Ayoub Barzani: Modern concepts, such as nation, civil society and democracy must replace party, tribe and family rules :
KurdishMedia.com, 02 July 2008: Ayoub Barzani is the son of Babo Barzani and the first-cousin of Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan Region. He took refuge in Iran after the collapse of the Kurdish revolt in 1975. While in Iran, he was arrested and intimidated by the Iranian secret service, the (SAVAK). He left Iran at the end of 1976 and sought asylum in the UK. Ayoub currently resides in Switzerland. He has authored two historical books: Barzan and the Awakening of the Kurdish National Movement 1828 – 1914 and The Kurdish Resistance to Occupation 1914 – 1958.
KurdishMedia.com found the opportunity to conduct an interview with him.
Can you tell us about your activities in Europe?
During the Iraq-Iran war in 1980s, I established contacts with the UNHCR, Red Cross, UNHRC, WCC and also helped the HRC by providing to them information on the Kurdish plight under the Ba'ath rule. When Barzan Tikriti, the step-brother of Saddam Hussein, was nominated as Iraqi Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, with the collaboration of INDICT, a human rights organisation, and a Swiss lawyer, we pursuit to bring him to justice, and we have important files on the subject. Finally he was expelled from Switzerland. I frequently contributed columns to Swiss newspapers on the massacres in Kurdistan during the 1980s. Also we fundraised for displaced people in the region, and we were able to provide to them a limited level of financial assistance.
I have been continuously engaged in different activities to support my nation since my arrival to the EU. Thanks for the free and civil environment of Europe which provides space for asylums like us to support their nation in non-violent ways.
Did you publish your books in Europe?
Before leaving Iran, I gave a copy of the manuscript of my first book, entitled “Barzan and the Awakening of the Kurdish National Movement 1828”, to the brother of the famous Assyrian hero, Hurmez Melik Ciko, who was a trusted friend of mine. When he and his family migrated to the USA, he sent me back the manuscript, while I was in London. The disintegration of the Iranian Monarchy in 1979 provided a useful but short period liberal political atmosphere in Iran, so I published my first book in Tehran in 1980. The second one, entitled “The Kurdish Resistance to Occupation 1914 – 1958”, was published in Switzerland in 2003.
With a number of Kurdish and Swiss intellectuals, we published a Magazine in French (L'Appel du Kurdistan). We published a Kurdish-Arabic bilingual periodic, entitled “Hevot”, ie Culture. Then, I published 4 volumes of moral ancient stories from Kurdistan, in French language.
At the end of your second book, you mentioned that you will be working on another account. Can you tell us about your ongoing efforts?
The third book is covering the period from 1958 to 1975, the raise and the fall of the Kurdish liberation movement (1961-1975). The book will provide a new insight into the history of the revolt, its positive and negative aspects, its internal inertia and the true personality of its leaders, who finally lead the revolt to a disaster in 1975. This account will provide an opportunity for many Kurds to rethink about the current leaders.
In your view, what are the main challenges current facing Iraqi Kurdistan?
We are facing many challenges, including the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, concerning Kirkuk, Khaneqin, Sinjar and other Arabized areas; combating corruption in the Kurdish administration and the illegal partisan privileges at the expense of the society and monopoly over wealth, politics and military by the two ruling parties, PUK and KDP in the region.
Also matters concerning transparency, democracy, free and fair elections and the liberation of the parliament from partisan chains are other obstacles we are facing. If these problems are not redressed in time, then the grail may be lost.
There is another important issue: The genocides committed by the Baath regime against our people, such as the massacre of Barzanis, Halabja and Anfal. We must increase the international community awareness to recognize these crimes.
There exist favorable international political circumstances that allow Kurdish people to secure further their national rights, if they adopt a non-violent, national and strategic policy, away from partisan interests and personal ambitions. The future of Kurdistan depends on how these favorable circumstances are understood by the Kurdish political elites, the reaction of the Kurdish masses and the stance of the Kurdish intelligentsia both in Kurdistan and in diaspora. I believe that the Kurdish potential energy is not mobilized, due to the endemic corruption of the political elite. In order to achieve full mobilization of the Kurdish potential forces, we need a new energetic and modern political organization, close to the ambitions of the Kurdish nation coupled with modern civil and democratic values.
How do you assess the current situation in Iraqi Kurdistan?
It is very chaotic. You can hardly feel the presence of civil institutions. The influence of KDP and PUK runs deep. They have created KRG in order to take back the authority, but in reality the two parties are more influential than KRG. They have separate prisons, intelligence, militias, salaries, newspaper and Satellite TV stations. There is a growing gap between the political elites and the society. The situation is creating a fertile ground for radical doctrines, to infiltrate into the society and advertise their radical agendas as alternatives to the two dominant parties. It is imperative to turn the KDP and PUK militia into a national army, instead of being used as a tool by the ruling incumbent families. Modern concepts, such as nation, civil society and democracy must replace party, tribe and family. The collapse of Saddam's regime has not brought democracy and justice to Kurdistan. The struggle for real democracy has begun now from within Kurdistan. All democratic forces in Kurdistan, honest patriots, who reject the present oligarchy rule feel the urgent need of uniting efforts, forming a united national front for democracy and put an end to the rampant corruption.
The majority of people in Kurdistan are disheartened by the situation, and you said the struggle for democracy has begun. Can you elaborate?
