Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Emerging Kurdistan: A CONVERSATION WITH BAYAN SAMI ABDUL RAHMAN

Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Emerging Kurdistan: A CONVERSATION WITH BAYAN SAMI ABDUL RAHMAN

Article excerpt

FLETCHER FORUM: You've noted before that discussing Kurdistan's emerging role in the world always brings up the question of independence and identity. You have also talked about how Kurds across borders develop at different paces and have different political agendas, and how that affects greater Kurdish unity and identity. Could you comment on this concept of dual, cross-border identity?

BAYAN SAMI ABDUL RAHMAN: I think all Kurds live with two, maybe even three, identities. For example, in my case, I'm an Iraqi Kurd, but I'm a Kurd, and I view all of Kurdistan as my homeland. My husband is an Iranian Kurd, and therefore my son is an Iranian-Iraqi Kurd. My maternal grandmother was from Syria, and I have a very large family also in Syria, as well as many relatives in Turkey. I do not think this is unusual. Maybe it is unusual that I cross all four borders, but it is not unusual at all for Kurds to have at least one cross-border relationship, or to have been a refugee in another part of Kurdistan.

In the 1970s, my family became refugees in Iranian Kurdistan, and then later we ended up in Britain. Many Iraqi Kurds have been refugees in Turkey and Iran, and now we are hosting Syrian Kurdish refugees. So this dual identity of belonging to the country where you were born, but also having a cross-border greater Kurdish identity, is something we all live with. Among ourselves, we do not really refer to "Iranian Kurdistan" or "Kurdistan in Syria"; instead we talk about East Kurdistan (in Iran) or West Kurdistan or "Rojava" (in Syria). Or, we refer to the region of Kurdistan in Iraq as South Kurdistan.

At the same time, it is a fact that we live within these borders. My life has been affected by the fact that I am an Iraqi Kurd, and that I was born and live within Iraq's borders. That has affected me at a personal level, as well as the broader community of Kurds in Iraq politically as well. Since we all live with these local identities, what do they mean for greater Kurdish identity and for Kurdish aspiration? Over time, different parts of Kurdistan have evolved differently. Political developments in one part of Kurdistan may have been faster. Maybe there has been war, maybe there has been genocide in one region, while another part of Kurdistan has been peaceful, and political resistance has taken the form of passive civil resistance. Things have evolved differently.

Also, the governments of those countries, have, on the whole, not behaved so well toward the Kurds over the past century. However, there have been times where there have been openings and dialogue. In Iraqi Kurdistan in 1970, we had an autonomy agreement with the government at the time-and for four years between 1970 and 1974, in theory, Kurdistan enjoyed an autonomous status within Iraq. But of course, this situation unraveled, which led to war against the Iraqi government.

There are also the particular domestic developments in each of the different countries to take into account. For example, the Iranian Islamic revolution has, of course, impacted the Kurds there. The fact that Turkey is part of NATO and has been considering joining the European Union has impacted Ankara's relationship with the Kurds in Turkey. I would also say the same is true politically. For example, in Turkey, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK) is a radical Marxist movement, while in Iraqi Kurdistan, I would say that the freedom movements-that is, the guerrilla movements-are now becoming more normalized political parties. They are getting used to governance. We have evolved differently, and at different paces, due to different political situations on the ground, and from having to deal with different forms of oppression against the Kurds in different countries.

However, there are many things that unite us as well. The Kurds as a whole are secular, in the sense that their Kurdish identity is not tied to one particular religion. While the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, we have substantial minorities who are Christian, Yazidi, or Shi'a Muslims. …

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