Knowing Their Own Story, Self Governing Kurds in Iraq Have Been An Oasis Of Stability And Provided Sanctuary For Persecuted Minorities
In 1991 John Major’s Government intervened in Iraq, established a no fly zone, stopped a Genocide, and paved the way for Kurdish regional government . Today, at the Kurdish Regional Parliament, I met the Kurdish Speaker, Rewaz Faye Hussein and her Deputy, Mr.Hawarmi.
At a time when liberal interventionism is so despised, it is worth recalling that following Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons attacks in 1988 at Halabja – killing at least 5000 people – the 1991 UN Security Council Resolution 688 enabled the no-fly zone which protected the Kurds for 12 years.
The Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal subsequently defined Halabja as a genocidal massacre. It constituted the largest ever chemical attack on a civilian population.
Two million Kurds had fled to the mountains to escape Saddam Hussein’s aerial bombardment. But, thanks to international intervention the Kurds survived Saddam’s genocidal campaign and returned home to establish today’s flourish democracy and, in Irbil, a place of safety Yazidis, Christians and other minorities fleeing ISIS.
Madam Speaker Rewaz Faye Hussein told me that unlike the monochrome ideology of ISIS “ we welcome difference in our region.
This shows the beauty of our region and our Parliament, with members from the Turkmen, Christian and Armenian minorities reflects this welcome of difference. We have enshrined the rights and culture of minorities in law.”
Deputy Speaker Hawarmi, who comes from Halabja,reinforced her message stating that tolerance and mutual respect had to “become deep rooted, part of genes.”
Challenges such as the confiscation of property owned by minorities and the upholding of education in languages such as Syriac had to be entrenched.
Later at Irbil’s unique new not-for-profit Catholic university – which provides funded education for all, regardless of background – including 12 new scholarships for Yazidis – I saw a wonderful sign of hope.
CUE’s Chancellor, Professor Dr. Almaleh, whose early jobs were in Liverpool universities – unashamedly says their mission is to form “Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow’”.
Working with a new hospital they will develop a medical school, research projects and a life long learning centre. The university’s mantra is “we have survived, now we want to thrive.”
Today I also met some of the spiritual leaders of the ancient churches, heard their stories of acute persecution and loss – especially in the city of Mosul, stripped bare of its minorities – but also saw signs of hope.
Bishop Nicodemus, Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Mosul, told me “ISIS destroyers our homes, our churches, our monasteries, our dignity. They destroyed everything. But failed to destroy the faith that is in our hearts. Few of our families have been able to go back, because the spirit of ISIS is still in Mosul.”
But Nicodemus refuses to be crushed. He is building a kindergarten and school: “We cannot predict the future but we must work like we will be here forever.”
The Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs, Chaldeans and Yazidis all have suffering, pain and betrayal in their life blood. But they also have an indomitable spirit and you cannot encounter them without hoping that the future- with international support- will help their peoples create a respectful and diverse society which is the antidote to the visceral hatred offered by the ideology of ISIS.