TODAY’S MESOP’S COMMENTARY : Iran & Turkey fear Kurdish unity: Jafar Eminki (Spokesman KDP)

By Hiwa Barznjy, Erbil – Niqash – 23.8.2013 – Hewlêr, Kurdistan region ‘Iraq’,-  A planned meeting between people of Kurdish ethnicity from the neighbouring nations of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey has been causing consternation in some of the countries from which they come. In an interview with Niqash, the spokesman for one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling parties tells why, and discusses whether Kurdish unity can be achieved.

The Kurdish people are one the largest ethnic groups in the world without an actual homeland and Kurdish living in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey share a language, culture and ethnicity. For many, the idea of a nation of their own, a greater Kurdistan, is something to strive for – and in fact, this is one of the biggest conflicts between militant Kurdish fighters who believe in that dream and the governments of the various countries in which they live, such as, for example, Turkey. And this meeting, named the Kurdish National Conference, will gather parties from the four parts of the region that many Kurds like to call “greater Kurdistan”.

In fact, Kurds already call the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, where the conference will be held “southern Kurdistan”. Where the majority of Kurds live in Turkey, Iran and Syria are known as northern, eastern and western Kurdistan respectively. So despite Kurdish disclaimers about splitting away from any of their current homelands, its no wonder that a conference like this causes some concern. Niqash spoke with Jafar Ibrahim Eminki, the spokesperson for the Kurdistan Democratic Party; the party is one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling parties and a prime mover behind the conference. Eminki spoke about the upcoming September meeting, his party’s hopes for it and whether any of Iraq’s international neighbours were concerned about the conference’ potential outcome.

Eminki also discussed the relationship between the various players who would attend the conference and where the KDP was at with their more controversial conference partners, such as more militant Kurdish groups from Syria and Turkey, as well as how their relationship with their governing coalition partners at home was going.

Q: Iraq’s Kurds have high hopes for the Kurdish National Conference, which is now planned for mid-September. The meeting should unite Kurdish from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and many have already said they hope that the Kurdish people will be able to to work out how to form a united front in the face of regional conflict. What do you think – is there really a chance of this happening?

Jafar Ibrahim Eminki: Yes, this National Conference is the Kurdish people’s dream. It was first discussed in the 1980’s but this is really the best time for this conference to be held – not least because southern Kurdistan [Iraqi Kurdistan] where the conference will be held, is enjoying good security, a working constitution and a good legal situation. The political leadership in southern Kurdistan feels it is their responsibility to hold this conference and they believe its a service they can offer to other parts of Kurdistan.

Q: Some Kurds from Turkey have apparently suggested that the KDP’s head, Iraqi Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani, should chair the conference to ensure that the Turkish Kurdish party, the PKK, which dominates political discourse in that country, don’t dominate proceedings here too. Why do you think they did that?

Eminki: This is a conference and it will take place over three days. It will have a commission that will work on administrative issues and logistics. We hope that in the future it will become a recurring conference on a long term basis. But I am confident that it won’t involve a permanent chairman or council. And regarding Turkey and Barzani, I don’t have any information about that but I don’t believe that the Turkish Kurdish made any such request officially.

Q: In the run up to preparations for this conference, the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, went on a diplomatic visit to Iran after he visited Turkey. Did the Iranians come up with any conditions regarding this conference?

Eminki: It seems that, just like Turkey, Iran is keeping an eye on the conference and it certainly doesn’t want the conference to interfere with its own internal affairs. The Iranians know that their Iranian Kurdish support peace and democracy in Iran. We would like to see democracy develop further in Iran to the extent that the Kurdish there could have more political rights. Iran may indeed have concerns about the conference but as yet the Iranians have made no explicit mention of these.

Q: So the Iranians didn’t put any conditions on the conference?

Eminki: Up until now the Iranians haven’t put any conditions on the conference. However if there were conditions put on the conference, it would be better not to hold it at all.

Q: So do you think the Iranians are more worried about the conference than the Turkish?

