image Diary of Kurdistan -Day 2

Conference Day – December 13, 2016 -Highlights

(Note: Simultaneous translation in English was provided, and I took notes as best I could… However, in literal translation, the actual meaning of a statement may not be reflected… It is for this reason that I have included quotes and information that appears on the Conference’s catalog.)

The Conference opened at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, December 13 with speeches by H.E. Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Reasearch, Dr.Yusuf Goran and  H.E. Prime Minister of KRG, Mr. Nechirvan Barzani. The keynote speech was given by   Mr.Harry Van Bommel, M.P., Netherlands (Prime Minister Nerchivan Barzani’s speech can be found here)

The tone of the conference was marked by the opening statements of the  Kurdish Ministers; Dr.Goran,  brought to light  the recent celebration of Islam’s  Prophet Mohammed’s  birthday (December 11-12)  as an opportunity to transmit “God’s message to mankind…mercy,”  He noted how the “Kurdish Peshmerga, (fighters) with the assistance of allied forces, were resisting the advances of ISIS in the region, denouncing the terrorists’ ideology as an affront to all mankind… He spoke of   the message of Islam a “culture of forgiveness and mercy,” and  called for peace for all religions…Terrorists are against the peaceful  association of diverse communities. “Terrorists are a threat to the Region, a threat to the world.” He explained the conference was  organized  not only for open discussion but also  for  recommendations for security…

The Kurdistan Experience: Prime Minister Barzani  described the importance of the conference for Kurdistan. In Kurdish soil,  different religions co-exist, combating the  ISIS terrorist ideology.  The Prime Minister recalled the Peshmerga Martyrs who died defending the Region. He spoke of  religious and ethnic components.   “Kurdistan is home to all different components, a country for all religions…, …a country, demonstrating brotherly tolerance, …a rare example in the world.” He also spoke of the  atrocities and hardships endured by many  in  Iraq and  of those who were forced to flee  their lands and homes to find peace in the Kurdistan Region.   He spoke of the “successful experience in co-existence” that Kurdistan has shown the world…”the darkness of terror,  the genocide inflicted on Kurds, Yezidis, Christians, brothers and sisters… For Kurdistan can be a haven for all nationalities,  to live free from discrimination…”   He added that Kurdistan will not let her thousands and thousands’ year old culture…be destroyed. He cautioned that the liberation of Mosul may be easier than  governing the city  and expressed the importance of including all ethnic groups in any agreement. He also emphasized that ISIS  State is an “empty dream…” with its followers powerless to maintain any authority… leading sooner or later to its demise…in a  matter of time…  It was… Al Qaeda yesterday,  ISIS  today. And tomorrow, another group may/will appear…In coordination with the international community we must address this evil ideology and promote a culture of modernity, life, liberty opposite their agenda…” He concluded his message by calling on the Islamic Religious Leaders to help promote diversity, cultural tolerance and religious freedom…from early childhood to University… He also mentioned the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday in early December and the upcoming celebration of Christmas…

In Keynote Speaker Dutch  M.P. Harry Van Bommel’s  position summary (as it appears in the conference’s catalog) notes  of  the  defeat of ISIS, and the  repercussions and challenges for the Region,  questioning whether the  Kurds should rely on their own security or on the central Government in Baghdad?… It also cites a  “reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites…which can be achieved through mediation, dialogue, mass communication and education;”  the need to increase development of “housing, healthcare,.. political participation and gender equality; the importance of a critical media…and changes in education,…to help reduce the risk of radicalization…”

Mr.Van Bommel  refers in his opening remarks  to living in a  “global village…”  noting the works of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish Dutch philosopher,…pointing to his writings on political freedom…and quoting, “The world would be happier if men had the same capacity to be silent that they have to speak.” ( According to Wikipedia… “On the Chair’s table in the Dutch Parliament, Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus is one of three books thought to be most representative of the beliefs and ethics of the Dutch people; the other two are the Bible and the Quran“)

Mr.Van Bommel speaks of Kurdistan as an example of an inclusive and diverse society and the obstacles it faces : tensions with the central government in Baghdad and ISIS,  the refugee and missing persons’ cases ..(something, he admits,  the UN has failed to properly fund)…He calls for resolving , in the name of human rights, the abuses, repression, terrorism in the region, which he labels “higher than anywhere else in the world.” In conclusion, Van Bommel advocates for a “truth and reconciliation committee as in South Africa”  with HQ in The Hague, to bring  some type of closure/accountability to the parties involved…. He speaks of the mass graves and the need for transparency in Iraq and Kurdistan…  He points to  the liberation of Mosul  and its consequences..and concludes by stating that the fight against ISIS is a priority…what happens now will shape the future…

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Highlights – Panels 

The Ethnic and Religious differences and the experience of co-existence in Kurdistan Region.  

