the south and center of Iraq and the Kurds in the north. But, many people believe that remaining part of Iraq will be more dangerous for the Kurds, if the Iraqi central government, dominated by the Arabs, becomes stronger. They believe the sooner they “get rid of” the rest of Iraq, the better it will be for them, and they think the possible closing of borders by neighboring countries will not be something long-term.

CHOMSKY: Well, I wouldn't be so sure that, even in the long-term, Turkey would be pleased to have an independent Kurdistan next door, just because of its impact on southeastern Turkey. So it could be a serious long-term problem. However that's the kind of thing you have to think through. Look, I just returned form Taiwan and China a couple of months ago. In Taiwan, there is a very extensive and serious discussion about how they should deal with relations with China. China, of course, regards Taiwan as part of China. They don't consider it a separate area. If the Taiwanese were free to make an independent choice, most of them would probably choose independence. On the other hand, there are consequences to your actions. You have to ask yourself, well, what are the best means to achieving your basic goals. And, I think a rather general feeling is --probably sensibly -- that the best method there is to just not do anything at all dramatic, let events take their course, [and] overtime there will be more cultural contacts, commercial contacts, and people flowing up and back. There will be some kind of integration…maybe some kind of a federal structure. Well, ok, they have to wait to see how things work out. And, it is different in other places, I mean, it is different in the Palestinian occupied territories, for example. In fact, anywhere you look, you find problems like this. Kashmir has its own problems, very serious ones. Kashmir, as the most militarized part of the world, has a very serious problem. But they can't just say, well, what they did in Egypt, we will do the same thing. You can't mechanically carry over the lessons of one partial success into another dilemma. You have to think through the consequences of any actions that you undertake, in the circumstances which you live, and they differ in different places.

NA: Talking about the issue of Kirkuk and other disputed regions, some people here believe that as soon as the American forces are withdrawn from Iraq, there could be an Arab-Kurd war over those issues. How possible is that?

CHOMSKY: You know better than I do. I don't think anyone really knows. For another thing, I don't really think that it's very likely that the American forces will be completely withdrawn. It doesn't look like it, but it is a hard problem. I have not seen a sensible proposal about Kirkuk. I am not in a position to make any sensible prediction about it.

NA: In our previous interview, by email, you made a great comment: that the Americans “did not invade Iraq in order to withdraw.” Do you now think they are going to completely withdraw from Iraq and leave the country like this?

CHOMSKY: Well, we don't know. There is a commitment to withdraw, but there is a long distance between commitments and actions. So for example, take the status of the military bases that the US has been building throughout Iraq. Well, there is very little information about them, but, as far as anyone can determine, they are still being built. What is called the “embassy” in Baghdad is a city, basically, within a city. There is no embassy like it in the world, and it has not been built in order to be abandoned. It's actually increasing in size under Obama. So I think the Americans are just feeling their way to see how much control they can maintain -- how much of a position they can maintain within Iraq. It is worth remembering that the Iraqi invasion was a serious defeat for the United States. The United States had pretty definite war aims. They weren't stated clearly in the beginning -- because, you know, it's not nice to state them -- but, as the US had to back down step by step and abandon its aims, they were finally stated quite clearly. So by 2007 and 2008, the Bush administration came out with official pronouncements about what it intended and what its minimum objectives were. They included, stated in January 2008, an agreement which would allow the US to have a major military base in Iraq to be able to carry out combative operations in Iraq, and to have arrangements with the Iraqi government that would privilege US corporations in oil exploration. That was January 2008. Within a few months, Washington had to abandon those aims in the face of Iraqi nationalist resistance. In fact, if anyone was the victor of the Iraq war, it was probably Iran.

NA: Some people believe that it will be very strategic for the Americans to build a military base here in the north of Iraq, given the fact that there is Iran on one side and Syria on the other. Would that be strategic?

