This is the story of Dr Kamal Qadir, who was born in a small village south of Hawler in South Kurdistan in 1958, and immigrated to Austria in 1978. There, he studied law at the Vienna Law School, and got a PhD in international law. He belongs to a family in which eleven members were martyred in the course of the Kurdish struggle for independence and justice in Iraq. Dr Qadir has always been sensitive to injustice and tried both through his writings and actions to use law and intellectual argument to fight injustice everywhere, especially in his homeland of Kurdistan.
When he went back to Kurdistan to teach at Salah-al-Din University in 1999, he was shocked to see the political parties controlled the universities and academic institutions, and corruption and injustice were destroying Kurdish society. He left Kurdistan and went back into exile with feelings of despair and anger. He began to publish articles against corruption on independent Kurdish websites. Several of his articles written in English were published in www.kurdishmedia.com.
Until six months ago few people in Kurdistan knew of Kamal Sayid Qadir. Today he is the most well-known and talked about Kurdish writer, not only in Kurdistan, but internationally. His name has become inexorably linked with the cause and campaign for free expression, freedom of the press, human rights and civil society in Kurdistan. How did this quick and quintessential transformation happen?
We can say Kamal’s intervention was Socratic. In that I mean it has everything to do with saying or striving to say the truth whatever the cost, to assert the right of reason and the prerogative of the writer to say the unsaid and to trivialise the taboos of power. In short what Kamal has reasserted is the perennial struggle between pen and power, between conscience and self-interest, between freedom of speech and fear of being outspoken. This struggle to assert freedom in its most rational humane form has been long settled in democratic countries with freedom of expression and freedom to criticise political power.
Kamal Sayid Qadir began a startling, radical and courageous legal and intellectual challenge to the established tribal-political power in Kurdistan, which took every one by surprise. Many did not take his words and actions seriously. And the whole intervention would have perhaps passed quietly as the antics of a lunatic writer had the Kurdistan political powers not reacted in the way they did: by railing against his challenge and words and thereby revealing the seriousness of his initiative.
This was what many Kurdish writers, fed up with corruption and thirsty for genuine freedoms of genuine civil society, were waiting for.
In a way Dr Qadir’s intervention represents a post-modern challenge to a pre-modern, one could even say pre-historic, anomaly in parts of Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which controls the present capital of South Kurdistan, is a tribal-political organisation. It is historically established around the leadership and authority of the Brazani family. The most famous Kurdish leader was Mustafa Barzani who led Kurdish revolt from 1961 until it collapsed in 1975. Then he went into exile in the US and died of cancer there in 1979. His sons remained in Iran and were reorganised, financed and armed, by both the Shahs of Iran and the Khomaini regime, in order to preserve their central role and their claim to the leadership of the Kurdish movement.
They have been involved ever since, in both an apparent struggle for Kurdish rights but also in fighting against the Kurdish movement in all parts of Kurdistan, supported by the occupying regimes of those countries. Their last notorious act was to collaborate with Saddam and invite his army to invade the Kurdish city of Arbil on August 31, 1996. It is thanks to Saddam’s tanks and the Turkish army that they have been controlling Arbil since then. I mention this not just as an historical narrative but also to highlight some few recent historical facts as the backdrop to Dr Kamal’s saga.
Power hates truth. Truth provides knowledge about the reality of how power functions and the relationships which can be recorded, reproduced, diffused or destroyed, silenced or tabooed. Societies which fail to read their truth fail to recognise their identity and humanity, and so can never taste or even dream of genuine freedom. That is why the power that fights the truth simultaneously fights the very soul of humanity.
In South Kurdistan there are many newspapers, local and satellite TV channels, radios and other media outlets. And obviously millions of words are written and published every week. There are writers who talk about Hegel, post-modernism, Derrida, Foucault, and the clash of cultures. There are certain organisations whose sole function is, apparently, to promote dialogue, democracy and civil society. And then there is an odd entity called “parliament”.
I was in Kurdistan for 50 days at the end of last year and I am sad to say that all the apparent media coverage is a fake. Just like in Saddam’s time, and to some extent worse than then because of the lack of any real opposition, all newspapers are in fact just one newspaper published in different versions. The millions of words are just the words of the same discourse, which in different ways assert and serves the interests of ruling tribal political parties. These words mislead people into forgetting recent tragedies and cause them to become brainwashed and drugged so as not to feel their present pain: nor to grasp the freedom - both national and individual - they have made possible with their blood, sweat and tears.