Obituary for Mullah Mustafa Barzani's wife, Lady Hamael Mahmoud Agha Zebari
Oh Mother Kurdistan!
by Anton Keller, Secretary, Good Offices Group of European Lawmakers - +4122-7400362 -
url: ¦ .../barzanilegacy.htm ¦ .../iraqsecurity.htm ¦ .../youth.htm

You have not made it - so far - into Wikipedia. And I couldn't even find a decent picture of yours either. All the while your son, to whom you gave birth in Mahabad, tellingly misses no opportunity to have his picture appear in the press. Which, of course, assures him a place in the archives of those newspapers which have survived. But on his current track, I cannot see him ever coming close to the permanent memory and place in the hearts of the Kurds everywhere, which you, as Mother Kurdistan, share with the valiant Mullah Mustafa Barzani. Indeed, when looking at the Kurd's obligeing political, social and religious legacy which goes way back to Saladin and beyond, one can hardly be content with the current leadership. For while it is seen to ride on the respect for historical figures like Sheik Mahmoud Al-Hafeed, and draws legitimacy from past struggles and achievements made under difficult circumstances by your legendary husband and yourself, it has yet to make its mark, act on the level, and rise to the opportunities at hand. This has become visible even to the naked eye of any benevolent observer from abroad, and it is further evidenced by the people's growing dissatifaction with the governing institutions and practices. Indeed, the power-holders - whether for real or for tactical gain will be seen sooner rather than later - have already been forced to publicly admit as justified numerous, even radical criticisms and demands voiced by an increasingly disillusioned and distrustful Kurdish youth. These include critics and demands which - I'm sure - your husband and your forefathers would have been the first to fully subscribe to - and to effectively heed and enforce them. And on which both you and your son would have been more decisively supportive if only either of you would not have been kept in the dark by all too many self-serving yes-men, reckless relatives, and myopic perk-holders attracted by the honey pot. In other words, there is still hope for things to change fundamentally - and rapidly so!

Change in which direction and with which legacy-compatible vehicles?
Oh Mother Kurdistan! You are quoted by a long-time common comrade-in-arms against Saddam, Iraq President Jalal Talabani, to have passed the torch of the struggle for freedom, national identity and independence to him and to your son by pleading with him: "As two of my sons, I ask you to work hand in hand to make the Kurdish revolution a success and achieve the Kurdish nation's dreams." You were not present when I met both of them in 1992 in Salahuddin and Shaqlawa respectively - on a US-inspired mission "to assist the Kurds" and equipped with only my own resources and some recently re-discovered fundamental documents of potential key importance. But the spirit thus expressed and guiding our discussions clearly reflected the legacy of both Sheik Mahmoud and Mullah Mustafa, i.e. a spirit which I understand you have incarnated all your life.

But before delving into this conceived legacy and its possible current and future significance and application, I may be allowed to clarify a few things and thus shed potentially divisive misunderstandings which, on the surface of things and unintentionally, may even be enhanced by some of the above remarks. As a matter of fact, in recent history at least, I think most Kurds and their brothers and brethren nearby and afar have suffered from foreign agenda pushers in and outside of their own ranks. Following my own principles, I have thus decided at the outset of my efforts, i.e. some 20 years ago, not to play to any tune which appears at odds with my own insights and convictions, not to curry any favor from any source which might delay or jeopardize the achievement of the set objectives, and not to remain silent or passive when faced with unhelpful developments. Accordingly, I have repeatedly spoken up at the UN in Geneva - the last time at the Halabja commemoration on March 18, 2011. I have participated in the preparations for the dialogue meetings organised by the Turkish think tank Ekopolitik. But I have found it inappropriate to ignore or paste over the unhelpful developments surrounding the muted, if not deliberately sabotaged Shaqlawa conciliation meeting of end of this May.

To be sure, on closer analysis, I find some of the student leaders' demands ill-considered, equally unhelpful and at least not conducive to lasting solutions. Naturally, I have said so in several meetings with them - and in no uncertain terms. And while I am too old to engage in unhelpful flatteries and unfounded kudos, I'm still young enough to call a spade a spade. Thus, when the situation arose, I've never been known for not speaking my mind and taking what some say to be deep-draught, well-moored and principled stands - even lonely ones running against the grain - vis-à-vis the powers that be anywhere. I have thus also unmistakably demonstrated my support for what I consider to be reasonable and justified claims voiced notably by the younger Kurdish generation and their colleagues from other affected ethnicities. And when I run across serious indications of poison gas use for putting down the rebellion of Sheik Mahmoud in the early twenties, I have not flinched from publishing the available information, and I haven't stopped drawing the parallels between the atrocities committed at Halabja under Saddam by his handiman Chemical Ali on the one hand, and on the other the bombing of Sulaymaniyah before and on August 16, 1923 by British pilots, as ordered by their masters, not excluding the generally revered Winston Churchill.

