Language as a bridge and a barrier in Iraq

 

Since the creation of Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq in 1991, political and linguistic disparities have been accentuated between Kurds and Arabs. The number of young people proficient in Arabic in the Kurdish governates of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah is decreasing. This means that many young Arabs and Kurds no longer have a common language. Language is a very important, but also useful tool, in creating a shared identity. Language in many cases acts as a barrier between Kurds and Arabs in Iraq. However, there is hope that more Arabs will learn Kurdish in order to better understand Kurdish society. Luma Hussein from Al-Noor, a woman’s Non-Governmental Organisation in Baghdad, believes learning Kurdish would benefit her because Kurdistan has more experience in developing civil society organisations. The forced use of Arabic during the Saddam regime has caused Kurds to view the Arabic language as a potential imposition and an attempt to dilute Kurdish identity. Attitudes are however changing slowly since the demise of Saddam. Will bilingualism no longer be the norm in Iraq’s Kurdistan?

Written by Marcus Lomax on the 28/11/201

The Turkish Army’s relationship with the Kurdish people, and its role in Iraq and Syria

The Turkish Government has been shelling Kurdish fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units, also known at the YPG, who are the armed force of the Syrian Democratic Union Party.  The recent attacks have prompted the US, the UN and EU to call for some restraint.  The degree to which Turkey’s fight against Isis is genuine has also been questioned by Kurdish officials, and doubts have arisen about Ankara’s agenda in both Syria and Iraq.  There have even been allegations about Turkey’s inability or unwillingness to control its borders. They were up until recently, allowing extremists to enter Syria from Turkey, thus helping to establish Isis in the north of the country.

There is of course a deep rooted conflict that has seen hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Kurdish people displaced from their homes or killed.  Centuries of oppression from both the Ottoman Empire and modern day Arab States have ignited the flame for an independent Kurdish state.

The YPG’s role in the fight against Isis is a crucial one.  In fact, the People’s Protection Units are one of the main ground forces battling against the self-styled caliphate.  With Turkey continuing to bomb YPG positions, could they be using the US led coalition against Isis as a cover to attack the YPG in Northern Syria?  The Turkish government certainly have no problem fighting their own people, Turkish Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) being a case in point.

However, Turkey does have good relations with Iraqi Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  The Turkish army are training and arming a predominately Sunni militia called Hasd al-Watani.  The militia group hope that by working with the Iraqi Peshmerga, the armed force of the KRG, they will be able to help retake Mosul, the de-facto capital of Isis in Iraq.

We cannot ignore the complexities of t00he situation in the Middle East.  The number of militia groups belonging to different ethnicities seems to be growing by the month.  Different factions are fighting for territories. A cohesive effort is needed in order to suppress the threat posed by Isis.  Turkey’s role, its cooperation with the rest of the world and with the Kurdish populations needs be far more transparent.

By Nihal Patel

The Immorality of Suicide Bombings in the 21st Century

Kurdish Flag

The Kurdish Community has been the victim one of of the latest atrocites

By Nihal Patel

2016 has been a particularly worrying and frightening year for terrorist atrocities.  According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, from January 2016 until July, there have been an astonishing 892 terrorism related deaths in Europe alone.  That makes the first seven months of this year the deadliest for over two decades.  This figure does include terrorist attacks in Turkey, where 726 of the 892 deaths have occurred.  On 20th August 2016, a particularly harrowing incident took place in the Turkish city of Gaziantep at a Kurdish wedding celebration.  President Erdogan has claimed that the attack was likely to have been committed by Islamic State militants.  Leaders across the world have condemned the attack, including the Kurdistan Region’s President Masoud Barzani, as well as British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who tweeted his sympathies for Turkey and its Kurdish population. The incident has caused immense distress, and stood out amidst numerous acts of violence because it is claimed that the attack was carried out by a child alleged to be 12-14 years old.

Turkey-Explosion_Horo

Victims of the Gaziantep attack

It is important to understand what the working definition of terrorism is.  In my opinion, terrorism, or an act of terrorism is defined as an act of violence performed by a non-state member, to achieve a political, social, religious or economic goal through fear and coercion.  Historically, suicide bombings have been used as a primary weapon by terrorist organizations in order to achieve an agenda. Suicide bombings over the past decade have been carried out by both men and women and fit into the working definition of a terrorist attack, mainly because the perpetrators are regarded as “non-state members”.

What has become apparent during the rise of Islamic State is their complete disregard for democracy, different ethnic groups across Europe and the Middle East and Islam’s historical tolerance for other religions, particularly Christianity and Judaism.    Many young men and women across Europe and the Middle East are coerced and brainwashed into giving their lives away, which needs to be combated through education.  However, using a child is even more sinister and cowardly than usual, and reinforces the notion that terrorist organizations are willing to do whatever it takes to complete their goals.

The EU-Turkey Deal: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Turkey Camp

Syrian Refugee Camp on the Turkish Border

In 2015 1.2 million people entered Europe from countries as disparate as Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. With further displacement and migration forecast for the coming years, an existential crisis is now threatening the very foundations of the European Project. In a mood of desperation and political expediency negotiations to curb migrant numbers have been accelerated with Turkey, culminating in a deal that now faces severe legal, ethical and practical difficulties.

