Kurdish Role in the Greater Middle East Initiative
Wext: Sunday, 08.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST
By Serhat Kerkuki
Resume: The Middle East’s lack of liberal tradition has rendered British, and later American, intents of democratization a futile exercise, particularly when those intents, thanks to realists in the Department of State and Foreign Office, always ended up dealing with, and relying on, the governing sector of a society too busy with safeguarding their power. The incipient Kurdish federal region is the fertile ground for a new approach of direct engagement with civil society actors, showing signs of becoming a firm base for liberalization, supported by the people and not by isolated governments or minor political parties, as has been the case throughout the ME. Therefore, the Kurds, as people, have the capacity of rendering the GMEI more successful than previous experiences.
The Greater Middle East Initiative, GMEI, launched officially at the G8 summit at Sea Island last June, is an initiative loosely based on the 1975 Helsinki accord. The GMEI proposes wide-ranging programs to address the various areas where development is needed, from holding free elections, developing independent media, fighting corruption, increasing employment, literacy and women’s rights and improving education.
The concept of democratizing the ME through this latest initiative by President Bush is not new to the region. However, it is ambitious in covering all the ME, therefore covering all parts of Kurdistan, and is based on sound research of the region, though predominantly based on Arab countries , as if the ME was one homogeneous piece of land settled by Arabs alone.
Throughout the last century, many British cabinets and American administrations intermittently intended to drive democracy and liberal values into the region but so far have little to show for their efforts. Such projects were enthusiastically taken up by the liberals, ethnic and religious minorities as well as the western educated. However, these sectors within the ME society could not expand their circles beyond themselves and were isolated into big cities.
This failure was based, firstly on being, numerically, far inferior than the rest of the competing ideas. They could not compete with the totalitarian ideologies  perceived by the masses as indigenous, with democracy being portrayed as an alien product sold by the imperialist West to further it’s economical interests. Secondly, due to their distribution, these sectors were not confined to an integrated geographical area and the lack of such a base prevented them from protection . Thirdly, with no base and in a hostile environment, their possibility to proliferate was drastically reduced and their voices suppressed.
This weak front of democrats versus totalitarians led many realists in the Department of State and Foreign Office to lean on the ‘stable country run by a strong man’, as long as this catered for their interests. This policy coasted on the complacent and erroneous assumption that stability of autocratic regimes within the ME could, at least, protect US national security. In return, these regimes sold its mission in Washington as the bulwark against Islamic extremists, while financing it undercover to maintain her ‘needed’ mission.
However, after the 9/11 attacks this was shattered and no longer viable because these apparently stable countries became incubators and hatching grounds for terrorists. Therefore, the push for democracy shifted from a reiteration of UN charters and a lip service cliché in international relations into Washington’s linkage between her own security and advancing the principles of democracy and free markets in the Middle East.
The initiative was rejected well before its announcement at the G8 summit by the USA’s closest Arab allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which happen to be the models for ‘a stable country run by a strong man’. These two allies, and other states in the region, reject reforms ‘imposed by outsiders’ and affirm that Arab states proceed on the path of development, modernization and reform in keeping with ‘their peoples interests and values’.
This early rejection prompted administration officials to declare ‘The idea is not to come out with proposals that say, this is how the West thinks you guys should live’, it is instead about saying, ‘We hear voices in the greater Middle East region who want democracy and reform, and here are the things we can do to support them’.
Now, if President Husni Mubarek and King Fahad are resisting even the title of reforms what can we expect from such dinosaurs when it comes to the content of the GMEI? Such regimes cannot and will not provide democracy, civic freedom, human rights and economic progress.
The fact that so far the promoters of the GMEI continue partnerships with authoritarian regimes, and the exclusion of democratic reformers, is a shocking repetition of past mistakes. For example, the Kurdish people have not been represented in any of the official and informal meetings that have taken place so far.
Where are the liberal forces that the US can build on? Unfortunately, there are no great liberal theorists or reform advocates who galvanize people in the region, no major original books that provide a manifesto for moderation and no powerful political party or movement pushing for democratic change.
