Iraqi Kurdish leader confident of ‘Kurdish Spring’

Iraqi Kurdish leader confident of ‘Kurdish Spring’

SULAYMANIYAH - Hürriyet Daily News
Iraqi Kurdish leader confident of ‘Kurdish Spring’

Barham Salih Salih, who has been seen as a possible replacement for ailing PUK leader Jalal Talabani, said Turkey was the most reliable partner for the territory. Hürriyet Daily News photo

A “Kurdish Spring” similar to the movements that have emerged in Arab nations has arrived in the region, an Iraqi Kurdish leader has said, stressing that the movement does not pose a threat to Turkey.

“The Kurdish Spring is here. Our time has come. The might of Turkish civilization, democracy and culture should not be concerned about the recognition of Kurdish identity,” Barham Salih, deputy secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), told a group of journalists late April 22 at a meeting organized by the Medialog Platform.

Salih, who has been seen as a possible replacement for ailing PUK leader Jalal Talabani, said Turkey was the most reliable partner for the territory.

Recalling his meetings with Turkish leaders 10 years ago, Salih said Turkish politicians were concerned that “Iraqi Kurdistan would be the first step toward the dismemberment of Iraq and a big attack on Turkey and Turkey’s national security.”

“But now Iraqi Kurdistan is the most reliable and stable secure friend that Turkey has,” Salih said. “The message is that the Kurdish identity, stability, language and rights are not a threat to Turkey; it is an asset to Turkey. For me as a Kurd, I look around when I go to Istanbul and Ankara. When my compatriots go to Antalya and İzmir, they see this amazing culture, amazing economy, amazing Turkish press and freedoms. And they say, ‘Why we don’t have that as well?’”

Turkey and Iraqi Kurds could do much together, Salih said, but added that “nationalism divides us.”
Both Turks and Kurds can be proud of their identities and, at the end of the day, they “care about the same fundamental things,” the Kurdish politician said.

“We don’t need to be locked in conflict. Iraqi Kurdistan is a powerful message in that [sense]. What Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has started by the democratic opening and the peace process together with Kurdish leaders in Turkey is a historic opportunity,” Salih said, citing the recent peace process launched by the Turkish government in order to end the three-decade-old Kurdish insurgency.

Erdoğan and Kurdish leaders in Turkey need to be supported

According to Salih, the 20th century was a wasted opportunity for all, but the 21st century could be different.
Erdoğan and Kurdish leaders in Turkey need to be supported through this process, he said, stressing the need to “overcome the sensitivities of the past.”

“Iraqi Kurdistan, as a model economic and political partner for Turkey, could be a very powerful catalyst for that change,” Salih said.

Asked what sort of support Iraqi Kurds could offer to the peace process, he said they could make all kinds of contributions, but added: “The most important support is to show by example.”

Turkey and the KRG can work together for both polities’ common good, Salih said. “I think the Turkish government listens to the Iraqi Kurdistan government. The Kurdish leaders of Turkey listen to Iraqi Kurds. We need a peaceful settlement of this conflict. The cycle of conflict is not good for Turkey and for the Kurds of Turkey,” he said, underlining the importance of the recognition of Kurdish rights and enhancing Turkish democracy.

When asked about the KRG’s role in the planned withdrawal of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants from Turkish territory, Salih did not want to comment, but implied that the process should be done without harming stability in northern Iraq.

“We want to work in every way possible to promote a settlement and stability without undermining our stability because undermining our stability would be very dangerous for us,” Salih said.

Elaborating on the possibility of the Iraqi Kurds’ role in process of PKK disarmament, Salih said these were issues between Turkey and the PKK, but added: “If there are ways and means that we, Kurdistan, may help, we could consider that at that time.”

Iraqi Kurds are also worried about extremists in Syria, some of which come from al-Qaeda in Iraq, Salih said.
“Terrorism and extremism will not stay in Syria. It will affect Turkey, Lebanon – the entire region. Iranians, Turks, Americans and Russians should come together to find a way out for Syrians; a way for a settlement,” he said, noting that Syrian Kurds had become a central factor in Syrian politics and that Syrian Kurdish issue was decisive for the transition of the country.

Salih said the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of the Kurds was an important organization in Syria.

“I believe the 20th century was very crucial to the Kurds. The 21st century is our time in Syria across the Middle East,” he said.