Oh Mother Kurdistan, some of your sons still badly fool - most of all - themselves!
Furthermore, even though I have been raised in Switzerland and have over 40 years of parliamentary experience, I have come to the deeply-rooted conviction that true leadership and statesmanship is primarily a matter of personal modesty, honesty, solidarity and genuine consultation among all concerned - much like what great tribe leaders were, have been and will be all about. Rather than what mere majority - and falsly labelled "democratic" - decisions can provide. Moreover, in any basically top-down tribal society, financial transactions with community leaders should not be confused with what goes as corruption in Western society. That said, nevertheless, I would find it rather not on the level if a leader of either an ethnic or any political tribe were so ill-advised as to place and keep substantial sums under his/her control in Swiss banks and, worse yet, leave it in denominations seen as growingly MMM (monopoly monkey money). And in the event, I'd be even less understanding and tolerant for government-inspired or -instigated actions against civilians which are in violation of the principle of the sanctity of life. As has notably been the case of the murder of Sardasht Osman (journalist) and a number of protesting students, not to speak of a number of long-time comrades-in-arms of mine, including the contracted sniper-murder of Salah Jmor and the still unresolved kidnapping of Sheik Salar Al-Hafeed's son Sarwar.

By the same token, basically I admit that every one is always acting as best as he can under any given circumstance. But that also puts a definite limit to the level of genuine responsibility one can legitimately and lastingly ascend to - as the case of Mubarak and other former or still clinging-on power holders graphically illustrates for everybody concerned. And while I thus quite naturally extend the benefit of doubt to every one - unless proven guilty in a genuinely independent court of law -, that principle comes at a high price, reflecting further principles which are fundamental to every society which aspires to reach stability, progress and welfare for all of its citizens: No evil-doer can escape the ultimate, the divine judgement. And in line with best time-tested Kurdish traditions, no murderer or kidnapper - regardless of whether he now enjoys the immunity associated with high positions or hides in caves - can expect clemency, peace of mind, respect & self-respect, and a return to good health, unless he voluntarily and truly comes clean while he still can seek forgiveness from the bereaved families. This Kurdish tradition is reflected in Amarna Tablet EA 401, attributed to Pharao Akhenaton and written some 3000 years ago:

    "He who provides information, assistance and other genuine relief, succour or comfort to a bereaved family, shall forever have his and his successors' hands and spirits blessed.
    But he who brought serious grief over a family by his action or inaction, and thus not only soiled his hands or spirits but failed to clean them by admitting and repairing his mischief as much and as quickly as possible, will personally endure and transmit up to the seventh successive generations the curse visited on him by and through the devine powers accruing to each bereaved father or mother, until such time as forgiveness is genuinely sought, provided for, and properly granted."
In that conceivably mutually beneficial specific optique, oh Mother Kurdistan, what then are the salient, future-oriented guiding elements of the legacy Kurdistan's true sons and daughters may want to honor, cherish and put into practice? In a nutshell, I'd say they concern their religious roots, their cultural traditions, and last but not least, their education.

1.  Religion
On the religious front, it seems appropriate to remember the origins of the Kurds, their common Zarathustrian roots (which some equate with Abrahamic roots), and which are still practiced by their Yezidi brethren. It seems important to note that visionary leaders - from Akhenaton, to Alexander, to Saladin, to Sheik Mahmoud, to Sheik Ahmad Barzani and others - have not hesitated to take advantage of religious vehicles in order to pursue their economic, political or social agendas. Thus, visionary Turkish Kurds may yet get to seriously explore the international minority protection guarantees written into the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 for advancing their own social and political agendas - notably by playing the card of their own religious roots. Just as Sheik Mahmoud took the lead of the Qadiriyyah order of Sufis. And as Sheik Ahmed Barzani, in 1927, reportedly found it indicated to seek "to combine Christianty, Judaism, and Islam for the sake of unifying the 'religiously fragmented' Kurdish populace." ( - p.19). Accordingly, as outlined before in the Vivant Sequentes declaration adopted 1992 by representatives of Northern Iraq's constituant communities - notably the Arabs, Assyrians, Kurds, Turkomans and Yezidis -, current and future Kurdish leaders worth their salt may not want to rule out options which, though out-of-the-box, avail themselves for pursuing essentially political objectives. Inspired by the nine-stars puzzle, they may instead look for solutions based on an inclusionary track, rather than following the "easy", i.e. more customary - but decidedly less helpful - exclusionary religious pathway. Which, of course, could easily be seen to be completely in line with the Kurds' best traditions, their great legacy and their long-frustrated legitimate political aspirations.

