SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) held a memorial in Sulaimani on Friday for the party’s late founder Jalal Talabani, who was also the first non-Arab president of Iraq.
Kosrat Rasul, acting PUK head, said that Talabani’s death was a “great loss for the Kurds, Kurdistan and Iraq. We should all try to fill the void he left.”
The charismatic Kurdish leader died just a week after Kurdistan’s vote for independence. Friday’s memorial, marking the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period, was overshadowed by the fall of Kirkuk that has ended – for now – dreams of independence and caused renewed animosity between Kurds.
Talabani, known affectionately as Mam Jalal, died in Berlin on October 3. He was laid to rest on Sulaimani’s Dabashan hill on October 6.
Former Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Barham Salih, also a former PUK senior member, praised Talabani’s leadership as he attended the memorial.
He said Mam Jalal was a “teacher, leader, and uncle to me,” adding that he will never forget his great personality.
He said Talabani will be remembered as a Peshmerga who fought against the Iraqi state in the Kurdish mountains and went on to become president of Iraq.
Many Kurds compare the fall of Kirkuk last month to a 1975 defeat of a Kurdish rebellion led by Mullah Mustafa Barzani by an alliance between Iraq and Iran, supported by the silence of the United States.
Salih pointed out that it was Talabani who was able to “resurrect” the Kurdish rebellion after the 1975 setback. He said this could be an example for the path ahead.
“Our nation is brave and has morale. We can rise again,” Salih said.
In a famous 1992 speech delivered after yet another a popular Kurdish uprising against the Iraqi regime, Talabani said that the oil-rich and multi-ethnic province of Kirkuk holds the key to solving the Kurdish issue in Iraq.
He opened his speech mentioning a group of Kurds killed by the regime after the uprising.
“The fascist dictators in Baghdad believe that with the execution of 288 brave sons of Kurds, they can extinguish the fire of the Baba Gurgur [oil well],” Talabani told a crowd of thousands gathered in Erbil. “But they are daydreaming. So long as there is still a Kurd living, Kirkuk remains a city of Kurdistan. I believe that Kurdistan will give up just about any place, but there is not a Kurd, not even one single noble Kurd, that will give up Kirkuk and Kirkuk area.”
“They key to the solution of the Kurdish cause is Kirkuk, Kirkuk alone, and Kirkuk itself,” Talabani said, adding that the southern border of Kurdistan extends to the Hamrin Mountains.
A former senior PUK member told Rudaw that Talabani galvanized Kurdish awareness for Kirkuk, a city he always called Kurdistan’s Jerusalem.
“When you talk about Mam Jalal and Kirkuk, the two are inseparable,” said Faraidun Abdulqadir.
“Mam Jalal was the first Kurdish leader who taught us that ‘either we will get Kirkuk and Khanaqin, or we will fight to the very end,’” he continued.
Some in the party Talabani founded, the first to advocate for the Kurdish right to self-determination, have been accused of treason for the loss of Kirkuk. His family denies the accusations.
Lahur Talabany, head of the PUK’s anti-terror agency, said on Friday that the loss of Kirkuk came as the result of a “mistake by the Kurdish leadership,” that includes all the parties. He added that the Kurds will one day return back to the oil-rich province despite the current setbacks.
Asked about the fate of Kirkuk, the stronghold of the PUK, senior party member Mala Bakhtiyar said at the memorial that the military incursion by the Iraqi forces will ultimately fail.
“Every military success that comes as the result of a plot will lead to arrogance. This arrogance will not be translated into a political and administrative fact on the ground. The best thing is for all of us to go back to the table of negotiation and let the [Iraqi] constitution judge between us,” Bakhtiyar said.
Regarding some calls to turn Kirkuk into an independent region, he said such a move should be opposed by all, down to “the last remaining Kurd.”
Addressing the issue of intra-Kurdish divisions in the wake of the Kirkuk crisis, Kosrat Rasul said it is time to “put the Kurdish house in order.”
His Peshmerga force suffered tens of casualties in Kirkuk and he has blamed elements within his own party.
The PUK’s leadership council has decided to dissolve the politburo office and instead elect an 11-member committee to be headed by Rasul to prepare the party to hold its congress in early next year and run party activities in the interim. This move is still to be finalized by the party.