Dec 28, 2012


Abdulla Hawez

Since the deterioration of President Jalal Talabani’s health on Monday night, his condition has dominated the headlines in Iraq. At stake is not only the end of a president, but also the possible end of the era of peaceful negotiations between the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad.
What differs Talabani from the other politicians in Iraq is that if he dies it would shake Kurdistan’s and Iraq’s political landscape equally. The president is both Kurdistan’s and Iraq’s number one heavyweight politician, and the only one that can keep the balance both in Kurdistan internally and with the central government in Baghdad.
Together with Mustafa Barzani (who founded the Kurdistan Democratic Party – KDP – and is the father of Kurdistan’s president Masoud Barzani), Jalal Talabani’s was the driving force behind the Kurdish revolution that started in 1961. His political career started more than 65 years ago, at the age of 14.
In 1975, Talabani left the KDP and founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which became the dominant party in Kurdistan, much thanks to its armed movement that re-started the revolution in 1976.
After the Kurdish uprising against the Ba’ath regime in 1991, elections were held for Kurdistan’s newly established parliament, in which PUK and its historical rival KDP gained almost equal shares of the votes. Since 1995, there has been internal conflicts over power between these two major parties, which led to the split of the Kurdistan region into two government administrations; one in Erbil, the current capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and the other in Sulimania, the KRG’s second largest city.
In 1998, an agreement between the two parties was brokered in Washington under the supervision of the then-US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. PUK and KDP agreed to govern the Kurdistan Regional Government based on a 50-50% sharing of power.

Since PUK always took part in the elections jointly with the KDP, problems occurred as the PUK lost almost half of its popular support to the change movement. What have kept the balance and stability since then have been Talabani’s statesmanship skills and the strategic agreement between PUK and KDP.
Since the split in 2008, the PUK is suffering from internal differences, where Talabani is the only guarantee for keeping PUK from disintegrating further. There is an argument whether PUK will remain after Talabani dies or leaves the political scene, with the odds not looking too good. The most likely scenario is that the majority of PUK members will join the change movement, while a few of them will join the ruling KDP. Even if PUK persists, it will become a very weak party.
What is at stake is not only PUK’s survival, but also the balance of power in Kurdistan. Talabani is maintaining that balance in many respects. First, he is the only man that can be balance Masoud Barzani as the most powerful man in Kurdistan, and he is the only one that can challenge him. Furthermore, the end of Talabani may lead to the end of power sharing in Kurdistan, at least in its current shape.
The change movement is likely to replace PUK, but the problem is that they are very critical of the KDP, which will cause difficulties for cooperating. There are two scenarios: either the KDP will accept some political reform, in which case after elections one of them accept to become the opposition, or there will be further division. The latter would also mean further division between the two major cities; Erbil and Sulimania, because Erbil is the stronghold of the KDP and Sulimania is the stronghold of the change movement.
Since becoming the president of Iraq in 2005, Talabani has upheld excellent ties with all political players in Iraq, while no one else could do so, functioning as a mediator between the religious sects.
President Talabani has been the reason of the still-not-so-bad relationship between the KRG and Baghdad. Only a couple of hours before being hospitalized, he met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to tackle the increasingly violent tensions between Kurdistan and the central government through dialogue instead of military means.
Talabani has also been the only Kurdish figure that could keep warm ties with the ruling Shiite leaders in Baghdad. He has also built strong ties with the Sunni Arab leaders, advising them to engage further in the political life. After him, the hardliners on both sides will dominate the arena. All connections between the Prime Minister al-Maliki and Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani have gone through Talabani.
A possible further deterioration of the already worsening ties between the KRG and Baghdad may eventually lead to the separation of Kurds from Iraq, because for Kurds, independence from Iraq is only a matter of time. Talabani has been arguing that the time hasn’t yet come for independence, while Barzani is more enthusiastic about it.
On the regional stage, he has engaged in dialogue with Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Syria at the same time. Iran’s parliament speaker told Prime Minister al-Maliki when he was in Baghdad last month that if the Iranians were forced to choose between him and Talabani, they would choose the latter. The president’s ties with Turkish leaders have also been excellent. He has been mediating between the Turkish government and the PKK to find a solution for the decades-long Kurdish question in Turkey.

Talabani’s death would not be the end of the world, but it would definitely be the end of a period of relative stability in both Kurdistan and Iraq. The president is a jokey and moderate person who has been a strong advocate of democracy and secularism. He has been open to criticism even inside his party. If he would leave this world or the political scene, it would be a big loss for both Kurdistan and Iraq.