CHOMSKY: I don't doubt that the United States would like to do that. Whether Iraqi Kurds should accommodate that, or they should permit it, is another question. In my view, they shouldn't. I don't think it's a good idea for Iraqi Kurdistan to turn into the major US military base in the region. That is a recipe for oppression, violence, constant wars and so on. I mean the US has had major military bases in eastern Turkey, and it doesn't have the same access to those as it had in the past. And they are used. I mean military bases are there for a reason; they are there for oppression, violence and repression. The best thing for the region would be to extricate itself from the grip of the imperial powers. That is pretty much what is happening in much else of the world. Take, say, South America: I mean, South America has been the US backyard for a long time. But, by now, the South American countries have excluded the US from all military bases in South America. And I think that is quite a healthy development. It's good for them and it's good for the world. NA: But certainly, the Kurds' neighbors have not been historically friendly with them, and the Iraqi Kurds view only the US and the West as their staunch allies. They don't trust Iranians; they don't trust Turks or Syria, because of historical wars.

CHOMSKY: But it is good to have a little bit of memory. Remember in the 1970s, when Kurds trusted the US to defend them against the Shah of Iran, and they sold them out. And there was a massacre. In fact, you know better than I do, the famous Kurdish statement that “Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” Well that is basically true; you cannot trust outside forces. They are looking out for themselves, not for you. There may be a temporary alliance, which will be helpful, but you cannot place your trust in outside forces. Kurds know this better than anyone else.

NA: My final question: will there ever be a state for the largest stateless nation of the world, that is the Kurds?

CHOMSKY: I think we can look forward to such a development, but it is going to have to come step by step. I think the prospects are better now than they were ten years ago, but there is a long way to go. Just think for a moment about the Ottoman Empire: I mean, nobody wants to restore the Ottoman Empire. It was brutal, harsh, corrupt, and obliviously you don't want it. But, nevertheless there were some things about the Ottoman Empire that are worth recovering. For example, during the Ottoman period, you could travel from Cairo to Baghdad to Istanbul without crossing any borders. You did not have to have a visa; it was all one region. Partly because of its corruption, the Ottoman Empire left local regions more or less to themselves. The Armenian community could run its own affairs; the Greek community could run its own affairs. They had many close interconnections -- commercial, cultural and so on -- but they had a degree of autonomy. That long-term structure is not a bad one to move towards, I think. In fact, Europe is moving towards it to an extent with recognizing regional autonomies like, say, Catalonia within a broader federal structure. I think, overall, those are pretty healthy developments. They have plenty of problems, lots of unpleasant conflicts can arise, but it makes sense to think of it as a kind of long-term vision.

NA: Finally, thank you so much for your great comments. I really appreciate them.

CHOMSKY: Good to talk to you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Iraqi Kurdistan, Known as Haven, Faces Unrest

By JACK HEALY and NAMO ABDULLA - The New York Times

Protesters took to the main square of the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, Iraq, on Tuesday. Antigovernment demonstrations there have been going on for a week. Photo by Ayman Oghanna

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — This is a place that calls itself “the other Iraq,” a haven of social and economic stability that largely escaped the bloodshed and chaos that have ravaged the rest of the nation.

But over the past week a wave of sometimes violent unrest has shaken Kurdistan, posing a rare challenge to the political powers that have led Iraq’s mountainous north for decades, during and after Saddam Hussein.

Thousands of people — many of them university students — have been filling the central square here to wave Kurdish flags and voice the calls for change that echo those ringing across northern Africa and the Middle East. The protests here, reflecting a long-festering anger with government corruption and partisan politics, have grown larger in recent days, and have support from this eclectic city’s legions of poets, writers, artists and unions.

“Everyone is angry,” said Asos Hardi, manager of Awena, one of the few newspapers not tied to one of the region’s political or religious parties. “Everyone from the taxi driver to the shopkeeper to intellectuals and students.”

But supporters and opponents of the demonstrations — while accusing each other of provoking the bloodshed — do share one common concern: that the unrest could deepen, driving foreign investment and visitors away from one of the most stable corners of Iraq.

“It is a danger to Kurdistan,” said Hassan Jabari, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the ruling parties that has drawn the demonstrators’ anger. “We have calm, stability, reconstruction. Those are all under threat.”

On Wednesday, a police officer in Kurdistan was shot and killed in a confrontation with protesters in Halabja, near the Iranian border, according to health officials there. It was the first government fatality since the clashes began last week.

Three protesters have also been killed and scores have been wounded, and demonstrators say dozens of people have been detained.

Attacks on a privately owned television station and the offices of an opposition political party have stoked fears that Kurdish leaders, backed by armed supporters and security forces, are using the upheaval to attack their opponents and tear the scabs off old animosities lingering from a civil war in the 1990s.

