At the start of December, the Kurdistan regional capital of Erbil played host to the 2021 Kurdish Diaspora Conference.
This is a conference scheduled to take place every three years that aims to give a voice to Kurds around the world as they remain stateless, the largest group in the world to be without a nation state.
While such an event can easily fail to register with the outside world, this one managed to attract representatives from all four areas of Greater Kurdistan, with more than 150 representatives attending in total. These representatives, crucially, included leaders from all of these regions, suggesting that the conference might have some degree of impact among the wider Kurdish community.
These leaders included both the head of the KDP, President Barzani, and the Kurdistan Region’s prime minister, Masrour Barzani. The event was the first time that Kurdish representatives from around the world were all gathered in one place to discuss the way forward for Kurds, wherever they live. It provided an opportunity to speak about the issues that affect Kurdish communities both outside Kurdistan and within. What does this event mean for the wider Kurdish Diaspora? Are there reasons to believe that it will result in action on their behalf? While many conferences of this type can sometimes seem as if they achieve little, there are reasons to be more hopeful with this one.
The geographical spread of the representatives is one reason. This was not a Kurdistan Region only event by any means, which is crucial when members of the Kurdish Diaspora may have ties to any corner of Kurdistan’s fractured area. Historically, Kurdistan spread across areas of what is now Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, with the creation of these countries largely due to the power struggles between Western countries in the 1910s and 20s. The political spread is also important.
While President Barzani and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani were undoubtedly the key figures there, others were present from across the political spectrum, signifying a real willingness to represent Kurds across the world. President Barzani addressed the conference, and when he did so, he emphasised both that his overall hope for Kurdistan had not diminished, and that he remained committed to peaceful means of achieving it, emphasising that the “aims of the stateless nation of Kurds can be achieved both democratically and peacefully.” This will be a welcome message to many Kurds around the world, who will not have given up on the idea of one day enjoying their own nation state, but who have also seen too many times just how quickly efforts to achieve it have provoked a violent response.
In recent years, that has included the invasion of Kurdistan by Baghdad’s forces, the closure of Kurdistan’s borders by its neighbours, and the targeting of positions within the country by airstrikes. In the 1980s, the violence spilled over into full blown genocide. The recent history of the Middle East has also included a seemingly endless cycle of war that drew in nations from around the world, and which the world is determined not to repeat.
A commitment to the peaceful advancement towards Kurdistan’s independence is vital, to avoid perpetuating that cycle of violence. Whether the conference pushes the world closer to that goal remains to be seen. It takes the important step, however, of trying to unify the different facets of the Kurdish Diaspora behind that cause, and of creating a forum in which they can work together to advance it. In stressing the need for peaceful, democratic means, President Barzani has also attempt to emphasise the elements that will be most palatable to Kurdistan’s international partners. Crucially, this is an event that looks to the future. In the wake of the last few years, it would be easy to fall into a pattern of regrouping and consolidation, just trying to hold onto what has already been achieved. This conference suggests a continued drive towards eventual nationhood, with an emphasis on including Kurds around the world in that ideal.
Clearly, no single conference can achieve that, but it potentially lays the groundwork for future efforts, and creates conditions for further discussions among groups that may not have opportunities to talk to one another otherwise. In that, the Kurdish Diaspora Conference was not just a success, but potentially made itself a crucial part of events for years to come.
By Davan Yahya Khalil