KRG Representative in Tehran: Kurds Cannot be Divided Over Ottoman-Safavid Empires Again

20/11/2012 RUDAW EXCLUSIVE In this interview with Rudaw, Nazim Dabbagh, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Tehran, said that a great deal of the problems between Kurdistan and Iran vanished when KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani visited the country. Dabbagh also addressed the Syrian situation, Iranian and Turkish relations with the KRG, and the position of Tehran on Israel and Kurdistan.

Rudaw: What did Erbil and Tehran want to achieve with the latest visit of PM Nechirvan Barzani to Iran?

Nazim Dabbagh: There have been plans for a long time for Nechirvan Barzani to visit Tehran as Kurdistan’s prime minister. We have always insisted that Kurdistan’s leaders have to visit at the right time. Therefore, after preparations, Barzani visited Iran and was received by the Iranian president and other senior Iranian officials.

Rudaw: What was the KRG prime minister’s message to the Iranian president?

Nazim Dabbagh: In protocol, everything has its place: president meets with president, minister with minister and parliament speaker with parliament speaker. But as far as I know, sometimes Iran breaks these protocols, particularly with delegations from the Kurdistan Region.

The message of Barzani’s visit was one of strengthening relations. The visit conveyed a message that Kurds are important in the region and also play a role in bringing peace to the region. The Kurdish leadership says that there needs to be stronger relations with each other to determine the destiny of the region.

Rudaw: The KRG says that the Kurds in Syria are important to them and they will not allow attacks on them. What is Iran’s stance on Syrian Kurds?

“The message of Barzani’s visit was one of strengthening relations.”

Nazim Dabbagh: The president of the Kurdistan Region and the KRG prime minister say they will not interfere in Syrian internal affairs and will not accept interference in the Kurdish situation. The Kurds in Syria have to remain impartial and protect their places and avoid being a safe haven for terrorists. As far as I know, Iranian authorities appreciate this stance of ours towards the Syrian Kurds.

Rudaw: What was the result of PM Barzani’s visit to Iran?

Nazim Dabbagh: In the visit, old projects between Iran and the Kurdistan Region were revisited. For example, the economic and trade conference that was to be held between Iran and Kurdistan in Erbil. Also, for the first time an official Iranian delegation visited the Kurdistan Region from Baghdad [for the trade fair]. 

Rudaw: But the Iranian foreign minister has visited Kurdistan in the past.

Nazim Dabbagh: That visit was done for a purpose, which was the opening of the Iranian Consulate in Erbil and Sulaimani. However, this time the visit was by the Iranian president’s assistant for international relations. He supervised the conference. This tells us that it is not only has Kurdistan’s leadership visited Iran, but the Iranian president’s assistant has visited Kurdistan. This will enhance relations between Kurdistan and Iran.

Rudaw: The Iranian president’s deputy visited Kurdistan just for the trade conference?

Nazim Dabbagh: The importance of the visit is that it told us that Iran accepts the current system we have in Kurdistan. A while ago, Kurdistan’s president visited the Turkish ruling party (AKP) convention. The head of the AKP, [Turkish Prime Minister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the Kurdish president but did not use the word Kurdistan. He did not even say “Kurds”; he said “greetings to the people of Erbil, Sulaimani and Duhok.”

But Iran says that they visited the Kurdistan Region. In the Iranian press, the Iranian government says that they welcomed the prime minister and president of the Kurdistan Region. These matters have political importance.

Also, this visit assures Iranian businessmen that they can operate in Kurdistan with more freedom. Even though Iran has been slow in improving relations, in politics this delay is not important. We are aware that the Iraqi leaders have told the Iranians that they have taken their relations with Kurdistan to an unnecessary level.

Rudaw: There are talks about the Kurdish president visiting Iran. When will this take place?

Nazim Dabbagh: Yes, Iran has asked Kurdistan’s president to visit Iran. President Massoud Barzani has announced that he will visit Iran whenever suitable.