This piece has first appeared on Your Middle East:

Dec 11, 2012

We need a break

Abdulla Hawez

Kurdistan's Erbil has been appointed this year to be the tourism capital of the Arab world in 2014. Kurdistan, especially its capital Erbil, has developed very rapidly in the last eight years. 

Kurds, through out the history, has lived in wars and violence confrontations. One of the major reasons has been ethnical. The other had been historically geographical; Kurdistan had been the border between two major empires, the Ottomans and Safavids, that’s why most of the wars had been mainly erupted in the Kurdish terrains. In the first half of the prior century, as the nationalist sentiment has arisen in the region, Kurdish struggle for an independent sovereign state has been continuing until nowadays. The only part of Kurdistan that could gain relatively notable achievements has been Kurds of Iraq.
Iraqi Kurdistan has a quasi-state since 1991 when a no-fly zone had been imposed under the Iraqi Kurdish areas by the United Nations. Since then, local government, and the state institutions that has been founded gradually could ran the region, even though there were international, regional and Iraqi sanctions over the region, which was quite challenging to survive, but Kurds could linger.
The key event that has changed the condition of Kurdistan and opened the doors toward it has been the liberation process in 2003 by the coalition forces led by the United States. Very rapid development with huge budget from the central government flew to Kurdistan, so that helped Kurds to develop. In less than ten years, with Kurds could keep their region peaceful and far from violence, they could achieve what could be achieved in decades. Fairly strong democratic institutions, sturdy representation of the opposition in the parliament, free media, and protecting minority rights. None of those have been done in the rest of Iraq, mainly because of insecurity and sectarian bloodshed.
Peace is the core for any development. Without peace, Kurds couldn’t achieve, what they have achieved. Iraq is a rich country with lots of natural resources that could be shared among all Iraqis. However, the country has been mentioned among worst countries in the world in many reports this year. Insecurity, which has resulted from sectarian violence and security vacuum, led the country to this track.
Kurds need more time to build up their region, and compensate centuries of suppression and tyranny that led to backwardness and ignorance, so do Iraqis.
As the two sides, Iraqi government and Kurdistan regional government are mobilizing troops in the disputed areas of Kirkuk province, both nations should reject this action. There is a huge possibility to compromise the case through dialogue, as they have never done so seriously. Now, the loudest voice is the one of radicals who prefers violence to tackle the matter. To abandon a war, the people of these areas should decide their future, not the ones of Baghdad and Erbil. To achieve this, you need to keep peace for some more years, as the development has just started in Kirkuk in the couple last years. In peace, the people of these areas can decide their future. Understandably, both government of Erbil and Baghdad want to impose their will on this issue, but the will of the people of these areas should be the core for any future compromise. Otherwise, neither the issue will be tackled, nor the country will witness peace which is needed for any development that Iraqis awaiting it from a long time.
Neither Kurds nor Arabs could benefit from the violence, as they have already experienced it in the last ten years. Wisdom is something that could appear in such circumstances. It’s the time for Iraqis to start re-building their country, and Kurds continue building up their region further. This is the only way to make the people satisfied. We need a break from wars and violence. We really do.

Abdulla can be reached through: @abdullahawez

Nov 11, 2012

60 days of Hunger Strike; so what's next?

Thousands of residents of the city of Wan take to the streets in support of Kurdish prisoners on hunger strike in Turkish jails. 

Abdulla Hawez*

The recent Hunger Strike by Kurdish prisoners in Turkey has passed 61 days today. The Hunger Strike has first started on 12th of September with Faysal Yaldız, an imprisoned member of parliament of BDP, has announced an open hunger strike. Currently, the number of Hunger Strikers has passed 688 Kurdish prisoners in 76 different jails in all over Turkey. The Hunger Strikers have two demands. First, leasing the imprisoned leader of PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, see his lawyers, which he hasn't seen them for more than 400 days. The second demand is allowing the prisoners to defend themselves in the courts in their mother tongue language; this means permitting Kurds to defend themselves in the courts in Kurdish.
Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has earlier declined to accept the strikers' demands, especially the one that related to Öcalan.
It would be quite firm for Turkish Prime Minister to take the two demands for more than a reason. Because of the recent bloody attacks of PKK, Turkish public opinion is not in the side of the strikers. Moreover, the second demand has been in the AK Party's agenda to be done. Now, the AK Party sees that PKK wants to exploit this demand to gain more support; while this demand has been one of various cases that AK Party has tried to boost as part of its opening policy toward Kurds. AK Party assumes that if they accepted the Hunger Strikers demands that would be a victory for PKK, besides other demands will be followed. AK Party knows well that PKK is using this strike as a card to gain more support in the southeastern region of Turkey that is mostly populated by Kurds. Furthermore, the strike hasn't attracted enough attention from the main stream media, so that will make the case less likely to be effective enough to achieve its goals.  
Aside from being pragmatic, in cases such as this hunger strike, Turkish Prime Minister is a stubborn guy that may understand the strike as personal; that's why I don't think he will be responding to the strikers even if they die of hunger. We have many other cases of dying in the Turkish prisons of Hunger starting from 1981 to 1982 to 1996 to 2000 when 30 pensioners died. However, dissimilar than the earlier Hunger Strikes, any dead case may be following by a mass rage in the Kurdish areas as the region is passing through an awakening and Turkey itself is very much involved in the revolution in the neighboring Syria that if the government not going to move faster to boost the right of Kurds it may witness same mass insurgency in its very own lands.      

