Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nawshairwan Mustafa: His impact on the contemporary Kurdish politics

nawshirwan_mustafa.jpg (300×225)

  • By Mufid Abdulla
  • 20/02/2010

How Nawshairwan Mustafa has made an impact on contemporary Kurdish politics: results and prospects?

Nawshirwan Mustafa has published political essays, articles and notes throughout his political life but his work has yet to be collated in a single volume. I am hoping to publish a collection of his writings in chronological order. This will reveal the man’s consistency over the years. His writings relate to various stages in a lifetime of struggle and I will seek to identify these phases in Mustafa’s development and consider how they impacted on Kurdish politics. This article explores the process by which he began to focus on the project of nation building.

As a founding member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), his loyalty to the party and his left wing faction (Kamala Ranjadarani Kurdistan) was beyond question. PUK members always knew him for his advocacy of party discipline but also for his rejection of rule by individuals and promotion of people power. After the liberation of Kurdistan in 1991 he contributed to the study of our history by writing his memoir and books such as ‘The Kurds in the Soviet Game’ (published in 1993). Having dissociated himself from the armed struggle and from Komala Ranjdarani Kurdistan (which he dissolved in 1991), he began to advocate a broad-based political approach, taking into account globalisation and the end of the Cold War and refuting the old ideology which had become a blind alley for the Kurdish left.

Mustafa’s experiences within the PUK and his faction made him aware of the difficulties he would face in trying to argue his case. Many times he tried to discuss the issues with the general secretary but always without success. He was operating in a culture in which political disagreements still tended to lead to bloodshed. The man was facing a constant challenge, both from within his party and from his opponents outside it. However, Mustafa always believed that it is the role of a leader to be in the vanguard, regardless of the risks.

From the outset he refused to take any role in the Kurdish government, not because he was lacking in managerial experience and skill but because he felt it wasn’t necessary for former freedom fighters and military leaders to occupy all the political posts when Kurdistan has plenty of expert administrators and technocrats to do the job.

Mustafa’s vision of people power, both before and after liberation, has been an ethical and political project. When he used the language of revolution it was to support the struggle and not to promote himself. After the liberation of parts of Kurdistan via 1991 uprising, the ensuing civil war and general instability hindered his efforts to reform the party. For years he avoided doing anything that might add salt to the wounds. By 2004 Mustafa’s patience was exhausted and he sent a statement to the general secretary calling for drastic changes but, after several wholly unproductive meetings, he concluded that it was impossible to reform the PUK from within.

His resignation letter to the PUK general secretary was a logical development but he decided not to issue any public statement so as to avoid creating disturbance in the ranks. Mustafa then set up his own media group - the Wusha company - and research centre. The Wusha company has developed a sophisticated website, newspapers and radio station. It provides a platform for opposition writers and intellectuals, inside and outside Kurdistan, and acts as a watchdog, highlighting the various activities (and corruption) of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

In 2009 Mustafa announced that they had reached a turning point in Kurdish politics in which there was a consensus for more decisive action. He concluded that it was impossible to improve people’s live without creating a political vehicle with a clear programme and policies. Mustafa started the Gorran initiative because people were asking for it. He gained a considerable of support from inside the PUK although some people asked whether it was too late and why it hadn’t been done before. His response was that he had preferred a low key approach to reform because he wanted to avoid any risk of violence and civil war.

The KRG and party politics

In one of his articles, on the Sbeiy website, he called for the separation of Kurdish political parties from the state. In the 2007 piece entitled ‘We and Them’ (“we , the opposition without teeth or a vehicle and them, the two ruling Parties, the PUK and KDP”), Nawshirwan elaborated the principle differences.

He wrote that the armed struggle had taken its toll on the political parties in Kurdistan although it had been an essential part of the national liberation movement and resistance to occupation, assimilation and genocide. The parties had bravely struggled for the rights of people: “for the last hundred years in Kurdish history, political parties have played a pivotal role in all political and social transactions”. After 1991, however, when Kurdistan was liberated and the political parties were able to operate freely in the towns and cities, they failed to adjust to this new reality after years of using very different methods of struggle against enemies of people. Against this background, Mustafa argued, the Kurdish parties continued to copy the style and methodology of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

His stated, “after the liberation the political parties managed to set up the three powers - legislative, executive and judicial - but they are all tools in the hands of two political parties”. He went on to argue that the “Kurdistan is how it was in Eastern Europe: party politics runs the whole system and controls all aspects of life. Your loyalty to your party comes first, followed in second place by loyalty to your people and nation”.

He advocated a brave and profound alternative, while seeking to preserve essential features of Kurdistan’s traditional society and infrastructure. Mustafa’s approach is aimed not at crushing the two ruling parties but at winning the support of the people. At the same time he warns the Kurdish political leaders and robustly criticises them for failing to safeguard the interests of their disadvantaged supporters.

These are his three fundamental demands which underpinned Gorran’s electoral success on 25th July 2009:

1. The National Council should be replaced by a Parliament with the power to review and pass legislation on all the issues affecting the people without manipulation by the political parties.

2. The Cabinet of Ministers should be replaced by an Executive Committee that appoints committees to run all the departments of state and develop policies.

3. The judicial system should be independent and completely free of any influence, direct or indirect, by the ruling parties.

Who is responsible for the failure of Article 140: America, the Arabs or the Kurds?

Kirkuk has been at the centre of controversy from the birth of the Kurdish nationalist movement up to today. The disputed areas, including Kirkuk, were tragic victims of Saddam’s ethnic cleansing. In the new Iraq the issue of Kirkuk continues to block any overall resolution to Kurdish problems in the south of Kurdistan. The reasons for Mustafa’s anger and frustration about this are clear. He unequivocally blames Kurdish leaders based in Baghdad for their failure to use two historic opportunities - in 1970 and 2003 - to promote a just settlement. On both occasions the Kurdish leaders participated in negotiations but ended up advocating a referendum on Kirkuk. He clearly argues that, “not a single nation can abandon an inch of their land or put their own property up for referendum”.

  • - By Mufid Abdulla