EUROPEAN CONFERENCE ON KURDS IN NORWAY : Kurds Look to Enhance Voice in Europe

By Alexandra Di Stefano Pironti  RUDAW – 5.12.2013 – BARCELONA, Spain – Kurds, who are gaining more relevance against the backdrop of changes in the Middle East, are convening an international conference in Norway aimed at enhancing European support for Kurdish rights.

The two-day Kurdistan International Liberal Congress, opening in Oslo this Friday, is the first of its kind and its aim is to promote Kurdish engagement with like-minded liberal European parties, personalities and groups. 

“There are a lot of European liberal parties and persons who are active for the Kurdish cause, but first we as Kurds have to work and cooperate with the European liberals,” Arif Bawecani, leader of the Kurdistan Liberal Union which is organizing the congress, told Rudaw.

The conference aims to gather around 150 liberal politicians and thinkers from Europe, the United States, Arab Gulf states and Africa.  Kurdish groups from around the world are invited, and there is even a speaker from Israel.

“We must use the world politically and we need the support of different groups in Europe and the United States,” Bawecani, who is an Iranian Kurd, explained in a Skype interview from Oslo.

  We must use the world politically and we need the support of different groups in Europe and the United States,

One of the aims of the conference is, “Encouraging Kurds living in Europe to join the relevant national Liberal parties and to vote for those parties in the European Parliamentary elections in May 2014,” he added.Most Kurdish groups and parties have traditionally been socialist or communist, and liberalism has only very recently awakened the interest of Kurds, according to Bawecani.

“There are different factions and groups in the European Parliament and the Liberal Union Group is the third-largest group. This means it is important for the Kurds to have friends throughout the European Parliament and especially the liberal group,” he said.

“We want these liberal organizations from around the world to support the Kurdish struggle for rights,” Bawecani said, explaining the strategy. He said that liberal policies should include the topic of human rights for Kurds and for all people in the Middle East.

“This conference is giving the opportunity to Kurds from the diaspora to come together and see in what extent they can unite under universal liberal values such as human rights, freedom and some sort of economic platform,” said Jonathan Fryer, a UK Liberal Democrat and analyst on Kurdish and Middle Eastern affairs, who is attending the conference.

Some two million Kurds are estimated to be living in Europe, the vast majority political refugees forced to flee persecution or heavy-handed rule in the contiguous regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria where they found themselves locked behind new borders after World War I.  The Kurds, whose global population is estimated at 30 million, remain the world’s largest stateless people.”If the conference is successful it will give power to Kurdish groups to obtain observer status to Liberal International (the world federation of liberal political parties) and will unite the message of the Kurds,” Fryer said in an interview from London.

The Israeli speaker, Odd Myrland, will talk about what the Jews have done to have a state of their own.

  We also want to learn from the experience of Israel, 

”We also want to learn from the experience of Israel,” said Bawecani. Jews from all parts of Kurdistan began moving to Israel after its creation in 1948.  Now, there are around 150,000 of them living in the Jewish state.

A common aspiration of the world’s Kurds, expressed in their politics, songs and poetry, is for a Kurdish homeland.

The political upheavals in the Middle East since before the turn of the millenium have allowed most Kurds in the region to improve their situation. In Iraq, where they have had their own autonomous Kurdistan Region since 1991, Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in the 2003 US-led invasion has seen the Kurds go from victims of the dictator’s extreme brutality to preparing for direct oil exports to Turkey, which is expected to shift the booming economy into hyper-drive.

In Syria, where the Kurds have largely kept out the fight between an increasingly radicalized opposition and Bashar Assad’s regime, the dominant Democratic Union Party has just declared its own ”Kurdistan Region of Syria.”

Turkey, which subjected its large Kurdish minority to decades of persecution, is in the midst of an important but slow-moving peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, to end a three-decade conflict in which 40,000 people are estimated to have died. It is only in Iran that the Kurds have seen no improvement in their lives or rights. Recently elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had made campaign promises of looking after minority rights, but the Islamic Republic appears to have stepped up pressure on the Kurds, executing three imprisoned Kurdish activists in recent weeks.

  We are against the discussions between Iran, the EU and the US because they did not take into account the human rights situation in Iran,

Bawecani, who is also the leader of the Party Serbesti Kurdistan, a liberal democratic party representing Iranian Kurds, has organized a  day-long meeting of the Congress of the Oppressed Nations Unity Iran (ONUI) on Thursday. The group is an umbrella-organization uniting political parties representing the different ethnic minorities in Iran, like the Kurds, Baluchis, Turkmens, Azeris and the Arabs of Ahvaz province.

Thursday’s conference in Oslo will discuss the possibility of independence for Iranian minorities.

”The situation of the Kurds in Iran is quite poor. Some Kurds thought Rouhani could be easier towards them but since he took office many  activists — Kurdish and others — have been executed, and about 50 Kurdish political activists and members from NGOs  are in Iranian prisons,” Bawecani said.

Mahmud Alahwazi, a speaker at both meetings, said that the gatherings will be a way ”to tell the world about our situation.””We are against the discussions between Iran, the EU and the US because they did not take into account the human rights situation in Iran,” Alahwazi, who represent the Alahwazi Arab Front (JAD) of Iran, told Rudaw from London. Iran reached a deal last month with a US-led group of five other countries, whereby the Islamic Republic agreed to increase access to its nuclear sites in exchange for the lifting of some international sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

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