* Journalist based in the Iraqi Kurdistan

Aug 28, 2012

Rationality in Turkish Politics

Abdulla Hawez*

What's threatening politics worldwide, nowadays, are irrational actors; minimizing the picture to a specific state will give a better result. Turkey, with one of the most sophisticated political systems in the region, is suffering from the irrational actors that are threatening the future of politics in this regional powerhouse. Turkish National Movement or MHP is the direct target of this piece. MHP, which is denying the existence of Kurdish question in Turkey and doesn't recognize KRG as a constitutionally legal zone in Iraq, also many times threatened erasing Kurds. Hence, you can't negotiate with such political entity that is not ready to change its policies that has been proved to be wrong. Furthermore, while Devlet Bahçeli, chief of MHP asks AKP government to erase Kandil from the map and held Turkish flags there, he can't even get a visa to go to the multi-ethnical city of Kirkuk. 
Morality is equality important in Politics to remain people's trust on it. However, MHP and most of the other nationalist bodies in Turkey and elsewhere suffer from lack of morality. Whereas, Devlet Bahçeli, chief of MHP tried to visit oil-rich city of Kirkuk through Iraqi province of Musil to avoid KRG stamp on his passport, according to Diyarbakir Chamber of Commerce up to 70% of the Turkish investments in KRG zone comes from the companies that have links with MHP; Turkish investments are KRG's economic backbone and the sources of prosperity as it makes up to 80% of the 20 billion foreign investments in the region.
If AKP wants to keep brotherhood between its fellow diverse citizens, it should work on a legislation in the parliament to ban fascist entities that are threatening the unity of the country and has no less danger than PKK.

* Freelance journalist based in the KRG. 

Aug 9, 2012

Turkey warns Assad that he must keep Kurds in check, or risk intervention

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said earlier this week that if the Syrian Kurds use their base to launch a terror campaign on Turkey, intervention in Syria would be 'our most natural right.'

President Bashar al-Assad, facing a growing rebel presence in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its commercial hub, has turned control of parts of northern Syria over to militant Kurds who Turkey has long branded as terrorists, prompting concern that Istanbul might see the development as a reason to send troops across its border with Syria.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in comments late on July 25, said that Turkey would not accept an entity in northern Syria governed by the Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has long waged a guerrilla war against Turkey, and its Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party.

He said the two groups had built a “structure in northern Syria” that for Turkey means “a structure of terror.”

“It is impossible for us to look favorably at such a structure,” he said in an interview with a private television channel.

He warned that if Syrian Kurdish militants mount a terror operation or some other form of cross-border provocation against Turkey, “then intervening would be our most natural right.”

The prospect of a PKK-dominated zone in northern Syria appears to be an unintended consequence of the civil war now raging between Assad and rebels of the Free Syrian Army, who are Arab Sunni Muslims who’ve been fighting, with US and other nations’ backing, to topple Assad’s government.

Assad withdrew forces last week from six predominantly Kurdish towns and handed control to the Kurdish militants in what appears to be an effort to bolster his defenses at Aleppo, which became the scene of sustained fighting last week for the first time since the anti-Assad uprising began more than 16 months ago. Assad also reportedly has pulled forces from the Idlib region of northeastern Syria and moved them to Aleppo in preparation for what some say will be a pitched battle for the city.

Tens of thousands of residents of Aleppo have fled in anticipation of the battle. Reports from anti-Assad groups indicate that thousands of pro-Assad and rebel fighters are converging on the city, which many believe Assad must hold if he is to maintain control of the country.