Eminki: Both countries seem to have their fears. But I think Iran has more concerns than Turkey.

Q: One of the requests made at the preparatory meetings by the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, in Syria, is that the border between Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan be opened up before the conference as a gesture of goodwill. Is this true?

Eminki: That border is run by the government of Iraqi Kurdistan and its up to the government here to decide what to do with it. None of the Iraqi Kurdish political parties – including my own – can decide what to do with that border on a unilateral basis. The border was opened recently for the purposes of bringing humanitarian aid into the area; it was not opened for refugees. Of course, we’d like to see the PYD become more open to other political groups and we’d like to see democracy grow in western Kurdistan. But I don’t think that the PYD has actually put any conditions on the Iraqi Kurdish government or on the conference’s preparatory committee with regard to the conference.

Q: Another potential problem for the conference is that even in Iraqi Kurdistan the two major political parties here – your party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK – don’t have a particularly good relationship at the moment and they certainly don’t have a good relationship with the opposition, the Change movement. Does your party intend to try and improve the relationship between your party, the KDP, and the PUK at all? Or even between your party and the Change movement?

Eminki: The relationships between political parties are governed by the democratic process. When these relationships are tense they are tense because its part of the democratic process. The reason behind any current tension is due to differing views on problems and solutions. And our relationship with the PUK has gone through many changes and phases. However in general, we agree on basic, strategic issues and I don’t believe the relationship between the PUK and the KDP can really go very wrong.

As to the opposition, we’d like to have a better relationship with them. Even in the short term. And we don’t try to do things that present a false image of the opposition parties. However that is something they do do. We really resent the way the opposition characterizes us and how they criticize us. It is worrying.

Q: You have said before that the strategic agreement made with the PUK in Iraqi Kurdistan is being reviewed. This is the agreement that says the two parties should have an equal share of power in the region. Which points are being reviewed?

Eminki: There are two important points for the KDP. Firstly, we don’t believe that the two parties should participate in all the elections as one group and we’ve found a solution to this issue. Secondly, there’s the distribution of positions both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Iraq at federal level. The KDP doesn’t think absolute balance is absolutely necessary when distributing positions. For example, in Baghdad this distribution is tricky because the KDP has double the number of seats that the PUK has. When it comes to Iraqi Kurdistan, we think the balance should be kept up for the next, say, ten to 15 years. However if there are speedy changes of some kind in Iraqi Kurdistan, then we might have to bring it back to the table.

Q: Lets talk about some of the sticking points between the KDP and the PUK. One thing the PUK has said is that holding a public referendum on the draft constitution as it looks currently, without returning it to Parliament for further amendments, is antidemocratic.

Eminki: Actually this issue has been resolved. There’s now a common understanding. The KDP and PUK have agreed to amend the draft Constitution, then hold a referendum on it – but only after everyone has agreed to the draft.

Q: There has also been some talk about giving KDP leader Massoud Barzani the job of President of Iraq.

Eminki: We haven’t spoken about it in the KDP and we certainly haven’t discussed this with the PUK.

Q: Yes, after all the PUK leader Jalal Talabani currently holds that job. Yet he’s known to be very sick and still in a hospital in Germany. Do you know anything about his health? And do you think the PUK are lying about his health?

Eminki: We know his health is improving. We’ve heard from Talabani’s personal physician too and we believe that that doctor is giving us the right information. After all, he’s a doctor and as such, he’s not going to act with political intent.

Q: Finally, lets turn to your relationship with the government of Iraq and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The government of Iraqi Kurdistan and the government of Iraq signed an agreement last year where both agreed they would fulfil several conditions. What will you do if they don’t keep up their end of the bargain?

Eminki: Our relationship with them improves continuously. We are committed to the agreement and Baghdad is committed too. The joint committees completed their tasks and are continuing their work. Now we are just waiting for ratification of the oil and gas law in the Iraqi parliament and we are waiting for more support from Baghdad for the committee working on Article 140, so that this article of the Constitution can finally be implemented.