INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY / IRAQI KURDISTAN: Broken promises -- Indigenous self-governance and Kurdish independence


23 October 2017

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES SOLIDARITY / IRAQI KURDISTAN: Broken promises -- Indigenous self-governance and Kurdish independence

by Rebaz K. Mohammed / Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Project

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 modern Canada.

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.