On 6 September, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massud Barzani, welcomed the visit of the new UN Representative to Iraq, Ad Melkert, accompanied by a delegation from the UN Offices in Baghdad. In the course of his welcoming speech, he reiterated his refusal of any alternative to Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution for resolving the Kirkuk problem. “We appreciate the United Nations’ role in this issue and we hope that its efforts with all the parties concerned will lead to a solution. We insist that this resolution be in harmony with Article 140 of the Constitution because we do not want our people to go through fresh trials and tragedies. We are ready to cooperate with the United Nations, but this issue concerns the nation as a whole and, whatever happens, we will not make any concessions on this …”.
The President added that the Kurds had already shown great flexibility on the subject of Article 58 of the provisional Administrative Law and of Article 140 itself.
Article 58 of the provisional Administrative Law had, indeed, been adopted by all parties after long negotiations between Arabs, Kurds and the Bremer Administration on the subject of Kirkuk and the Kurdish districts that the former regime had separated from other Kurdistan provinces. It states that: “The interim government and especially the Commission for Complaints and Property Claims and the other State organs must take measures to remedy the injustices caused by the previous regime’s practices. Those aimed at altering the ethnic character of certain regions, including Kirkuk, by deporting and expelling individuals from their homes with the aim of producing forced migrations within and outside the zones, by settling there people foreign to the region and by preventing the inhabitants from working there and forcing them to alter their nationality”.
The measures proposed by Article 58 were to ease the return home of colonists settled in Kirkuk, with due financial compensation and helping them find employment, while returning to their previous posts those Kurdish civil servants who had been transferred to Southern Iraq. It also provided for every inhabitant of Kirkuk freely to choose their ethnic ethic membership, since the previous regime had constrained the inhabitants of Kirkuk to declare they were Arabs to avoid deportation.
The issue of the geographic borders of Kurdistan should be resolved either by a “neutral Arbitration Committee” appointed by the Presidential Council or by the UN General Secretary.
However, these provisions have never been carried out both because of the political and security chaos into which the Bremer administration had plunged Iraq and because of a certain political inertia on the part of the central government. Consequently the 2005 Iraqi Constitution had tried another solution by proposing a referendum in the areas outside the Kurdistan Region having a mainly Kurdish population, after a census of the population having returned to their towns of origin since 2003. Here too, the census has never taken place. The referendum solution, still strongly supported by the Kurds, has met with opposition from both the Iraqi and Turkish governments as well as from the United States and UNO, which constantly put forward alternative plans that are just as inapplicable.
Meanwhile, the Kirkuk issue is blocking all the electoral and even economic institutions, since it has been impossible to carry out a census of the Iraqi population. This has not been done since the 60s. It should have been carried out next October but has been postponed to October 2010 by a decision of the Iraqi Prime Minister’s personal staff. Indeed, such a census, if carried out in Kirkuk would confirm that the Kurds are the majority of the population and completely demolish the figures put forward by the Turcoman Front (back by Ankara— about the “millions of Turcomen” they claim make up the population of Kirkuk. It would also provide a prime basis for determining the history of Kirkuk’s population (who was deported, who has recently settled there etc.). This census cannot be postponed indefinitely, especially as it will also determine the sharing of the budget that Baghdad allocated to each province. Indeed, the agreement on the management of the revenues from oil and natural resources in each province provides that the whom of the budget go to the central government which is responsible for equitably distributing it to the Iraqi regions in accordance with their populations and economic needs. It should be noted that the decision to postpone it comes essentially from Nuri al-Malilki and his cabinet except for the Minister of Planning, who opposed it as did the Iraqi Parliament and even UNO.
On 18 September, it was the turn of US Vice-President, Joe Binden, to meet Massud Barzani to discuss relations between Irbil and Baghdad, and Article 140 in particular, as well as the controversial law on Hydrocarbons and possible amendments to the Iraqi Constitution. However, for once the Kurds and Americans were in agreement that it was indispensible to hold the elections in January 2010.