The unease is growing here as thousands of Iraqis plan to fill the streets of Baghdad and other cities on Friday for a “day of rage” to protest the country’s shoddy public services, widespread corruption and tenuous security situation.

In Kurdistan, the catalyst for the popular anger came last Thursday, when hundreds marched to the local offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which is led by Massoud Barzani, the president of the semiautonomous region. After protesters pelted the building with rocks, security guards opened fire, killing a 14-year-old.

For 30 years, the region has been largely dominated for by two groups: Mr. Barzani’s K.D.P. and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani. The parties, which control the regional government, hold sway over the local armed forces and the economy and provide subsidized food, money and work for thousands and thousands of Kurds.

“There is basically no private sector,” said Denise Natali, the Minerva fellow at the National Defense University and the author of “The Kurdish Quasi-State.” “The distinction between state and society is undeveloped. Here, you have a relationship of dependency, like one between a big daddy and child.”

Despite the turmoil, Mr. Barzani is in a relatively stable position with a strong base of tribal loyalties, and few people expect him to be toppled like the leaders of Egypt or Tunisia.

In Sulaimaniya’s packed central square, protesters said they wanted a larger voice in government.

While the throngs in the square chanted “Peace! Peace!” and picked up litter and danced together, the scene had darker moments. On Tuesday, two Kurdish politicians who tried to speak were chased through the streets. A Kurdish author who had supported Mr. Barzani (a popular target of scorn among the demonstrators) was booed and roughed up.

Many said they believed that the government would listen to their voices and make real reforms. But others had grimmer visions for the future.

“The region is going through radical change,” said Rebin Hardi, a Kurdish author with ties to the opposition. “I hope a political solution can be found. If not, there will be more violence. There could be a civil war.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Protests Turn Iraqi Kurd City Into Military Zone


Iraqi Kurds protest to demand the ouster of the local government and better basic services in Sulaimaniya, 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, February 22, 2011. Photo by Reuters.

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq--Long regarded as a cultural and economic hub in Iraq, Sulaimaniya has turned into a militarized city in recent days as thousands of people take part in anti-government protests under a heavy security presence.

Around 3,000 people took to the streets on Tuesday and thousands of students demonstrated at Sulaimaniya University in the latest round of rallies against corruption and the local government to shake the northern city.

Three people have died so far and more than 100 have been wounded in clashes between protesters and heavily armed militia forces linked to the two ruling parties of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

"This is the country of hungry people. They are not afraid of tanks," read some placards. Some protesters sang Kurdish nationalist songs.

As unrest spreads across the Arab world, Iraqis have also raised their voices, although their demands are more focused on ending food and electricity shortages and removing local officials, rather than seeking a complete change of government.

While protests have been scattered around Iraq, demonstrations in Sulaimaniya have been a daily occurrence since last Thursday, when protesters trying to storm the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party clashed with security forces.

Dozens of troops from the KDP, which is headed by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, have been brought in from his stronghold of Arbil to protect the building, and the street on which it lies has been blocked off by military vehicles.

The dominant political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan -- Barzani's KDP and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- both have their own militias.


Iraqi Kurdistan has enjoyed virtual independence under Western protection since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, attracting foreign investors as a relatively stable area compared to the rest of Iraq, which fell into sectarian warfare and a raging insurgency following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The recent protests have shut down businesses and restaurants, raising concerns amongst the ruling and opposition parties, which met on Monday but were unable to find a solution to defuse tensions.

"Our customers have decreased by 70 percent," said Taha Latif, head of Zara, the city's most prominent restaurant and coffee shop. "We used to be open until 10 p.m. We now go home at 5 p.m. or sometimes 4:30 p.m."

Protesters have said they will not stop demonstrating until their demands have been met. Students at Sulaimaniya University have been given two free hours a day to protest.

"What has happened in Sulaimaniya over the past few days has affected trade activities and businessmen's work. It has put concern in their minds regarding the state of security in the region," Kurdish Prime Minister Barham Salih said.

On Tuesday, some demonstrators who had been arrested earlier in the week were released in an attempt to appease angry mobs.

Rafiq Fadir, head of the anti-corruption committee in the Kurdish parliament, resigned from his position in protest at the lack of progress the committee had made.

