SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region –The leader of the Change Movement Nawshirwan Mustafa died at the age of 73 in Sulaimani Friday morning just a week after he returned to Kurdistan from the UK where he received treatment for his illness.
“With great sadness today the great fighter and the leader of our nation Nawshirwan Mustafa has died at 8:00 o’clock in the morning on Friday after a long battle with illness,” the change Movement said in a written statement.
“The Gorran Movement despite expressing condolences to his family, ourselves, and our nation, reiterate that [we] will follow the path and program of this great leader to serve Kurdistan,” the statement continued.
Mustafa will be laid to rest Saturday morning at 10:00, the spokesperson of the Gorran Movement Shorish Haji said in a statement.
He will be buried in Gorran Headquarters in Sulaimani based on Mustafa’s will, Haji added.
Kurdish and foreign officials expressed their condolences to the death the politician who had been present in Kurdish politics for more than half a century, including Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
President Barzani offered his condolences to Mustafa's "family, his relatives, and Gorran members and supporters."
In a statement, the Kurdistan Region's Council of Administered announced it hopes for Mustafa's influence to carry on.
"We hope that the Change Movement continues the endeavors which Nawshirwan Mustafa pursued for a long time as a Peshmerga to achieve the rightful objectives and demands of the nation of Kurdistan," the council announced in a statement.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a message that the Gorran leader “fought against oppression and dictatorship with the rest of the Iraqi people and tried hard to unite the Iraqis to build a free and democratic Iraq.”
Mustafa’s Gorran movement introduced the first opposition party to the political landscape in the Kurdistan Region in 2009 after it won 25 seats in that year’s parliamentary elections.
Mustafa left the Kurdistan Region for the United Kingdom on September, 3, 2016 when Gorran officials confirmed he had gone to the UK to receive medical treatment.
His party won 24 seats in the 2013 general elections and joined the Kurdish government in Erbil.
It is currently standing in second place after the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Mustafa’s wife Shu’la Ali Saeed died in March.
He was a founding member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1976 by the former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Mustafa and Talabani fell out in 2006 and formed the Gorran movement.
Some Gorran supporters have gathered near the party's main headquarters in Sulaimani, many in disbelief as they were hoping that his return to the Kurdish region could have helped end the years-long political deadlock.
Some of the the party's supporters chanted "he wont die" and "the people of Sulaimani are all Nawshirwan" as they greeted his body that was transferred to a hospital in Sulaimani.
IN PHOTOS: Followers, friends, family of the late Nawshirwan Mustafa mourn the Kurdish leader's death in Sulaimani.
PUK says it is sad with death of Gorran leader, calls for reunion between two parties
The main ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), that Mustafa co-founded with the party’s Secretary General Jalal Talabani in 1976, has paid tribute to the late Gorran leader Nawhsirwan Mustafa who died Friday morning from illness, as it also called for a “reunion” with Gorran in memory of Mustafa’s PUK membership.
It said that Mustafa spent more than half of a century of his life fighting for the Kurdish struggle and took his “historical responsibility.”
The PUK is “sad and is mourning,” a statement from the PUK read.
“Despite the differences between us, we would like to have a reunion as the last solution [for problems] between the PUK and Gorran, as we have said it many times.”
“The soul of Kak Nawshirwan as the old friend of his excellency Jalal Talabani and a fighter and cofounder of the PUK..will rest in peace with this reunion.”
The statement highlighted the party’s alliance agreement that was signed last May in the presence of Talabani and Mustafa, but remained largely unimplemented, with both sides accusing each other of ignoring the 25-article agreement.
Kardo Mohammed, a senior Gorran official told Rudaw that the PUK first has to implement the agreement signed last year in between them before they can consider any talks over reunion.
The PUK statement continued to say that they the members and supporters of the two parties will be prepared to take their “democratic and Kurdish struggle duties” that remain to be implemented, including “[independence ] referendum and eventually the independence of Kurdistan.”
Both parties have said that they support the long-anticipated Kurdish referendum on independence expected to be held in 2017, with Gorran setting the pre-condition of the reactivation of the Kurdistan parliament in order to give their blessing to the referendum.
The Kurdistan parliament has not convened since October 2015 when the tensions rose high between Gorran and the KDP, which is also a strategic ally of the PUK since 2007.
The Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani offered his condolences to the Mustafa's family, Gorran party and its supporters. He hoped that the Gorran members and their supporters "continue to serve Kurdistan and the common objectives of our nation."