I note it as a saddening fact that neither the Assyrians at home or those in their diaspora, nor the Turkomans anywhere, have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to seriously utilise their specific credentials and religious prerogatives in Iraq in such a way as to make a dent on the political landscape in either Iraq or abroad. There have been significant, religiously-inspired initiatives in the US Congress, the European Parliament and the Turkish political establishment which, regretably, have all hit the wall of inadequate support by the beneficiary communities themselves. For the Kurds in particular, this, of course, should not be taken as an excuse to disregard the legitimate interests of these co-constitutive communities of Northern Iraq. Like in the case of creating a child - it cannot be done on your own but requires one's confident investment in a suitable partner. And Northern Iraq is particularly blessed with corresponding partnership opportunities. Thus, Kurds might benefit most from opening up themselves much more - and deliberately so, i.e. if their leaders show genuine leadership by proving themselves as trustworthy and effective guardians of this traditionally multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural area. And if - instead of tolerating any discrimination, abuse or jeopardy of their Christian and other brethren - they show themselves in the vanguard of providing effective recognition and protection for the international and national minority and private property guarantees and obligations which they share.

2.  Culture
The cultural  heritage of the Kurds is seen by many as one of the most obligeing of mankind. That rings true already for the known, the visible and the preserved archeological treasures in and nearby of what is understood to be the Garden of Eden. That, of course, includes the castle of Erbil and the yet-to-be fully unearthed and appreciated pharaonic tombs and related vestiges of by-gone times. Such significant and deeply-moored roots cannot fail to leave their marks in multiple ways on successive generations. The resultant Kurdish society's distinct, basically tribal structure is seen to have been a key factor for Kurds to have survived as such to this day, even in very alien environments. When discussing the possible paths into their future, I remember Mam Jalal, in 1992, adamantly rejecting any idea of building on tribal values and structures and pursuing an essentially tribal road. He referred to Sulaymaniyah as a shining example of a modern, non-tribal and urban post-Saddam society. Mam Jalal, of course, raised a good point. But the more I reflect on it, the more I think he was right for the wrong reasons. He mentioned the dominant non-tribal - yet perennially infighting - parties PUK and KDP which, in fact, have been political tribes all along. Without, however, bothering about the society-containing and -stabilising traditional tribal checks and balances. And he didn't mention the one modernity factor which - seen from outside - has offered a real, substantial and indicative progress for Kurdish society as a whole, namely the setting up, maintenance and development of the trans-tribal peshmerga forces by Mustafa Barzani in Mahabad ( - p.25).

Except for the peshmerga units stationed in Sulaymaniyah in April 2011 alongside regular Iraq military units - which were sent to physically overwhelm the student protests there - I haven't had much contact with these reputed warriers. Thus I cannot really offer an informed opinion on whether and to what extent their founder's "strict rules of soldierly conduct" continue to be observed. And whether their current leaders still follow the wise guidance of Mustafa Barzani "to adhere strictly to [their] own instructions, refusing privileges of command and sharing duties such as mounting guard" ( - p.22). To be sure, the peshmerga units detailed to accompany me on my various trips in Northern Iraq have all been of exemplary courtesy, efficiency and break-neck-speed-security effectiveness, and I wish I could have armed each of them with a Swiss Army knife. However, I couldn't really find out, within their ranks, whether and to what extent they have really overcome their tribal loyalties and gut reactions in favor of a dominantly mission-driven "soldierly conduct."  When looking at the peshmerga's involvement in suppressing the recent student protests, the individual soldier's discipline, his submission to superiors and their orders, seems less in doubt than that of some of their very military and civilian superiors. Which, however, in some cases has proven to be even a godsend and a blessing in light of the repeated myopic recklessness displayed by some current power holders. And which, in fact, might encourage other capable and strong personalities from other ethnic communities to conclude and bring to life road-holding political compromise and cooperation agreements - e.g. on Kirkuk - by also strengthening the ranks and the forces of the peshmerga in the spirit of its valiant founder Mustafa Barzani.

