By Salahdin Koban
On a short recent visit to the Kurdistan Region, the question of the Kurdistan Regional Government administration's future was the most significant issue. My concern was grounded in the administration's failing minority-policy. The biggest group that is affected by the current policies is Arabs because they are the largest minority group in the Kurdistan Region.
Arabs are finding the process of integration to the Kurdish culture and practices difficult. The limited success in assimilation is partly due to the group's refusal to take on the Kurdish language. Many Arabs expect and prefer to speak in their language in Erbil which is often met with adversity by the locals. Arabs in Kurdistan can be divided into three groups. The first is wealthy Iraqi Arabs who moved to Erbil from Bagdad due to security reasons, and most of them are businessmen. The second group is comprised of the working-class of Bagdad and other Arab cities. While the third group has a strong presence in the Kurdistan Region, I prefer not to write about them.
It is evident throughout the Kurdistan Region that Arabs are not assimilating well. One may question how it is possible to facilitate the process of integration of a particular group in a society which has no interest to do so. Indeed, in efforts of promoting peace and prosperity, it is necessary for the KRG administration to address issues of assimilation.
Due to weak minority policy by the KRG, Arabs may tirelessly try to find a voice in the Kurdistan Region’s elections through establishing their own political party. Indeed, the most recent Iraqi parliamentary elections held in May 2018 showcased, for the first time, an Arabic party from Baghdad campaigning and fielding candidates in the Kurdistan Region with Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr List. That is an indicator showing in 10 or 15 years Arabs could request a minority seat or even win a seat in the Kurdistan Region’s parliament.
Moreover, the birth rate among Arabs is much higher than for Kurds, which indicates the future expansion of voting rights for Arabs. Additionally, the society has witnessed a shift in rights of the female and the male genders. Since 2003, much has changed within the Kurdish female community, primarily through the government emphasis on equal opportunities regarding the delivery and acquisition of education. However, there is still a long way to go towards equality between Kurdish men and women.
The current minority policy does not help ordinary Arabic workers who are trying to survive and improve their living standards. It instead facilitates unjust and wrong activities among the minorities. The assumption of support from the West is unlikely to materialize since no one in the West is invested in KRG minority policy. Additionally, history demonstrates that efforts of integration of Arabs may prove drastic in the long-run. From the 1980s until 2003 Kurdish leaders helped a considerable number of opposition members with the intention of saving lives from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
However, the current Iraqi leaders are haters of Kurds who depict brotherly love in front of the camera but ultimately act in opposition to the administration. Following the independence referendum in September 2017, Iraqi leaders showcased hatred towards the KRG including taking actions to end the administration. One may question why it is necessary to invest in the integration of Arabs if it is likely they will work against the administration in the long-run.
Many maintain that taking in and assisting Arab IDPs and refugees is a means of pressuring the KRG administration logistically and paralyzing it. Undeniably, it is essential to acknowledge neither the United Nations nor the European Union care about the millions of refugees. Assisting Arab refugees is unrealistic considering the diverse individuals and faiths in the region. The decision to take in Arabic refugees might be ill-informed, and the solution encompasses sending the refugees back to Baghdad. It is vital for KRG to adopt policies that are beneficial to the country beyond the aspects of humanism.
Undeniably while the situation is calm now, it is unlikely to remain so in the long-run as more Arabs continue to migrate into the region. It is necessary for KRG to make informed decisions since the central government in Iraq will always have a stronger military than the regional government that can be used to threaten the KRG.
Individuals who are against the KRG use the name Erbil, and there is a suggestion to change the capital's name from Erbil to Hawler. However, there are some Kurds who maintain that the capital city name should remain Erbil due to its historical relevance. One advantage of changing the name is the free publicity the KRG would receive on a global scale. Moreover, it is necessary for the Arabic alphabet to be replaced with Latin for economic reasons. While Arabic would not be forbidden, its official application in education and transactions and other formal applications would be reduced.
Additionally, it is vital for KRG to measure, manage and mitigate criminal rates among Arabs who reside in Hawler to avoid both short-term and long-term consequences associated with ignoring criminal standards. While many Kurdish politicians often reference Yezidis, Christians, and Arabs abroad, not all of these groups are pro-Kurdish. For instance, among the Yezidis only a single group among several considers itself to be Kurdish.
The youth lacks an understanding of politics and are insensitive to current and future problems mainly due to the societal emphasis on consumerism. One could argue that this is the case everywhere except for places with better education policies. If the current generation were to take over the administration without any changes in their perception, it would mean the end of KRG because Arabs would assume leadership roles in the administration. To prevent adverse outcomes to the KRG, it is crucial for the administration to work with distinct goals and plans related to both security and the process of integration.
Salahdin Koban is a member of Germany's CDU Party. He was the first German-Kurd to run as a candidate in a German Federal Election, 2017. He is member of the German Israeli Group and Republicans Overseas in Germany. His main field is foreign policy.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.