Last Word with Bakhtiar Amin 

Bakhtiar Amin is the former human rights minister of Iraq and chairman of the board of directors of the Foundation for Future, a multinational non-profit organization promoting human rights, democratic governance, and reform in the greater Middle East and North Africa region. He spoke to Turkish Review about the current rapprochement between Turkey and the KRG.

How do you perceive recent contacts between Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish leaders?

Any kind of improvement [in relations] between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and neighboring countries is positive. Instead of being seen as players that can be used tactically in regional disputes, rivalries, competition and conflicts, Kurds have proved that they can be players for peace, stability, security and prosperity in the region.

Could rapprochement between the KRG leadership and Ankara also help Turkey’s Kurds?

The relationship between Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish government cannot replace the relationship between Turkish Kurds and the Turkish government. Iraqi Kurds cannot be seen as “good Kurds” and Turkish Kurds as “bad Kurds.” But yes, Iraqi Kurds have tried and done their best in trying to solve the problem of their brothers in Turkey peacefully, and they will continue doing so.

Doesn’t this risk creating perceptions of a ‘Greater Kurdistan’?

When the Iraqi Kurds suffered under the genocidal policies of Saddam Hussein, our neighbors in Turkey and Iran, and the Kurds of both countries, were very helpful to our refugees. We are grateful to all who assisted us in our dark days. It’s also our duty, as Kurds of Iraq, to feel sympathy and solidarity with the Kurds of other parts of Kurdistan and extend a hand to them when they are in need. They should have the right to a dignified life and to live in peace and security, and to have their ethnic, political, economic, social and cultural rights respected by our neighbors. What is right for them should be right for the Kurds. Kurds shouldn’t be seen as sub-human or second-class citizens. We, as a people, are not asking for anything more than that which is enshrined for all in UN Charter and divine law.

How do you perceive the Turkish position?

Peace has to become a culture for all. I am sure Turks are also fed up with the cycle of violence. Enough of wars and conflicts and the machinery of hatred! Turkophobia does not help the Kurds, and nor does Kurdophobia help the Turks. The real weapon of mass destruction of the 21st century is the sectarianism and dogmatism in our region. We should all work hard to put an end to this ongoing slaughter. We should not let the merchants of blood, religious intolerance and extremism dictate a particular future to us.

Do you see a common future for Kurds and Turks?

Yes, this is the feeling among the Iraqi Kurdish leaders. The general public also shares this feeling. Turks and Kurds should work more closely together toward this. The economic progress in Turkey is mind-opening. The data on the ground for Turkish Kurds as a result of a longtime conflict and injustices makes them pessimistic, as they tell us, but there is a greater hope today and a more optimistic environment for the Kurds in Turkey and the region than there was before.

There is no doubt that the Kurdish issue in Turkey cannot be solved overnight, but it is important that the process is open, begun on the right track and that transparent mechanisms of confidence building and conflict resolution are consolidated, enhanced and protected — as well as both sides seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Peace has internal and external enemies. Time is of the essence, and neither side should waste it in unnecessary tactical geopolitical moves and temporary gains. Peace should be the strategy for all. The Kurds have been patient for a long time, and they acknowledge the positive nature of the efforts of the current government, but the situation is fragile and of great concern. Therefore, we should all invest more in peace and reconciliation and do not delay or lose this opportunity.

Only peace can bring stability and prosperity to all sides. The tree of hopelessness bears no fruit. The will for a common future is there. Today’s constructive bilateral relations between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan region should be a catalyst and an incentive for relations, and should be widened to include Turkish Kurds. We have a young population, which is a big plus for our future. The Kurdish and Turkish youth deserve a better future, and to live [together in] fraternity, free of fear and want. They shouldn’t be the fuel for another round of war. We should learn from our own history and the history of other conflicts that the only way out for us all is a peace based on justice, dignity, and mutual respect, concerns and aspirations.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We all have a human duty, as well as a security imperative, to put an end to bloodshed and tears in our countries and our region in order to live dignified lives in peace, and to build our region together. I hope that Turkey will be able to show a glowing and great list of achievements in the peaceful solution of the Kurdish problem when it celebrates the centenary of the Turkish Republic in 2023. The time has also come for us, as the people of this region, to cooperate in order to create our own type of European Union.