Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

AU's Center for Global Peace Hosts International Conference: "The Kurds; Search for Identity"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

AU's Center for Global Peace Hosts International Conference: "The Kurds; Search for Identity"

Article excerpt


American University's Center for Global Peace, in conjunction with the Mustafa Barzani Scholars Program of Global Kurdish Studies, held a conference on "The Kurds: Search for Identity," April 17 and 18 in Washington, DC. The conference, attended by some 250 scholars, policymakers, diplomats and journalists from the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Middle East, was convened by Prof. Abdul Aziz Said, director of the Center for Global Peace and the first occupant of the Mohammed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace at American University. He stressed the critical importance of the just resolution of the Kurdish issue in promoting peace and prosperity in the Middle East. He also criticized governments in the region for having "no long-range plans to deal with the Kurds beyond stopping civil wars and violence."

Professor Edmund Ghareeb, adjunct professor at the School of International Service at American University, followed with an analysis of the visionary leadership role of Mustafa Barzani in promoting Kurdish cultural and political rights. Ghareeb, stressing that the Kurds are understudied and are often misunderstood, said they seem to be in a "twilight zone," going from "being victims, to being invisible, and then terrorists" all within a matter of a few decades.

Although they seem to be "latecomer" nationalists in the Middle East, Ghareeb said, the Kurds in fact had nationalist ideas dating back to the late 16th century. But the Kurdish issue is complex in nature because the Kurds themselves overlap state borders, the Kurdish-populated areas are less developed, the Kurdish struggle has in some ways affected security concerns in other states, and as a result of all of this the Kurds are in a constant state of dispersion.

The first panel, "Kurds in the Global Arena: Perceptions and Misperceptions," included presentations on "Arab States' Perspective" by Dr. Michael Collins Dunn, editor of the Middle East Journal, "An American Diplomat's Perspective" by Mr. Francis J. Ricciardone, U.S. Department of State, and the "European Perspective," by Dr. Kendal Nezan, president of the Kurdish Institute of Paris. The panel was moderated by former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy.

Syria, Dunn pointed out, has a significant Kurdish population that suffers from a lack of geographical continuity, being spread throughout the desert, in eastern Syria, along the Turkish-Syrian border, and in the center. Today these estimated 200,000 Kurds in Syria are officially "stateless," since in the 1962 Syrian national census an attempt to filter out "aliens" stripped 120,000 Kurds of Syrian nationality. Further, while showing little recognition of their own Kurdish population, Syria has repeatedly played host to various exile groups from Turkey and Iraq. Thus, Dunn said, "Syria is mainly driven by national geo-politics because of the age-old rivalry with both Iraq and Turkey." He added that "Damascus and Baghdad have been countervailing poles of power in the Fertile Crescent" for many centuries. The highlight of their tensions arose in the early 1990s, with the prospect of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan state. This, Dunn emphasized, was "unacceptable for an Arab nationalist state like Syria, whose own borders include a number of minorities, some linguistic (Kurds, Armenians) and some religious (Alawites, Druze, various Christians and Jews)."

The rest of the Arab world is less directly involved in the Kurdish question than Iraq or Syria, Dunn said. He added that no Arab country is eager to encourage separatism in another Arab country, primarily because many of these states have ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities of their own and "a resultant fear that separatism encouraged in one place might spread," thereby directly affecting the other Arab states.

In the past, Dunn pointed out, "Sunni Arab dominance has sometimes been achieved by cutting a deal with Sunni Kurdish leaders. …

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