By Ava Homa:
“It’s true that Kurds have a painful history,” said the Honourable Leyla Zana, “But I do believe it is much better to have a difficult yet dignified past rather than a violent and oppressive one. We won’t bring shame to our predecessors. Our enemies will.” That was a moment when the participants started their enthusiastic applause, making it hard to hear Ms. Zana’s final words. Of course, this brave woman who spent ten years in prison for having spoken the Kurdish language, presented her speech in Kurmanji and an interpreter translated her words into English.
Among many distinguished speakers and patrons, Leyla Zana seemed to be one of the most popular figures, impressing the majority by her very inspiring speech, humbleness, friendliness and her calm energy. Despite a difficult past, she was capable of hiding her suffering and generously offering smiles to everyone.
Such was the exciting and promising opening to the first World Kurdish Congress which was successfully held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, October 6-9, 2011. This conference was unique and productive in bringing together some of the Kurdish scholars and intellectuals from around the world and asking them to focus on the issue of Kurdistan and offer their proposals and suggestions. The setting, in addition, provided a great opportunity for the speakers and attendants to get to know each other in order to be able to further cooperate in building a strong nation: Kurdistan.
Another exceptional aspect of the conference was its interdisciplinary nature. The speeches concentrated on various aspects of Kurdistan: culture, psychology, politics, medicine, business, economy and so on. The speakers presented their researches, results and their suggestion as to how to improve different aspects of life in Kurdistan. The speakers had travelled from different continents: Canada and States, Asia, Sweden, Germany and various European cities, as well as Southern and Northern Kurdistan. Some courteous Kurdish students in the Netherlands acted as volunteers to help organize the event.
Despite the hardships of long distance and cross-continental travelling, a majority of the speakers were present. Students and general public attended the conference to listen to these speakers. Xoshink, a student of engineering from Sweden, live-streamed the conference online. It is noteworthy to mention that, given the considerable population of Kurdish Diaspora in Europe and in the Netherlands particularly, the turn out could have been much greater.
Many interesting ideas were brought up and discussed during the two-day conference and it is impossible to mention them all here. Amongst the richest ideas was the speech by Ms. Deborah Morgan-Jones. She was the one who introduced the idea of nation as a brand and emphasised the Kurdistan’s role in the world. Deborah mentioned that in addition to strengthening Kurdistan in terms of domestic affairs, it is important to be aware of its international role and develop it. Then she continued to elaborate on the analogy of nation as a brand by explaining how some brands are worth millions of dollars in the market. She stated that Kurdistan needs to realize how much it costs in the market, what the target market is and how to market itself better in the world. Ms. Deborah added that it is very important that Kurdistan be aware of the messages she sends out to the world and, in order to achieve a common goal, Kurds need to work together and have a powerful and unified voice.
Carol Prunhuber, one of the organizers of the conference, emphasised the same idea that Kurds need to find friends “other than the mountains” and have a unified voice. Ms. Prunhuber, who has published the biography of Dr. Ghassemlou, emphasised that most great Kurdish leaders including Ghassemlou would have been very happy to see the conference.
Achieving a unified voice is not easy however. On one hand, team work requires a culture that is not promoted and practiced in many developing countries including Kurdistan. This is ironical because our culture is collective as opposed to the West’s individualistic culture. Nonetheless, we do not find it easy to be flexible and sacrifice “my” interests for “our” interest. This is not hard to achieve, however, given that Kurds have had thousands of Peshmarga i.e. people who were ready to face death. Our history proves our unique ability to put a greater value on the interests of Kurdistan above our temporary benefits.
Certain types of arguments will continue to exist however, which won’t necessarily affect us negatively. As much as it is important to have a unified voice and send a powerful message to the outside world, it is important not to deny or hide our problems. For example, liberals will continue to criticize the situation and ask for improvements. Feminists believe that women’s situation in Kurdistan needs a lot more enhancement while the nationalists like to say that Kurdistan is progressive and women enjoy a lot of freedom. A similar argument occurred between the speakers. Leyla Zana, however, cleverly pointed out that “you are both right.” On one hand women’s rights are significantly improving in Kurdistan. Female genitalia mutilation and honour killings are criminalized in Kurdistan now and this news proves a significant progress. Having a police for women and building women’s shelters where women are taught different handicrafts are unique not just in Kurdistan and Iraq, but also in the entire Middle East. This does not mean, however, that feminists should not continue to ask for further developments. Nationalists need to make sure they do not suppress and silence the feminists and other liberals. Instead constructive critics should be cherished because such people ensure progress and their voice is a sign of a healthy and progressive country.
In sum, the WKC (World Kurdish Congress) was a successful and fresh experience. Since there is always room for improvement, the congress will continue to reform and develop itself. It is our duty as Kurds to appreciate and assist such events in order to empower ourselves. For further information please visit www.KurdishCongress.com.