Take Egypt for example, considered the center of gravity of Arabs and the earliest model of progress since independence from the Turkish Islamic empire. This was thanks to the invasion of France and the consequent entrance of science and logic giving it the role it had until the late 1950s, when the nationalist revolutionaries reduced it to its current state. 100 years after Muhammed Abdeh’s reform ideas reached the shores of Egypt, we have her 8 million Christian Copts silenced, liberal parties as WEFD reduced to tiny groups of intellectuals  and business people lacking an organized base of support, far outnumbered by the followers of Sayed Qutb and Hasan Albanna, the godfathers of Muslim brotherhood.
Egypt also became the second largest recipient of US aid after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel. The aid received so far is equivalent to the amount spent on the entire European Marshal Plan project after WWII. Yet so far there is little democracy and progress, in fact the US congress had to mobilize in order to protect a university professor from being prosecuted unfairly after publishing a book that displeased the Islamists. This is the same country that’s most popular song last year had the text of ‘Better Sadam’s Hell than America’s Paradise’. If this is the case of Egypt, what can be hoped from Saudis’ Wahabi establishment or Vilayet-i Faqih (the Rule of the Supreme Jurist) of Iran?
Many could rightly point that Lebanon, Israel or even Turkey, to a certain degree, has such possibilities as models. However, when analyzing we can see, although Israel is the only democratic country in the ME, it cannot take up that role for obvious animosity towards her and is hardly considered part of the region. The best example is that after two decades of official peace with Egypt, there is no normalization on the public level. Lebanon, once considered the Switzerland of the ME, lost much of its affect on the region after the civil war and the change of the country’s equilibrium, though happily tries to make a comeback.
As for Turkey, at least when talking of the Turkish regions, yes her Turkish citizens do enjoy a good degree of freedom (if we omit the treatment of Kurds) but they are considered widely by Arabs as the occupiers and they have bad memories of Ottoman rule. Besides looking at Erdogans’ Islamic-rooted government in the last year, it portrays a Turkey less eligible to take up that role. 
Therefore, for this new initiative to have a longer life than previous ones, it is imperative to choose a strategy that supports those who work and sacrifice for reform in their own society and across the greater Middle East. So far every initiative has concentrated on the state as the interlocutor and on most anti-American circles that has always lost the bet. One does not have to be a military expert to know the ironclad rule of ¨ don’t reinforce failure. Reinforce success ¨.
Naturally, all those sectors within society who suffer from the current oppressive and dictatorial regimes would mostly be willing to work for democratizing their country. Those sectors should be the target of support from the promoters of the GMEI and the Kurds are clearly within that sector. However, the Kurdish society’s role is not limited to their potential as providers of isolated pro-democracy intelligentsia or minor political parties like many other victims of the system.
What Kurdish society can offer, apart from the above, is a base, a base wide enough to protect infant democracy from attacks. For example, of all the heinous crimes of hijacking and beheading of foreigners in Iraq, none has occurred in the Kurdish areas. Not because the Kurdish authorities skills are superior to that of Iraqis or the Americans, but because the people of South Kurdistan are against such crimes.
Furthermore, Kurdish society is largely free from well-established hatred against the West, a tenet vehemently upheld in the rest of the Middle East. For example, the American flag is popularly used for burning rituals during anti-Western demonstrations, by contrast, it is flying proudly alongside Kurdistan’s flag in restaurants called New York and Washington in Kurdish administered cities. Again, this is the work of the average Kurd and not some politically motivated person. This is the environment where conditions are ideal for accepting and promoting democracy.
Also, Kurdish society, which suffers the minorities syndrome , is not limited to 5 million in Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan but is a nation of +35 million that spans large areas within Turkey, Iran and Syria. Therefore, a strong democratically based free-market oriented Southern Kurdistan can naturally expand into the rest of the Kurdish nation. This huge population can, in return, have a positive impact on the populations they cohabit respectively.
Another important point to consider if the GMEI intends to bring all these nations together and establish some sort of convergence towards a Middle Eastern economical union, is finding where the areas are in which Arabic, Turkish and Persian meet. Where is this city or region in the Middle East where it gives an example of coexistence, or at least shows some interest by one towards the other? Can one find, say in the now infamous Fellujah (Iraq), any Persian speakers or those familiar with Shirazi poems? Alternatively, in Izmir (Turkey) any Arabic speakers or listeners of Arabic music? There is no such feeling or attempts towards knowing and understanding of others in these cities.