Receiving Christopher Hill, US Ambassador to Iraq, some time later, the issue of future Parliamentary elections in Iraq, planned for January 2010, was again tackled by Mr Barzani, especially as, here again, the Kirkuk issue is in danger of again blocking any new electoral law. However, in view of the impending withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, planned for 2011, the question of a tripartite security force ((Kurdish, Iraqi and American) was again raised. This applies as much to Mosul as to Kirkuk not to mention the areas of Diyala where the Peshmergas and the Iraqi Army came close to an open clash in 2008.
Several assassinations aimed at political and religious public figures have spread alarm in Sanandaj, the capital of the Kurdistan Province of Iran.
On 17 September Mamista Sheikhuleslam, who represented the Province of Kurdistan on the Assembly of Experts was killed by tow revolver shots by an unidentified killed in a mosque at Sananadaj. A few days earlier, another of the town’s imams, Ali Borhan Mamoste, a supporter do the Iranian President, had been killed in the same way, but this time by three killers, equally unidentified. Finally, two local judges narrowly escaped attempts similar attempts on their lives.
The government news agency ISNA immediately accused the PJAK, the Iranian branch of the PKK, which, however did not claim the actions, nor did any other Kurdish organisation, Indeed, this kind of action against civil servants of religious personalities us not usual with them as they tend to attack army of police targets. Moreover the victims were not major political figures nor at all dangerous to Kurdish activities. Thus the majority of Kurdish political movements condemned these assassinations.
Finally, while accusing the clandestine Kurdish parties and “foreign agents”, the government has also linked these actions to Sunni groups close to al-Qaida and is carrying out a series of round–ups amongst “extremist” Sunni circles, resulting in 4 persons being killed and 14 arrested.
However, the Kurdish parties, like the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has attacked a series of arbitrary arrests in Kurdistan and warned that the regime intends to execute Kurdish political prisoners awaiting trial.
According to Loghman H. Ahmedi, the KDP-I representative in the United Kingdom, al-Qaida is perhaps behind these assassinations, but certainly not the Kurdish movements, which have generally condemned them As for the al-Qaida networks operating in Iran, Loghman H. Ahmedi states that a number of these groups are, in fact, supported, financed and, sometimes actually set up by Iran itself, to be used against the Kurdish movements in Kurdistan — Iraqi as well as Iranian.
It is true that in the 90s, and even until 2003, these extremist Sunni groups controlled considerable areas in the region of Halabja and Penjin, in Iraqi Kurdistan until a join operation by US special forces and Peshmergas “cleaned up” these Islamist strongholds and drove them back to Iran.
According to the KDP-I representative in London, after their retreat to Iran, these groups are said to have been reorganised with the help of Iran and settled in Kurdish towns like Mariwan, Sanandaj and Paveh, and their targets have always been secular Kurdish activists, not the Shiite establishment. These recent assassinations, all aimed at Kurdish public figures working officially for the government but not of any real significance, could serve as a pretext for mass executions of Kurdish detainees and for an intensification of the repression on Kurdish movements or human rights defence organisations
While, during the summer, announcements of peace plans followed one another, both from the government and the PKK, they have finally only resulted in vague proposals or outlines of a settlement of the Kurdish question. However, the month of September has been rather changeable, in keeping with the uncertain political perspectives — gestures of détente alternating with the pursuit of armed violence in the Kurdish regions, despite the “Ramadan truce” till 22 September, decided by the PKK
It was under the slogan of peace that the DTP campaigned as from 1 September for a “Day of Peace”, initially inspired by the International Peace Day created by the United Nations, on 21 September. Thus, several thousands of Kurds demonstrated in Diyarbekir shouting “Yes to an honourable Peace”.
However, on 23 September another slogan was hurled, following another demonstration in the same town after several bloody clashes between the Army and the PKK: “Martyrs never die”.
Despite the announcing of a plan for peace from bath sides and the “Ramadan truce”, this month was, in fact, pretty bloody, with 9 Turkish soldiers killed, according to Army sources, and thirteen others wounded. On 8 September some clashes in the town of Eruh, in Siirt Province, occurred between the PKK and some soldiers, killing 5 Turks and wounding four others, according to an anonymous message to AFP news agency. On the same day, at Cukurca, in Hakkari Province, two other soldiers were killed and one injured.
The next day, on 9 September, a mine that the Army claimed was laid by the PKK, caused tow deaths and eight injured amongst a group of soldiers near Baskale, in Van Province.
On 13 September, again at Cukurca, the Army announced the deaths of three PKK fighters, while a civilian was killed and another injured the day before by the explosion of a mine at Kulp, near Diyarbekir.
Finally, on 18 September the Turkish Army officially asked Parliament in Ankara to renew its authorisation to carry out operation in Iraqi Kurdistan to pursue PKK back there — an authorisation due to expire on 17 October coming. This authorisation, voted in 2007, was renewed in 2008. After the reforms aimed at resolving the Kurdish conflict, some voices in the Turkish press had put forward the idea that this time, green light could not be taken for granted from the AKP majority in Parliament. This idea was reinforced by the undoubted relaxation had contributed to making Turkey’s position regarding Iraq Kurdistan more flexible. However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan finally declared, on 27September in New York where he was taking part in the UN General Assembly, that he was in favour: “We will talk about this at the Council of minsters and send it (the demand) to Parliament”.
Three days later General Ilker Basbag, Chief of the General Staff, while travelling to Mardin Province, made an ambiguous statement from the Army base in Sinirtepe, in which he called on the PKK to surrender in a relatively pacific manner: “There is no other solution: “Nothing can be achieved with arms and blood”, while then indicating his intention to fight “to the end to put an end to terrorism”.
On the question of the surrender and amnesty, Ilker Basbag quoted figures from the Ministry of Justice stating that of the *&) PKK members who had surrendered under the existing arrangements, 638 had been released between 2005 and 2008 as they had not taken up arms against the security forces. Taking up the official AKP version that the Kurdish problem in Turkey was essentially economic, the general pointed to the unemployment in the Kurdish regions and the illiteracy rate (20%in Turkish Kurdistan as against 7%in the Western regions).
A report of the Institute for War and Peace reporting (IWPR) has been looking into the linguistic questions in Iraq and Kurdistan a sources or aggravating factors for tension and instability. Their research, which has questioned journalists and politicians as well as “the men in the street”, both Kurdish and Arab in Iraq and in the Kurdistan Region, shows that the two populations are tending, increasingly, to be ignorant of the other’s language. Moreover, they note that language classes in Kurdish or Arabic are neglected of abandoned by both sides in favour of other foreign languages. The report concludes that an infinitely small number of young Arabs know Kurdish and that, in the Kurdish population, an increasing number of the younger generation do not know Arabic — unlike the older generations who, growing up under previous regimes, had been educated at school with Arabic as the main language, even though Kurdish was also taught. Since 1991, in the Kurdistan Region, the teaching of Arabic has continually declined in favour of English. Thus the Report mentions that may Kurds of over 35 years of age no longer have much command of Arabic.
Abdullah Qirgaiy, a sixty-year-old Kurdish writer, married to an Arab woman, explained that national service in the Army and mixed marriages encouraged bi-lingualism — more so than education at school, which was not always regularly attended in periods of conflict. He pointed out that he himself had learnt Arabic while doing his period of Army service. In his opinion, the Kurdish lack of interest in Arabic became manifest from 1991 onwards, when 3 Kurdish provinces became autonomous zones and ceased to have any relations with Baghdad: “After the 1991 Uprising, the Kurds considered themselves independent. They no longer felt obliged to learn Arabic and made no effort to master it”.
