By Sharmila Devi
LONDON - Kurdistan is a “forgotten victim” in the Syrian conflict as it struggles to host up to a quarter of a million Syrian refugees with little recognition from the outside world, Nadhim Zahawi, the first and only Kurd to be elected to the British parliament, told Rudaw.
Zahawi voted in favor of UK military action in August to deter the use of chemical weapons in Syria but the Conservative-led coalition’s motion was defeated. He said then that the result had “let down the innocent people of Syria.”
“The KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) is the forgotten victim of this massive migration of human beings from Syria,” he said in an interview at Portcullis House, the complex of offices for MPs and their staff opposite the British parliament.
“People pay attention to the refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq is sometimes mentioned but not the KRG, which has taken in around 240,000 people. The KRG has done this because as Kurds we are all refugees, we know their pain and don’t want to let them down.”
People pay attention to the refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq is sometimes mentioned but not the KRG, which has taken in around 240,000 people.
Zahawi was recently promoted by David Cameron, UK prime minister, with the portfolio of business and trade on the government’s policy board based in Downing Street.
He was born in 1967 in Baghdad to Kurdish parents, who fled Saddam Hussein in 1978. His grandfather, after whom he is named, was governor of the Central Bank of Iraq. “His signature was on the banknotes,” said Zahawi.
In 2000, he co-founded the polling and market research firm YouGov, which was floated on the stock market for 18 million pounds in 2005.
He entered parliament as the MP for Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, in 2010.
The British government’s defeat on Syria was embarrassing. But few commentators believe the opposition Labour party was able to garner any lasting benefit in terms of public support after preventing military action.
“The focus must now be on Geneva,” said Zahawi, referring to the efforts that were made to bring Syrians together at a peace conference. Last Tuesday, diplomats meeting in Geneva failed to agree on a date for such a conference nor to clear obstacles, including who would represent the Syrian opposition and if the government of President Bashar Assad should play a role in the talks.
Speaking soon after London hosted 11 foreign ministers in October to help to pave the way for a peace conference, Zahawi said there had been “unanimity” within the meeting that any solution for Syria would not include the Assad regime remaining in power.
“It’s almost unthinkable that a regime that’s committed such brutality on its own people can be part of the future of that beleaguered country,” he said.
“It will take a while to get some of the opposition parties together. The lesson of (Western intervention in) Iraq is we need to spend more time thinking about governance post-Assad. In the Syria debate, my counsel to colleagues is that we need to set aside the pains of 2003 in Iraq.”
He describes Syria as the “photographic negative of Iraq,” because both countries have large minority populations of Kurds and Christians. But in Syria it is the Sunnis who, according to the MP, form the historically oppressed majority.
It’s almost unthinkable that a regime that’s committed such brutality on its own people can be part of the future of that beleaguered country,
He has also called for Syria’s post-revolution future to end discrimination against the Kurds, to include compensation for Kurds affected by the Arabisation policies of the Baath regime, and the release of all political prisoners.
Zahawi maintains close ties with Kurdistan through acting as advisor to his family’s myriad businesses there, including steel, property, and oil and gas services. In the UK, he is co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Kurdistan.
After stressing that he does not wish to be seen interfering in the internal affairs of the KRG, as a true believer in Conservative values he does offer the advice that greater “competition” in politics as well as business, along with “transparency,” would help to resolve the dissatisfaction felt by ordinary Kurds.
He described Kurdistan as having a healthy democracy and that, even with its problems, it remained a “beacon of hope” for the region. “As an outsider I don’t want to preach, but as a Kurd and an investor, I can say the best protection for the consumer is competition and transparency.”
Diary permitting, he tries to keep close ties with the Kurdish diaspora, saying they had an “important role to play” in building a vibrant civic life in Kurdistan.
“I’m very proud of what the KRG has achieved. Of course, mistakes have been made, but my colleagues here are aware the Kurds are a positive story and that’s good,” he said. “Kurds have migrated all around the world and everyone has something to give.”