Yes. The solution lies in the abilities of the new generation to create a new alternative. Presently, the political power is monopolized by KDP and PUK, who are so identical that it is difficult to distinguish their political conduct. Now, the imperative issue is to forming a new political force to avoid further being drugged into a sort of Middle Eastern despotism. Currently, there is strong inclination towards dictatorship in Kurdistan. We have to be vigilant, act with prudence and determination. The nucleus for a new political force is already there, as there is a divorce between the Kurdish society and the ruling elites.
One can argue that the PUK and KDP cannot be challenged. Where is the nucleus of this new political force?
Many Kurds have sought refuge in the West since 1991. Living in Europe and US, many of them have attended universities and interacted closely with the Western society. Many of them are raising concerns about the situation in Kurdistan and are working together to establish a modern movement that is in line with modern values and people's ambitions. In addition, the modern technologies have eased intercontinental communications. There are able Kurds in Europe, in US and in Kurdistan, some of them belong to the younger generation and others are older but well respected in the Kurdish society. We are initiating contacts with certain capitals. We will announce a plan, I hope very soon.
You mention two different groups to form the nucleus of this modern political force, part in Dispora and part in Kurdistan. How do you mobilize these two groups to integrate into one Kurdistani political force?
The contact between those who live in Kurdistan and those who are living abroad has already been established, through several channels. The importance is given to tangible matters like introducing influence from within our society. Kurdish society is ready for change. Reading independent Kurdish news papers, one can conclude that changes are inevitable. The current widespread corruption cannot be tolerated any longer. In fact the period between 1992 to 2008 unveiled the nature of the elite's monopoly of power and their fathomless greed for personal wealth, privileges and power. We have discussed how to confront the present undemocratic policy of the ruling elites related to the destruction of the alternatives so as to remain longer in power. We are aware of the challenges facing us.
Do you expect support from US and Britain?
The United States and Great Britain are major stakeholders in Iraq. Their success in Iraq is becoming a crucial item of their national interests. Both intervened in Iraq to introduce concepts of democracy, civil society and the rule of law and ultimately change the dictatorial Middle East, so both are responsible in implementing the above mentioned concepts. Kurdistan and Iraq cannot develop economically without a massive aid from Washington and London. But both dominating countries should deal with democratic forces and abandon their harmful policy of supporting dictatorship, or creating new dictators in the Middle East. In fact, the Kurds were expecting much more to be done, by the USA and Britain, concerning democratic rights and better living conditions. The people are still waiting, and it might be very hazardous if illusions replace the long awaited hopes.
The process of democratization of our society needs the Kurdish masses to move with determination, like other dynamic nations, so that others democratic forces or countries can help. We cannot expect foreign powers to do all for us. We have to take our responsibility and act to create the political momentum for democratic changes, to have a real democratic administration, not only by slogans as it is today but through deeds. A parliament responsible to the people, and not a partisan dominated parliament. It is illogic to stay idle and expect others to do our job. A responsible and dynamic nation is always ready for sacrifice, when its vital interest is at stake.
Let me interrupt, if you allow me, you talked about US and British success, can you specifically define their success in Iraq?
The US and Britain intervened in Iraq in 2003 not only to eliminate the danger posed by Saddam Hussein, but to democratize Iraq. Both nations are responsible in fulfillment of what they gallantly promised. They cannot do so by supporting those who never practiced democracy in their political conduct. The US and Britain must deal with civil forces and abandon their harmful and old policy of supporting dictatorships in the Middle East. The US has committed a fatal mistake in delivering a huge amount of finance to few individuals, who have gained enormous personal power and great capacity to corrupt the Kurdish society and Iraq as a whole. Does this serve the case of democracy or an act of hostility toward democracy?
The US must promote independent NGOs, which can be very useful in promoting democratic values, independent media, and monitor region’s budget and hold corrupt officials accountable.
One can argue that the US and Britain are actually the forces behind corruption, dictatorship and oppression in the Middle East? Look at the corruption in Iraq, dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and oppression in Turkey. Why do expect this evil force in the Middle East now bring democracy, rule of law and civil society to the Middle Ease.
The US is a powerful and most influential actor in the entire Middle East. Its policies are usually the results of free debates in Washington. At the same time, the system is very inclusive; it receives advisement for experts. The US can change its approach and promote civil and democratic elements in the region. The USA must support democratic elements within the Middle East societies, so as to establish real and sustainable democratic system. Our duty is to organize a democratic movement and try to get the support from the USA, Britain, Europe and other democratic forces in the world, but that doesn’t mean, we put all our hopes on them. It is risky to depend on foreign support when the destiny of a nation is at stake. The present economic dependency on neighboring countries is threatening the very survival of the people of Kurdistan. A people who is economically dependent, cannot be the master of his destiny. A vivid nation must develop its strategy for its survival during situation of extreme hardship.
What do you think of KurdishMedia.com?
It is a very informative website. Most importantly, it is independent, so it has freedom to publish the necessary news. For the past decade, it served to connect Kurdistan with the Western world and was able to connect many Kurdish intellectuals in the West. I think KurdishMedia.com is a success story of the western freedom. Dr. Rebwar Fatah and his coworkers deserve all appreciation and encouragement. Also, we must not forget the brave journalists back home who are working hard to promote free press mentality despite threats from the Kurdish authority.
Mr Ayoub Barzani, we thanks for allowing us to speak to you and for your nice words about KurdishMedia.com