Rudaw: Have the obstacles between Iran and Kurdistan vanished with the Kurdistan delegation’s visit to Iran?

Nazim Dabbagh: Yes, the problems that were calculated from a distance have been solved with this visit. The visit was 99 percent successful. If the views were not exactly the same, they were close. There were more common views than opposing ones.

Rudaw: It is said that the difference between Turkey and Iran towards Kurdistan is that Turkey used to say publicly that it was against Kurdistan, but now says “we are friends.” But Iran always says “we are friends,” but creates problems for Kurdistan in disguise. Is Iran a friend of Kurdistan?

Nazim Dabbagh: I say the truth is 180 degrees opposite to that statement. I do not claim that there are no problems. Certain things done in the Kurdistan Region are unpleasant. I am not saying this is the policy of the Kurdistan Region. When Iranian officials and civilians visit Kurdistan, some of the checkpoints create problems for them. They later come to see us and complain about the treatment they received in Kurdistan.

I completely reject that Iran has a hand in Kurdistan’s instability. Turkey turns a blind eye to Kurdistan in terms of economy and trade, but we all see Turkish political programs regarding Kurdistan. There is a huge difference between Turkey and Iran. However, all in all, both countries are very important to the Kurds.

Rudaw: What are the differences?

Nazim Dabbagh: In fact, both countries are important to Kurdistan and we cannot ignore their importance. Turkey is important to Kurdistan economically. Iran is important to Kurdistan economically and politically. I think the latter carries more weight.

Rudaw:  A while ago, Kurdistan’s president visited Qatar. The relations between Iran and Qatar have changed due to the Syrian situation. Was Iran unhappy with President Barzani’s visit to Qatar?

Nazim Dabbagh: I have not heard Iranian officials ask why Kurdish leaders visit this country or that country. There is only one country that the Iranians warn about, and that is Israel. Except for Israel, they have not shown any concerns regarding Kurdistan’s relations.

Rudaw:  A while ago, a number of individuals were shown on TV in Iran and confessed that they had gone to Israel from the Kurdistan Region to train to kill Iranian atomic scientists. Was this true?

Nazim Dabbagh: These issues are normal to us and Iran. This is nothing official. It is not the official policy of the Kurdistan Region, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). However, the important thing is, if you know about such a thing, you have to stop it. You have to prevent espionage taking place in your country against another country.

As far as I know, this matter has been discussed officially between Kurdistan and Iranian officials. Iran claims that there are a number of people visiting Kurdistan in the name of trade who work as spies. However, Iran has not been able to present any evidence in this regard yet. Iran has the right to ask why there are relations with Israel in a country (federal Iraq) where relations with Israel are absent. We reject relations with Israel, in every possible way.

Rudaw: In regards to the magazine Israel-Kurd, you sent a letter to then Prime Minister Salih that said: “Our relatives (Iran) are not happy with this magazine.” What did you mean by “our relatives”?

Nazim Dabbagh: I do not deny that I have conveyed the message that Iran is unhappy with this magazine. This magazine is issued in the Kurdistan Region and publicly says “I am Israeli” and uses foul words against Iran. My duty is to convey Iranian messages to the Kurdish government.

As for the word “relatives,” this word indicates that we cannot separate ourselves. This term has been used for a long time. I do not want to say where the word comes from. Some people use the term friend, colleague, brother, etc. However, I have always used the term relative. This is not because Iran is cooperating with us more than others. But whether we want it or not, we are together. We are relatives. This can be good or bad. However, our assessment of relations now is that they are in a good position.

Rudaw: In the Iranian and Turkish race over Kurdistan, who do you think the Kurds should side with?

Nazim Dabbagh: We have struggled for years to protect our freedom. Turkey has recently started working on revitalizing the Ottoman Empire. Kurds cannot be divided over the Ottoman-Safavid empires again. In the Chaldiran War, when the Ottomans defeated the Safavids, the Kurds suffered and have been waiting for their rights since, which they were promised in return for supporting the Ottomans. Have we been given these rights yet?