Speech by President Barzani at the General Meeting of the Alliance of Democrats

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Speech by President Barzani at the general meeting of the Alliance of Democrats in Rome, Italy, 1 October 2010. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join you, my fellow Democrats, here today.

I often hear it said that there are no universal human values. That the world’s people are divided by cultural, ethnic, and religious fissures so deep, that common ground is impossible to find. With its tragic and long history of dictatorship and conflict, Iraq is often used as one of the most prominent examples of these irreconcilable divisions.

But I stand here today to tell you that is not true. As someone who has witnessed the darkest side of man, who has witnessed the attempted extermination of my people, witnessed the destruction of almost every village in Kurdistan, witnessed the brutal slaying of women and children discarded in mass graves….

I can tell you that as human beings we all share some values, unequivocally: the desire to know that we can sleep safely in our beds at night; that our children won’t be cut down in their youth because of their name, religion, political views, or birthplace; that we will have opportunities not afforded to our parents and provide new opportunities for our children.

The question, however, is how to pursue these values and ensure their provision throughout society. I believe Iraq’s history proves to us the wisdom of the old democratic adage that no man can be secure while another man fears. Security must be universal. Which means that while security is necessary for the development of our society, security is nothing without democracy and freedom. Without the ability for all to choose our leaders and hold them accountable.

This recognition has always been at the heart of the Kurdish struggle and it remains our vision for the future of Iraq. It is why we have fought so hard for an Iraq that is governed by laws and ruled by the compromises embedded in our Constitution. We know from experience that any movement towards a winner-take-all mentality will mean disaster, not just for the Kurdistan Region, but for all the people of Iraq. While we may not always agree with the decisions taken throughout the country, we must learn to respect the rights of people to choose who will lead them and how their communities will be tied in the federal structure to other communities.

There are some who disagree with us on these values. Who out of ignorance, hunger for power, fear of change, or plain evil would like to see Iraq slip back into the ways of the past, but I believe that the people of Iraq want their leaders to look to the future. They want a security apparatus that has strong ties between itself and the public - that is committed to entrusting their human rights rather than abusing them. They want an end to the abhorrent plague of terrorism and radicalism, which seeks to re-create divisions in our society and destroy our opportunity to develop.

We will not let those who seek to derail the political process succeed. We must continue to build up trust amongst our communities by strengthening our institutions and commitment to the rule of law. We must make it clear that minorities and the vulnerable can feel safe in our society, that we will not only protect their right to exist but provide their communities with the opportunity to thrive. This means that everyone in Iraq must have the right to determine the form and structure of their government. We must avoid all attempts to install mechanisms into the political process that will disenfranchise any component of Iraqi society.

That is why I have been willing to work with any and all blocks in the Iraqi Parliament that are prepared to commit to our values. We are fully prepared to join any government in Baghdad that will uphold the Constitution of our country and work in consensus with all groups. In the end, it’s not about the specifics of one particular policy or person. It’s not about oil, it’s not about administrative structures, it’s not about who is Prime Minister – it’s about a basic and complete commitment to freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. These policies demonstrate to us the intentions of the government. We have fought too long and witnessed too many times in the past, what “compromises” on those fundamental values leads to. The Kurdistan Region since 1991 has taken the road to democracy, joined by Iraq in 2003, and our people will not go back. We cannot afford to compromise on the very nature of the federal structure of the state – if there is ever a need for a “red line” it surely must be that.

In the Kurdistan Region, we have come a long way in establishing democratic institutions. We have experienced an economic boom, begun to rebuild our infrastructure, instituted protections for minorities and the rights of our religious communities to study in their own native tongues, and begun a project designed to increase the transparency and responsiveness of our institutions to the people. We have passed pro-trade and investment laws to attract the world’s top business leaders.

Still, we are just at the beginning of a monumental undertaking to re-structure our society. For over 100 years, we were deprived of access or participation in our government. We need culturally sensitive help from other democrats with the technical expertise to help us build up our human capacity and institutions. After decades of living in a non-democratic state, we are striving to find private opportunities for our people, not just for our economic development, but also to provide people with opportunities independent of the government or politics.

We also have a long way to go to shake off the violence and abuse of our past. Children in Halabja are still born with deformities and defects caused by the use of chemical weapons. Adults throughout the country suffer from the physical and mental effects of years of violence and dictatorship. Our society is just beginning a long process of reconciliation.

But we are resolute. We can overcome the bloody past. We will no longer be victims to our state. I am proud to stand here today as a committed member of a global alliance of democratic movements. It has been a long and tragic road to this day, but it is the very difficulty of our struggle that daily reminds us of its importance.
Finally please allow me to repeat my gratitude for this invitation. I humbly thank you for this opportunity and ask for your support to establish and enhance bilateral relations with the Kurdistan Region. It is indeed an honor to be amongst you today. Let us all work for the day when the ballot box is the sole triumphant over all else and everywhere.

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