Moderated by Jaml Husseen  –

(editor-in-chief of many publications, anchorman, and current general director in the Ministry of Culture and Youth.) His position abstract delves on The Root Causes of Extremist Discourse…noting that  the  Salafi (orthodox) thought “[manifests] itself in its most evil and nefarious form… expanding and organizing itself without being deterred or impeded by the state authority…”

  • Panelists:
  • Dr. Kaml Kolo has worked on the question of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq, their social history, literature, culture, political role and their future… His position summary  notes   Congress and the European Parliament’s condemnation of ISIS/DAESH genocide against Christians and Yezidis and other religious minorities. “During 2007-2016 period the US, State Dept.and many others published hundreds of books and studies on the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in the ME, specifically in Iraq and later Syria…Yet the current situation stands as a sad witness to the total failure to protect their very existence…, …including the total expulsion from their ancestral homeland…The only safe haven for Christians is within Kurdistan…”
  • Dr. Rashad Sabri Miran, a lecturer at Salahadin University since 1993, he has written several books and articles on ethnography, religion and nationalism…His position summary states “the concept of co-existence as an unavoidable necessity …a complex and troublesome process…characterized sometimes by violence and the attempt of various ethnic, sectarian and religious groups to wipe out each other and establish their dominance over other groups…”
  • Peer Khider Sulaiman has been a member of the Kurdistan Government and a member of the Research Center of Yezidizs in Germany…His position summary as presented in the catalog notes that “Kurdistan is the cradle of civilization and historically has been a center for co-existence…  Yet,…the Yezidis have been subjected to 72 genocidal campaigns and asks that they too, like the Christian and Muslim neighbors, be allowed to perform their religious rituals…calling for changes in religious education  to acommodate  all religions…”

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  • The discussion  topics dealt with the changes in culture… which begin with the family. …Reducing the power of influence of established religions…not only on culture but politics and government…”If someone considers himself secular, he has to be respected”… References to the many facets of Islam…in politics, culture and way of life…and the historical changes…for example,  the French Revolution in the West doing away (by guillotine) of an absolute monarchy and a corrupt  feudal system…..”Learn from history, otherwise… repeating the same mistakes…Critical to study history…” The questions posed by some of the attendees (male and female)  dealt with human rights in the content of Islam, justice, equality …”All should be in service to other cultures…not speaking against Islam but against an “extremist” mentality..”

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Terror –  Legal and Cultural Solutions 

Moderated by Dr. Zimkam Ali Salim

  • Panelists:
  • Dr.Sacha Toperich, Senior Fellow and Director of the Mediterranean Basin Initiative at The Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. His position abstract in the catalog notes that “counter-terrorism institutional policies are a crucial segment in fighting terrorism. Legislation, enforcing strict rules against money laundering activities and the abuse of off shore accounts, are established to prevent the financing of terrorist organizations…Culture, in all its forms can contribute to combating terrorism…” Quoting President Franklin D. Roosevelt “Biggest Fear is Fear itself..” suggests the importance of “reaching out to our neighbors, first looking at our similarities in order to accept what we fear most, our differences.”
  • Dr. Ismail Besikci, is a Turkish scholar, sociologist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer. Mr.Besikci served 17 years in prison on “propaganda” charges for being supportive of the Kurdish population in Turkey. His position abstract in the catalog takes aim at ISIS attacks on Kurdistan and the Kurds claiming this war has “put a stop to the discussions on referendum and independence.”  For him, “countries controlling the Kurds and Kurdistan can provide clandestine support for such terrorist activities…,” and calls for a “culture of democracy…developing a secular lifestyle…The idea of the Islamic Umma (Muslim community of people) needs to be replaced with an understanding of society that centers around an individual.  The need to criticize the Arab, Turkish and Persian racism should be unavoidable.” Prime Minister Barzani mentions him at the end of his speech: “I would also like to especially welcome Mr. Ismail Besikci, who is present here today.  He has put a great deal of effort in defending Kurdish rights in Turkey; he has been jailed for this reason, and he still continues to defend Kurdish rights today.  On behalf of all participants in this conference, we welcome him, and it is an honor that he is here with us.”
  • Dr. Farooq Rafeeq , is the head of the House of Wisdom for philosophical inquiries and received his doctoral degree in Canada.  In his position abstract Dr. Rafeeq states that the “history of religious terrorism coincides with the history of political violence…” and as an example, he cites the reign of terror that came after the French Revolution… He emphasizes that religion, fear and terror share a long common history and are strongly linked…  “The theology of terror,” he defines as the “concept which marks the distinct lines if any, that exist within a particular religion that turn terror into a sacred religious norm…”

