A few hours before the Turkish elections, which have seen the Kurdish component taking an active role, we met Rezan Kader, high representative in Italy of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. She was born in Sulaymaniyah, considered the cultural capital of Kurdistan. In the eighties, she took an active role in the student demonstration for the respect of human rights in the region; but then, due to the intensification of the persecution and torture by the Baathist regime against the student movement, she was forced to leave her country. She was a political refugee in France, and then moved to Italy to enroll to the Faculty of Medicine. Since 1988, she is the representative of the Kurdish Women in Italy.
What do you think about the results of the Turkish elections?
“They have been fundamental. When people participate in the growth of a country and you get concrete answers, then you are on the right way to achieve peace through dialogue. We’re happy with the results, they are the symbol of a free democratic expression, and of a healthy coexistence. Therefore I wish a good job to the new deputies. ”
How is the relationship between Kurdistan and Italy?
“It dates back to years ago. It’s a very warm and friendly relationship, but also collaborative. Italy is one of those countries that has always been close to the Kurdish people, it’s always been interested in what was happening in our country. It is certainly not one of those countries that sold chemical weapons or other weapons that could be used against our people. It also participated, along with other allies, to the fall of Saddam Houssein in 2003, what we call the ‘liberation’. We do not forget that in 1988 he bombed us with chemical weapons, causing 5,000 deaths. From that moment on, Italy has never left the Kurdish people alone.”
Now there is a new enemy …
Dā’ish, what you call Isis. It is a worldwide terrorist organization, which is dangerous for all humanity. As a people, as a government, as peshmerga, we are the first to face this new tyrant, and Italy again is taking an active role. Starting from humanitarian aid, and ending with military support. I have to thank Italy, for President Renzi was the first prime minister who travelled to Kurdistan on August 14th. He met all the Kurdish political authorities and visited the refugee camps too. After him, the other countries did the same.”
In post-Saddam Iraq a political operation has been attempted – it was supposed to last, to bring together the various existing souls and make them become one for the good governance of the country. But then it faded away. Would you like to talk about it?
“The political choice of the Obama administration to retire the military contingent from Iraq – even though we had asked them not to leave our territory – was a premature choice, because the country was still in a situation of political and military instability. This has damaged the process of stabilization of our country. Moreover, we have to take into account the weakness of the governments settled over the years. We, Kurds, have insisted that everyone of us would be represented, because you cannot start a project if only a part of it commands over the others. We wanted equality, and for this reason we massively contributed to the reconstruction of Iraq. In 1992, we already cleaned up and put Kurdistan back on his feet, while the rest of the territories were still destroyed. We elected a government, a parliament, ministers, a president. There were no airports and we built five, there was only one university but today we have twenty. We started to reform the school system, it is the starting point.”
This is Kurdistan’s situation, but returning to Iraq: what is the situation now?
“About 88% of citizens voted for a new constitution, we are a federal country. And this is the starting point of a new project, which works for the total reconstruction of the country. But not everything worked out: taking away the power from Sunnis who held it for 40 years and giving it to the Shiites who were not able to use it; the illness of President Talabani, the mismanagement of Nuri al-Maliki – these are the elements that have led to the arrival of Dā’ish. What is certain is that if you do not pay attention to some parts of the people, they are going to rise; and at that time in this condition these parts were the Sunnis. ”
About Isis, after what happened in Mosul, you found yourself having to deal with a flood of Christians and Yazidi refugees. How did your people react to such a sudden arrival of thousands of people?
“Christians could not turn to anyone because they were surrounded, they have been thrown to the Kurdistan, dispossessed of all their goods. But for us there is no difference between Yazidi, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians. We never asked ‘who is your neighbour?’, ‘What religion do you belong to?’ In our country churches and mosques have always lived together, in peace. And the civil coexistence of all ethnic groups is the basis of our culture. That’s why when the refugees arrived we immediately thought to put them in safe, transporting them to the centre of the capital, in places safer than the refugee camps along the border – as we had done previously with 700,000 Syrians – because we knew what Dā’ish wanted to do.