However, in a city like Hawlêr (Arbil) one can find many Kurds that speak Turkish and enjoy Turkish music, further East in Suleimaniye, scores of intellectuals and businessmen speak fluent Persian. In the South, in the city of Kerkuk, Kurds are as familiar with the Arabic language and culture as any Iraqi Arab. So for any convergence in the ME, South Kurdistan is an ideal environment, for most of her society is familiar with at least one other ME language and culture.
Kurds, apart from living in Kurdistan, are also the only element within the ME that is present in Baghdad, Tehran, Istanbul, Ankara and Damascus and to a lesser extent in Beirut, Jerusalem and Amman. Such a well-distributed and organized population can be a formidable support in collaboration with other pro-democracy forces in this GMEI. The importance of such presence lies in the fact that the Kurdish population are active as workers, professionals, writers, human rights advocates and artists who are in contact with their counterparts in the region. This leads to a healthy horizontal communication, eliminating the natural resistance towards a message perceived as coming from above or from the outside.
On the same level, Kurds being mostly Muslims can promote a liberal and moderate Islam. Notwithstanding that, Islam currently has the monopoly on all occupations in the region, from political Islam to the Islamic bank ending with Islamic TV. The only prudent strategy would be to groom the moderate Islam whilst fighting radical jihadists. Consider the facts, Muhammed Abde, the greatest reformer in modern Egypt, was a Kurd, the period of Islam when ‘Igtihad’ thrived, was too, in the main, brought forth by Kurds and according to the Arab-Muslim scholar, rhetorician and theologian, Imam Mohamad Al-Gazzali (1058- 1111 A.D.), the Islamic culture rests on four columns, which he named; three of them were Kurds; Sharazuri, Amedi and Dinawari. In view of the outstanding importance of Al-Gazzali for Islam, his judgment cannot be valued too highly .
Therefore, what Kurds can offer is not just a group of isolated liberal intelligentsia or a minor pro-reform political party, they can offer a society willing and open to reform and secure enough to promote democracy on a grass roots level. Large enough to provide a strong base in the heart of the ME and collaborating with other democratic forces to lead the region out of its current turmoil.
Constructing Democracy in Kurdistan
To activate the above-mentioned Kurdish role in the GMEI there are many steps, but I focus on just two major roles that can accelerate and strengthen such positive participation.
First, accessibility, the most constant feature in all parts of Kurdistan that have suffered during the last century, is the total blockade by the four states that administer them, making it the longest international embargo in the history of mankind . Reversing this policy enables Kurds to reach out and be reached; it opens a window to the outside world, or in today’s terms allows Kurds to enjoy the fruits of globalization. Such required accessibility includes airway lines direct to Kurdistan for passengers and products, broadband internet hub-stations, promotion of the English language and a professional mass media communications city.
The lack of direct airways makes even a basic service, like air express couriers, absent in South Kurdistan, although widely available in Iraq, including small towns such as Beled, near Tikrit. Direct air transport can induce the likes of DHL and UPS to establish such essential services.
The English language is the single most important door that opens access to the entire world. One just doesn’t understand how the U.S. can send 10,000 English teachers to Africa, traditional French-speaking countries, yet doesn’t send 200 teachers to Kurdistan, where students dream of learning the American language, consequently breaking the linguistical barrier that forces them to rely on books written in Arabic, with the limitation that follows, for their educational needs and cultural interests.
Although last week, a Kurdish University got the green light for opening a journalism college, the Kurdish mass media are not up to the job, both because of a lack of professional cadre and experience. In turn, this leads most viewers to turn to Al-Jazeera type spinners for their daily dose of news, with the consequence of a deformed understanding of events and the falling into jihadist orbit. Most of the FM Radio waves in Kurdistan are either Islamic preaching, financed by Iran, or Turkish pop music promoting the Turkmen. Even the American financed stations, like Sawa, are in Arabic. A professional Kurdish speaking media, promoting democracy and freedom, would have similar profound and undoubtedly splendid impact as the Hong Kong media had on the Chinese population on the mainland.
