Kurdish groups and political parties from various different countries will finally come together in Iraqi Kurdistan at the end of August to work out how to form a united front in the face of regional conflict.
Finally the meeting that many people of Kurdish ethnicity had been trying to organise for years will happen. On July 22, representatives from 39 different Kurdish parties met near Erbil in the semi-autonomous state of Iraqi Kurdistan to prepare for just such a meeting in August. The meeting gathered parties from the four parts of the region that many Kurds like to call “greater Kurdistan” and which involve Kurds from areas in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
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.
During this first meeting a preparatory committee was formed. It was made up of 21 representatives of Kurdish groups, with six from Turkey, five from Iraqi Kurdistan, five from Iran, four from Syria and one representative from the Kurdistan National Congress, a coalition of organisations from across Europe, formed by exiled Kurdish politicians, lawyers, and activists.
At this meeting it was also decided that a three day national conference would be held on August 24 in Erbil. Around 600 are expected to attend with about half of them representing political parties, 30 percent from civil society organizations and the rest would be young people and independents. It was expected that around 40 percent of the attendees would be women.
However, although it appears that preparations for the conference are going well, many observers don’t expect it to achieve very much. Despite the fact that the organisers have their Kurdish ethnicity in common, there are still plenty of political and philosophical conflicts to overcome.
For example neither the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, in Syria or the Kurdish Worker\'s Party, or PKK, a group that has been fighting for independence in Turkey, necessarily agree with Massoud Barzani\'s Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq.
There are also internal conflicts in the various countries. In Turkey the PKK controls the armed struggle and no other Kurdish political parties have much say in it. In Iran, there are a number of Kurdish groups but they don’t have a lot of contact with one another. In fact, many have been in armed conflict with one another. Things are outwardly peaceful in Iraqi Kurdistan but even there, there is conflict between the most powerful political parties. Unsurprisingly the conflict between Kurds is most violent in Syria, where two Kurdish parties have come to blows more than once during the current conflict there.
However the conference organisers remain optimistic. “The aim of this conference is to send two messages,” Omar Balki, the representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and a member of the committee preparing for the conference, told NIQASH. “Firstly, it is a letter of peace to the peoples of this region and to the peoples of this world and secondly, it is a letter to any nations who have divided the Kurds. That message is that the Kurdish cause cannot be solved by wars - especially when it comes to the Kurds in Iran and Turkey. Peace is the only solution.”
Balki says that their eventual hope is to create a Kurdish League that could act similarly to the Arab League, resulting in Kurds confronting their problems in a united way.
Topics to be covered at the conference will include the peace process in Turkey and how to deal with current events in Syria, as well as the formation of an independent Kurdish authority in Kurdish-controlled parts of Syria. There is some hope that all the attendees will sign a charter pledging that infighting between the Kurds will stop and that the Kurds will unite politically.
As the conference date nears though, disagreements between the various Kurdish groups seem to be getting worse. First of all, the Kurdish opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan said they wouldn’t be participating because they didn’t like the way the conference was being organised. They have since changed their minds. Opposition parties in Iraqi Kurdistan also believe the conference is happening on the wrong date – it coincides with election campaigns for the Iraqi Kurdish parliament slated for on September 21 and they say that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK and KDP will use the positive publicity for their own advantage rather than for the good of the Kurdish people.
In Iraqi Kurdistan the two major Kurdish parties there are also disagreeing on where the conference should be held. The KDP believes the conference should always be held in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan and that there should be one president of the league. Whereas the PUK believe it should be moved around cities on a regular basis and that the league\'s leadership should also be rotated.
Some Kurds from Turkey have suggested that Iraqi Kurdish politician Massoud Barzani should head the conference to ensure that the Turkish Kurdish party, the PKK, don\'t dominate proceedings.
Meanwhile Kurdish parties in Syria believe that Iraqi Kurdistan should open the borders to Syria\'s Kurds as a gesture of goodwill that would go a long way to solving differences between the Kurds in both parties. “We hope that the border crossing between southern [Iraq] and western [Syria] Kurdistan will open as one step towards making this conference a success,” Jafar Hanan, a representative of the Democratic Union Party in Syria, said.
Many political observers still see this as a golden opportunity.
It\'s a very sensitive time for this conference to be happening, local political analyst Mohammed Amin Banjawini, says. “Southern Kurdistan [Iraq] is enjoying independent authority and the West [Syria] is establishing a political administration,” Banjawini says. “In northern Kurdistan [Turkey] there are peace talks and in the east [Iran] the Kurdish are working out how to establish their rights.”