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This is now the era of the Kurds

TUE, 13 AUG 2013 10:09 | Die Presse

Interview by Die Presse with Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir, the Kurdistan Regional Government's Head of Foreign Relations
By Wieland Schneider
Translated from German to English

Die Presse: There are plans for a second pipeline, through which the oil of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq will be exported via Turkey. Does the Kurdish region support  the peace talks between Turkey and the Kurdish separatist group PKK in order to create a secure environment for the pipeline?
 

Falah Mustafa Bakir: No, we support the peace process to stop the decades of bloodshed. And we want to continue good relations with Turkey, our most important trading partner. Therefore, we encourage both sides to commit to peace.

More and more PKK fighters march with their weapons in the autonomous Kurdish region. Is that not a security issue? This criticism also comes from Baghdad.

We understand Baghdad´s concern. But the retreat is an important part of the peace process between Ankara and the PKK. The number of PKK fighters is exaggerated. These people, after they have laid down their arms, need to resume a normal life. There is a need for an amnesty for them to be able to return to Turkey. This is a transitional phase, it is not about the permanent relocation of PKK fighters in the autonomous Kurdish region.

There are also other issues between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish region. Baghdad is upset that the Kurds export more oil aside from the central government.

In Baghdad some think that they have to control everything. But that is over. Iraq is now a federal, democratic and pluralistic state. Our rights are enshrined in Iraq's constitution, and we will not make any concessions on them.

In Iraq, the violence between Sunni and Shiite groups increases. How do you respond to that?

What happens in Iraq is worrisome. The leadership in Baghdad has to prove its sense of responsibility. It is not an option that Iraq returns to the rule of a single party or religious group. If the Sunnis think that they are marginalized, they are obviously not happy about it. In Iraq, the Constitution and the principle of power-sharing must be respected.

Even the Kurds in Syria have achieved a de facto autonomy. The Assad regime has withdrawn from the Kurdish areas.

The Kurds in Syria must determine their own future. Unfortunately Syria’s opposition has so far not responded to the Kurdish demands: here we have not seen much difference to the regime in Damascus. For us it is important that Syria's Kurds speak with one voice.

But this is apparently not so simple: Because the dominant Kurdish party in Syria is the PYD, which is considered the PKK's sister party. What does your government think about that?

It is normal that there are different parties and positions. But the days are gone when only one party has represented a nation. We want Syria's Kurds to make a decisions under a common umbrella organization and not that a single party dominates everything. I believe that this is now the era of the Kurds. We always have told the Kurds in the region that they should solve their problems through dialogue. We hope that the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iran will get the opportunity to enjoy their full rights within the country they live in.

And what about the idea of a Kurdish state that includes all these Kurdish regions?

We are the biggest nation in the world without a state. History has betrayed us, internal struggles have hampered us. We have the right to self-determination. However,  we want to achieve this legitimate goal through dialogue. Once democracy has deep roots in this region of the world, it will be much easier than it is today.

A project for the distant future?

We have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall. When you think of the changes in the world, this future may happen faster than you think.

AT A GLANCE

Falah Mustafa Bakir is the Head of Foreign Relations of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. It is part of Iraq but has its own government, economic policy and own security forces. [Schneider]

Read the original article in German on the Die Presse website.

Map of Kurdish populations in the Middle East - Die Presse