ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan deserves its independence, and my goal is to get people in the United States to realize this, Qanta Ahmed, a physician, author, and rights activist said in a recent interview.
Kurdistan 24 caught up with the British-American physician who had recently visited the Kurdistan Region where she taught medicine at the University of Duhok at a first international meeting on genocide in the region.
Kurdistan Deserves Independence
“My goal is for every American to understand Kurdistan deserves its independence,” Ahmed said.
She likened the Kurds’ right to self-determination to that of the United States who declared independence from Britain for religious and political freedom decades ago.
“Similarly, the Kurds deserve their independence, they deserve to separate from Iraq, they deserve to have their own region,” Ahmed stated.
“There are Kurds—Americans don’t know—30 million Kurds in the world divided in Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq often persecuted. They have two choices in these countries: either you assimilate and become like the Turks or like the Syrians or like the Iranians, or we execute you. They do not have freedom in those areas, only in [the Kurdistan Region] did I see the freedom.”
According to Ahmed, Kurdistan has all the necessary components of an independent state, and she believes there is “no future for Iraq until there is secession, until there is separation from Kurdistan and Iraq.”
“Kurdistan is incredibly well poised. We are going around the world looking to liberate Muslim societies, to bring democracy to Muslim societies, to elevate women. In Kurdistan, there is no need to liberate the women; the women are liberated for centuries. There is no need to bring democracy, Kurdistan people understand democracy.”
She recalled the May 12 Iraqi parliamentary elections and compared the voter turnout in the Kurdistan Region to the rest of Iraq.
“They had a huge voter turnout [in Kurdistan], more than 90 percent turnout in the general election, whereas the rest of the country, barely 19 percent turnout in Iraq,” she noted.
“The Kurdish people have confidence in their regional government; they have confidence in their soldiers, they have [the] ability to use their resources. This is what we need to see to fruition, and every responsible American should be campaigning for this.”
Commenting on her visit, Ahmed said she “was able to understand the situation of Kurdistan which [she] had never learned about before.”
“I understand their deep desire for independence and the way the world has denied them their right to independence which was very shocking.”
‘World Famous’ Peshmerga
Ahmed described her experience as humbling and said she felt a connection with the people of Kurdistan especially after meeting the Region’s armed forces, the Peshmerga, who have been fighting the Islamic State (IS) on behalf of the world.
“We knew in America about the war against IS, and the Peshmerga soldiers are world famous. So, after my meeting, I asked if I was allowed to meet some Peshmerga and I was able to meet them [at] the base in Duhok, and I was welcomed there.”
She recalled meeting female Peshmerga soldiers who she described as “really amazing” because of their bravery and sacrifices.
“With my time with the soldiers, I was introduced to women Peshmerga officers. Really amazing. Women who lead men. Women who’ve served for 24 years. One woman said to me, ‘When [IS] came to my country I told my husband to watch my three children, I am going to fight [IS].’ I said, are you not afraid something will happen to your children when you are not home, she said, ‘No, if my nation is not safe, how can my children be safe.’”
Ahmed observed how both female and male Peshmerga were incredibly devoted to fighting for their land and battling to protect the people of Kurdistan.
“I found among the men and women Peshmerga—I was with both officers and ordinary soldiers—incredible devotion. I learned about the culture of sacrifice.”
“There is a special way in which you can become a Peshmerga. Not anybody is allowed to become a Peshmerga. They have to be known in their community to give to others, to be selfless.”
“In the United States, we just know that we were supporting the mission, we provided aerial cover, we provided some arms, but actually, many of the Peshmerga officers used their own families support, their own assets to take soldiers to the front line. They said to me, ‘It was either this, or our women are being sold for 25 dollars to IS, we have no choice.’”
The British-American physician said she was upset with how the Iraqi government treats the Kurds by withholding the Kurdistan Region’s share of the national budget as well as Peshmerga salaries.
“Americans do not know that the Peshmerga were fighting without food and salary for many months at a time. Local villagers were bringing them food so that they could sustain themselves while in central Iraq my dollars, my American tax dollars, are sitting there and not always supporting the mission.”
Ethnic, Religious Freedom and Gender Equality
Ahmed commended the people of Kurdistan for their commitment to religious and ethnic freedom as well as gender equality.
“The other thing that I realized about the Kurdish people is that they are very committed to religious freedom. So, I was amazed,” she stated.
Ahmed recalled visiting the town of Amedi near the Iranian border where she saw churches and Christians attending them freely.
“There is no security there; there is no metal detector, they are feeling safe. It is the first Christian churches I’ve seen in the Middle East which did not need reinforcement and soldiers around there” to protect the Christians. “This tells me that Kurdistan is free.”
She described her visit to Kurdistan as “extraordinary,” and said the Region stands out compared to other countries she has lived and traveled to in the Middle East.
“The society I found in Kurdistan is unlike any other. Incredibly progressive. Incredibly powerful women. Egalitarian—men and women are equal. I discovered that when I was teaching the students, men and women together.”
“I taught the 28 masters students in the psychology program in the University of Duhok, and I found the men and women equally capable and very respectful of each other without any tension that I’m used to seeing in the Muslim world, for instance, in countries where I’ve lived like Saudi Arabia.”
IS Yezidi Genocide
During the years-long IS war, the Kurdistan Region has provided safety and security for nearly 1.5 million refugees and displaced persons fleeing the extremist group’s threat from other parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.
Indeed, this included an influx of the religious minority from Shingal, the Yezidis. When IS emerged in mid-2014, it committed one of the worst genocides against the minority group, murdering men and boys and enslaving women and girls.
I was in Kurdistan “to understand the effects of IS’ genocide on the Yezidi people, so [I worked] closely with the Kurdish people for several days. I was there as a scholar supporting the work of people who have suffered genocide.”
“I was able to see the refugees and their situation in the camps. I was able to meet children that had been prisoners of IS and even soldiers of IS once upon a time. And I also met with women who were enslaved by IS.”
“These things are of great concern, and those of us that are not in those groups [victims of genocide] have a responsibility to protect those that are vulnerable,” she added.
Ahmed highlighted the “dignity” of the people of Kurdistan as they protect over half a million refugees and displaced persons of every background (Assyrian, Turkmen, Muslim, Yezidi), calling it “remarkable.”
The “generosity” of the Kurds “is without equal, and also their humility. It was very much a pleasure to see them,” she said.
“The Kurdish people have suffered terribly from IS, but still they are lifting themselves up, and they are training their own psychologists, they’re educating their doctors, they’re helping their own people, they’re raising funds, it was incredibly impressive. My privilege to go to Kurdistan.”
(Kurdistan 24 team in Washington DC conducted the interview)