21 October 2007

invited guest: Emmanuel Smague - Iraqi Kurdistan

Kurdistan: the largest ethnical group worldwide without a nation. 45 million inhabitants living in 5 countries : Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia (the Yezedi community).

I went to autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq in April 2006 for two reasons: first was to discuss a musical exchange project with the Kurdish minister of culture, and second to display a photo exhibit called « World Portraits » at the Arthur Rimbaud cultural center in the citadel of Erbil.
This region has been autonomous since the intervention of the coalition in 2003. Then of course, the Kurdish know that the Americans have not come for their sake but have been following their own agenda. Beside the oil stake, the United States have been planning to set up military bases in Kurdistan: Iran is close by.The Kurdish people thus have this opportunity of existing and opening themselves to the world. Some have been dreaming of a united Kurdistan, others would like to see Turkey join the European Union. If they were oppressed, the Kurdish also are a tough people. The civil war raging between the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) - two political parties now sharing power in the autonomous government - has come to an end, but tensions remain.

Following a music tour with a Breton band in November 2006, a tour welcomed enthusiastically by the population, I went back at the end of December by myself to take pictures. Along with a friend of mine who also is an interpreter, I went through refugee camps of Kurdish people who fled Turkey or Syria, through yet another one in the soccer stadium in Kirkuk, and finally through the martyred city of Halabjah. And there was much pain there, as each face showed suffering, the affliction over the loss of a family member. And everywhere the same complaint : " the government has not been doing anything for us".
On December 30th 2006, the execution of Saddam Hussein is played over and over on television : the tyrant is instantly turned into a martyr. Yet his mock trial felt like a mascarade to many. Even though all feel nostalgic over the former economic situation, none feels sorry for his death. Yet there has not been a frantic reaction: a feeling of frustration remains that he was not condemned for the wrongs he did unto the Kurdish population.

My last journey in December, 2006 has been particularly ached. This photographic work would have never come true without the presence of my friend interpret, who has been able to keep his cheerfulness and his humour, in spite of distressing visits.

A difficult return ... all the more so since last news are absolutely dramatic. Last month, peaceful Autonomous Kurdistan was under two deadly attacks in Erbil and in Makhmur : the referendum concerning the return of Kirkuk to Kurdistan, which would take place before the end of 2007 according to the disposition of the Iraqi constitution, risks to spread war to Kurdistan. Indeed, considering the Kurdish repopulation of this city (which had been arabized by Saddam), the referendum would end in this fastening. Now, Arabic and Turkmen oppose wildly to this. All the question is to know if the incomes of the petroleum of Kirkuk will be profitable to the federal State or to the Autonomous Kurdistan.
The risks of unrests in the Kurdistan are real and imminent if the Kurds do not give up to this referendum for a negotiated solution with the two other communities (Shiite and Sunnite) on the incomes of the oil of Kirkuk.
Indeed, if they do not give up to it, in view of the financial stake and the current balance of power, goodbye to peace; without talking about the fact that United States could, once again, leave them left to their own devices.
Ankara is afraid that the incorporation of Kirkuk into the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous zone may give to the latter sufficient financial means to proclaim its independence, a situation which could, according to the Turkish authorities, encourage the secessionism of the Kurds in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey threatens at the moment, more than ever, to intervene militarily if necessary.

Mr Barzani, current president of the autonomous Kurdistan refuses to put back the referendum, considering that there is "a kind of plot against the Kurds" to delay this consultation, planned to be held before the end of 2007.

text and photos © by Emmanuel Smague
invited by Marcin Górski

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