Kurdish conversation on ethnic conflict

Weekly Gulan Magazine 2013-01-21 (470px)This interview appeared in the Kurdish Weekly Gulan Magazine, published in Erbil, Iraq, on 21 January 2013. I know nothing about what was changed in the course of translation and editing, but here is the original interview in English.

 Q: Resolving ethnic conflict within multi-national states is no longer considered as a domestic problem of a particular state, but it is rather recognized as part of the international policy. The problem is that international community yet doesn’t have any clear policy for resolving the ethnic conflicts. According to your opinion; to what extent; suspension of the ethnic conflict problems unresolved may have impact on the international peace and security?

A: I think we should not expect the international community to have a general approach to ethnic conflict, since the nature of conflicts varies so much. For instance, some conflicts may have roots that are not related to ethnicity, but political leaders try to gather support around ethnic identities to increase their own power. If there is a growing hostility between groups, there is a bigger risk of conflicts emerging along ethnic or religious lines with terrible consequences. In order to prevent such conflict, we need societies and institutions that respect ethnic diversity, and political leaders who do not twist social and economic problems into a question of ethnicity.

Q: Within resolving ethnic conflicts, the international community so much complies by the old borders this is while many problems cannot be resolved within the old borders and within some cases it has resulted in massacre. In your view; how long international community is going to continue considering old borders as holy and sacred borders?

A: This is a very difficult issue, since there will even be disagreement on what are old and new borders. The wish to change today’s borders is sometimes justified as a return to original borders. For instance, this was part of Saddam Hussein’s justification of invading Kuwait. Many members of the international community are influenced by a concern over their own borders, and therefore prefer to leave things as they are. So, for instance, when Spain does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, unlike almost all the other EU countries, it is because the Spanish fear a dissolution of their own country if we start allowing for a change of borders.

Q: The ethnic conflicts that own a history of tension and severity, for now severity and refusing each other has become part of their social psychology. This is why even if peaceful agreements are made, but the societies will refuse each other. In your view; don’t you agree that trying to keep these different nations forcibly together may have risks of severity and violence to take place again?

A: The argument for keeping groups separate is very dangerous. First, if it is presented as a solution in one place, it can create violent pressure for the same solution elsewhere, with ethnic cleansing as the consequence. Second, there will always be ethnic minorities, even within an overall system of separation. If we present separation as the solution, we risk justifying oppression of minorities.

Q: Some ethnic and national conflicts exist which the only solution is to establish independent state just like, South Sudan, Kosovo, Bosnia and some others as well. It has been well experienced that independent state solves the problem. We would like to ask you in here; why unless genocide or mass murdering takes place international community doesn’t accept the only solution which is establishing independent state?

A: Unfortunately, the same examples could be used to illustrate the challenges of creating new states. For instance, there are persistent problems in relations between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority in Kosovo. In some cases, creating new states is the best option, but it is never a perfect solution.

Q: Currently there are some problems within Middle East which are the Kurdish question and Palestine problem which are to be resolved by independent states. The international community has decided independent state for Palestine but it doesn’t allow for the Kurdish question. In your view please; don’t you agree that holding this problem unresolved may become a factor for instability in the area?

A: Two conflicts are never the same, so we should be careful with comparisons. For instance, one important aspect of the Kurdish situation is that it concerns Kurdish people in four countries. Moreover, it concerns Kurds who live in areas that are completely dominated by Kurds, as well as Kurds who live in areas with a mixed population. Even if an independent Kurdish state was created in Northern Iraq, it would solve only part of the problem. A Kurdish state in Northern Iraq has to be based on good relations with Ankara, Tehran, Damascus and Baghdad, since it cannot isolate itself but will remain closely integrated with its neighbours. In considering the different ways forward, it is also relevant to learn from the experience of the Sami people, who live in the North of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. After a history of terrible oppression, they now have good institutions and regional collaboration across the four countries.

Q: Federalism is suggested for resolving ethnic and national problems, which cannot succeed without having a ground of democracy and liberalism. For example in a country like Iraq where democracy doesn’t exist, how federalism can resolve the ethnic and national conflicts?

A: I think it is not possible to say in general that federalism is good or bad. Lack of democracy is a fundamental problem regardless of whether a country is federal or not. Even when there is democracy, federalism does not solve any problem once and for all, but needs to be managed well over time. For instance, federalism is problematic in Belgium but works well in Switzerland, both of which are well-established democracies. In the Iraqi case, it is also important to remember that the Kurdish areas, with relative stability and prosperity, could have a lot to offer beyond its own borders.