The Kurdish people have suffered a lot, and do not forget. We ourselves once were refugees, bombarded, persecuted. So we know very well the suffering. Many families have opened their door; who had a bed hosted a person, Christian or Yazidi who it was. All government offices, schools, have been placed at their disposal. Sure, the room is still provisional: the hope is to have them back to their homes, but it will take time. We would also be able to quickly regain those villages, but they are all mine. We need an accurate operation of bonifica, which can be made only in the presence of conditions other than the current “.
What is your relationship with the Vatican?
“Great. We have to thank Pope Francis for his worldwide appeal in favour of the Kurdish people. It never happened before that the Holy See exposed itself with such firmness in defence of an oppressed people, especially of persecuted Christian fellows. After the message the world is shaken. Christians in the Middle East are true Christians, those who defended the crucifix with all their strength, leaving all they had to not submit to Dā’ish, who wanted them to convert to Islam.”
What is your personal relationship with religion?
“I’m a believer. And I think that in any house of God everyone is welcome in. God listens to everyone. It is sufficient to be honest and to not make religion a tool for offence, but a way of life. Personally I consider myself a faithful person to the Lord, and when I feel distressed I go to church. ”
And with the various ethnic groups?
“I have always lived in peace with everyone; in Kurdistan there have never been any problem. When I was a little girl, I didn’t even know what it meant to be Sunni or Shia, I’m not joking … There was no difference; for me the others were just people, neighbours. ”
You are a woman. How does Kurdistan look at women’s world?
“Our people have always been very liberal, and the woman has always had an important role. Centuries ago it was the woman who governed the country, and today in the Parliament of Kurdistan there are many more women – 30% – than in other foreign countries, including Western ones. And this without the need for quotas”.
How is the relationship between Turkey and Iran?
“With our neighbours we have very cordial relations. For us it is important, everything starts from the respect we have for the other nations, ethnic groups or cultures. We passed some old misunderstandings, we have involved them in the reconstruction (Turkish companies have been the first ones to start to rebuild Kurdistan with us). We do not interfere in their affairs, and certainly we do not allow anyone to interfere in ours. Following this consideration, I do not comment on the decision of Turkey not to expose themselves against Dā’ish; these are the internal decisions of a sovereign country, it is not our business”.
One of the thorniest domestic problems between the Iraqi central government and the Kurds is the issue of the exploitation of oil resources. Could you explain the current situation?
“In the new constitution of Iraq there are parts that also speak of this matter, and those who know us know that we have done all that is in line with what is written in the Fundamental Charter. The controversies are wrong, then. And if Iraq is suffering because it denies the fact that Kurdistan has grown economically and culturally, it is not our problem. The earned money was used to stand up again, the rest of Iraq did not do the same thing. Baghdad was called the Paris of the Middle East, today it is still destroyed, people go hungry. But we have participated in the post-Saddam government, we have sought dialogue and cooperation, we have always been available, we have contributed to the reconstruction, but now we cannot let Iraq make us go back again. Today we are even better than Dubai; if you want to walk with us it’s ok, but you have to move. If from the other side we do not get answers, we cannot do anything. ”
The question of the oil is not the only one open, internally. Isis is creating additional barriers … Why?
“Iraq has bought weapons for a long time. While we were warning the West of the danger of Dā’ish, the central government was accumulating an arsenal. Eventually we realized that these weapons, by chance, a week before the jihadists attacked Kurdistan, had been taken to Mosul. That’s not all. While we were waiting for the money that the central government had to give us, in Mosul the money of a whole year arrived all together. Again, two days before the attack. Those weapons and that money, where are they? ”
How do you see the future of your country?
“We want to remain in a united Iraq, but if we are not allowed to grow up and live in peace, we cannot let someone bring us back in pain, blood, destruction. Today Iraq has taken away the bread from the mouth of the Kurdish people, our peshmerga have been without salary for about a year. The Kurdistan Regional Government cannot provide to 2 million refugees, 6 million citizens and then beg for resources from central government. The Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said that if Baghdad fails to comply with the agreements, 17% of the national budget (on paper, because in reality it’s down to 11%; however, that money does not arrive), the KRG will be forced to find other solutions, such as an economic division to ensure the necessary budget. We would like to remain in a united country, but if we are forced to govern the country on our own, it does not make sense to stay Iraq”.
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo