23 October 2017
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY / IRAQI KURDISTAN: Broken
promises — Indigenous self-governance and Kurdish independence
by Rebaz K. Mohammed / Indigenous Peoples Solidarity
Today, while many are celebrating how far we have progressed
in upholding human rights, the facts on the grounds offer a much less polished
picture of the human-made systems running our world.
Being an indigenous person myself, a Kurd, I was always
drawn to understand what has happened to indigenous nations around the world,
including my own nation. How come a nation of more than 40 million people does
not have a country of its own? As I expanded my horizon I found out we were not
alone, many indigenous nations around the world suffer from the same injustice,
especially indigenous nations on Turtle Island (North America). I soon realized
that the basis of the oppression is the same: unadulterated racism, and the
similarities are uncanny.
Following World War I, the European colonial powers
committed to support Kurdish self-determination and self-governance. The treaty
of Sèvres promised the establishment of a Kurdish state after the fall of the
Ottoman empire. This promise was broken when the Kurds were divided between
four countries: Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. European powers then actively
backed the quashing of numerous Kurdish revolutions and attempts to establish a
state. Most recently, Europe, the U.S., and Canada have come out against Iraqi
Kurdistan’s Sept. 25 independence referendum.
Photo from NRT TV.
Western countries have been silent on the punishments
that are being imposed on the people, such as the embargo and flight ban
imposed by the central government of Iraq, and the military offensives of the
Iraqi Army and the Iran-backed militias against the Kurdish territories. I
suppose this is not surprising at this point, since the same western countries
that brag about upholding human rights chose silence when Saddam Hussein
committed genocide against the Kurds in the 1980s, mass murdering 182,000 and
killing 5,000 more through chemical bombs.
In Canada, indigenous nations have also withstood a
genocide, and not just a cultural genocide, as some Canadian politicians claim.
Half of those killed died of diseases; in some instances Europeans deliberately
gave them infected smallpox blankets. Other indigenous people were killed in
armed confrontations and battles. The Canadian government then forced
indigenous children into residential schools and made them abandon their
culture, language, spirituality, and way of living. Survivors now live on
reservations that account for only 0.2% of Canada’s total land area!
All of this happened while European settlers promised
indigenous nations the right of self-governance, economic prosperity, shared
resources and land, adequate education and equal health care, through a series
of treaties signed about 150 years ago. The Canadian government has breached
these treaties severely.
Today we see indigenous peoples living on reserve without
access to clean drinking water, proper roads, housing, education, child
welfare, health care, thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women… and
the list of systemic racism goes on. This doesn’t even include the day-to-day
racism that indigenous individuals and communities face, as they are continually
made to prove that they are “civilized” and “good citizens” contributing to
It’s ironic that the Canadian government claims to be a
leader in upholding human rights when it was one of four countries in the world
that refused to sign the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in2007. Nine
years later the government adopted the declaration; however, it has not
implement it yet. The Canadian government pretends that
racism, inequality, and colonialism are relics from a distant past, and that
apologies are all that is necessary for reconciliation. The Canadian government
pretends that human rights are at the core of their governance system,
forgetting that the first basic right of indigenous nations is their right to
their land, embodied in self-governance and the fulfillment of the treaties
signed 150 years ago as nation-to-nation contracts.
A government that refuses to support indigenous
self-governance in Canada can hardly be expected to support self-determination
for indigenous nations in other parts of the world. And the misrepresentation
of history so present in discussions of reconciliation may shed light on the
reasons for the so-called “alt-right comeback.” Racism and populism did not die
or disappear; they simply adopted a more systematic and structured approach.
The violence of white supremacy continued, out of sight and out of mind for
many European settlers, under the cover of treaties and declarations.
How this translates in terms of action is that worldwide
solidarity is more important now than ever. The oppressed, coming together, can
make their voices heard and resist efforts to divide and conquer. A true
worldwide solidarity will come out of belief that injustice anywhere threatens
justice everywhere, and there will be no peace without justice.