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  • In the discussion, history takes center stage when Dr. Besikci speaks of “the 1920’s, the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the third division of Kurdistan..” For him, “at the end of WWI there was a new system in the ME…there was no space for the Kurds…, (as well as after WWII) ” pointing the finger at two European colonial powers, France and Britain… He also brings attention to the role of the United Nations and their responsibility…and the international community’s reaction to the genocide perpetrated against the Kurds by Saddham Hussein….. Dr. Rafeeq expressed  ” this is not about forgiveness. Tolerance is not forgiveness…..”Political science cannot understand the theory of Religion… ,” in perspective with the French Revolution, the Nazis, the Russian experience…” this  theology of terror…” is “nothing new…the Islamist State (DAESH) terrorists come from very poor families, with no education..” Dr. Toperich  speaks of the  role of the Peshmerga, the strengthening of the judiciary and the rule of law and sooner or later the “question of independence will come up…”

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The experience of nations in confronting Terrorism

Moderator:Dr.Kanaan Hama Gharib

  • Panelists: Dr. William (Bill ) Wiley, Executive Director, Commission for International Justice and Accountability. As Mr.Wiley explains to the House of Commons, Canada, “What, then, is the CIJA? Stated succinctly, the CIJA is an international non-governmental organization with a mandate from its donors to undertake international criminal investigations in the midst of the ongoing conflicts. The CIJA’s investigations conform to the evidentiary standards applied within any international and western domestic criminal law jurisdiction. Our modus operandi reflects the CIJA senior leadership’s long experience gained in the service of international and hybrid courts as well as within domestic war crimes units such as that situated in our own country at the Department of Justice…”.
  • Dutch M. P. Harry Van Bommel ( see above-keynote speaker) 
  • Sharif Ahmed Al-Omari.  Mr. Al-Omari is the manager of the anti-extremism unit at the Ministry of Culture in Jordan, a member of the UN Development Program to develop a national strategy to deal with extremism and Chairman of the Steering Committee of the EU to support the efforts of the Hachemite Kingdom in the prevention of extremism. Mr. Al-Omari’s position abstract in the catalog claims that “in Jordan, efforts (to combat extremism) are driven by a total awareness of the dangers and the necessity of employing all necessary means to prevent its spread…”

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  • Dr. Wiley opened the discussion by explaining his organization’s work  to “build criminal cases for prosecution in the future…” What is the role of international justice?  To fight against the culture of impunity… Mr. Al-Omari spoke of the need  to coordinate efforts between the different governments, Ministries  and called for a change in the school curriculum for the education of young boys and the use of social media and networks to protect them. He pointed to the families of terrorists, sons and children in conflict zones who are raised by parents promoting, supporting a criminalized ideology… Mr. Van Bommel spoke of the Dutch experience, with 1 million Muslims ( a population of 17 million) , “a society where there is freedom of religion, of assembly , a tolerant country with  limits and the limit is the LAW. Culture  is more difficult…” to change …”Salafi Muslims advocate, preach hatred…and Dutch voters are vulnerable to anti-Islamic propaganda…” He noted “that it would be counterproductive to isolate a group in society- leading to dangerous situations…Born in the Netherlands, isolated, infected…we have to fight…”