June 26, 2008

Conference Report - Defining Alternatives to Kerkuk Problem

Sample ImageThe conference Kerkuk Problem and Article 140: Defining Alternatives, The Views of Kerkuk’s Turkmen and Arabs was organised by the Iraqi Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation (SOITM) and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), and held at the European Parliament in Brussels on 23 June 2008.

This conference was organised with the aim of giving voice to various groups afflicted by current frustrations in Kerkuk as well as to raise awareness of their rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Iraq. This was considered especially important at a time when tensions in northern Iraq are rapidly rising, particularly in reaction to the failure to realize the constitutionally mandated referendum at the appointed date at the end of 2007 on the future status of the oil rich city of Kerkuk. With the process of reversing the demographic distortions imposed under Ba’ath Party rule clearly stalled, affected parties are desperate to solve what has become the ‘Kerkuk Problem’ and to foster stability and security in the region.

All parties to the conflict profess an interest to a peaceful resolution - surely the only option for the people of northern Iraq following decades of persecution and violence under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. A prevailing atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, fuelled by violence and chronic insecurity, continues however to undermine the possibility of meaningful and constructive dialogue between the conflicting parties.

The Iraqi Turkmen and Arabs feel particularly frustrated by the political process that has followed the fall of Ba’ath Party rule. Their leaders have felt excluded from a number of political decisions that appear set to determine the region’s future. Furthermore these mechanisms aimed at creating stability have proved largely ineffectual or unrealized.

In response to this, the conference had two main objectives:

The first was to provide those leaders who have found it difficult to effectively present their concerns to the international community with a stage to do so. The European Parliament presented an appropriate platform for these leaders to engage with European policy-makers in the interest of influencing Iraq’s reconstruction.

The second objective was to foster a process of dialogue with the unique aim of rephrasing the discussion of Kerkuk’s future status in more constructive terms. Contributors were asked to offer alternative pictures on the city’s final status. The conference hoped to stimulate fresh and creative thought on northern Iraq which could be utilized in future dialogue and political planning of the region.

We are delighted to have successfully included the participation of several influential political actors such as Dr. Muzaffer Arslan, advisor on Turkmen Affairs to the President of Iraq H.E. Jalal Talabani; Mr. Mohammed Khalil Nasef, elected member of the Kerkuk City Council as a representative of the Arabic group; Mr. Ali Mehdi, Turkmen member of the Kerkuk City Council and deputy to the president of Turkmeneli party; and Mr. Yako Jajjo from the Iraqi Assyrian community. Two presenters were unable to attend the conference due to security restrictions, however their contributions were graciously presented by supportive colleagues. 

This conference was only one step out of the countless steps which lay ahead. The organisers remain hopeful therefore that dialogue and serious consideration of new alternatives can save the people of northern Iraq from the violence that continues to plague their southern neighbours.

SOITM and UNPO maintain committed to contributing to such future initiatives, and hopes future conferences and events might represent an opportunity to gather further representatives from the communities of Iraq.

The organisers are grateful to the many participants whose varied contributions made the conference a successful step towards constructively addressing the situation in Kerkuk. We are also very appreciative for the assistance of Ms. Ana Maria Gomes, without which the conference could not have been possible.

Please visit the activities section of the UNPO website for more information on the conference.