The developments in Kurdish areas, however, suggest that no matter who wins the civil war, the fighting is shifting the politics of Syria and its neighbors in ways that cannot be predicted.

The establishment of a Kurdish-ruled zone inside Syria has long been a goal of the Kurdish population. Leaders of the anti-Assad opposition have said in recent days that they would oppose such a zone, and Kurdish fighters have said they would not allow the Free Syrian Army to operate in the region.

Officially, the Democratic Union Party is sharing power over six towns – Kobane, Derek, Amude, Efrin, Sari Kani and Girke Lege – with the Kurdish National Council, an umbrella organization of anti-Assad Kurdish groups. In fact, the Kurdish militants have raised the PKK flag over public buildings or have used force to haul down their rivals’ flag, Kurdish news media in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil reported Thursday.

The PKK affiliate also controls stretches of the Syrian border, including a key crossing into territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government, the increasingly autonomous province in neighboring Iraq. 

The stakes are enormous in this otherwise obscure region. Turkey fears that a Syrian Kurdish state run by the PKK will radicalize its own restive Kurds, who comprise 12 million, or one-sixth, of its 74 million population. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Syrian Kurdish fighters have taken part in PKK raids inside Turkey over the years.

The development also could worsen the political situation inside Iraq, where the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government maintains chilly relations with the central government in Baghdad, but ever closer relations with Turkey. Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, is a supporter of Assad, whose Alawite religious sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Baghdad and the Kurdish government disagree over a range of other issues, from oil export policy to who should govern cities where the population is split between Kurds and Arabs. 

Kurdistan’s president, Massoud Barzani, tried to head off a Democratic Union Party takeover several weeks ago, when he hosted the 16 or so groups comprising the Kurdish National Council, together with the Syrian National Council, also an umbrella body, at a meeting in Erbil. Many now believe the arrangement he brokered actually paved the way for the PKK takeover.

In a move some analysts said might be intended to undercut PKK influence in Syria, Barzani announced Sunday that the Kurdistan Regional Government would dispatch back to Syria, allegedly to fill a security vacuum, some of the Kurdish Syrian soldiers who’ve deserted into Iraq to escape the civil war. Kurdish media reported that some 650 Kurdish soldiers already returned to Syria last week, and there were suggestions that the Kurdistan Regional Government’s own military, the peshmerga, is considering entering Syria as well. That move is opposed by the PKK, local Kurdish newspapers have reported.

“Peshmerga forces are our brothers and relatives and we do not have any problems with them,” Salih Muslim, a Democratic Union Party leader, told the English-language daily Rudaw. “But Syrian Kurdistan does not need assistance from the peshmerga forces at this point and if the need arises we will ask for their help.” 

Assad forces still control Qamishli, a city of well over 400,000 and the unofficial capital of the predominantly Kurdish northern region. But a decision by Assad to allow the PKK to take over there as well could move Barzani to intervene on Turkey’s behalf. Such a development could spark a reaction in Baghdad, whose authority over Iraq’s international relations would be directly challenged by a peshmerga move into Syria.

Turkey has shown little hesitance to invade neighboring countries in response to PKK attacks on Turkish targets. In October, Turkish aircraft and troops crossed into Iraq to hunt down PKK guerrillas who’d killed 29 members of Turkey’s security forces and five civilians in a series of raids in southern Turkey.

By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers /
McClatchy special correspondent Abdulla Hawaz contributed from Erbil, Iraq.

This report has been published on The Christian Science Monitor:

Apr 14, 2012

New (old) Sectarian Blocs: Neo Ottomans vs. Neo Safavids

On Syria, most of the Shi'ite Muslims are supporting Bashar Al-Assad because he is Allawi (an offshoot of Shi'ite sect). Similarly, Sunnis are supporting Bahrain's one-family rule monarchy, because the ruling King is Sunni. 