In a nutshell, the agreement attempts to mitigate refugee flows that may otherwise overwhelm frontier European states, relocating the exigencies of asylum processing back to the Middle East and providing space to devise a more tolerable, long term solution. In principle, it also aims to undercut and degrade the mechanics of an extensive trafficking economy now proliferating across the Mediterranean. The commercialisation of people smuggling has exacerbated the number of refugees travelling, and sometimes even perishing, along sea routes. By adopting a hardline stance on ‘boat-people’ and diminishing the pull factor of assumed European altruism, people trafficking will, in theory, devolve into a high-risk low-reward enterprise that depresses demand and channels refugees towards more easily regulated outlets.

Under the auspices of a ‘one in one out’ system, any ‘new irregular migrants’ arriving in Greece after March would be deported to Turkey and relegated to the back of the queue of those seeking asylum. In return, EU member states are obligated to resettle properly processed Syrian refugees from Turkey and expedite visa liberalisation for Turkish nationals wishing to visit Europe.

There are obvious benefits to this approach. On a human level, the sharp fall in individuals traveling to Greece in the aftermath of the deal will hopefully translate into lower mortality rates for those refugees seeking entry into Europe. It also relieves pressure on Frontex, the underfunded European border management agency, and allocates new resources for efficient processing schemes. In the face of perpetually gridlocked EU institutions, the political intransigence of Eastern European governments, rising right wing populism and the resurrection of internal border controls, it provides a palatable alternative for European publics that may be able to preserve the cosmopolitan values of Schengen while also delivering immediate results. Perhaps most importantly, the agreement alleviates the burden on Ankara. Supplemented by an aid package of €3 billion earmarked for improving ‘the lives of refugees’ in the region, and a series of concessions with regard to Turkey’s prospective membership in the EU, it is hoped the agreement will deliver desperately needed investment to fund accommodation, education initiatives and welfare services for the two million refugees in Turkey itself.

However, despite the humanitarian rhetoric espoused by its proponents, the broader implications of the deal remain a cause for concern. Any claims suggesting the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan regime may be ameliorated by visa-liberalisation and closer political cooperation between Turkey and the EU are spurious to say the least. As negotiations concluded, the government has shown no sign of slowing its crackdown on independent journalism, seizing control of the national newspaper Zaman in March and tightening its grip over civil society. The fact these excesses hardly elicited any reaction from the West, and that German authorities are now considering the prosecution of a local comedian for ‘insulting’ Erdogan, allude to the leverage Turkey currently enjoys. As such, by colluding with autocrats the EU may paradoxically be compromising its liberal values on another front, namely free speech and free expression.

Crucially, there are also significant legal and practical issues that need to be considered. Human rights organisations have cited grave problems with the agreement. They argue it not only contravenes international law and its underlying humanitarian norms but also fails to exert pressure on Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees. Amnesty International (AI) in particular maintains “the EU is…incentivising the opposite’, referencing a concerted effort by local Turkish authorities to expel asylum seekers back into Syria and close the Southern border to stop any further influx. While the ‘one in one out’ system explicitly circumvents controversy over blanket returns by certifying a right for refugees to make individual asylum claims, there is no doubt that the testimonies collected by AI deliver a damning indictment of Turkish migratory policy. It also undermines the fallacy that any claimants deemed irregular by the EU are being deported to a ‘safe third country’. To assume Turkey is safe is to ignore the Kurdish insurgency waging in its Eastern periphery and the horrendous conditions refugees are currently living under. Non-Syrians face the threat of further extradition back to dangerous home nations under the conditions of independent bilateral agreements between Ankara and, for example, the Afghan government. For those remaining in Turkey, many lack work permits and are forced into unregulated black market jobs for little to no salary. Perhaps more worryingly, 400,000 of 700,000 school age Syrian children aren’t receiving any formal education. There is simply no opportunity for integration, leading to societal tensions that will exponentially grow as the crisis gets worse. Unless this trend is radically altered, the EU’s refugee policy as it stands today is giving rise to a disenfranchised, socio-economically marginalised and uneducated ‘lost generation’ completely at odds with the humanitarian virtues the organisation claims to champion. On a practical and moral level this is untenable.

Europe is therefore between a rock and a hard place. Its migratory infrastructure cannot manage a crisis of this magnitude and it does not have the institutional or democratic flexibility to deliver an equitable scheme for effectively distributing shares of refugees across its membership. But as Kenan Malik, a London based lecturer and broadcaster, argues, by ratifying this deal with Turkey the EU seems to be regressing back to its antiquated mentality of the 1990s; ‘criminalising’ migrants, militarising its external borders and paying peripheral states to ‘operate as immigration police’. Outsourcing the problem and pretending it isn’t there is not a viable option. There needs to be a substantive, systemic transformation in how Europe both conceptualises and engages with the refugee problem. Anything short of this is simply not sustainable and the EU risks having its moral authority irreversibly damaged.

Goodye to Helmut Schmidt

Jonathan Mueller writes:

So Helmut Schmidt died.

I heard him speak once, during the 1980 election campaign. One thing he said has stuck with me:

If self-determination is right for everybody else, why not for the Germans?

Well the Germans finally got their self-determination, but isn’t corollary one:

If self-determination is right for everybody else, even the Germans, why not for the Kurds?