Today, he will be the center of attention. He will be the star of discussions and media screens. Opinions will be divided about the storm that he triggered.
Some people will say that the man chose the wrong time. Others will say that he was quick to reveal his real program and misjudge his neighbors’ calculations. There are those who believe that he is risking gains that cost the Kurds a heavy price, that he escaped a problem and fell into a bind, and that his intransigence would lead him into an imposed siege similar to what Yasser Arafat lived in his last days.
Others will say that the establishment of a Palestinian State, despite its difficulty, remains easier than founding a Kurdish state. His supporters will affirm that he is the guardian of the Kurdish dream and that at least this right is reinstated. Once again, reactions have highlighted the consensus that Kurds should not be allowed “to leave the prisons they were taken into a century ago.”
Masoud Barzani does not need anyone to remind him of the gravity of geography. He fell in its fire too soon. He was born in the summer of 1946, in the “Republic of Mahabad” declared by the Kurds on Iranian soil.
His father, Mullah Mustafa, was the commander of the armed forces in that republic, which disappeared before it blew out its first candle. Mullah Mustafa will leave the defeated land of the republic with hundreds of gunmen. They will walk hundreds of days before reaching Armenia in the Soviet Union following clashes with Iranian and Turkish border patrols. In Iraq, Masoud will wait 11 years to see his father return at the end of the Iraqi revolution in 1958.
Masoud graduated from Al-Mararat School. In 1970, he was next to his father, who asked him to welcome a young man from Baghdad. His name was Saddam Hussein. He was a deputy at that time. The visit ended with the March 1970 statement that gave the Kurds autonomy. However, the wedding will not last long.
The following year, Mullah Mustafa received a delegation from Baghdad. Suddenly the delegation exploded and many were killed and injured. Mullah Mustafa survived as a tea distributor was standing between him and the bomb that was planted around a visitor’s waist.
Under Khomeini, Iran once backed Kurds, and now ditches them as Tehran is so involved in Baghdad and its decision-making processGhassan Charbel
Another lesson in geography
In 1975, the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein signed the Algiers Agreement as a result of efforts exerted by Henry Kissinger. Tehran stopped its support for the Kurds. Consequently, their revolution collapsed and the horrors of their tragedies unfolded. When Mullah Mustafa died, defeated in his American exile, Masoud had no choice but to find him a temporary grave in Iran until he is returned to his hometown.
The world after World War I issued a harsh verdict on the Kurds. It distributed them into four countries: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Since then, the Kurds have been in the custody of the Geography Court.
Past experiences show that historical judgments are reversible. They can also be revised or corrected. However, geographic provisions do not budge. The four countries differ on many issues, but they all agree on their rejection of the establishment of an independent Kurdish State. Developments witnessed over the past decades have been very significant. Even though the rulers have changed in these four countries, their policy towards the Kurds’ dream remains unaffected.
Everything is possible, but not for the Kurds. There is an irony in this context. A ruler may support the Kurds in a neighboring state and use them to weaken the regime under which they live. His understanding of the injustice they face there has never affected his rejection to any serious change in the situation of the Kurds living in his own country.
Iran, under Shah’s term, supported Iraq’s Kurds against Saddam’s regime; then it abandoned them. Under Khomeini’s rule, Iran has once again backed the Kurds, and now it ditches them because Tehran has become so present in Baghdad and its decision-making process.
Tehran has also supported the PKK to weaken Turkey, but it does not show any tolerance towards the aspirations of Iranian Kurds. Syria, under Hafez al-Assad, backed Iraq’s Kurds and the Ocalan Party to enfeeble Saddam and Turkey, then it abandoned them. Now Bashar al-Assad is preparing to face a not-so-simple confrontation with the Kurds.
Years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Erbil that the time when the existence of the Kurds could have been denied was gone. But Turkey does not tolerate its own Kurds, whether its president was General Kenan Evren or Erdogan
Reassuring the capitals
Over a quarter of a century, Barzani tried to reassure Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, saying that the experience of Iraq’s Kurdistan is not a model to be spread in other countries.
He advised these countries to improve the situation of the Kurds, who are residing in their territories. He encouraged Erdogan to open the door of dialogue with a prisoner named Abdullah Ocalan. But time showed that the four countries were unable to accept the minimum required by the Kurds to get rid of the feeling of injustice and move forward.
Whenever a Kurdish leader utters the word “independence”, the line of earthquakes shakes. The Geography Court wakes up to remind the Kurds of the verdict handed down to them.
Iran has sent Qassem Soleimani to advise the Kurds and later to warn them. It then closed its airspace to Iraqi Kurdistan flights. This was preceded by Iranian military maneuvers along the region’s borders. Turkey extended its army’s mandate to carry out operations outside the borders and Barzani heard the echo of Turkish army maneuvers.
However, this time, the international community is sympathizing with Baghdad rather than the Kurds. The United States and Western countries are keen not to divert attention from the war on ISIS. They are also keen not to threaten the chances of Haider Al-Abadi to stay in office after the parliamentary elections next spring.
Barzani does not need to be reminded of the gravity of geography. But he refuses to back down, perhaps because he has given up the hope of an understanding with Baghdad and he has had enough listening to the advice from international doctors. Perhaps he wants to re-install the right to independence for the new generations of Kurds and for the new generations of world rulers.
It is a crisis of components within Iraq, a crisis of components within the terrible Middle East. Persians have their own state. Turks have their own state. Arabs have their own countries. However, more than 30 million Kurds live without a state. Whenever a leader utters the word independence, he shakes the line of earthquakes.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Ghassan Charbel is the Editor-in-Chief of London-based Al Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ghassan's Twitter handle is @GhasanCharbel.