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23 December 2015updated 09 Sep 2021 2:06pm

We need to talk about Kurdistan

Kurdistan's high representative takes Tariq Ali to task on his recent remarks about "stage Kurds".

By Karwan Jamal Tahir

Dear Tariq,

You’re a veteran of anti-imperialist struggles over many decades but you now seem to be practising your own version of imperialism with your recent offensive comments about “stage Kurds” backing the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

We Kurds have plenty of historical experience of imperialism ourselves and of being treated like inconvenient children by the great powers.

As you will be aware, 2016 marks the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 which divided the Kurds and shackled us to Iraq.

Yet we do not see imperialism as a timeless construct. 2016 also sees the 25th anniversary of the Kurdish uprising against Saddam Hussein.

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As you should know, we had suffered genocide at his hands and when we rose up, his helicopter gunships forced us to flee to the mountains where many thousands died.

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Yet what you might call the imperialist powers established, thanks to public outrage in the West and Kurdish lobbying, a no-fly zone and then policed the Kurdistan Region as a safe haven for the following twelve years. We also see the overthrow of Saddam in 2003 as a liberation.

When Daesh tried to invade the Kurdistan Region in August 2014, Western airstrikes prevented Daesh from taking Erbil. They have helped the Peshmerga beat them back and in November they were crucial in liberating Sinjar where, you should remember, Daesh raped and enslaved Yezedi women except for those over 30 who were shot and buried in mass graves. Airstrikes also helped the Kurds and their allies in Syria liberate Kobane.

I have made this clear to MPs and was honoured that the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn quoted my words in his historic speech, which helped sway the Commons in favour of airstrikes.

For your reference, Benn quoted me in this way: “Last June, Daesh captured one third of Iraq overnight and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan Region. Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France and the actions of our own Peshmerga saved us… We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We have pushed them back and recently captured Sinjar …Again Western airstrikes were vital. But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.” Benn rightly concluded that this is the argument for treating the two countries as one if we are serious about defeating Daesh.

In all this, the Kurds have exercised their rights to self-determination and self-defence with the aid of our Western allies. We are embracing a set of values that we share with Western and advanced countries: democracy, the rule of law, human rights, coexistence and the empowerment of women, and these values must be protected.  This is our choice.

I respect your right to disagree with this but do not accept your right to demean and diminish us as autonomous actors on the world stage as opposed to “stage Kurds”, which I understand to mean that you think we are being manipulated as stooges and collaborators.

I am sure you will know the old Kurdish saying that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. We are pleased that this has been changing over the last 25 years and we now have firm friends in Britain, America, German and France among many other so-called imperialist nations.

We are proud of our friends, and when some choose to be our enemies for nonsensical reasons, we try to turn them into friends if they wish; this is our nature and our culture of culture of tolerance and respect for differences. Your condescending comments are putting you in that second camp and I hope that you will reflect on your words, and then realise that you owe the Kurds an apology.

I understand we may meet in the near future and am happy to discuss our viewpoints on how to defeat Daesh.

Yours sincerely,

Karwan Jamal Tahir

Kurdistan Regional Government High Representative to the UK