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Turkey's Kurds Have No Voice in Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization                                                             
By Mihemed Eli Zalla
Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is the organization of the nations who are not independent and are not represented in the United Nations nor in the countries they are in. This organization operates like UN, to some extent it is an alternative to UN, but only for those who have not been given the right to self-determination and independence.  The organization works with UN to promote the rights of its members. Membership in this organization is conditional, the applicant nation/people must meet certain qualifications, however, 53 nations/peoples have made it to the organization and are currently members.

Southern Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) and Eastern Kurdistan (Iranian Kurdistan) are members at this organization. But Northern Kurdistan (Turkey Kurdistan) and Western Kurdistan (Syrian Kurdistan) have not yet been given membership status in the organization. This and several other wonders about the organization led us to email Andrew Swan, the program manager at UNPO to find out more about the organization.

Mr. Swan is currently the Program Manager for the UNPO in Brussels. He joined the UNPO in 2008 after working for the HBOS Group and the Isle of Man Parliament.  Despite his visits and works in Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr. Swan has experience in living and working in Kazakhstan, Rwanda, and Western Sahara. He is currently engaged in managing the UNPO’s advocacy work with the European institutions.

Question: What is UNPO, Is it a UN body?

Swan: The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is an international, nonviolent, and democratic membership organization. Its members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognized or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments, and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them.  It is not a UN body but it engages with the UN system, contributing to the UN Human Rights Council and supporting its Members in their participation with the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues amongst other organs of the UN system.

Question: What are the benefits of membership in UNPO?

Swan: The UNPO offers to its Members a forum in which to exchange ideas, experience, and to demonstrate common positions and support to their respective causes. Beyond this role, the organization provides its Members with a highly educated and experienced secretariat based in two of the world’s most prominent judicial and political centers: The Hague and Brussels.  The UNPO is also able to bring together many organizations and representatives that otherwise do not interact within a single body.  Consequently we are one of the few bodies to have had both Georgians and Abkhaz representatives present within an organization.  In addition, the UNPO brings under one organization groups within Iraq and Iran.  The value of the UNPO also lies in the thematic focus is able to bring to particular issues such as the management of natural and environmental resources in oil rich delta such as that in Nigeria and Iran.

Question: How much is payment of the application fee?

Swan:The application fee is part of the application process which is something we administer internally.  However it is not a large amount and is intended chiefly to demonstrate the commitment of the applicant and their sincerity as well as to facilitate the necessary research into the application.

Question: What people (nation) is eligible for membership application?

Swan: To be considered eligible a prospective nation or people must demonstrate that they are representative of the nation or people in whose name they act. They must, moreover, pledge to adhere to the UNPO Covenant and commit to respect other nations and peoples as equals, uphold democracy, human rights, nonviolence and the right of self-determination.

Question: on what basis do you choose a group, party to represent a minority, in Iranian Kurdistan KDPI and in Iraqi Kurdistan PUK and KDP are representing their respective parts of Kurdistan?

Swan: Applications from prospective members are referred to the UNPO Presidency for approval based on research conducted by the UNPO Secretariat.  Existing members may advise the Presidency on any objections or comments they may wish to voice in connection to some membership applications.  

Question: In the case of declaring independence, does your organization support the declaring nation, if yes, what sorts of support?

Swan: The UNPO places a declaration of independence in the context of its Membership.  Where a UNPO Member believes that alternatives have been exhausted and independence is the sole solution that can guarantee the rights of its people, such as in the case of East Timor, the UNPO supports that stance.  

Moreover, the UNPO naturally comments on situations such as South Sudan, a case which will raise fresh questions over the need to recognize the state-building and democratization that has been taking place in Somaliland over the past twenty years.  Similarly, the situation in Kosovo has implications for international law and the situation in the South Caucasus.  

Consequently the UNPO aims to raise awareness of such situations, with the intention of raising the level of debate and understanding.  This can include advocacy actions within key institutions such as the United Nations, European Union, and national governments.

