Nechirvan Barzani Addresses NATO Parliamentary Assembly Seminar | |

President and Members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Dear Guests, Ladies and Gentleman

First, I would like to say that President Masoud Barzani would like to apologize for not being able to attend this event due to personal reasons. He was very much looking forward to be here with you today. It’s a great honor for me to represent him today.

I am very pleased to be amongst such a distinguished group today.

I wish to begin today with a statement of appreciation for the increasing interest which this body is taking in the Middle East, and in particular your expressions of support and friendship for the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Over the years of our struggles we have learned that there is no substitute for the understanding and support of the great nations of Europe. We are determined to use every opportunity to build closer economic, political, and social ties to Europe, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is a key vehicle for us in this regard.

I believe we can all agree that what happened in the past in Kurdistan should not be forgotten—over 182,000 Kurdish men, women and children disappeared during the infamous Anfal campaign, 4,500 villages were razed to the ground, and civilians were directly targeted by Saddam’s chemical weapons. We are pleased that the Iraqi High Tribunal and the Iraqi Council of Representatives have recognized these past crimes against the Kurds in Iraq as genocide, but we must do more. Accordingly, I am very grateful to those who are working to raise this issue in your respective legislatures, and I encourage others to join them in advocating for a just recognition of the genocide committed against the Kurdish people. What happened in Kurdistan was a crime against all the people of the world; against humanity itself, and we will always be grateful for your support in keeping the memory of this tragedy alive in order to dissuade others from pursuing similar courses of action.

This important meeting takes place at a time of great change and upheaval in the Middle East. We are witnessing today things that many of us never expected to see. In some places change has come relatively peacefully, in others the struggle against violence and repression goes on.

In Iraq we have avoided some – but not all – of the pressures of what has come to be called the Arab Spring. Part of the reason that we have been spared the worst is that the new Iraq is a more democratic state than many of the other states in the region. And while we face great obstacles to the consolidation of our democracy, the people of Iraq have very fresh memories of life under the tyranny of the Baathist regime, and they find the current state of politics much more to their liking. From our perspective, the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq are not so much issues of freedom and democracy as they are the consolidation of a new federal state.

Iraq faces three major issues which must be resolved in order for it to survive and prosper.

First, Iraq desperately needs a measure of trust and confidence among its political parties and forces. The legacy of the Baathist regime runs deep in Iraqi politics, and politicians, leaders, and voters need to learn that politics can and must be peaceful and cooperative.

Second, Iraq must institutionalize the federal system which is enshrined in our Constitution and which provides substantial, but not total, autonomy for federal regions. The Kurds of Iraq have insisted – and we will continue to insist – on a federal, pluralistic, and democratic country in which the rights of all regions and ethnic groups are protected from assault by the central government in Baghdad. Federalism and the granting of political power to local and regional institutions is the way of the world, in Europe, North America, and Asia and there is no reason it cannot work in the Middle East as well.

And finally, Iraq must address the situation of the disputed territories and attempt to correct the massive historical wrongs of the Baathist regime. Iraq will not become fully pacified and stable until the people of the disputed territories have an opportunity to determine their own future as promised by the Constitution.
I would also like to make a few points regarding the situation in the Kurdistan Region. We too face challenges in the areas of politics and economics, but the strength of our democratic systems gives us faith that these challenges can be met.

1.Because we have enjoyed the benefits of self-government for many years, we have prospered and grown, even while much of the rest of Iraq has continued to suffer.

2.We are a multi-ethnic region which has strong historical traditions for tolerance and respect. Today we continue to receive thousands of displaced Christians and other IDPs from the rest of Iraq, and we gladly offer them shelter, assistance, and where possible, jobs.

3.We are developing our energy resources in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution and the Kurdistan Region is now a contributor to international energy markets –with huge future potential from our oil and gas fields.

4.Our political system, while young, is maturing and we are learning to meet the challenges of a modern participatory democracy and to fulfill the responsibilities of democratic leadership.

5.Lastly, we have maintained an environment of safety and security through the cooperation of our security forces and a vigilant population. We have, and will continue to play our part in the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism which threatens the fabric of democratic societies worldwide.
Through our struggle and belief in democracy, we have gone:

•From villages of rubble to modern shopping malls and family entertainment centers

•From an economy that was stifled and controlled where all profits were held by a very small group of political elites in the capital to one where private industry and foreign investment is thriving

•From a place where it was difficult to find a school and suitable home, where education was mired in state propaganda and false history, to one where a plethora of private and public institutions now offer internationally-accredited degrees and where our people have access to the global stream of information.

This is the transformational power of freedom and democracy. There is nowhere else in the modern world that stands more resolutely as a success story of democracy’s ability to unleash the potential of a long-suffering nation than the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Where Kurds once fought for their very survival from the genocidal policies of a dictator, where we were once locked in a zero-sum struggle with a state that was supposed to protect us, but instead sought to destroy us, democracy and federalism now offers us the opportunity to contribute to the building of a truly strong state, one that aids its citizens in realizing their own dreams and destinies. Our success is the success of a long historical march. We are extremely proud of our record of consistently working for this day and the rights of the Iraqi people, both as a liberation movement and now as a government.

In closing, we should recall that while the nations of the world welcomed the Arab Spring, there are still great and daunting questions about the Arab Summer. The fate of millions of people in the Middle East hangs in the balance as the new democratic orders takes hold. For Kurds our “Spring” required nearly three decades of suffering beyond imagination. But we have survived, preserved, and we are now prospering. We hope that others can look at us as something of an example, and a clear illustration that the democratic wave can bring a better life to all people.

I commend you, the members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in your efforts to promote peace, democracy, tolerance and coexistence. The Kurdistan Region stands with you in these efforts. Together we have a bright future ahead of us and we look forward to the continued cooperation of our people to prevent tyranny and ensure global progress on the values that unite us.

I wish you great success and once more, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you.