First joint Forum UoS-SPU Universities Saulaimani

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Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler

Keynote speeches

© Ako M. Wahbi

Born 1946 Linz, Austria. Studied History, German Philology, Linguistics, Philosophy and Psychology at Vienna University. Ph.D. 1972, Thesis: Terminology. 2012/13 Decree „Prof. Dr. h.c.“ University of Sulaimani. Journalist since 1967 mainly for Austrian Broadcasting Corporation. 1980-85 Austrian Diplomatic Service and assistant of late Austrian Chancellor Dr. Bruno Kreisky. Numerous articles, studies and books on Kurdish history, culture and civilization.


Summary Ferdinand Hennerbichler: Overview future of Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Europe

National rights:
Let me try an overview of future chances of the Kurds: If we look for an answer in which of all the countries where Kurds dispersed live in, their vast majority would have the best opportunities to achieve recognition as a people and international rights, the obvious answer would be Turkey. Why? Because there exists already an important integration process of Turkey into EU-Europe. This process of a negotiated settlement seems irreversible. Regardless whether or not it would finally result in accession of Turkey into the EU as full new member state, which appears currently unlikely, or in some form of a settlement as associated partner. The EU and Turkey are depending on each other without any convincing alternative and are bound to cooperate on negotiated terms or face mutually mounting crisis. EU integration of Turkey would mean for the Kurds that the vast majority of them would become citizens of the European Union, that they would get full rights like all the other people of Europe and that the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg would be their ultimate binding legal authority. Brussels would also have the so far biggest financial funds available to rebuilt backward Kurdish habitat regions like eastern Anatolia. The fact that the EU integration process of Turkey remains currently stuck in a deep crisis has less to do with Turkey as such but rather, with the increasingly autocratic regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The latter will last only temporarily. How long, can’t be predicted. Yet, afterwards, chances of Turkey and the vast majority of Kurds should improve again substantially to become equal partners of Europe. Turkey is already part of Europe, though geographically only to a small extent, and both the Kurds of Syria and Iraq, and even of Armenia, are already established and recognized as close neighbors of the currently only Eurasian EU candidate country Turkey. So far, the Kurds are already both: on the doorstep of EU Europe and in up to an estimated more than one million already as European citizens.   

Independent state:
If we try to find an answer to the question where the Kurds still have the best chances to achieve at the end of the day in a distant future an own independent state, the obvious conclusion would be Iraq. However, and in sharp contrast to the past, only in direct negotiations with Baghdad and in way of a national historic compromise and reconciliation of the Kurds, Arabs and all the other peoples of Iraq. This is also true for Kirkuk and other disputed territories where a fair national Iraqi power sharing solution remains the only sustainable option. In both crucial issues there will be either an enduring solution hammered out in direct negotiations between Kurds and Baghdad or none, which would then mean new escalation of conflicts and confrontation. Therefore, either Kurds and Baghdad will agree on a compromise other nobody else will, including foreign powers.  

Autonomous self-rule:
If we ask: where can Kurds retain meaningful self-rule of regional autonomy? We would, again, have to point to Iraq first and then in a not ascertained and more limited option to Syria-Rojava. Whereas, the status quo of the Kurds in Iran will be prolonged and remain basically unchanged. Yet, Kurds are increasingly involved in the current escalation of internal upheaval in Iran, but as things are right now no regime change is in sight in Iran in a foreseeable future. Turkey will continue to deny Kurds equal treatment and any form of autonomous self-rule.

International refugee-crisis, Europe and Kurds:
This ongoing and still escalating crisis shows global dimensions and goes far beyond unsolved conflicts in Eurasia and the Middle East. Mainly affected is Europe, in particular by aftermath shockwaves of the Syrian war, a mainly failed Arab Spring and a deep crisis of Africa. Europe is neither capable of controlling these crises hotspots nor of helping to transform them significantly to the better. The refugee crisis brought the European Union to the brink of collapse. The EU common value system is eroding and split de facto in at least two, into pro and contra European integration of refugees. The UN Geneva refugee convention of 1951 is constantly undermined and disputed. The term “economic refugee” is increasingly not accepted any more for granting asylum and refugee status. At the same time the unlimited global right to asylum itself is progressively questioned and its unhindered access severely complicated and limited. Right now, the EU member states are planning exterritorial camps for refugees in neighboring countries from Eurasia to northern Africa. These camps are highly disputed and its legal status is questioned. There is also considerable resistance against them in countries concerned.

