KURDISH VOICES& PANELS IN UNITED STATES: A People Without A Voice Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion: “A People Without A Voice: Syrian Kurds and the Future of the Middle East”

Date: September 30, 2013, 12:00 – 1:30 – Location: Mary Graydon Center 245 – American University – 4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW – Washington, DC, 20016

Panelists: Saif Badrakhan, Representative to Kurdish National Council (KNK)

Karwan Zabari, Representation to the U.S., Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)

Pary Karadaghi, Executive Director, Kurdish Human Rights Watch

Mohamed Alaa Abdel-Moneim (Moderator), Barzani Scholar and Professorial Lecturer, American University

On September 30, 2013, American University was joined by three prominent members of the Washington DC Kurdish community in for a panel discussion, moderated by Barzani Scholar Mohamed Alaa Abdel-Moneim, to examine the impacts of the war in Syria on Kurdish populations throughout the region. Saif Badrakhan, Pary Karadaghi, and Karwar Zibari gave interesting insights on the historical power struggles for Kurds in the region, the human rights implications of the current crisis, and the current political realities respectively.

Mr. Badrakhan, who has dedicated his life to the struggle for Kurdish rights, has most recently been the US Representative to the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK). His presentation helped to clarify some of the complex power dynamics in the region, explaining the threat posed to the Kurds in the north by Jabhat Al Nasra, The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and other Islamic brigades of Free Syrian Army. He acknowledged the efforts of the 20,000-strong YPG, the military branch of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in defending many towns in the region against such forces. Most notably, Mr. Badrakhan stated that he could “see autonomy for West Kurdistan in the near future, recognized by the regional powers including Turkey, Iraq and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad or by a new government led by the opposition.”

Pary Karadaghi brought in her expertise on human rights for Kurds from her work as Chief Executive Director of Kurdish Human Rights Watch (KHRW), located in Fairfax, Virginia. She discussed the crisis of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who have been flowing into neighboring states in recent months to escape the conflict. Issues included vastly overcrowded camps and long-term solutions. Dr. Karadaghi stated that in Iraqi Kurdistan administrative bureaus are overrun by the number of refugees who are applying for temporary status, whereas in most other countries like Turkey, they must be granted political asylum beforehand in order to have any rights.

Karwan Zebari is the Director of Congressional & Academic Affairs at the Kurdistan Regional Government. He took a pragmatic approach to the conflict and contextualized in the situation within international politics. Mr. Zebari was adamant that hesitation from the international community to get involved in the conflict is because there is fear surrounding the power vacuum “the day after” Bashar al-Assad would be removed from power. He emphasized that the lack of an international plan for Assad’s replacement makes intervention difficult at that the international dynamics are mirroring that of the Cold War days. Concrete options for handling the refugee situation, estimated at around six million, were referenced, including putting the US governments pledge of 200 million dollars for refugee aid and making use of the refugee acceptance quotas offered by France, the US and others. In all, Mr. Zebari urged that these are only short-term solutions and that this issue must be addressed through policy.

The event, which was organized by the Center for Peacebuilding and Development, was attended by academics, Kurdish activists, members of the Kurdish community in DC, and affiliates of American University. Amongst panelists and audience members, the general impression was that there is a need to hear more voices of Syrian Kurds when assessing and planning for the future of the region.