Kurdistan can be a model for democracy in a troubled region

Were it not for the first Gulf War, Saddam would have wiped the Kurds off the map. Why doesn't the UN recognise his violence as genocide?

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Kurds straddle many borders in the region
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Robert Halfon MP
On 1 October 2011 13:05

After the Iraq war, it was often argued that the Middle East wasn’t “ready for democracy”. The Guardian for example implied this about Iraq in 2003.

But this is a nonsensical argument, as it seems to suggest that some people because of their background are not entitled to democracy, and the example of Kurdistan shows all too clearly how wrong this is.

The removal of Saddam Hussein not only saved the Kurds from being destroyed by genocide, but also brought about an independent, democratic and free nation in the shape of Kurdistan.

As Vice-Chair of the All-Party Group for Kurdistan, I have visited twice, and have seen firsthand the evidence of genocide. Despite regional instability, autonomous Kurdistan was established in 2003. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) makes its own laws, controls its own army, and decides its own pace of economic development.  In contrast to most other parts of Iraq, KRG is relatively terrorist-free.

Ultimately, a democracy can be judged by its respect for property rights, religious tolerance, the rule of law, equality towards women, equal access to education, a free press, and a vigorous political opposition.

It’s  worth looking at how far Kurdistan fulfills some of these criteria:

PROPERTY RIGHTS

The draft Kurdistan constitution (it's still a draft) includes several articles concerning the protection of minority, political and property rights. In Ankawa, the main Christian town in Erbil governorate, there is even special heritage protection for the property owned by the local community.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

The Kurdish regional parliament has now officially recognised the rights of other minorities such Turkmen, and Assyrians, and these are reflected in the electoral system.In fact, Kurdistan is one of the only safe-havens for Christians and Jews in the region.

Whilst Christians are being murdered and persecuted across Iraq and Iran, in Kurdistan they are welcomed.  The Kurdish President has even invited Christian refugees to take up safe haven in his region.

THE RULE OF LAW

Crime is very low compared to neighbouring Iraq, and the UK has helped the Kurdish Police authorities to build forensic skills, rather than relying the traditional “confession-based” policing. The Kurdish judiciary are independent, and have defended the right of free assembly during the Arab Spring.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

On women’s rights, the Kurdistan Parliament has recently passed tough laws against domestic violence. This made female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and child labour all criminal offences for the first time.

FREE ACCESS TO EDUCATION

As the Kurdish economy is booming, universities too are flourishing, and despite some set-backs there is a real focus on improving education. Illiteracy has fallen from thirty-seven to  to just sixteen percent since 2003, and is now at about the same level as London in 2011.

Kurdistan is a country that has learnt from the past, rather than living in it. Had Saddam stayed in power, it is likely that at some point, the rest of Kurdistan would have been covered with nerve gas - were it not for the first Iraq war and the creation of the Kurdish Safe Havens in 1991-2. (Saddam’s henchmen pledged to “bury them with bulldozers”.)

Some perpetrators of the genocide are even thought to be living in Europe, possibly even in England, having claimed asylum. Inexplicably, the genocide of the Kurds is not recognised as a genocide by the International Community, most notably  theUnited Nations.

For justice to be done, the UN must fully recognise the murder of the Kurds for the genocide that it was.

The Arab Spring shows that the Middle East is ready for democracy. Of course, it doesn’t mean that it will happen all at once, and there will  bemany upsets along the way. But the people of the Middle East are no different to anyone else. They want bread, but they want freedom also.

I will be making this case at Party Conference, alongside Nicholas Soames MP, Nadhim Zahawi MP, David Gardner, and Ms Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish High Representative to the UK. We will be at the Derby Suite of the Midland Hotel, Monday 2nd October, at 1pm. I very much hope to see you there.

Robert Halfon is the Member of Parliament for the UK Constituency of Harlow. He blogs at roberthalfon.blogspot.com and you can follow him on Twitter, too. 

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