Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kurds and other minorities

With the government of Turkey continuing to lead the charge against the government of Syria, there are concerns about trade routes. AP reports that the Turkish government is considering Iraq as an alternative route. Reuters presents a firmer position from the Turkish government with Turkey insisting not that it's considering it but that it will use Iraq as an alternative "if violence worsens in neighbouring Syria." Using Iraq would mean going through (or over in the case of flight) northern Iraq -- an area that the Turkish government has long been uncomfortable with.

Northern Iraq is three provinces which are semi-autonomous and make up the Kurdistan Regional Government. Abdulateef al-Mulhim (Arab News) explains:

The Kurdish people have enjoyed the highest form of freedom for thousands of years. They mainly lived in northern Syria, east of Turkey, west of Iran and north of Iraq. They enjoyed the ability to move from place to another without any restrictions. They were one people, one language and one form of life. The number of Kurds all over the world is over 30 million. But, they don't have a nation. Before World War I, they didn't need one. They were free to wander around. They are Muslims. But not Arabs. And it should have made no difference. Islam has no nationality. But, the Kurdish people are different. No one wants them to be in their territory, yet no one wants to give them their own territory.

For many years, the Turkish government has seen the KRG as a source of hope for Kurds in Turkey (and elsewhere) that a homeland might be possible. What might bring joy to Kurds has not, in the past. brought joy to the rulers in Turkey who fear an independent Kurdish region being established within the borders of Turkey.

Abdulateef al-Mulhim notes that there are 15 million Kurds in Turkey and that, up until the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, the Kurds in northern Iraq and in Turkey were under constant attack, "No one knows to this day how many Kurds were killed by Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. And the ironic thing about those four countries is that they are the ones who make the loudest noise when Israel uses its military might against the Palestinians. I am not saying the Israelis are right, but why those four countries always brag about their weapons if they use it against their own people... Oh, I am sorry, Kurds are not considered humans by those four countries." Last week,
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued the first official apology Wednesday for a bloody military campaign that killed thousands of Kurds in southeast Turkey at the end of the 1930s.
"If it is necessary to apologize on behalf of the state ... I am apologizing,"
Erdogan told his Justice and Development Party (AKP) members in Ankara in televised remarks.
Erdogan said the airstrikes and ground operations in the city of Dersim -- now named Tunceli -- killed 13,800 people between 1936 and 1939, according to an official document of the time he cited in his speech.

AP expresses the belief that the Turkish government is recalibrating its stance with regards to the Kurdish issue as a result of weighing the costs and feeling. How accurate that evaluation is? Well it undermined when AP presents the PKK as the only Kurdish rebel group within Turkey. You could also argue it's undermined by observations Lale Kemal (Today's Zaman) shares in her latest column:

Well-informed sources close to the government state that Ankara has adopted a new strategy under which negotiations with foreign key actors, including Iraqi Kurdish leaders, will be intensified in order to force the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to lay down its arms and agree on a long-term unilateral cease-fire. Under the new strategy, the Turkish state has reportedly abandoned plans to resume a dialogue with the PKK to find a common ground for the organization to lay down its arms.
A Turkish official summarizes Turkey's strategy as “weakening the PKK within the system where it was being fed.” By the term, “system,” the source refers to the key actors who have, for various reasons, knowingly or unknowingly, helped the PKK find room for maneuver to continue its violent attacks inside Turkey.

Staying with the issue of minorities, Minority Rights Group International notes:

Taking part in everyday public life - practising religion, accessing jobs and public services, taking part in politics, travelling freely - is a challenge for many people in Iraq, but members of ethnic and religious minorities face particular obstacles. They may feel that they have to hide their identity when they leave the house. When they go to public bodies to access services, they fear that their identity will be revealed, and services will be denied to them. Minority women are particularly vulnerable to abuse and are subject to violence and discrimination both because of their sex and their minority affiliation. In a country where getting a job or public services often depends on which political party you belong to, minorities often feel that if they join their community's own party, they will lose out.

Today MRGI issues a new report by Preti Taneja entitled [PDF format warning] "Iraq's Minorities: Participation in Public Life." The 32 page report comes with a list of recommendations for the Iraqi government, Parliament, the KRG and NGOs. Within the report are recommendations as well. Page 30, for example, notes how much easier life would be for many minorities in Iraq if the national ID card were not noting ethnicity and religion:

Some have argued that the Iraqi government should speed up development and issue of national identity cards that do not state religious or ethnic identity;113 ID cards that include this data can easily be used to discriminate in access to rights, and even to target people for violence. Including towns and villages of residence or birth on such cards can also be an indicator of religion or ethnicity.
The benefit of disaggregating data by minority in any research and evaluation of their situation cannot be underestimated. Only then can a clear picture of the situation for each group, and for women from those communities, emerge, and improvements pertinent to their particular history and present conditions begin to be found. Collecting disaggregated data does not require the existence of national ID cards stating religion or ethnicity and, as the survey conducted for this report shows, such material can be gathered anonymously.

We'll go over the report in greater detail in today's snapshot.

The following community sites -- plus Cindy Sheehan, On The Wilder Side, Susan's On The Edge, the White House, Michael Ratner, Michael Smith and Antiwar.com -- updated last night and this morning:

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