The head of the Islamic Kurdistan Union (KIU), the biggest Islamic Party in the Kurdistan Region, Salahaddin Bahadin, whose party joined Gorran’s parliamentary opposition from 2009 to 2013, said that his death leaves a vacuum in the reform process of the Kurdistan Region.
“We consider the passing of this influential leader in this sensitive situation as a great loss and [leaves] a big vacuum with regard to the reform process and achieving the objective of the just cause of our nation," Bahadin said.
Spokesperson of the Kurdistan Regional Government, of which Gorran is member of the coalition government, expressed his "heartfelt condolences."
While the British ambassador Iraq Frank Baker referred to Mustafa as "my old friend" and "a true patriot."
The US Consulate General in Erbil Ken Gross said Mustafa will not be forgotten.
"Consul General Gross offers his deep condolences to the sons, daughter, extended family, and friends of Nawshirwan Mustafa, historian, scholar, Peshmerga veteran, and political leader. His contributions to Iraqi Kurdistan and to the Kurdish people will not be forgotten," read a statement from the consulate.
Ján Kubiš, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, said he is saddened with the death of "a critically important pro-reform, pro-democracy leader" of Kurdistan Region.
The UN's Special Coordinator for the Middle East East Process sent his condolences Mustafa's family, the Kurdish people and people of Iraq.
"[Mustafa] devoted his life to confronting the brutal dictatorship of the Saddam Hussein and struggling for the better future of the Kurdistan Region and the whole of Iraq," Nicholay Mladenov wrote in a letter seen by Rudaw.
The Italian embassy in Iraq said in a tweet that “his leadership has changed forever the political dynamic in [ Kurdistan Region of Iraq].”
The co-leaders of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim and Asya Abdullah, who enjoy good ties with Gorran, have expressed their “sadness” over his death.
“His death today is considered a loss to all democratic forces in the region and in particular to the nation of Kurdistan and its just cause,” a joint statement from the two leaders read.
His death comes as his party is at a crucial juncture with the PUK, with whom it signed an alliance agreement last year in May but remain largely unimplemented.
The parliament speaker Yousif Mohammed, a Gorran member, has been barred from returning to the parliament headquarters in Erbil since October 2015 after tensions rose between Gorran and the KDP.
Relations between the KDP and Gorran deteriorated in October 2015 when the KDP sacked Gorran ministers and its speaker of parliament Yousif Mohammed who took office after a deal with the KDP following the inconclusive elections in 2013, after days of demonstrations that resulted in the death of several KDP members.
The KDP accused Gorran of orchestrating the riots. Gorran denied the accusations.
Who was Nawshirwan Mustafa?
Nawshirwan Mustafa was born in Sulaimani in 1944 where he finished his primary and high school studies. He graduated from the school of political science at Baghdad university in 1967, followed by a Masters degree in international relation in the 1970s in Austria.
He is said to have abruptly quit his PhD studies in Austria and returned to Kurdistan to take part in the armed and political struggle against the Iraqi regime in 1970s.
He began his political career in the Student Union of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), becoming a member of the union's leadership body in 1963 and 1964.
He became a member of the KDP's office in Sulaimani in 1967 as part of the party's politburo wing which was then under the influence of the former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and Ibrahim Ahmad as opposed to the KDP's leadership wing which was under the control of Mustafa Barzani, the father of President Masoud Barzani.
He co-founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) with Talabani and other Kurdish officials in 1976. The PUK was formed of a coalition of various Kurdish groups, almost all coming from a communist background. Mustafa was also the head of the Ranjdaran or Toilers group inside the PUK.
He is locally known as the mastermind of the popular Kurdish uprising in 1991 after the first Gulf War against the then Iraqi regime.
He was the deputy head of the PUK until he fell out with Talabani in 2006.
He then formed the Wusha Corporation which gave birth to the party's media, including the Kurdish News Network (KNN) satellite channel that helped the party to rally support for its programs, in particular in Sulaimani province where it shares its base with the PUK, and other Islamic parties.
He has also taken the credit to have introduced the first Kurdish parliamentary opposition by challenging the two-party system in Kurdistan after winning 25 seats in the Kurdish legislative in the 2009 general elections.
Mustafa left the Kurdistan Region for the United Kingdom twice in the last few years to receive medical treatment including his September 2016 visit that lasted about eight months. Gorran officials confirmed he had gone to the UK to receive medical treatment but never made it public what his medical conditions was.
Mustafa’s wife Shu’la Ali Saeed died in March.
He had authored several books mainly on the Kurdish fight for freedom in Iraq and his time as a guerrilla fighter.
He had also said on record that despite his political life, he considered himself a journalist.
He is survived by two sons and a daughter.