Thursday, September 4, 2014

Interfaith marriage shows how sectarian divide in Iraq is unprecedented

There are many gauges to determine why the current sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq is unprecedented, but one of them strikes me and makes this pretty clear: the record low intermarriage between Shias and Sunnis.

If some 50 years ago an Iraqi Sunni and Shia couple - whether Kurd, Arab, or Turkmen - decided to get married, nobody would have even known that it was an intermarriage between the two sects. This is because it was totally normal and such occasions.

Today, however, these rare occasions, like the recent marriage of a Sunni girl to a Shia man, seem to make headlines as an act of bravery, interfaith tolerance, and patriotism as well. 

Mohammed Hares Yousef (25) and his bride Reem (20) both were among the families who fled the northern city of Mosul after it fell to the militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) -  now known as only Islamic State or IS - in a lightening fast offensive that routed Iraqi Army in June. 

The couple got married in a ceremony in Baghdad's al-Saeedea neighborhood on Monday. According to the reprots, and Iraqi MP Ahlam al-Husseini also attended the wedding ceremony. 

The story made headlines across not only Iraqi media, but also Arab countries as "Shia man and Sunni woman challenge ISIS with their marriage in Baghdad". Arab media outlets also wrote that with the intermarriage the couple wanted to "stand in the face of the violence that threatens to tear Iraq apart"

"... I challenge sorrow, I challenge terrorism.." they quote the young groom as saying. 

I know this is supposed to be a good sign that Iraqis are fighting sectarianism, but I am afraid it can be seen in more than one way. I believe it means the divide between Sunni and Shias is beyond bridging with all the fighting and bloodshed going on in the country since 2003. 

The tensions between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq started when the Baath regime held power in Iraq and it peaked under Saddam Hussein in the 1980 when he banned Shia religious rites in public and started to jail Shia leaders. Shia soldiers rebelled against the Iraqi Army in 1991 after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait and much of the army was damaged by the coalition forces in the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein clamped down on the Shia with an iron fist. 

But even then intermarriage was a lot more common than the years after 2003. According to unofficial figures from a judge from Baghdad in an article published in 2009, with the title: Life Goes On: Mixed Sunni-Shi’ah Marriages in Iraq roughly 50% of marriages in Baghdad before 2003 that the judge signed on were intermarriages. 

The judge says that an estimated 40 percent from that figure dropped with the 2003 war that toppled Saddam which still left a good percentage of intermarriages. But why do intermarriages make headlines these days? I believe because they have dropped even more dramatically since the 2009 article, and that's exactly why they make headlines. 

Some of the online media outlets that ran the story from Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, UAE, Saudi Arabia,  as well as USA and UK based Arabic language media outlets:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Friendly relations and then some

This Article was originally published by Kurdistan Tribune. Here is the Link.  @RaberYAziz

I was a junior undergrad student in 2007 when a journalist from a Dutch radio station who worked on a report about Kurds and Kurdistan asked me as a Kurd what I thought about an independent Kurdish state. My answer was as follows: having a Kurdish state without the blessings of the neighboring countries, even if the whole world recognizes it, is like sitting in a room with no windows, doors or exits. That Kurdistan – and I mean both the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and the greater Kurdistan as well – is a landlocked enclave and all of its interactions and trade with the outside world had to be either through airspaces, or across the soils of Turkey, Syria, Iraq or Iran. I told the journalist that an independent Kurdish state was the dream of every Kurd. However, I didn’t want us to rush into a declaration of independence without first building friendly relations with the neighboring nations through mutual understanding and interests.

 For a long time after the Kurdistan Region gained self-rule in northern Iraq, the neighboring countries were not happy with this. They all tried to meddle in its internal affairs, and maybe still do. Saddam Hussein was a permanent threat and there was the Turkish military’s continued transgression on its soil ostensibly to attack the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But, in 2004, Kurdistan Region was officially recognized by the Iraqi Constitution which made it irreversible. Saddam Hussein was gone, but Turkish officials still referred to Kurdistan as “Northern Iraq” and continued denying a Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish identity.

With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming to power in Turkey, that Turkish attitude changed too. Kurdish classes are now offered and a state-run Kurdish language TV is operational, Recep Teyyip Erdogan has tried to introduce more reforms, which are not huge but better than nothing. And Turkey is a major trade partner of the Kurdistan Region today. Erdogan officially invited the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, to Diyarbakir, the largest predominantly Kurdish city in Turkey, where they spoke about friendly relations and “Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood.”