Abdulla Hawez

In the wake of the 'Arab Spring' especially Syrian uprising, we're seeing very interesting bedfellows emerge, the new regional alliances are apparently resetting based on historical sectarian division. Both Turkey and Iran, the regional heavyweights and heirs to imperial pasts, their current Islamist governments are set upping the regional formulas based on Sunni-Shi'a division, seemingly, as the situation in Syria getting more violent the further division between the two blocs becomes more evident. The regional division gives signals that re-emerge of the classical regional alliance underway in a new style, as the Arab Spring becomes more religious.
As the classical Safavids and Ottomans empires, the new regional alliances are as the following: Turkey which is biggest regional Sunni power is allying with the Sunni Arabian Peninsula countries leading by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In addition, the Sunni oppositions in the region like Arab Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq and Sunni-led opposition in Lebanon, as well as the Sunni-backed opposition in Syria which likely after the topple of Bashar Al-Assad will take over the power. Meanwhile, Iran's regional power consists of Assad's regime in Syria and the fragile government in Lebanon which lead by Hizbolla, as well as the Shi'ite ruling bloc in Iraq, Shi'ite opposition in Bahrain and Turkey's Kurdish rebel organization, PKK.
Similar to the cold war between United States and Soviet Union, expectedly we will witness economic and political war between those two blocs. Even, the military conflict is possible, while the Syrian revolution becomes more violent. Turkey and Saudi Arabia already threatened to intervene in Syria if Kofi Anan's peace plan failed and the main agenda for Turkish Prime Minister's visit to Saudi Arabia is the possible scenarios against Syria. Iran and its regional allies, in the other hand, possibly won't only become watchers.

Mar 18, 2012

Christians' future in the Iraqi Kurdistan

Abdulla Hawez

As it becomes clear that one major outcome of the region’s revolutions  will be the empowerment of Islamists, the Arab Spring threatens to become a nightmare for the Middle East’s Christian minority. Christians across the Arab world are afraid that a change of regime – specifically one resulting in a theocracy – will mean a removal or reduction of their rights. A large proportion of the Middle East’s Christian population  lives in Egypt and Syria,  both of which have seen big changes since the start of the Arab Spring. The Christians in Iraq, meanwhile, have suffered greatly as a result of the country’s  security vacuum over the past decade. In the Arab Spring countries, the situation continues to look uncertain for the Christians, who have seen already the implementation of Islamist practices and policies in Egypt, including the jailing of actors and actress for their having starred previously in tongue-in-cheek movies about Islamists, Adel Emam, the most famous Egyptian actor for his movie The Terrorist jailed for four months is an excellent example. In Syria, the revolution is increasingly becoming a sectarian conflict. In Iraq, meanwhile, the targeting of Christians, often resulting in their  displacement if not their deaths,  has become an almost daily activity for terrorists.
While many Christians have left the country, those who preferred to remain in Iraq often sought refuge in the north. Kurdistan’s flourishing capital of Erbil has hosted many of those Christians who have had to flee from places such as Baghdad and Musil. Over the last few years, the Kurdish region has seen many crucial achievements that are still missing in other parts of Iraq, above all, security and attracting foreign investment. One of these achievements, or so the story goes, is the hosting of a large part of Iraq’s Christian minority, a phenomenon which has brought positive international attention to the region. Almost all of the reports on this subject give  optimistic news about the Christians’ situation in Kurdistan; to put this to the test, I tried to go inside the Christian community (which is by and large a conservative one) to figure out how they feel about their current situation.
Iraqi Christians are barely 1% of Iraq’s population. At present they are mainly to be found  in the predominately Christian town of Ankawa, which is located in the suburbs of Erbil,  and in smaller concentrations  around Musil and Baghdad. According to unofficial statistics, the population of Ankawa is currently around 35,000; of this, original residents make up 15,000, Muslims 4,000, and displaced  Christians from all around Iraq  the rest of the figure.
Christians in Kurdistan live in self-imposed isolation, remaining within community boundaries in order to feel secure. When one enters the Christian enclave which the building infrastructure development is evident the psychological pressure under which the inhabitants live can easily be felt. Speaking to Christians, one hears about how uncertain they are regarding their future, especially after the regime changes in the region. “The Arab Spring is a problem for Christians” says David Saka, 23, studying business and management at a British-style university in Erbil. The collective voice of Islamists in Kurdistan has become louder since the revolutions began; this in itself makes Christians scared. Saka is a close friend with the son of one of the Kurdish Islamist leaders that scares him. He says he has no problem with the father of his friend –rather, he has a problem with his ideology. Hilda Khorany, a clothing designer, also feels “threatened” when she hears the word “Islamists”. Khorany, showing a beautiful smile, said that she “loves Kurdistan” and that most of her friends are Kurds, but that she doesn’t wish to see the rise of Islamists in the province. Both Saka and Khorany feel happy with the current government in Kurdistan, and perceive it as liberal.
However two other young Christians, who preferred to remain anonymous,  said that “there is a big conspiracy against us [Christians]”.  For many years, the young man insisted, “it was forbidden for Muslims to buy lands in Ankawa, but now they are occupying our town through investments”. He mentioned a huge project by a Turkish company to build residential houses there –  which, according to him, have been bought mainly by Arab Muslims. He complained also about plans to build  a mosque in Ankawa to accommodate of the rapidly growing number of Muslims. He also indicated that their culture is being destroyed through the building of bars and nightclubs. Saka and Khorany each added their own complaints about the amount of bars in their town. The anonymous young Christian even stated that he wished to be ruled by Islamists rather than the current government, because “at least then we will live with dignity. While they may ask for Jizyah, we have lots of money to pay”.
Following up on the story of the expanding number of bars and clubs – a phenomenon which has led some to refer to Ankawa as Iraq’s red light district – shows a complicated situation behind the scenes. There was supposed to be a bill in the Kurdish parliament to limit the number of bars in Ankawa, but it couldn’t be passed for political reasons. According to sources, most of the bars belong to high-ranking Iraqi and Kurdish officials, meaning that no-one can close them, even though most of them are illegal. When the mayor of Ankawa, a Christian, closed a bar for being only 10 meters away from a church, he was told by an official: “you want to make Ankawa like Afghanistan”.  When Christian activists tried to protest against the increasing number of bars and nightclubs, they were threatened with physical removal by unknown people, believed to from the men of bar owners. Christians are further handicapped by a reluctance to be involved in political life. While  they have a number of small parties, these can normally barely  gather 100 members, who seem  to spend time collecting money and little else. Nevertheless, in the Kurdish parliament Christians have five secure seats according to the quota system in place, and non-Christian politicians are not unsympathetic. The Kurdish president, Masoud Barzani, has been recognized  many times by the Vatican and by western countries for protecting Christians, who  have been targeted elsewhere in Iraq on a daily basis.
Most of the Christians that I met complained of the gradual demise of their language and culture. The Syriac language, which is used on a day-to-day basis by the Kurdistan Christians, is taught in only  two schools.  This language has roots in the Assyrian civilization, whose presence in Iraq goes back several thousands of years; because of this,  Christians may feel that on some level they are the “owners” of the land, and that they represent the strongest link to its most ancient heritage. However, like other sects in Iraq, the Christians are divided.  The Christians of southern Iraq tend to speak only Arabic, and  are distinct from the Christians of Kurdistan, who tend to speak Syriac, along with Kurdish and Arabic. All the Kurdistan Christians that I met complained about the Southern-Iraqi Christians, whom they saw as being  careless  on matters of religion and  culture. Moreover, Kurdistan Christians mainly support the idea of an independent Kurdish state, while Southern-Iraqi Christians pray for a united Iraq.
When it comes to their own individual prospects, the Christians are diverse in their views. David Saka says he will stay in Kurdistan because he feels that  he can build a future there, and because  he feels that  “It is [his] homeland.”  He says that “Christianity was built with our blood, beginning with the blood of Jesus. The more they persecute us the more it grows.” Hilda Khorany also wishes to continue her career in Kurdistan, saying that she plans to put on a fashion show. On the other hand, the anonymous young informant  sees the Christians’ destiny as one that will be lived outside Iraq. “We will be forced, whether directly through physical violence or indirectly through psychological pressure, to leave our homeland one day. Our future isn’t here anymore.”