"We are ruled by an unreasonable and an uncivilized force," Faruq Rafiq, a prominent Kurdish intellectual, told protesters.

"We should teach them how to govern. We should be their teachers. They can't just kill whoever they want. They can't just arrest whoever they want," he said, telling demonstrators to continue rallying until their demands were met.

(Editing by Serena Chaudhry and Mark Trevelyan)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Anti-Government Protests Still Rage in Kurdistan's Sulaimani


Protesters tried to storm one of the ruling parties' headquarters in Sulaimani, Iraqi Kurdistan, on Thursday.------ Photo by Rudaw.

“We are all Rezhwan!” read one demonstrator’s banner Saturday, referring to the 14-year-old student demonstrator, who was killed by Iraqi Kurdish security forces in the city of Sulaimani on Thursday, after hundreds of protesters tried to storm the headquarters of one of Kurdistan’s two ruling parties.

Just two days after the bloody protest, more than a thousand students and general citizens again protested here in Sulaimani, objecting to the death of at least one student and the injury of more than 50 others, caused by bullets fired by security forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani.

Twelve more had reportedly been injured by Saturday evening.

Large numbers of heavily armed security forces, including thousands of KDP soldiers from Erbil, have been deployed in most of Sulaimani’s streets, according to government and party officials and Rudaw correspondents in Sulaimani.

Just as on Thursday, demonstrators called for an improvement in services such as electricity, but there were also anti-government slogans demanding reform from the authorities, with some calling on the government to step down.

Simultaneously, in Khanaqin – a disputed town inhabited predominately by Kurds in Dyala province – several hundred other students from the College of Arts, wearing black clothes, demonstrated over similar issues.

After Thursday’s protest, some officials from the ruling parties accused Iraqi Kurdistan’s major opposition party, Gorran, of being behind the protest, particularly when it became violent, with some protesters throwing rocks at the KDP headquarters’ windows.

In a move which appeared to be a reaction to events in Sulaimani, a number of KDP supporters, some of them armed, on Thursday set two Gorran offices in Erbil on fire. The KDP denied any involvement in the incident.

But the deputy chairman of the KDP, Nechirvan Barzani, did not point the blame at any specific political party on Friday. In a press conference he described protesters’ demands for political and economic reform as legitimate.

However, he said that Kurdistan was “very far from” Tunisia and Egypt and that the Kurdish leaders and government were elected in free and fair elections.

“I urge you to consider that we do not accuse any political party or organization of committing those crimes,” said Barzani, referring to the attack on his party’s headquarters, at which point the demonstration turned bloody with the firing of bullets into the mob of young protesters. “We want those issues investigated.”

Barzani added that it was not fair to attack the KDP headquarters in Sulaimani, because he said the party was not responsible for the corruption and lack of electricity in the city, which was dominated by the PUK and Gorran, adding that the attack on the KDP office was politically motivated.

“We want to know who did it because we know it was preplanned,” said Barzani, confirming that a number of Zeravai forces, loyal to the KDP, were sent to Sulaimani to help maintain order in the city, which included protecting the KDP’s offices in the city.

But many people here in Sulaimani city, where Gorran is the most popular political party, have voiced concern regarding the deployment of KDP-affiliated forces in the city and said that they believed the forces are there to launch an attack on Gorran’s headquarters, based on Sulaimani’s Zargata Hill.

Right after the deployment of the forces, hundreds of unarmed Gorran supporters gathered around the hill in order to prevent any possible assault from the ruling parties on Gorran’s main office and satellite television station, KNN, which has played a significant role in rousing people’s anger against the government.

Hundreds of demonstrators protesting in Sulaimani’s Bar Darqi Sara Square have not only called for the KDP troops to go to back to Erbil, but have also demanded all political parties to close their headquarters in the city.

Some described Bar Darqi Sara as Iraqi Kurdistan’s “Tahir Square,” the name of the town square in Cairo where Egyptians protested for 18 days until they toppled former President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic regime.

Faruq Rafiq, a prominent Kurdish author, took part in Saturday’s protest, which appeared to be smaller than Thursday’s.

In a statement, Rafiq said the KDP officials in Sulaimani who ordered the shooting, and those who did the actual shooting, must be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, anti-Kurdistan government demonstrations have also been occurring in Europe.
In London, for instance, about a hundred people demonstrated in front of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s office, and some stormed the building.