It was a historical moment to see Barzani in Diyarbakir. No one should deny that – not even those who looked at the intertwined politics that Barzani needed Erdogan’s support in his own ambitions to push oil deals with the neighboring country without going back to Baghdad, or that Erdogan needed Barzani to gain votes from the Kurdish southeast of the country as parliamentary elections are expected to be held in March. Barzani was received by Erdogan as more than just an ally to his AKP party in the Middle East. He was received as an equal counterpart and that has its significance.

Also, Erdogan for the first time referred to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq as “Iraqi Kurdistan” which I am not suggesting, as some enthusiasts have suggested, it is a sign that Kurdistan is on the right track towards becoming a fully independent country. Rather, the denial policy practiced by the Turkish governments in the past is gradually vanishing and friendly relations are becoming stronger and stronger. It is for that very reason that Turkish hardline nationalists now call Erdogan a traitor. Some have gone so far as accusing Erdogan of splitting Turkey and helping Kurds establish the Greater Kurdistan.

After six years, I still hold the same view that an independent Kurdistan, without friendly relations with its neighbors, is unimaginable because Kurdistan is surrounded by those countries that can literally impose sanctions on it and cut it off from the rest of the world if they so wished. However, I would like to add one more line to it now: besides friendly relations with neighboring countries, Kurdish leaders and their fans need to overcome their own denial attitudes towards other Kurdish leaders, parties and factions.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Erbil is recognized by its leaders as the capital of the Kurdistan Region, and of the greater Kurdistan. In Turkey’s Kurdistan, and in particular by the PKK and its sympathizers, Diyarbakir is. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq describes Barzani as the supreme leader of the Kurdish nation, PKK and its sympathizers give Abdullah Ocalan the same titles, while many Iranian Kurds constantly refer to Qasemlu, leader of the KDP-Iran who was assassinated by Iranian intelligence in Austria, as the leader of the Kurds despite his being dead.

While Barzani’s KDP media, in addition to the Turkish media close to Erdogan’s AKP party, praised both leaders and their friendly relations and achievements, the PKK media, and the PKK sympathizer Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) of Turkey harshly criticized Barzani for refuting the PKK-affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD)’s recent interim administration in Syria. An object of criticism by the BDP leaders was also the fact that Barzani responded to Erdogan’s call to visit Diyarbakir when hundreds of the city’s sons are still in jail on charges of working with the PKK, while he turned down an invitation from the BDP to participate in the Nawroz (Kurdish New Year) celebrations in Diyarbakir.

At the heart of the competition is the Barzani-Ocalan rivalry.

Everybody is partly to blame for this rivalry and lack of unity among Kurds. The PYD/PKK accuse Barzani and his KDP party of family rule and having a monopoly of power, politics and trade in Kurdistan, yet they are doing the same in Syria. I know that the PYD is the most popular force on the ground in Syria, and I know that as the first power there it has the right to be the one dominating politics and administration. But they have no excuse for marginalizing all other Kurdish parties that seem to disagree with the PYD, however small – at least not until elections are held to see which party has a popular base and deserves to be called a political party and deserves to be part of the administration and how much power each party should have. The same is true of the KDP and Barzani as well. Barzani has done everything in his power to put pressure on the PYD in Syria, from blocking the border crossings and banning Saleh Muslim, the PYD leader, from entering Kurdistan, to adopting political attitudes that show enmity for the PYD, including refuting the recent interim administration announced by the PYD to carve out a Kurdish region in Syria.

One more issue is that, in his recent visit, Barzani failed to consider the frustration it would cause to the BDP/PKK and other independent Kurdish leaders in the country – that they would feel marginalized and excluded. Erdogan and his government did not take PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan for granted, so why should Barzani do that? Erdogan accepted Ocalan as an interlocutor in the peace process and has been holding talks and striking deals with them, so why shouldn’t Barzani do the same? This is not to suggest that he has never tried to hold talks with Turkey’s Kurdish leaders, rather Barzani – as an iconic Kurdish leader – should try harder to bring all Kurdish leaders together especially in compliance with his own ambitions to become the supreme leader of the Kurds everywhere.

