SI Committee on Kurdish People in Sulaimaniya
The SI Committee on the Kurdish People, established by the Council following a decision by the Congress, held its first meeting in Sulaimaniya, on Friday 12 April 2013. It was hosted by the SI member Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, and brought together participants from more than twenty Kurdish political parties and organisations from Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. (List of Participants)
At the opening of the meeting, the SI Secretary General Luis Ayala paid tribute to HE Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, PUK leader and an SI Vice-President, with whom he had discussed the holding of this meeting. Talabani’s absence was strongly felt and during the discussions participants joined Ayala in wishing President Talabani a speedy recovery.
Luis Ayala went on to express satisfaction that this Committee was now a reality. The politics and agendas of the various Kurdish parties throughout the region were varied, he said, but the cause was the same: rights, freedoms, democracy, and solidarity. Human rights could not be trampled on and they needed to be for all, not just for some. He underlined the firm commitment of the Socialist International in this regard. Commenting on the wave of change underway in the Middle East, he said this was the time for politics and dialogue. Kurds in Iraq had come a long way in gaining rights and freedoms for their people since the fall of Saddam Hussein ten years before, but important issues remained. Intimidation by Baghdad over Kirkuk was unacceptable, Article 140 of the constitution needed to be implemented and democracy needed to be respected. He referred to the grave situation in Syria and looked forward to hearing first hand from our Kurdish friends there on recent developments, and from our members from the BDP on the latest initiatives in Turkey, an issue at the center of concerns of Kurdish people everywhere. The situation in Iran regarding the Kurdish population could not be more urgent today than it has been for years and he hoped that headway could be made there soon. He reiterated that they could count on the solidarity of the Socialist International and its members worldwide.
Mala Bakhtiar, Head of the Political Bureau of the PUK, warmly welcomed all participants on behalf of his party. He hailed this initiative of the Socialist International and expressed thanks to the Secretary General. Until now, he said, Kurds in the Middle East have been voiceless, divided and friendless. With this new Committee he hoped it would bring people together and provide a sanctuary for their cause. After a long struggle the PUK had gained full membership in the SI and he wished the same for other Kurdish parties. There were many changes in the Middle East, Bakhtiar said, and many people struggling for a better life. The time was over for governments to dictate to the people and democracy was now moving forward in the region. Resolving the cause of the Kurdish people in all four parts of Kurdistan was key to achieving peace and democracy in the Middle East, he said, and the role of the Socialist International would be crucial in bringing a greater understanding of this issue to all corners of the world. He was pleased that with this new Committee there was a platform for setting a strategy among the Kurdish political parties. He hoped in the future other parties of Kurdistan will also convene in peace and freedom.
In open and frank discussions, all the parties present took part in the debates, describing their respective positions and viewpoints. All participants enthusiastically welcomed the convening of this meeting, calling it a historic moment. There were strong expressions of recognition and gratitude to the SI for its long record in supporting the Kurdish cause and for this re-launching of its commitment to achieving justice for the Kurdish people and moving forward their agenda for rights and freedoms. The Committee should be an open forum, bringing together Kurdish parties committed to the achievement of those goals in a democratic framework. It was stressed that all Kurdish parties needed to be supportive of each other and should meet more often. The changing environment in the Middle East and the many crises in existence required that the Kurds be united and have a common strategy. This committee was seen a welcome first step in that direction.
In regard to Iraq, on the 10th anniversary of the liberation of the Kurdish people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime, it was noted that although there was democracy, peace and stability in the Kurdish region, problems with the national government remained. There was the status of the province of Kirkuk, which was administratively under the control of Baghdad, there was the outstanding problem of the lack of implementation of Article 140 of the constitution which affected Kirkuk and was a violation of the rights of the Kurdish people; there were matters relating to the national budget, issues with the parliament in Baghdad, and the increasing danger of sectarianism and terrorism. The situation of Kirkuk was of particular concern, where Baghdad's build-up of military presence on the borders was seen as attempts at intimidation and increasing control. It was pointed out that the Governing Council of Kirkuk was the same as it had been since 2005, as Baghdad has consistently refused to allow new elections. The SI Secretary General, in a statement to the press after the meeting, underlined that nothing less than the withdrawal of troops, the proper implementation of Article 140 of the constitution and the holding of free and fair elections was acceptable.
