Mister Speaker of the Kurdistan National Assembly, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends
In the name of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, that has organised this Conference jointly with the Kurdistan Ministry of Culture, I want to welcome you and thank you for being with us here.
As you know, in the course of its 23 years existence, the Kurdish Institute has organised a great number of conferences in several countries. In Paris, in Washington, in Moscow, in Madrid, in Venice and at Dortmund to quote only some of them. The objective was to make public opinion aware of the Kurdish cause, to create and to develop international networks of solidarity with the Kurdish people. We sought to awaken consciences, to make the voice of the martyrised Kurdish populations heard at a time when the major countries of East and West were providing many forms of support for Saddam Hussein’s terrible dictatorship.
The voices of the Kurdish victims sometimes disturbed them, but economic and strategic interests always gained the upper hand. If they could ignore or marginalise the voices of courageous Kurdish exiles denouncing the crimes of the Baghdad regime, they could not fail to take into account the reactions of eminent public figures like Mrs. Mitterrand, Andrei Sakharov, Senators Kennedy and Pell, Bernard Kouchner, Olof Palme and many other writers, academics, journalists, lawyers and artists, less know here but respected in their own countries, who in the name of the Universal values of Human Rights, took up the defence of the Kurdish people.
This long and patient work, carried out by the intellectuals and artists working together in the Kurdish Institute in conjunction with other organisations of the Kurdish diaspora, like the Kurdish National Congress of North America, the Federation of Associations of Kurdistan, in Sweden, the Kurdish Cultural Centre of London, Hinbun in Berlin, Komkar and Navend in Germany, has contributed to forming an international public opinion favourable to the Kurdish cause.
In democratic countries, the governments are obliged to take into account their public opinion. I point out, for the benefit of the younger members of our audience, that it was the support of international public opinion that saved the Kurdish people of Iraq during the exodus of over 2 million Kurdish civilians across the Iranian and Turkish borders in the spring of 1991.
Because, at first, the governments considered that the war being waged by the Iraqi Army against the Kurds and Shiites was an internal matter and did not want to intervene. It was under the pressure of its public opinion that France, under President Mitterrand mobilised UNO and secured the passage of Resolution 688 in the protection of the Kurdish population. Following that, Great Britain, under John Major, with the support of Paris, put forward the idea of a protection zone, or safe haven, to which the displaced Kurds could return to their lands. After a long hesitation, and under the pressure of its own public opinion, the American government came round to this idea and a substantial part of Iraqi Kurdistan was liberated from the Iraqi regime so that the Kurds could manage their own affairs themselves.
You all know the rest. An ancestral dream of the Kurdish people is in the process of being fulfilled. On part of Kurdish territory we are free and masters of our own fates. We have our own government, our Parliament, our Universities, our institutions and even our own flag and our own army of peshmergas.
There are many who think that we, Kurds of the diaspora, have accomplished our mission, that the time of struggle of ideas is passed, that now is the time for “business”. I am one of those who do not share this opinion. On the one hand because the great majority of the Kurdish people still lives deprived of its most elementary rights under repressive regimes. Their emancipation must remain our common objective. Moreover, even here, despite considerable advances over the last few years, nothing has been conclusively and permanently won.
The future of Iraq is precarious. Its neighbours remain, for the most part, hostile. American protection will not be eternal. We must not only build material infrastructures in Kurdistan but also conceive and set up its institutions, develop its civil society and other counter-balancing forces that are indispensable for a real democracy to take root here on Kurdish land. All this needs to be the subject of debate, discussion and exchanges of ideas.
What is the democracy of the 21st Century?
Is there a universal model or models adapted to specific cultural and historic contexts?
Is democracy compatible with Islam?
What are the chances for the survival of Kurdish democracy in its regional environment?
What is the situation in the process of the democratisation of Iraq?
Can Iraq become a democratic and stable State without the democratisation of neighbouring States?
What are the perspectives for the project of a democratic Middle East?
How can the Western democracies contribute to the process of democratising the Middle East?
These are some of the many questions that you are asking yourselves, that we must ask ourselves. We have brought together academics, journalists and political figures coming from France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States, Great Britain, Catalonia, Quebec and Turkey to debate these questions with their Kurdish and Arab colleagues.
I want to express all my gratitude to them for their participation. In these times and in the present international context, coming to spend a few days in Kurdistan is not only an act of solidarity, but also an act of courage. Some of our guests, following the Amman terrorist attacks have had to cancel their journey under pressure from their families, for whom Iraq and the Middle East are dangerous places. Encounters like this will give credit to the idea that Kurdistan is a haven of peace and stability, and this is most important for us all.
I must point out, to our Kurdish audience here that we have not come from so far off to lecture you but to exchange ideas and experiences. Our foreign guests will share their ideas and their experiences with you, which, I am convinced, will be to your benefit.
In their turn, they will listen to you, and inform themselves on the experience of Kurdistan, its difficulties and its perspectives — and they will talk about them to the media on their return to their own countries.
We hope that the exchanges will also take place with the floor, through questions to the speakers at the end of each round table.
Finally, I must add that today’s conference is the first organised by the Kurdish Institute in Kurdistan. We are very moved by this. It is also, as far as know, the first conference here with simultaneous translation in several languages. Neither the technical equipment or the interpreters are quite polished yet, but the spirit is willing. We ask you to make allowances for any possible failures and imperfections.
However, I can assure you that the conference will be published in Kurdish with all the care needed to enable a wider public to benefit from it.
Well, I think that I have said everything needed for the moment. It is now time to wish you a good and successful conference and to give the floor to Mr. Adnan Mufti, Speaker of the Kurdistan National Assembly.
(*) President of the Kurdish Institute of Paris