The BDP is a popular party and its views should matter a lot to Barzani. It garnered about 2.8 million votes in the Turkish parliamentary elections in 2011, which is more than twice the votes Barzani’s KDP received in the Kurdistan Region elections this year. I am not forgetting the number of Kurdish voters in Kurdistan of Iraq and Turkey and therefore this should not mean that they are more popular than Barzani in the Kurdish world, but it should certainly mean that they are a popular force with massive support and a huge fan base in Turkey and the Kurdish world. This should testify that the BDP leaders should not be taken for granted, nor should the PKK. Just a few days ago 20,000 Kurds marched in Germany calling on the German government to reconsider its ban on the PKK.

What angered the Kurdish leaders of Turkey was that Barzani’s visit seemed to send the message that Erdogan and Barzani can bring about peace in the region without going back to the BDP or PKK. This may not have been the intention of Barzani, but it certainly did send this message and this was clear from the BDP and PKK leaders’ reactions.

Salahattin Demirtas said that “those who say they went to Diyarbakir to deliver some messages to the Kurdish people should respect the sacrifices of this land (Diyarbakir) they have stepped on. “ He also said, in what appeared to be a response to Barzani’s comment that he wouldn’t be able to go and speak in Turkey some 15 years ago but is now able to do so thanks to Erdogan: “If children and mothers of Diyarbakir had not turned each and every neighborhood of the city into an uprising and resistance field, nobody would be able today to deliver any messages here. Everybody should know on what soil they stand before speaking”

Here is why Demirtas and other BDP and PKK leaders are frustrated: Barzani went to Turkey and talked about Turkish-Kurdish brotherhood when the BDP and PKK leaders were sidelined, when the BDP/PKK still strongly disapprove of Erdogan’s reform packages and are highly dissatisfied with it and want to press for more. But the Barzani visit seems to legitimize what Erdogan has given so far. How would Barzani feel if Turkey’s Kurdish leaders visited the disputed city of Kirkuk in Iraq and talked about Arab-Kurdish brotherhood and said that it was time for peace and, whether intentionally or unintentionally, sent the message that what is there for Kurds in the city is enough and they should be content with what they have? I know that I would be angry if a Kurd from Turkey, Syria or Iran told me that Iraqi Kurds should stop whining about Kirkuk, move on and be content with what is already there. I know that we Kurds are one nation, but we did not all fight as one nation for Kirkuk, only Iraqi Kurds did and therefore it is not up to Turkey’s Kurds or Iranian Kurds to decide what’s best for Kirkuk, it is up to us Iraqi Kurds.

As long as we are looking at having Kurdistan regions with autonomous powers within their states rather than one independent Kurdistan, I think the same is true for Turkey’s Kurds, and Syria’s Kurds. They know better what is best for them and only they should have the right to decide that because, in the same way, only they fought for Kurdish rights in Turkey and not the whole of the Kurdish nation as one. One might say Mustafa Barzani, Massoud Barzani’s father, fought alongside Qazi Mohammed during the Mahabad Republic in 1946. But I am not talking about that long ago, I am talking about recent years, and besides, when Barzani joined Qazi Mohammed, the Kurdish regions in the four countries had not become as distinctive as they are today and Kurds still strived for one independent Kurdistan state rather than Kurdistan regions with autonomous powers.

I see Barzani’s recent Turkey visit as a positive event for Kurds in general, and the Kurdistan Region in particular. Kurds need to build friendly relations with Turks, Arabs and Persians if they ever want to have their own independent state. However, Kurdish leaders and their supporters should stop denying each other because they do not agree. Differences are not bad, they are just differences. And a supreme Kurdish leader is a matter of relativity as long as there is not an independent Greater Kurdistan where polls can be held to determine this.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Towards a National Anthem for Kurdistan

This article was originally published by Kurdistan Tribune. Here is the Link.

I watched a short video footage of Ahmet Kaya, the great Kurdish artist who was honored in 1999 for his art by the Magazine Journalists Association in Turkey. In the footage, Kaya appears on stage as he receives the award and says, “I am receiving this award on behalf of everyone struggling for human rights. In my next album, I will sing in Kurdish and will make a Kurdish video clip. I am sure there are courageous TV people who will air this.”

But no sooner he said  this than he was showered with swear words by the attending Turkish artists. Some of shout angrily that there is nothing called “Kurd” or “Kurdish language”. It was heart breaking. I did a little research, reading  related articles, watching other videos, and found out that that night he was also pelted with forks and spoons by the attendants and that he barely survived. He was attacked by the mainstream Turkish media as a “traitor”, and prosecuted. He was sent into exile where he died the following year.