3.  Education
The educational role of the peshmerga experience can hardly be overstated - in as much as the security apparatus in many ways is key to every society's survival, evolution and outlook. This on-going Kurdish success story deserves more attention and external support. E.g. in the form of foreign exchange programs going beyond mere military training and, basically offering at least each commisioned graduate of a two year military tour a civil formation abroad - whether in handicraft, commerce, engineering or university-level curricula. In the same vein, the 1000 exchange student Project Plato was proposed in January 2000 for the whole of Iraq. It was to be financed by the UN oil-for-food program, with the Northern Iraqi quota being 300 students to study notably in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Even Saddam recognised its benefits for Iraqi's young generation and called for it at the UN, while the powers that be in Erbil failed to support it for lack of "a green ligh" from Washington, and those abroad found themselves not really sollicited, with some underlings automatically opposing the plan as "not-invented-here".

As the Chinese proverb says:
  "If you plan for tomorrow: sow corn!
    If you plan for the time after: plant a tree!
    If you plan for a lifetime: train and educate man!"
Of course, not-invented-here Chinese proverbs - like that other rebuffed Swiss initiative in favor of Iraqi olympic sportsmen - are not everybody's cup of tea. Just as our American friends are world class at friendly-fire, but have no monopoly either for - at lest politically - shooting themselves into their own legs. Thus - as detailed in my Halabja commemoration statement - the Kurd's biggest political gaffe and missed opportunity probably was of their own making when, after the fall of Saddam, Iraq's new spokesman saw fit to mimic some ignorant Washington flat-earther by having all reference to Iraq's invaluable constitutive document of 1932 denigrated as "colonial stuff" and struck from the draft of its key UN Security Council Resolution 1546 of June 8, 2004.

No political future for those not respecting their past!
And if you have any doubt about the current and future importance of this old and mostly forgotten legal document, here are some reasons to ponder:

Firstly, this key document in international law was never abrogated, and even Saddam didn't dare to touch it. For had he done so, he - for one - would have gravely undermined Iraq's very position as an internationally recognised independent sovereign state whose territorial integrity has been repeatedly challenged.

Secondly, not least such international luminaries as Saddrudin Aga Khan have drawn attention to this - i.e. for Iraq and its neighbors - uniquely valuable fundamental document by stating in his Sorbonne address in 1992:

"The League's international minority protection obligations were recognized as fundamental laws for countries concerned, i.e. inter alia, Turkey, Iraq, Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia.  They could not be altered without the consent of the League Council and were explicitly declared to take precedence over any existing and future national 'law, regulation or official action'."
Thirdly, Charles Graves, the Chairman of the recent Halabja Commemoration meeting at the UN in Geneva, concluded by saying: "As such and in the hands of visionary politicians, [these national and international minority and private property protection obligations and guarantees] could indeed now become powerful instruments for resolving the explosive Kirkuk issue in particular. For this reason we can only hope that Saddrudin's advice be promptly heeded when he said: 'The argument is advanced that League obligations could be applied with respect to Iraq ...  It would be helpful if international law experts were to examine the validity of this proposal.'"

Oh Mother Kurdistan!  "Only those who use their freedom remain free".*
Spare us from the temptation of false values, prophets and ephemeral foreign green lights!
Free us from evil spirits, fear and self-doubt, and instill in us modesty and respect for others!
Let us equitably share our heritage with our Arab, Assyrian, Kurdish, Turkoman and Yezidi brethren!
Let us welcome and support in our lands those capable to help recover our lost generations!
Make us choose leaders who do not betray and denigrate, but honor our past and secure our future!
Give us a dignified son whose handshake resembles that of a man,
a compassionate son who acts with exemplary wisdom, vision and strength for the common good!
Enlighten and encourage those who failed us to come clean, to admit and to repair their errors!
Give us a worthy daughter carrying the seeds of good thoughts, good words and good deeds!
Oh Mother Kurdistan, meet again someone like Father Egypt, and give birth, or rebirth, to children
who will bear the name of neither, but will resemble and carry forward the legacy of both of you!**
*)   extract from the preamble of the Swiss Constitution
**)  E.g. as reflected in the proposed over-riding core institution named Mosul Vilayet Senate.