WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Renowned French intellectual, Bernard-Henri Levy, discussed the current situation facing the Kurds after the showing of his film, Peshmerga, on Capitol Hill earlier this week.
Bilal Wahab, a Fellow of The Washington Institute, moderated the discussion.
“The Kurds were betrayed,” Levy told Wahab, as Washington opposed the September 25 Kurdish independence referendum and then acquiesced in the Iranian-backed attack on Kirkuk the next month.
Asked what it would take for the Kurds to be able to obtain their rights and live in peace, Levy replied, “A true, strong and sincere endorsement of the Kurdish cause by the community of nations,” particularly those committed to democracy.
“That is why I was so shocked in September and October 2017, when I saw exactly the opposite,” Levy continued, “how the Kurds were betrayed!”
In spite of the Kurds’ commitment to tolerance and democracy, and the key role they played in fighting the Islamic State (IS), “We—Americans and Europeans, French”—opted “to deliver to Iran, on a silver platter, the city of Kirkuk,” Levy said.
“Why?” he poignantly asked.
Asked what the Kurds should do and what his advice to the Kurdish leadership would be, Levy responded, “Honestly, they’ve already done their best.”
No government is perfect, whether American, French or Kurdish, he noted, but that said, “Frankly, I don’t see any country in the Middle East that acted so bravely in the defense of democratic values, their concern for tolerance, and their openness to other faiths.”
“I don’t know what we—French and Americans—could ask more from the Kurdish leadership,” Levy concluded.
The French philosopher strongly criticized Baghdad’s closure of the Kurdish airports, imposed just days after the referendum, and denounced it as a “blockade.”
“I was in Erbil during the referendum and afterward,” Levy explained. “I think I left Erbil on the last plane, just before the blockade” started.
Noting that Baghdad had, again, renewed the Kurdish airport closure for another three months, Levy characterized the move as “absurd,” describing it as a violation of a basic human right enshrined in the UN charter: freedom of movement.
“The collective punishment, renewed for what? For having held a referendum?” he asked.
Noting that it was “the absolute democratic right of the people to express their wish,” he added that Kurdish President Masoud Barzani “always said that this referendum would be followed by long—as long as they needed to be—discussions with Iraq within the constitution.”
“So, today, the Kurds are punished,” Levy stated, “jailed and punished in their own country.”
Levy rebutted the notion that Kurdish independence would create instability. “I believe it is exactly the opposite,” he said. Democracy is the basis of order and stability, and “the biggest factor of instability is dictatorship.”
Levy also described his own experience as a witness to Kurdish tolerance in a very intolerant region. After Peshmerga, he produced another film, The Battle of Mosul.
Christians who fled the Assyrian Christian towns of Bartella and Qaraqosh spoke on camera for that film. They said, as Levy related, that the “only ones they trust are the Kurds.” The Christian refugees explained that “they would not return to their villages unless it was under Kurdish protection.”
The Christian areas of the Nineveh Plain still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. “It is clear that for these people,” Levy affirmed, the only way they can avert the “fear of being eradicated” and “continue to speak the language of the first Christians, is Kurdish protection.”
Editing by Nadia Riva