I attended to an educational fair of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot universities in the capital city of Kurdistan Regional Government, Erbil, between 26-28 July 2015 to represent Girne American University (GAU). In addition to the great success of the fair, I had chance to visit historical places in Erbil and talk to Kurdish people. I also made some observations which might be politically important for the future of Kurdistan.
Photos from the fair
The first and most important observation related to Kurdistan was the presence of a de-facto state on the northern part of Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government has all the qualities of an independent state with its army, parliament and government. If the Kurdish government might be able to keep its oil revenues to itself (short time ago KRG decided to keep its oil revenues to itself though it was taking only 17 % of it according to Iraqi federal system and central government in Baghdad, as a response, stopped sending money for the bureaucrats in the autonomous region) and to provide its supplies to Europe through Turkey in a secure way, the independence might be realized in the short run. But there are still security risks related to Sunni-Shia rivalry in the region as well as the presence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The response of Arab states (Iraq primarily and rich Gulf states which are able to design Arab politics in many ways), Turkey and Islamic Republic of Iran will also be very influential for the future of a potential Kurdish state. Other than this, I get the impression that KRG was a safe and developing country and although American interventions in the 1990s and 2000s did not bring stability and peace to whole Iraq, at least we can say that it created a more democratic and safer place for Kurdistan region, densely populated by Kurds and Turcomans. The living conditions of the Kurds here are also much better compared to Kurdish inhabitants some southeastern villages of Turkey and for sure PKK members.
The second important observation was about the dominant role of Islam in the social life. Kurdish people seemed to me very pious but at the same time modernizing thanks to Westernization and improving social and economic conditions. Young females tended to wear headscarf unlike the older women wearing veils and traditional Kurdish clothing associated with President Masoud Barzani was rare among the young Kurdish males. Thus, we can say that modernization had a very positive effect over the Kurdish population. However, restaurants still did not have alcoholic beverages in their menu and alcohol was to be found only in hotels. Kurdish parents and students’ respect and curiosity towards universities and education in general also show that they have great prospects for the future.
Another important observation is the related to density of constructions around the city of Erbil. Mostly done by Turkish businessmen, Erbil had many hotels and residences and I think there will be more to come in the following months if the KRG will be able to provide political and economic stability. There were many Turkish businessmen in the city which shows that two political entities have been able to change the nature of their relationship in the recent years and now work on win-win mentality by focusing on economic partnership.
A negative observation was about the separation of Christian towns from the Muslim dominated regions which might create ghettoization in the future on the basis of religious differences. Thus, KRG should work more on the integration issues. The only way to achieve this is to create a secular and national education system. Other than the dinnar, US dollar is the main currency in the region. There were workers from foreign countries (Pakistan, India etc.), but there were few people from Europe or North America. Shop signs were mostly in Kurdish and Arabic, but some of them were in Turkish and English.
At the city center
An interesting thing which might be important for observers of Political Psychology is related to a famous picture of KRG President Mr. Masoud Barzani which is hanged on the walls of Erbil International Airport and some malls. In the picture, Mr. Barzani is raising both of his hands for the security check. This might be a deliberate move made by the KRG to teach people to respect state authority. Considering the stateless history of Kurds and the presence of PKK members in the country, this might be a clever thing to do on the side of the Kurdish government in order to establish the state authority and declare an independent state in the near future. In the souvenir shops, there were posters and emblems of Masoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani and also Abdullah Ocalan. This shows that Ocalan is still seen as a hero by many Kurds even in the Kurdistan region in Iraq and the vicious nature of terrorism is forgotten. However, the recent moderate reaction of Mr. Barzani towards the military operations of Turkish Armed Forces to PKK camps shows that KRG prefers democracy to terrorism.
Other than these observations, if I have to conclude and make a political comment, I must say that the independence of Kurdistan region might be possible in the near future if they will be able to take support from USA and Turkey. Politically, US support will provide international support and recognition (there are already many embassies and consulates in Kurdistan) and Turkish support will provide secure economic opportunities for the transportation of Kurdish oil. Political problems are still there; especially Barzani-Talabani rivalry based on tribalism and the lack of a single dialect of Kurdish language might be potential errors for the creation of a nation and a state. If we look at the political leaders on the other hand, current Kurdish President Mr. Masoud Barzani is the undisputed leader of the region. Barzani’s nephew and current Prime Minister Mr. Nechirvan Barzani and Barzani’s son and current Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council Mr. Masrour Barzani are potential leaders for the future. The last but most important issue is related to the situation of Turcomans. If Turkey and KRG might be able to create a democratic balance between Turkey’s Kurds and Kurdistan’s Turcomans by providing all basic features of internationally accepted human rights, these two minority groups -though Kurds are not considered as minority according to Turkish constitution from the beginning of the Republic- might in fact help two political entities to have better and secure relations for the future in addition to economic gains.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