In reality, refugees would be evermore restricted to options asking for asylum either at EU diplomatic representations abroad, which would involve considerable security risks for asylum seekers of being detected by autocratic regimes and punished, or otherwise limited at EU’s external borders. Moreover, the status of asylum seekers in Europe is made increasingly difficult too. Two examples: they are in most cases not allowed to leave the country where they asked for asylum as long as their application is pending, and if they do, they can be deported back to the EU member country where they originally claimed asylum. There is not free movement for asylum seekers within the EU in sharp contrast to the fundamental right of freedom of movement for all EU’s citizens, which is a fundamental principle of EU’s common rule of law. Also, even when the application of asylum seekers was rejected, until now they were tolerated in some countries like Austria to stay on for a limited period of years, as long as they had learned the local language, had a job, a flat and were in official training programs. In sharp contrast to this practice, countries like Austria changed recently their law with the effect that rejected asylum seekers will be deported even if they were tolerated previously for years and had a job. Against protests even from the economy, who would need skilled personnel and can’t find them. Furthermore, the EU continues to pay billions of Euros to autocratic regimes in Eurasia and northern Africa, basically for services, to hold up for them floods of refugees towards Europe, with the effect, that most of these financial contributions are not reaching directly refugees in need but end up in channels of autocratic regimes.    

Loss of values, humanity and confidence:
The main results are: mounting inhumanity, new conflicts beyond control, the deterioration of values, the disintegration of the European Union, which tries to wall itself up in the middle of a mounting internal crisis against people in need. In more detail: global human rights are increasingly undermined; international UN refugee conventions are eroded; Europe is engaged in stringent efforts to hollow out the fundamental right to seek asylum and at the same time to make the live of asylum seekers even more difficult than their misery already is, in order to shy them away and keep them out; there is a dangerous loss of global values and of confidence into democratic countries; to construct walls around Europa will not work, rather, as Melita Šunjić will explain, the refugees will continue to come anyhow, because inhumanity does not stop at borders. Ugly winners are refugee smugglers, who’s fees are rising rocketing high at a minimum risk to face judgement.

Iran, Turkey, USA:
Let me conclude with a few final thoughts: In geostrategic terms Iran is on the one hand winning but is on the other hand increasingly faced with red lines both abroad, notably in southern Iraq like Basra and in Syria, forinstance on the border to Israel like the Golan; and internally with culminating social unrest and attacks like recently in South-Iran. Turkey is fortifying unhindered and de facto tolerated its invading military forces into the Kurdistan Region Iraq and keeps trying to endanger its very existence. The Americans have not withdrawn from the area, neither from Iraq nor from the Middle East. Rather, they try to exert influence with changing tactics and methods. Unpredictable. The outcome is highly undetermined.

The Kurdistan Region Iraq is not a democracy and will not become one in the foreseeable future. Despite endemic corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and notorious reform jams, the Kurdistan Region remains one of the most stable areas in the Middle East and Eurasia, even in times of crisis and war. It has at least begun a process of democratization, although not completed.

The Iraqi constitution of 2005 contains the term „federal“ some 51 times. Yet, Iraq is not a federal state which could be compared with Austria, Germany or Switzerland, to name but a few in Europe. Rather, Iraq consists of a centralized national power-structure in Baghdad and an increasingly centralized autonomous administration of - so far - one Region only. Therefore, „federal“ merely refers in Iraq to a constitutional system where one centralized administered Region exists within an otherwise also centralized national power-structure based in its capital Baghdad. A separation and sharing of political powers like in the mentioned European states of executive and legislative powers, an independent judiciary and administration does not exist in Iraq. As of yet.  

From genocides to non-state-nation:
The Kurds themselves have gained international recognition as effective and able fighters against IS terror and barbarism. The Iraqi Kurds have overcome two devastating cases of genocide in recent history: Halabja and the Yezidi genocide in the Sindjar. Both without decisive support for survival by the international community. In contemporary history the Kurds have also upgraded their international status from a minority in the 20th century to a non-state-nation of our time. They are a people and a force to be reckoned with and have indeed sound chances of an own self-determined national future, although in a distant period of time.

Great hope young generation:
Their great hope for the future remains their clear majority population: their youth. Their young generation is emphatically reform-oriented, talented, determined, has been fighting for years for genuine democracy, a functioning constitutional state, an independent judiciary and efficient administration, a socially just society, and women’s rights, press freedom and a future live modeled on global human rights values.

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