Naznaz Mohammed, who runs the Higher Education Commission of the Irbil Parliament, described the period of Iraqi Kurdistan autonomy after 1991 as an experiment to strengthen the influence of the Kurdish language. She also recognised the drop in the level of university studies, which equally affects the Arabic Department — so much so, indeed, that graduates in Arabic are not always capable of speaking the language fluently. In her view, this drop in the level can be explained by the democratisation of Higher Education in Kurdistan, where it is no longer the de facto preserve of the higher social strata. Thus, before the uprising, the bulk f Kurds who had access to higher education came from the better-off families. “After the Uprising, the doors to education were opened more widely and there was an flood of students to the schools. The quality of the teaching fell”. Naznaz Mohammed pointed out that the government intended to bring the school programmes more up to date as well as to build more schools and improve the training of teachers.
Dr. Othman Amin Salih, an assistant lecturer in the Arabic Department of Salahaddin University, in Irbil, confirms that many Arabic degree graduates do not speak it fluently. Apart from political tensions he also points to out-of-date teaching programmes that do not enable the students to become familiar with spoken or dialectal Arabic.
However, according to Aso Hardi, editor of the Kurdish daily Hawlati, who is unlikely to be indulgent to the Kurdish government, it is unfair to put all the blame on the educational system. In his view, the cause is essentially the indifference and even rejection of the Arabic language by the Kurds. He recalls the fact that the older generations had used these same textbooks and methods and still spoke Arabic fluently. “The new generation does not feel the need to learn Arabic — it has nothing to do with the teaching programmes”.
Dilshad Abdulrahman, the Kurdistan Minister of Education affirms that new programmes are being prepared, even if no date is available for their being applied in the schools. “The plan will be applied in coming years”. However, he too does not consider the inadequacy of the programmes the real cause: “Learning a language does not only depend on the teaching. Before the Uprising, the radio and Television programmes were mainly in Arabic. Then, too, the public had to learn it to understand them”.
However, the flow of refugees coming to Kurdistan from Iraq, the majority of whom hare Christians or members of other minority religions like the Mandeans, or else Kurds who had emigrated a long time ago and no longer spoke their own language but only Arabic has stimulated the reopening of Arabic language classes. At present, out of 21,635 schools in the Kurdistan Region, only 44 of them provide teaching in Arabic.
However, apart from the refugees, the bulk of the Kurds choose a Western language as their second language. Private classes proliferate and English is, evidently, the most popular language. Thus, an Irbil bookshop pointed out that the sale of books in Arabic are dropping, most of their clients being under 40 years of age. “Nowadays I sell more English dictionaries than Arabic”, they said.
The OSA Institute, a language school set up in Irbil in 1992, has 240 students in its English classes as against 40 for Arabic. The success of English is linked t the hope of securing well paid jobs, for example in the area of computers or telecommunications. “European high technology propagates its vocabulary”, confirms Hakim Wais, a writer and linguist who seems quite unaffected by the decline of Arabic in Kurdistan. “It is quite normal that young Kurds do not speak Arabic. They live in another country. It is not compulsory to learn another language if you don’t want to”.
However, in the opinion of Aso Hardi, the next generation of Kurdish politicians might well be at a disadvantage if they do not know Arabic: “Politically, it is dangerous for an official to be unable to speak or discuss in Arabic if he is amongst Arabs. A Kurdish official who knows Arabic well is ten times more effective than one who doesn’t know the language”.
According to Fareed Asard, who runs the Kurdistan Centre for Strategic Studies, the future political leaders of the Kurdistan Region have every interest in mastering Arabic properly if they want to defend the interests of Kurdistan in Baghdad. At present the Iraqi President, the Iraqi Foreign Minister and the former Deputy Prime Minister are Kurds who speak Arabic perfectly. As for the Kurdish Parliamentary block in Baghdad, it has won a reputation of “kingmakers” playing a dominant role, through its unity, in the face of very divided Arab coalitions.
On the other hand, the indifference of Arabs towards the Kurdish language is just as noteworthy, as is recognised by Dhia al-Shakarchi, and independent Shiite politician, who thinks that the Arabs themselves, as the majority ethic group, should take the initiative of “reassuring the Kurds of their status of real and equal partners in the new Iraq”. “It is a pity that few Iraqi Arabs want to learn Kurdish and this leads to two erroneous policies, both that of the Federal Government and that of the Kurdish authorities”.