Today, I read on one Kurdish news outlet that Turkey’s Nationalist People’s Party (MHP) opposes efforts to have a Kurdish language dictionary printed by the state printing and publishing facility. Mehmet Gunal of the MHP has reportedly said in the Turkish parliament that recognizing Kurdish language divides the state language and serves as a step toward federalism in the country.

I understood the Kurdish sentiment behind the article. I am also a Kurd and all that denial of the Kurdish identity, culture and language is very relatable. I was heartbroken again. I just can’t understand how a person can deny the ethnic and cultural identity of someone else. How can you hold so much hate for someone else just because they are different from you? I can never imagine myself doing that to someone. Can you, as a Kurd who has seen decades of discrimination, denial, and forced assimilation, imagine yourself doing it? Perhaps the answer is a resounding “Of course, not!” and perhaps some of you might even think, “What a stupid question!”

Well let’s do a little test here.

I also read that a few members of the Islamic Group of Kurdistan (IGK) – an opposition party in the Kurdistan Parliament – did not stand up in a Kurdistan parliament meeting when the Kurdish Anthem was played. They based their rejection of the anthem on grounds that it contained blasphemy, and late some of their brethren said it did not represent all ethnic groups in Kurdistan which stirred outrage amongst the nationalist Kurds on social media networks and has been further hyped up by the media close to the secular parties.

Now, I am not an Islamist person, and I would never vote for an Islamic party. And I do not appreciate what those Islamic MPs did on such grounds that the lyrics of the anthem contain blasphemy, because I have always been of the opinion that poetry should not be treated within rigid frameworks of right and wrong, good and bad. I have also been of the opinion that those Islamic party members generally spend more time worrying about such trivial things than on understanding the poem and its historical and political context. I believe “Ey Reqib” is the “Kurdish” anthem, I honor it, and stand up to its playing.


I do not believe it is a good anthem for “Kurdistan” as in the “Kurdistan Region” which is a federal region in northern Iraq with a diverse ethnic and religious makeup. Let me explain. Kurds, Turkmans, Assyrians, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenians live in Kurdistan and they hold such faiths as Islam, Christianity, Yezidism, Kakayi and Atheism. Ey Reqib is full of praise for the Kurdish valor, bravery, struggle of the Kurdish people, fight for freedom of Kurdish people, the Kurdish identity, the Kurdish language. Did you notice it? It is all “Kurdish” and not diverse as is the “Kurdistan Region”

On many occasions, Kurdish political leaders – and I mean all of them including the Islamic and secular and nationalist leaders alike, and at the top of the list, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani – have stressed that Kurdistan is not only the land of “Kurds” but also of all the other ethnic groups that live in Kurdistan. And history proves that and I support that statement. So, Kurdistan is the land of Turkmans, Assyrians, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenians as well.

Now, can you, as a Kurd who has seen discrimination, denial, and forced assimilation by the Iraqi Arab nationalist governments, Turkish fascist governments and Persian regimes, imagine why Ey Reqib is not a good national anthem for Kurdistan Region?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then I believe it has reminded you that the anthem is hurting other minority groups in Kurdistan and it should be replaced. That does not mean that we have to give it up altogether. We can still retain it as the “Kurdish” anthem – “Kurdish” as in “that which pertains to Kurds”, as opposed to the “Kurdistan national anthem” where Kurdistan is a federal region with a mixed ethnic structure.There needs to be this distinction between an anthem for Kurdistan (the diverse region) and an anthem for Kurds (only homogenous group)

I am assuming that there will not be a flat “No” answer, but rather something like “Yes I understand, BUT… blah blah blah”

But there is only one right answer. If you are thinking that Ey Reqib should still be the national anthem of Kurdistan, then I beg you to consider this: If you are old enough to remember the Baath Regime in Iraq and the then-Iraqi national anthem – I remember singing it in school, though not its connotations – How did you like it when you heard the anthem glorifying the “Arab land” and its “Arab headscarf” and how the “Arab sands” kindled a “revolution”?

If your answer is that you did not hate it and believed it was okay because it was the national anthem, then you were either too young to know, like I was, or too busy to be worrying about it for whatever reason, or you were simply a fake Kurd.