Feb 11, 2012

Syrian Kurds seek federalism

A Portrait of Syrian Kurdish boy draws the old Syrian flag on his face,
 and wears Kurdish "Jamadani" over his neck. 

Abdulla Hawez
          Syrian Kurds seek federalism amid the increasing chance for toppling Assad's regime, as they are negotiating with the Syrian National Council to increase corporation.
I talked with a member of Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC) and member of the negotiating delegation with (SNC), Talal Ibrahim Pasha. He said, they are still negotiating with the Syrian National Council (SNC), as they will meet up again on 18th of this month. Mr. Pasha said, KNC which represent most of the Kurdish parties in Syria and supported by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) insists on self-determination for Kurds if Bashar Assad toppled, they aren't seeking independence, but targeting federalism probably close to northern Iraq's Kurdish style, meanwhile, so far, SNC told them (KNC) that they admit Kurds have suffered the most during Al-Assad's era, but they prefer giving Kurds their rights without self-determination. Furthermore, he said, they are closer to Syrian National Council than before, as they may compromise at the end, the meeting on 18th of this month may make the shape of relationship between Arabic Syrian National Council and Kurdish National Council clearer.
          Kurdish National Council (KNC), close to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), hold its first conference in Kurdistan's de facto capital of Erbil, later criticized by PKK-backed Democratic Union Party (PYD). While, the Syrian uprising apparently divides the whole region, Kurds also divide over the matter. (KNC) which is close to (KRG) supports foreign intervention to topple Assad's regime, while (PYD) supports the dialogue with the regime. KRG is closer to Turkey, while PKK is close to Iran and Syria. 

