Nechirvan Barzani was recently sworn in as Kurdistan’s new president, and already he is a beacon of light, spreading peace, toleration and harmony throughout the region.
After being sworn in, he visited Baghdad and met the Iraqi prime minister. Afterward, he was invited to Turkey and France, where he was welcomed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Emmanuel Macron as Kurdistan’s leader.
One of his main objectives as president is to promote inter-faith dialogue, positive relations with his neighbors and minority rights within his own borders. For this reason, the minorities of Kurdistan are greatly pleased that he was recently sworn in, believing that his presidency increases the likelihood that they will continue to be treated fairly in Kurdistan and that he can serve as a positive example for other nations in the Middle East.
Muna Qahwachi, Kurdistan’s parliamentary president and a member of the Turkman community, proclaimed in an exclusive interview that “when Article 5 was passed in the Kurdistan Parliament in 2015, all of the wishes and desires of the minorities were addressed in this article. For this reason, we voted for President Nechirvan Barzani to emphasize to the people of Kurdistan that we trust President Barzani. We believe that his platform for the presidency over the next four years includes minority rights for Turkmen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Yazidis and all other groups. As a Turkman, woman and the president of the Kurdistan Parliament, we as Turkmen and other minorities got many positions in the new KRG cabinet and this can serve as a model regarding the treatment of minorities in other parts of Iraq. Barzani is famous for peaceful coexistence.”
When Mr. Barzani was prime minister, he established a special office to rescue Yazidis. According to official figures from the Kurdistan Regional government, since 2014, more than 3,340 Yazidis have been liberated from ISIS captivity since he opened the office to rescue Yazidis. While it is true that ISIS kidnapped 6,417 Yazidis and 2,992 of them remain missing, Yazidis can rest assured that Kurdistan’s new president will not rest until all of the Yazidis are rescued from ISIS captivity.
Mr. Barzani has done everything in his power to incorporate minorities into Kurdish life. In fact, he considers Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslim faiths to be such an integral part of Kurdistan that he refuses to describe them as minorities. According to his Media Office, Mr. Barzani proclaimed: “The components that live in the Kurdistan Region are not minorities but are authentic components and have deep historical roots in this country.”
Hussein Qaidi, the director of the Office of Rescuing Kidnapped Yazidis, stated in an exclusive interview: “The Kurdish Democratic Party changed their name in 1953 to the Kurdistan Democratic Party because the Kurdish leadership saw that it was better to write Kurdistan so they can have all the areas inhabited by Christians, Jews, Yezidis and members of other non-Muslim faiths united with them. There are also non-Kurdish ethnic groups such as Turkmen and Arabs who live within Kurdistan. These groups are not subjected to bigotry and are not deprived of their rights within Kurdistan.”
After all of the suffering that ISIS inflicted upon non-Muslim faiths in Iraq, many Iraqi Christians and Yezidis feel that they have no one to turn to but the Kurds. In recent days, Iraq launched another offensive against ISIS, which is said to be the largest since the Mosul operation. ISIS is attempting to start an insurgency in Iraq and the Iraqi forces are divided internally, thus making it more difficult to combat the murderous terror group. This reality is making many Iraqi Christians feel nervous and prompts them to want to stay in Kurdistan rather than returning to their ancestral homes in other areas of Iraq.
Given the grave atrocities committed against minorities in other areas of Iraq in recent years, only the Kurds united under the leadership of President Nechirvan Barzani are capable of fully protecting Iraq’s non-Muslim communities. This is why the minority communities in Kurdistan voted for him. And this is why his presidential victory should also be viewed as a victory for the minority communities in Iraq.
For indeed, at long last, the minorities have one small area in Iraq where they can feel safe and secure, free to practice their faith and to follow the traditions of their ancestors without fearing for their lives. However, at the same time, by autonomously controlling a region that grants minorities basic human rights, President Barzani can serve as an inspiration for the numerous totalitarian dictatorships in the region that oppress minorities. He can show them that it is actually possible to have a region in the Muslim Middle East which is democratic and grants its people minority rights, women’s rights, gay rights and other basic freedoms.
• Rachel Avraham, a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, is the author of “Women and Jihad.”