Whoever may have had the occasion of traveling through Iraqi Kurdistan immediately following the Gulf War in 1991 would have a hard time believing the impressive changes in that region over the past twenty years. Cities that were literally destroyed (Penjween, Jormal, Qala Diza…) have not only risen again; they have been reborn. Now one crosses a landscape that has become very urbanized in places where desolation used to dominate. The expansion of provincial cities such as Erbil, Duhok and Suleimani gives us a glimpse of the “miracle” that has taken place in this region which almost disappeared from the map just two decades ago.
The new neighborhoods that you can see everywhere, the shopping malls, international airports, cement factories, electrical grids, the expanding oil industry, universities, roads and highways are a few indicators of the progress that has only just begun. These changes are turning Iraqi Kurdistan not only into the economical “locomotive” of not only Iraq, but the whole Middle East.
The celebration of the World Kurdish Scientific Congress 2012 in Erbil, October 11-14th has placed this area of Iraq on the table – this Middle East crossroad where approximately five million people live. More than five hundred researchers, professional specialists and university professors, mostly from the Kurdish Diaspora, responded to the call of the Regional Government. They came to share ideas and etch out the path that this emerging region must take as it begins to move forward with state-of-the-art developmental policies.
Obviously one witnessed a wide variety in the depth of analysis of the chosen subjects among the hundreds of presentations. Some were through oral talks and others through poster displays in the lobby of the Saad Convention. As the Regional President Massoud Barzani said, “This gathering was an occasion for the Kurdish Diaspora to begin to lend their voices and be a part of the construction of a new country.”
Many talks spoke of the great challenges with which this new political and economical entity is confronted as it emerges amidst the heart of the Middle East: the social impact of large metropolitan areas that are expanding, the lack of basic services and assistance, the consequences of an ongoing migration from the rural areas to the city, the need for developmental policies in the rural areas, the need for self-sufficient agriculture, the need to launch a productive industrial sector, the exploitation of natural resources other than oil and gas, such as water and tourism, the omnipresence of political parties, and so on.
The list of propositions for the development of this autonomous region is immense. Yet first and foremost, the World Kurdish Congress 2012 was a shining example that the government in Erbil still has impressive human capital at hand who are very qualified – as its greatest resource to utilize in the challenges of nation building. Many of these people had to leave their homeland to escape repression, ethnic cleansing campaigns or genocide as happened in Iraq during the 80’s. In the process, many gained high academic and professional standing in universities throughout Europe, Canada, USA and Australia.
For this reason, it would be more than lamentable that the possibilities posed by this most worthy contribution land in a wasteland and no follow-up is taken towards the developmental policies of the Erbil Government. Some delegates proposed the creation of a Committee of Experts who could work with the Regional Government in putting the most important proposals into action.
An Iranian delegate emphasized the historic transcendence that the consolidation of this region has for the forty million Kurds that live separated by the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. This young man explained that most of the ten million Kurds in Iran consider that Iraqi Kurdistan today is a reference point towards which Iranian Kurdistan could point for the future. The same could be said of the Kurdish regions in Turkey (twenty million people) and Syria (two million). The truth is that the Kurds, the largest nation in the world without a state, has never had such a potent opportunity to build their country as they do in the current moment. The only parallel nation-building examples was the ephemeral Republic of Mahabad with support from the Soviet Union after World War II in Northeastern Iran. That development lasted only a year, between October 1946 to October 1947, before it was crushed by Shah Reza’s army with complicit Anglo-American support.
In twelve months, the Republic headed by Qazi Mohamed, who was publicly hanged with his main advisers as a general punishment also had the support of intellectuals, politicians and Kurdish militaries from Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Some, like the four Iraqi officials remembered in a monument in Suleimani, were executed when they returned to their country, frustrated by the Mahabad experience.
Others, like Mustafa Barzani’s peshmergas from Iraq were able to escape to the Soviet Union where they found refuge. Sixty-five years after that failed republic, his son Masud is once again is seeking international support so the Kurdish people do not miss this new and historic opportunity to reach a dream for their nation. Such a dream has never been within such close reach as it is in this very moment.