Question: in Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)’s 13th convention, (Masoud Barzani) KDP’s chairman stated to have adopted Kurdish self determination right, as a goal of the KDP, your thoughts?

Swan: We see this as representing a consistent continuation of the KDP’s policy of recent years, coming as it did under the convention’s title of “Peace and Progress.”  

Question: How do you assess the Kurdish National conference that is under discussion to be held with the participation of all the Kurdish political parties in all parts of Kurdistan? What do you hope to come out from this conference?

Swan: Iraqi Kurdistan is a maturing democracy and the Kurdish National Conference is a reflection of that maturity.  The situation of Kurds throughout the Middle East region differs in each case, with different communities facing their own challenges.  But hopefully the conference will allow discussions to take place that demonstrate the importance and effectiveness of negotiation.  It will be important that the conference is transparent in its conclusions and can signal the initiative in supporting proactive and constructive participatory democracy throughout the region.  Such a conclusion could serve as positive model for other national – minority and majority - groups in the region.

Question: When one looks at the maps posted on your website, it clearly suggests that UNPO is bias towards Iraqi Turkemen. The Turkmen Eli Map, is rejected by other minorities in the area, including Arabs, Christians and Kurds, but yet your website has posted that map. On another hand, the Iranian Kurdistan map is reducing the whole Kurdish region into a tiny piece of area, besides the Iraqi Kurdistan map which is one not including the (Kirkuk,Khanaqin ….etc.) why is this so?

Swan: The UNPO is not biased to any one of its Members, and works on the initiative of its Membership.  The Iraqi Turkmen map represents the cultural and linguistic dispersion of the Iraqi Turkmen people and is not intended to demarcate a territory as such.  The Iranian Kurdistan map similarly represents the geographic distribution of Iranian Kurds throughout the four western provinces of Kermanshah, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, and Kordestan.  The Iraqi Kurdistan map does not include so-called disputed areas such as Kirkuk and Khanaqin because their status remains to be determined.  We are acutely aware of this and continue to follow developments as they unfold.  It must be stressed that the maps are intended to provide an audience often unfamiliar with the people concerned with a broad idea of their location – they are not intended as a concrete demarcation.

Question: The maps (particularly the one of Turkmen Eli and Iraqi Kurdistan) and absence of Turkey Kurdistan membership suggests that Turkey has a lot of influence in your organization!

The UNPO works on behalf of its Members, a number of which have strong Turkic roots; ranging from the Crimean Tatars of Ukraine to the Uyghurs of East Turkestan.  As a consequence, there are a number of issues in which UNPO’s activities might coincide with policy discussions in Ankara.  However the UNPO is a membership organization whose activities focus on the issues and priorities of its members and not necessarily the states in which they find themselves.  The diverse membership of the UNPO and their geographic distribution also clearly demonstrates that the organization does not follow the narrow interests of one state or another, and certainly does not fall under any one particular sphere of influence.  

Question: Why Turkey’s Kurdistan and Syrian Kurdistan are not represented in your organization?  have your organization tried to contact them and inform them about membership in the organization?

Swan: The UNPO does not solicit membership applications, but we know Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan organizations are aware of our work and activities and we invite representatives of different Kurdish groups and organizations to our events.  Nevertheless, we have not received an application for membership that has met the necessary criteria but we would of course consider any such application on its merits.

Question: Do you (UNPO) have any plans to visit Kurdistan? Or may be open offices of any kind in Kurdistan?

Swan: Representatives of the UNPO have visited the Iraqi Kurdistan on numerous occasions. However, the most recent visit was in July 2009 for a UNPO election observation of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, details of which can be found here:
http://www.unpo.org/article/9917.  At this stage we have no plans to open an office in Iraqi Kurdistan, but that may well be a situation that changes.

This article was originally published in Kurdish in Halbun magazine.