Jan 18, 2012

Eager for new alliances, Assad's opponents look to Iraqi Kurdistan

Samir Geagea received Hero's welcome in Arbil's predominately Christan district of Ankawa. In the picture, Geagea crosses in front of a piece of writing which has written "the people of Ankawa welcomes Kurdistan's beloved guest    Dr. Samir Geagea".
Lately, Iraqi Kurdistan has seen a surge in political activity, from the visit of Burhan Ghalioun, chairman of the Syrian National Council (SNC), to Walid Jumblatt, a prominent Lebanese Druze leader, to Samir Geagea, from the Lebanese opposition bloc, to Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu.
For some, the stream of political leaders to Kurdistan might be normal, but lately all political leaders who have visited Kurdistan are in one way or another linked to Syria. Those who have visited Kurdistan are anti-Syria Lebanese leaders, from the Syrian opposition or from Turkey, an important player in the Syrian crisis. According to information I acquired from sources close to Massoud Barzani's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in the group's meetings with the above people, Barzani has been discussing Syria
Ghalioun's meeting with Barzani, which took place two weeks ago, was mostly about guarantees from the SNC for Kurds in Syria, which was made in return for an agreement in which the Kurdish National Council, which represents most Kurdish parties in Syria, will join the SNC.
Syrian Kurds have some demands which they tie to membership in the SNC, including the right to study in Kurdish in predominately Kurdish cities and the right to limited regional autonomy. Ghalioun promised to discuss the conditions with other members of the SNC.
Yet some Kurds still haven't joined the demonstrations -- which may suggest they belong to pro-Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) parties. According to some Kurdish journalists who visited senior PKK leader Murat Karayılan last August, the PKK doesn't want Bashar al-Assad to be toppled. The PKK has historical ties with the Syrian regime, and they used to set up camp in Syrian territory prior to the imprisonment of PKK leader and founder Abdullah Öcalan in 1999.
Lebanese Druze leader Jumblatt, who claims to have a neutral stance regarding Syria, met with Barzani in mid-December. Jumblatt used to be a diehard opponent of Assad. Jumblatt, who is of Kurdish origin, discussed with Barzani the idea of withdrawing his party from the Lebanese government if need be.
Prominent Lebanese politician Geagea's meeting with Barzani was also motivated by the Syrian crisis. According to unconfirmed information, Barzani, who himself has strong ties with many Lebanese parties, is trying to convince Jumblatt to negotiate with Geagea's opposition party to topple Lebanon's current government, which is dominated by Hezbollah. Turkey has had a harsh stance on the Syrian regime since the start of the uprising and is believed to have asked Barzani, a strong ally of Turkey, to use his ties with Lebanese parties to topple any pro-Assad government in Lebanon.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sinirlioğlu paid a visit to the Iraqi city of Arbil to discuss the development of closer ties with Barzani.
In addition, the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), which has strong ties with Iran, Turkey and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, is mediating between Iran and the Syrian Brotherhood, because the Syrian Brotherhood knows if Iran continues to support Assad, there will be little hope of toppling the regime without foreign intervention. Again, Turkey, specifically Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, personally asked Selahaddin Bahaddin, head of the KIU, to use the group's own privileged position to open negotiations between Iran and the Syrian   Brotherhood. For this, Bahaddin paid a visit to İstanbul to see the leaders of the Syrian Brotherhood and then visited Tehran. Moreover, later, Bahaddin flew to Sudan to see Iran's friends, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who both have a good relationship with Iran and an Islamist background. What they discussed is not yet known. Furthermore, a week ago, Bahaddin met with a delegation from the Kurdish National Council, according to a source close to the KIU; Bahaddin is trying to mediate between Syrian Kurds and the Brotherhood as well. The Syrian Kurds are striving to get guarantees from the opposition regarding Kurds amid the growing opportunity of toppling Assad's regime.
Iraqi Kurdistan, with its strategic geo-political location between Syria, Turkey and Iran, is becoming a vital place for political activity between different actors playing a role in the Syrian crisis. Kurds are trying to keep up good relations with Middle Eastern giants Iran and Turkey. Barzani, who used to have good ties with Assad's regime, seemingly turned toward the opposition with the growing opportunity of the uprising's success in Syria.