In addition to accessibility, democracy needs a free market. Both go hand in hand, without activating the latter the former won’t last long. It is an up-hill battle to reverse the current culture of 100% consumption and 0% production, which is the result of 70 years of state policy discrimination. However, for an investor, this situation of no competition on the ground is the opportunity of a lifetime.
If the Ford Corporation can overcome the psychological barriers of the Vietnam War and invest there by opening a plant, or Intel invests in Egypt by training almost 100,000 teachers on the use of Microsoft programs, then why is it so difficult for such US corporations to invest in Kurdistan, knowing that congress placed $18 billion in reconstructing Iraq?
After all, CPA’s Jonathan Thompson, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, at recent conference in London, qualified Kurdistan as the Silicon Valley of Iraq and calculated the regions estimated construction contracts at $1.2 billion, under direct Kurdish supervision .
This is on top of the mineral wealth of the region, which claims to have the sixth largest oil reserves in the world at 45 billion barrels, bountiful potential for hydroelectric power, metals and prospering agriculture. Yet we see in Afghanistan, which has much less favorable conditions in economical and security terms and the governments authority rarely goes beyond the capital, there has already been established 3 international financing institutes and direct air transport, among other projects.
It dose not need a Harvard MBA graduate to see that Kurdish society and geography is potentially the best market for establishing the values of the GMEI and the logistical hub for the rest of the region.
For the skeptics contemplating a zero impact of a free and democratic Kurdistan on the wider region, such support would place a +35 million strong nation on the track of democracy. Even a ‘worse case’ scenario would be the greatest achievement towards stability since the drawing of the artificial states in the ME by the victors of WWI. Converting the Kurds from a constant factor of instability, used by their neighbors, into the second democratic nation in the region, after Israel.
 The intellectual framework of this initiative is derived from the UN Arab Human Development report, a comprehensive critique of the Arab world, conducted by Arab researchers that laid out a need for extensive political, economical and social reform in the region.
 Middle Easterners have known three ideologies, namely radical Islam, Communism and Social Nationalism bordering Fascism. All being totalitarian in their known version in the region, leaving little space for other non-totalitarian thoughts.
 The Christians of Lebanon and Egypt, Maronites and Copts, are a good example. The former being much less numerical that the latter, however much better positioned, thanks mainly to their geographical unitary.
 Egypt’s Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Jordan’s Tujan Faysal and Turkey’s Leyla Zana are stark examples of what reformers face in the Middle East and how lonely they are in front of the immense radical/evil forces on the ground.
 Turkey in the last year alone has shown enough signals to prove a shift in her alliance; opposition to the Iraqi Freedom Operation and a denial of access to transit U.S. troops, her FM’s referral to Israel as a terror state, even though her special commandos were caught red handed in terrorist activities on the 4th of July by U.S. forces in Suleimaniye city, a continuous threat towards Southern (Iraqi) Kurdistan of invasion if the latter obtains any rights within Iraq and intensified political and economic relations with Syria and Iran, two countries that are on the list of states sponsoring terrorism and members of the axis of evil. Turkey has also revived the terrorist Turkish Hizbullah. The reversal of her traditional purchasing of Boeing in favor of Airbus is another signal, among many, of Turkey’s new commitments and alliances.
 It is this suffering as a persecuted minority by the current systems that largely ushers them to be so willing to embrace pro-democracy reforms, widely palpable in Kurdish society.
 Turkey, from her establishment in 1923, had a total blockade, even against her own journalists, to reach Northern Kurdistan until 1965, followed by emergency law until recently. Syria implemented an ethnic cleansing policy in the 1970’s, coded the green belt, rendering Western Kurdistan three segregated and disconnected regions. Iraq did a similar project of a security cordon 10 KM deep around the frontier, planted with mines to further detach Southern Kurdistanis from her compatriots across the borders, further suffering an embargo by Sadam Hussein, in addition to the UN’s, until his fall in 2003.
Note: Reports are published based on respect for freedom of opinion's expression, they do not necessarily reflect views of Kurdistan Democratic Party.