the generations that lived through the early nineties in the kurdish north of iraq are digging their heels in. ‘i have fled my home in the 90s, i have crossed the iranian border; i have been there and i am not going there again’ recently explained a kurdish business man to me. he expressed what i had heard from many other people before: come hell or high water, the kurdish population will not move back this time.
‘there is too much to lose this time’
while at the beginning of the nineties and all the centuries before that the kurdish peshmerga have been fighting for recognition and autonomy/independence from the iraqi government under saddam hussein they, again and again, had to strategically repositioned their front lines’ (as a friend in the army recently translated this strategical move in: ‘get the f* out of there’) and flee into the mountains for shelter, this time, people say, things are different. and they are indeed, even on a less emotionalized, rational, on the ground based factual analysis. before the us/uk-forces shielded the kurdish territories from iraqi air borne attacks in the establishment of the no-fly-zone from 1990 to 2003, the kurdish people and peshmerga had no recognized claim to anything. they had been exactly at the same point like all the centuries before: battling for recognition but left without any support. and vulnerable to air led attacks, all they could claim for themselves was the shelter of the mountains.
by now, the cards have changed, not only is their federal region recognized by the iraqi constitution, but their large amount of autonomy has granted them the possibility to grow independently from baghdad and the rest of iraq. even now as the country is falling apart, the kurdish authority remains at an almost everyday business normality and additionally secured itself strategic territories like kirkuk and political capital from having worked with partners in both economic and political terms all over the world. and even with the winds swifting daily, changing from good news like the oil export to first austria and india and then, even after a direct threat from the maliki government, to israel, to bad news of contracts beeing suspended for a time when the political turmoil has passed or the lack of fuel for the kurdish population due to the taking of the biggest iraqi oil refinery by the isis, the attitude of people remains positive and optimistic. and if worse comes to worse, they say, ‘we will fight for everything we have here, for everything we fought for over decades. there is too much to lose now.’
at that it seems like the notion of ‘a nation in arms’ holds true for the kurdish people in iraq. with their long history of fighting, and even though the current generation of peshmerga has never been tested in direct combat, the determination of people not to give up the liberties their fathers and granfathers have bled for is clearly tangible. already today in erbil i saw people lining up, volunteering to be called in as a reserve for the peshmerga, ‘just in case’, following the call of president barzani yesterday to stand up for their nation and declaring: “we are all peshmerga!”
it might be far fetched to already predict a positive outcome to the situation. realisitically, the cards can change at any moment and the situation remains tense. predictions range from the outcome being better if the isis manages to oust the shia government of baghdad, because kurdish people fear to be claimed for cooperating with (or at least not directly attacking) the isis from maliki and henceforth be bombed by the iraqi air forces, to a confrontation between the isis and peshmerga, or an intervention from either turkey or iran and even other actors. but even with the situation being so unclear and complex and realities on the ground potentially changing daily, the kurdish people remain in a posture of iron determination: ‘we won’t leave. it is now or never. we are not going back!’
and as they say, beliefs can move mountains; why not have determination defend nations?