Back to Kurdistan….

This isolated military checkpoint, flying high the colors of Kurdistan on the front between the Peshmerga troops and the ISIS mercenaries, is a symbol of today's Iraq: under siege, divided, but still proudly standing tall. A lot has changed since I last saw the walls of the Ebil Citadel, two years ago. Old borders are fading away, even older identities are re-emerging, and new ones are slowly being created in this crucible of war between the forces of freedom and dignity and those of hate and intolerance.

The Conference organised by the University of Kurdistan at Hewler on May 27-28, aptly entitled "Iraqi Kurdistan and the Reshaping of the Middle East" will explore these themes, and many others. I am very excited to be a participant and present a paper outlining a possible future for the Middle East based on the values of peace, prosperity, and participation. This seems to be a rather unrealistic view given the events that have shaped the region in general, and Iraq in particular, in recent times. But sometimes, it is from the depth of the greatest crises that the greatest opportunities emerge. It is up to the people of the Middle East, Iraq, and Kurdistan, to recognise them and seize the moment to transform their futures.

It would not be the first time such  an unlikley transformation took place. As France lay defeated, divided and occupied in 1943, an obscure French politician stood in front of the French National Liberation Committee and made what seemed to all an utterly unrealistic proposal for that time and place: “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty, with its implications of prestige politics and economic protection…. The countries of Europe are not strong enough individually to be able to guarantee prosperity and social development for their peoples. The States of Europe must therefore form a federation or a European entity that would make them into a common economic unit”. Seventy years later, Jean Monnet’s vision has come true beyond his wildest expectations, despite still difficult challenges ahead. The European Union has brought together a continent devastated by war, then divided for half a century into two bitterly opposed camps, and allowed democracy, prosperity, and diversity to make remarkable progress across the borders of its now 27 Member States.

The Middle East, of course, has its own history, cultures, and traditions. It cannot and should not attempt to copy the European model. But it must identify its own, internal resources capable of allowing it to transcend  the old borders drawn by former colonial powers and re-imagine its own system of governance based on authentic legal and political principles based on the fundamental value of respect for the dignity and worth of every human being. This is the challenge facing today the peoples of the Middle East. I hope this conference will represent a small step forward on the long road ahead leading in this direction. 

Trasformational change starts from the margins of great civilisations. The Kurdistan region of Iraq, located at the edges of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and joining the Arabic, Turkic, and Persian peoples, is the embodiment of such a hybrid, fertile zone capable of giving birth to creative, new ideas about how we can better govern ourselves in the critical years ahead. Perhaps, just perhaps, the road to a peaceful, prosperous, participative Twenty-First century passes through that Kurdish checkpoint that keeps resisting the onslaught of terrorist forces against human empathy, decency, and caring for the 'Other'. I certainly hope so...  

Finally, two years later, I'm on my way back to Kurdistan....