And if you hated it and yet still want Ey Reqib to remain as the anthem of Kurdistan then you are doing nothing different from what Saddam Hussein and the repressive governments of Iraq, Turkey and Iran did – and may be still doing – to Kurds for decades. You have taken the exact same steps.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The New York Times fancy map of how five countries in the Middle East could become fourteen

The New York Times has published a potential new map of the Middle East which looks good to me as a Kurd. But it looks more like wishful thinking than a real evaluation because I think it is far more complicated than this simply put by the New York Times. I think the person who drew this map was thinking about the issues in the Middle East more like "I think this is the best solution for all the issues" rather than "I think this is what is going to happen because of this and that". The issue here is that other than Kurds in the Middle East, every body else wants a "unified country" than seeing the country be divided into smaller countries or regions.

Americans suggested that Iraq be divided into three federal regions, Sunni, Shite, Kurdish, in order to overcome disputes but it was rejected by Sunnis and many Shites alike, other than Kurds. Sunnis who are now minorities in Iraq are the most ferocious opposers of this division into three regions or possible states.  They never stop complaining about the powers of the central Shiite held government yet they stress on one central government. The issue here is that each one claims that they want a unified country, but one which gives them the power to rule. Shites want a unified country ruled by Shiites, Sunnis consider different federal regions and division a blasphemy and they want a unified country, looking back on it with nostalgia how great Iraq was under Sunni rule. The same thing applies to Syria as well. Sunnis Arabs who form the majority see the opportunity to rule the whole country as the Shiites did in Iraq after the 2003 fall of Saddam so they will never give up on a unified Syria. Kurds want at least autonomy, or a Kurdish region government by a Kurdish government within Syria just like in Iraq, but Sunni Arabs vehemently oppose it.

Other than that, if this could be accepted by all, I do believe [like the editor might have thought than evaluated the issues] that it is a good solution to the turmoils in the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A group of young Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan decide to go to Syria for "Jihad for Kurdistan" against al-Qaeda linked groups

A group of young Kurds from Iraqi Kurdistan have announced in a video posted on youtube to go to Syria to do "Jihad for Kurdistan" against al-Qaeda linked groups the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which are currently fighting alongside some other groups against the Kurdish forces not submitting to the JN/ISIS.

In the video, nine young masked Kurds appear before a flag that is raised by the the People's Defense Units (YPG) the military wing of the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PYD) - the main Kurdish party in Syria that controlling the Kurdish territories. 

The YPG has been in a deadly fight with the JN/ISIS and some other groups linked with them for a few weeks now. The JN/ISIS and other rebel groups accuse the YPG of working with Mr Bashar al-Assad against the rebels because they do not help the rebels in overthrowing Assad. YPG denies such claims and asserts that they are protecting Kurdish territories and are not willing to fight elsewhere. 

Recently JN/ISIS fighters killed at least 26 Kurds in the villages of Tal Hassil and Tal Aran which Syrian Kurds have called a massacre and an ethnic cleansing in the villages with mixed groups. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the numbers and also said rebels fighters detained Kurds and handed them over to JN/ISIS in the city of al-Safeera who reportedly tortured them. SOHR also said "family members of the killed and wounded refrain from reporting the murder of injury of their relatives out of fear from the ISIS, al-Nusra and rebel fighters attacks, who usually detain them, as has been the case for over 250 citizens from the towns of Tal'arn and Tal Hasil. "

One of the young men reads a statement from a paper in Sorani Kurdish. He starts the statement by "Jihad for Kurdistan". he defines Jihad as "Jihad is defense, revenge and honor"

"The Kurds in Syria have been able for the past two years to strengthen their foothold democratically. but the occupying forces and those who grudge the achievements of our nation continuously attack our people and commit genocide against us in the most brutal way"

"Even in the holy month of Ramadan they did not stop their attacks" the man says and goes on to blame the Kurdish forces in Iraqi Kurdistan for being silent and not doing anything about it. 

"Just like when Anfal campaign (genocide against Kurds in Iraq) was carried out by the Baath regime in South Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan), now the same is being committed against Kurds by the militia groups with the support of NATO, the US and Turkey" 

"we have decided.... to join the ranks of the YPG and lay down our lives in its way. Those who do not have a homeland do not have honor and dignity. Those those attack Kurds children are Arab fascists, agents of the United States.. they use word Jihad but this a betrayal of Islam and humanity... and when a person, people or group is attacked and they do not show any self-defense then thy have no honor" 

The man goes on again to criticize the Kurdish government in Iraq and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in particular. the KDP currently holds the prominent government posts in Kurdistan such as the Prime Minister, Ministry of the Interior and the President of Kurdistan Region. The KDP is the "servant of Turkey and the US"