*Abdulla Hawez is a freelance journalist based in Iraqi Kurdistan. Follow him: @abdullahawez

This article has first appeared on Today's Zaman:

This article has re-published under my permission on DIMPOOL, Policy center:

Jan 5, 2012

AKP’s silent revolution has a blemish

While we hear about the achievements of Turkey’s AKP government especially in the Middle East after the Arab Spring, AKP’s government internally is facing a real challenge after the further detonation recently in ties with the minority Kurds that are making around 20% of Turkey’s population.  
            It’s widely believed that since AK Party came to power in 2003, a silent revolution has undertaken.  That revolution has swept all aspects in Turkey’s post-Kemalism era. Similarly, AKP has tried to solve Kurdish question through a process that called Democratization, by giving individuals more freedom. As the government has opened a 24 hours TV channel, TRT6, that airs programs in Kurdish. However, Kurds are accusing AKP for misleading the decades-standing Kurdish question. Kurds in the violence-ridden southeastern Turkey say AKP tries to erase Kurdish culture through TRT6, by airing twisted stories in Kurdish to convince the ordinary Kurds. Moreover, Layla Zana one of the prominent Kurdish leaders said the Kurdish question can’t be solved through giving more individual freedoms, but by giving Kurds their rights as a nation. Recently, the already detonated ties between government and Kurds worsen further after Turkish army jets killed 35 civilian, smuggler Kurds. Kurds say that shows how AKP government is still continuing the same policy of previous governments regarding Kurds in another style, while challenged all others blemishes. The worsening in ties between Kurds and Turkish government may lead to an uprising in the Kurdish cities in the wake of Arab Spring, as the anger of Kurds already turned to daily demonstrations in both Istanbul and southeastern region. PKK, which through his political wing, BDP, got 80% of the votes in latest election in southeastern region called on the Kurds to upraise against the Turkish government, as promised to ascendant attacks against Turkish army. Diyarbakır, the capital of southeastern Turkey, displays its politics. Graffiti throughout the city cheers PKK. Lately, more popular demonstrations has taken place in Diyarbakır, but aggressively quashed by the police. Meanwhile, Pro Kurdish Peace and Freedom Party or BDP lawmakers asked for the referendum in the predominately Kurdish southeast as a test for democracy in Turkey. Worthwhile, Kurds putted autonomy as a minimum demand regarding a solution for Kurdish question before. In respond, AKP strongly refused such demand, and claimed it threats Turkish unity. Turkish president Abdullah Gul many times described Turkey’s diversity as a source for richer Turkey, but never reflected in the real life. One of the local leaders of BDP in Diyarbakır told me Turkish prime minister delegitimizing the Al-Asad’s regime in Syria for Killing civilians and suppressing peaceful demonstrations, but same thing is happening here; last week at least 35 civilians Kurds killed and the peaceful demonstrations similarly suppressed. The local residences in the area believe that situation will continue until the Kurdish problem gets solved.
             The predominately Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey are vividly ignored compared to the Turkish cities, as the Turkish state has tried to erase Kurds as a nation since the foundation of the republic in 1923. It would be rational to give all provinces in Turkey more power, even if the state doesn’t want to name it autonomy. It firstly takes off the more burdens that are facing the government with the government engaged further in the regional politics. Also it won’t differ Kurds from the rest of the country which government afraid to claim separation and get independence one day.  Moreover, Kurds still doesn’t have the right to study in their native language, as a first step, if government makes Kurdish an optional material in the predominately Kurdish cities, it can gradually solve the language problem as well. That brings peace to the southeastern area and then PKK, as promised, may lay down its weapon which Turkish army annually spending 10 billion dollars in fighting it; it also stops the imprisonment of thousands of Kurdish activists that have arrested in the name of terror recently, that’s in one hand. At the other hand, government needs to take those steps to make the economy’s flourishing continue. Last year, Turkish government unleashed a goal to make Turkey one of the 10 biggest economies in the world, engaging southeastern region is very important to reach this goal because this region makes one third of Turkish land and 20% of Turkish population.  The area is rich with agriculture, as there’s huge cheaper labor force, and with the historical places, it can be turned to a tourism hub. That will also accelerate government’s efforts to make Turkey one of the 10 first economies globally.    
            Turkey is witnessing a radical political standoff between government and Kurds anyways, as the whole region is chaging which that may weaken Turkey’s external ambitions. At the end either AKP government should give Kurds their rights as a nation firstly through the new promised civilian constitution that suppose to be ready by the second part of this year, or inspired by the Arab Spring Kurds will revolute loudly against AKP’s silent revolution, and take their rights by their own.