Throughout the country, on the roads and official buildings, road signs and signposts are either in Arabic or Kurdish — rarely both, while English is often used when they are bi-lingual. Narmin Othman, Iraqi Minister of the Environment, herself a Kurd, says she is saddened to see that signposts in Kurdish are only to be seen in the Kurdistan Region. The use, in Baghdad, of signposts in Kurdish would help, in the Minister’s opinion, to avoid feeling that they were “second class citizens”. Similarly, tourists coming to Iraq to visit Kurdistan complain that few people there, apart from refugees, can talk to them in Arabic.
The majority of Kurds living in Baghdad speak fluent Arabic and express themselves solely in that language with their Arab friends. Nazdar Muhannad, a Kurdish woman from Kirkuk married to an Arab only speaks her own language with her mother and has not considered it useful to teach it to her children. “I to not see any reason to teach my children a language that is not used by any of their friends, at school or anywhere else”.
The history of Kurdistan is also ignored in the Iraqi school textbooks and Kurdish lessons are virtually absent in Arab schools, because they are optional, whereas the central government insists on the importance of learning Arabic for Kurdish students. It should be noted that Arabic is also an optional subject in the schools in the Kurdistan Region.
However, Hussein Jaff, the Director General of the Kurdish department of the Ministry of Education, denies any ostracism of the Kurdish language in Iraqi teaching, and points out that more and more Kurdish teachers are being appointed to secondary schools in Baghdad and other provinces.
Traditionally, hitherto the only Arabs to learn Kurdish were those who lived in contact with Kurds, in mixed regions, such as Kirkuk, for example, where knowledge of Kurdish is essential for trading, or in Sadriyah, a Baghdad district where many Kurds live, even though, according to Najah Salman, a Sadriyah resident, her Arab neighbours limited themselves to learning just a few Kurdish words, “to show friendship towards their neighbours and that they were welcome to Baghdad”.
Ali Abd al-Sada, a Baghdad journalist learnt Kurdish during a two-year stay in Kurdistan. According to him, ignorance of the Kurdish language by Arabs goes side by side with ignorance of Kurdish culture: “Learning Kurdish is to make the cultural diversity of Iraq something more real than just a slogan but a living experience”.
For Saad Sallum, a political analyst, the gap between Kurds and Arabs can only be filled if the two peoples learn one another’s languages. According to him the political solutions adopted by the central government about bilingualism are, for the moment, just measures of cultural window dressing.
Thus some people are worried by the growing conflicts between Kurds and Arabs, reinforced by a mutual lack of understanding. Thus Mufid al-Jezairy, an Arab Member of Parliament, stresses: “Mutual linguistic ignorance can seriously undermine any effort to build solid relations between the two ethnic groups, while by learning one another’s language Arabs and Kurds can improve their relations”.
The language question is, moreover, inflamed by the conflict between Kurds and Arabs over the Kurdish districts outside the Kurdistan Region, which are due to be the subject of a referendum in accordance with Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. Thus recently visiting the town of Bushiqah, in Nineveh Province, a town of some 5,000 inhabitants inhabited by Syriac-speaking Chaldeans, and both Yezidi and Moslem Kurds, Khasro Goran, a Kurdish official and former Vice Governor of Nineveh, insisted on the need to teach Kurdish in these districts where Saddam Hussein had banned its teaching as well as that of Syriac: “The Kurds, like any other nation, must not forget their mother tongue. The bulk of the Kurds (in Bashiqah) do not speak Kurdish”. Immediately criticised by the Sunni Arab leaders of Mosul, who accused him of wanting “to impose Kurdish on non-Kurdish minorities”, Khosri Goran denied any ulterior motives by wishing to establish Kurdish lessons n the schools and indicated that he also wished that the Kurds learn Arabic: “The tensions between the two nations have nothing to do with education”.