Participants from the Kurdish parties from Iran reported that the repression and suffering of the Kurdish population in that country continues. The obligation of the international community to keep up the pressure for recognising their rights without delay was underlined and it was hoped that through this SI Committee, international public awareness could be focused on their plight. The parties there were encouraged to intensify their cooperation with each other and work together in unity, and in this sense there was a particular appeal to the PDKI and the KDP who participate in the work of the SI.
The Committee heard from the BDP of Turkey that the new process underway with the Turkish government was seen as a chance for finding a peaceful solution. It was still in its early stages, but there was cause for optimism and they were looking forward to drawing up a new legal framework for the Kurds. They wanted democratic autonomy, maintaining good relations with other parts of Kurdistan. The importance of support from the international community for the success of these talks was underlined, as they were seen as crucial for the whole region. A signal from the international community to the Turkish government in support of the peace process was considered useful.
The situation of the Kurds in Syria had reached a unique phase and they were today fighting alongside the rebels, against the Assad regime. The Kurdish participants from Syria reported that they were working together, and for the first time they have areas secured under their control. They were seeking a federal system within Syria and asked for backing and help in this endeavour. There was concern expressed about what type of regime would replace that of Assad, particularly if it would be a fundamentalist one. The US and Europe were perceived as not acting decisively enough in helping the opposition to bring an end to the Assad regime for the same reason. They appealed to the SI for global support in keeping up international pressure on the opposition to recognise now the rights of the Kurds in Syria. It was considered important not to let happen in Syria what had happened in Iraq, in that everyone let the regime fall first and left the Kurdish issue to be sorted out later.
With the changes sweeping across the Middle East in the ‘Arab Spring’, the Kurdish populations were also mobilised to gain their rights and freedoms. Rather than armed conflict, theirs should be a civil struggle, and dialogue for peace should never cease. Another area of importance that was included in the discussions was the role of women. Political parties and institutions of the Kurdish people should increase their representation of women, as our political family was committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Following the decision by the SI Council that committees would elect their own chairs and vice-chairs, and after consultations among the Kurdish member parties of the SI, a proposal was put forward. Mala Bakhtiar from the PUK was elected as Chair of the Committee, with Nazmi Gur from the BDP Turkey and Loghman Ahmedi from the PDKI Iran as Vice-chairs, understanding that a process is open between the PDKI and the KDP of Iran for increased cooperation and unity.
It was confirmed that the SI Committee on the Kurdish People should constitute a platform for the Kurdish members of the SI along with other invited parties, like on this occasion, which included guest parties represented in the Kurdistan Parliament-Iraq and other parties following consultations, and in agreement with the hosts. The Committee will meet periodically and report regularly to the Council of the SI, working within the structures of the Socialist International and in accordance with its policies.
The meeting also agreed that the Socialist International would organise an international conference on the Kurdish people late in the year, at the headquarters of one of the international institutions with which the SI cooperates and has a recognised status.
In the days immediately prior to these discussions in Sulaimaniya, the SI Secretary General held a series of meetings. These included with the Head of the Political Bureau of the SI member PUK, Mala Bakhtiar; the President of the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament, Arsalan Baiz; the Governor of Kirkuk, Najmadin Karim; and the General Secretary of the Ministry of Peshmerga and Spokesman for the General Command of the KRG, Jabar Yawar Manda. The SI Secretary General also held a special meeting with HE Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Regional Government and leader of the KDP Iraq, on the current situation in the region and relations with the national government in Baghdad.