The handful of demonstrators reportedly took control of the office for an hour, but later were expelled by the British police.

“Freedom cannot be silenced,” read one banner held by Kurdish expatriate demonstrators in London.
“Seven or eight men and women started knocking on our office door,” said Bayan Sami Abdul-Rahman, KRG’s representative to the United Kingdom. “They were very uncivilized and started swearing at us.”

Ms Abdul-Rahman said that KRG’s representation in London was back to normal work on Friday.

President Barzani, who has come under sever criticism from the Sulaimani protesters, with some calling him a dictator who should step down, issued a statement, saying the attack on his party’s headquarters was the work of some who “were determined to undermine the stability” of the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

“While it is clear that a very small group of people are determined to undermine the stability of the region and detract from the significant economic, social and political progress it has made over the last decade, a much greater number of our people are mindful of their intentions and stand united in determination to overcome any move towards violence or chaos,” said Barzani. “I call on the KRG to open an immediate investigation into this incident and hold those responsible for today’s violence accountable.”

A statement by Gorran leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa, on Thursday not only denied Gorran being behind the protest, but also harshly condemned the attack on the KDP’s headquarters. It also described those who had thrown rocks at the building as “saboteurs.”

While the demonstrations here are in part inspired by those in Egypt and the broader Middle East, people here have generally not been as extreme as those in the Middle East, where citizens called for entire regime changes.

What they have asked for instead is a broad range of political and economic reform, including an end to corruption and nepotism associated with the ruling parties.

Ruling officials, such as Barzani, have recognized these demands, calling on the government to carry out reform. In addition, on Friday, Nechirvan Barzani said that problems could only be resolved “at table” with dialogue and not “on the streets” and “in newspaper pages.”

Rozh Ahmad contributed reporting from the United Kingdom, and other Rudaw correspondents contributed from Sulaimani.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Protests in Erbil for More Kurdish Freedom in Turkey


Protesters, bearing large images of Ocalan, called for the immediate release of the leader of the Kurdish PKK rebel group, who has been imprisoned by Turkey for more than a decade.------ Photo by Sherwan Muhsin/Rudaw.

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: Holding banners calling for the rights of Turkey’s ethnic Kurds, hundreds of demonstrators marched from the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil to gather in front of the Turkish Consulate on Monday, asking for the immediate release of the leader of the most influential Kurdish rebel group, who has been imprisoned by Turkey for more than a decade.

On February 15th 1999, Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was arrested by the Turkish intelligence in Kenya with the support of the Kenyan police. Since then he has been in solitary confinement on the isolated island of Imrali in Turkey’s Marmara Sea.

The protesters, bearing large images of Ocalan, were Kurds exiled from Turkey, who live here in Erbil’s Makhmour Camp, created by the United Nations for several thousand Kurds who have fled decades-long persecution due to their seeking of an independent Kurdish state and more cultural and political rights.

“We can’t live happily while Ocalan is jailed,” said 20-year-old Saiwan Mustafa, who was only nine years old when Ocalan was arrested. “We merely want more freedom. We don’t want a state because it will cause wars.”

The protest comes two days after a statement released by the leadership of Ocalan’s autonomy-seeking rebel group, threatening to end a unilateral ceasefire it had declared six months ago, if Turkey failed to reform its policies in relation to the Kurds, who live predominately in the southeast of Turkey.

The statement, seemingly inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, promised more armed resistance and protests, if Turkey’s Islamic-leaning ruling party, the Justice and Development Party, led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, did not meet Kurdish demands for more cultural and political freedoms.

“We will all become PKK fighters if Turkey does not give us freedom,” said 20-year-old Layla Ahmed, wearing a heart-shaped pendant with a photo of Ocalan. She said her family had fled Turkey when she was two years old, after Turkish forces had burnt their village down.

However, Turkey has now implemented some economic reforms in impoverished Kurdish provinces and some cultural reforms, such as the establishment of a state-owned Kurdish-language television station, which attracts limited Kurdish viewers.

And, earlier last week, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said that Kurds and Turks were brothers and that their “blood and tears” should no longer be shed.

The PKK, which began armed resistance in 1984, is considered by Turkey, the United States and European Union as a “terrorist” organization.