ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The renowned expert on Kurdish issues Michael Gunter, who called the extension of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani’s term in office “illegal” in a speech he made Wednesday in Erbil, has said that he is disappointed of what he described as Kurdish “fake news” with regard to his criticism of of the Kurdish government.
The American professor told Rudaw English on Saturday
that he made the earlier comments in “good will” and that he is happy that the Kurdistan Region, like Israel, makes room for criticism.
“I am disappointed in the fake news that came out where some news outlets in the KRG Region were saying, were exaggerating the problems that were created by my talk. This is simply not true,” Professor Gunter said.
The full video for the keynote speech made by Professor Gunter is found at the bottom of this article.
He said the fact that Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, who is President Barzani’s nephew, stayed on listening to his criticism shows “maturity” and “evolution” of Kurdish democracy.
Some Kurdish media reported the encounter, praising the American author who defied to tell the “truth” into the face of the PM Barzani.
An outspoken Kurdish author praised Professor Gunter’s speech in Erbil.
“Finally a western academic/intellectual who says it as it is, who does not come here to tell us and the rest of the world how progressive and liberal Kurdistan is, how women's rights are protected and independent journalism is thriving,” Dr Choman Hardi, who is also a poet and the chair of the English department at the American University of Sulaimani said.
“Thank you for standing up for the truth Michael. Others keep quiet about all of this so that they continue to get invited to Kurdistan and possibly even get funding for their research which attempts to make the KRG look good,” Hardi continued in a post released on her Facebook account.
Professor Gunter was the keynote speaker at the opening of an event organized to discuss the future of Kurdistan in light of the war against the ISIS group, and the much-anticipated Kurdish independence referendum that is widely expected to be held in 2017.
Professor Gunter told the conference that one of the issues that made the position of the Kurdish government deteriorated is the issue of the term of the Kurdish President Barzani, extended twice after he finished his two terms in office, as he listed a number of economic, social and security crises facing the Kurdish Region.
“Politically, A crisis also continued because of Masoud Barzani’s refusal to step down from presidency despite his extraordinary two-year extension that had ended in August 2015 on top of the earlier two four-year terms in office that had ended in August 2013. Instead Barzani had now arranged for a new second extension to maintain his position until August 2017 which date will again soon be here.”
He was interrupted by a man in a suit seven minutes into his speech, though it was not clear what had whispered about. Gunter then continued his speech after he said he did not understand the man.
As he continued his speech, he called President Barzani’s term “illegal”, a criticism that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) whose president is Masoud Barzani does not accept as they believe that his term was extended by a Kurdish court in a legal manner.
“When Masoud Barzani does finally step down from the extraordinary and tactically illegal extension of his illegal extension term, he is likely to continued being seen as the president of the KDP,” Gunter said, adding that in light of this scenario, Barzani will continue to have great influence over the government.
He also said that a decision by the PM Barzani to sack ministers and the parliament speaker Yousif Mohammed from the Gorran or Change Movement in 2015 was “to protect the position of his presidential uncle Masoud Barzani.”
Gunter was once again interrupted about 12 minutes into his 15-minute speech, this time by a woman organizer who came on the stage.
Gunter praised the fact he was allowed to make such comments in the event, without being “dragged off."
“The controversy that occurred about my speech at Hewler University, I don’t think there is anywhere else in the Middle East, except Israel, where somebody could get, come here and make some critical comments about the Kurdish government,” Gunter told Rudaw English on Saturday.
“I made [the comments] in good will -- because I am a friend of the Kurds and want to see an intelligent successful independence, but be allowed to say these things. There was nobody dragging me off the stage. And I think it is to the credit of the maturity and evolving democracy here and the freedom of speech in this country that I was allowed to say such things."
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 deaths of several KDP members.
The KDP had accused Gorran of orchestrating the riots. Gorran denied the accusations.
The tensions between the two parties had also remained strained when the speaker refused to cancel a parliamentary session in 2015 planned to discuss President Masoud Barzani's second term in office which was due to expire on August 19, 2015.
The Kurdish parliament has not convened since October 2015.