How would you characterize democracy in the Kurdistan Region?
The Kurdistan Region has many political parties that are reflective of the diversity of the Region. Today, we have more than 40 political groups, which range significantly in their size, makeup, and beliefs. The Kurdistan Parliament (KP) reflects this diversity. It features 111 seats, a majority of which are occupied by the coalition government that combines the KDP, the PUK, and some other smaller parties. There are also three opposition groups, two of which are Islamist and the other is secular and more leftist. Then, of course, there are seats in the KP reserved for minority groups. The Kurdistan Region is not just composed of Kurds, but rather also includes Turkoman, Assyrians, and Chaldeans. We have Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis as well. So, there are representatives from the political groups, but then also the national and religious communities as well.
How do you think the Kurdistan Region has been able to establish such prolonged stability, especially given recent events in the surrounding region?
I think there are two reasons that the Region has had such stability. Firstly, there was never any gap in terms of leadership. When the previous regime collapsed, the Kurds already had their own government, Parliament, political leadership, and political parties. Moreover, our political parties have their roots in the people. The Kurds have been in resistance for many years, so they also have concrete ideas about how best to secure their own futures. Secondly, as part of that resistance, we had military forces [the peshmerga] in place. So, we had our own security services, our own political groups, our own government, and our own leaders. This created a feeling of strong unity, which then facilitated stability.
Do you think it’s fair to categorize the Kurdistan Region as a success story in terms of providing security both for its own people and for the foreign companies operating here?
The Kurdistan Region is a success story, not only in comparison to the rest of the country but to the rest of the region as well. Certainly, it is a success story in terms of security, but also economic development, social openness, religious tolerance, and the implementation of a democratic system.
Looking further abroad, Turkey has obviously become a strong source of political and economic support. How would you categorize relations between Erbil and Ankara?
The relationship between Erbil and Ankara is very strong. However, this wasn’t always the case. There has been a significant shift in our relations since 2008. Many people argue that this new relationship was established solely because of Turkish economic interests. I am not of that opinion. Certainly, it plays a role. However, there were hundreds of Turkish companies here even before 2008. I believe that the change came from within the current government of Turkey. The AKP [the ruling party in Turkey] changed its policy towards both the Kurdish issue and the Kurdistan Region. This shift impacted their overall behavior, specifically in regards to their willingness to pursue new approaches in their relations with us. Simply put, I think that the Kurdistan Region became more of a reality in their eyes. So, since 2008, we have achieved a high level of cooperation based on mutual interests, as well as geography and common history.
Regarding the leadership of the Kurdistan Region, when President Barzani attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, he did so for the first time while functioning as President. What do you think this distinction meant in terms of defining the Region’s standing and prestige on an international level?
I do believe that this recognition owes to our people, their struggle, their quest for freedom, and the fact that they successfully built our country from nothing. However, when we meet with different groups, we can see that people interact with the President as though they are interacting with a head of state. I think this indicates two different things. Firstly, it shows that people are recognizing the Kurdistan Region as an important economic power in the region and as an economic power for the future. Secondly, and perhaps more obviously, it means that people are therefore recognizing the leadership of the Kurdistan Region as being integral in that success. So, they invite us to these meetings and engage in meaningful dialogue with our leaders. We are politically, geographically, and economically a part of Iraq. We are committed to the federal constitution, and we are of the opinion that the establishment of a strong democratic, federal system in Iraq would benefit all parties involved. Nevertheless, I feel that people do approach us in a manner that reflects their view that we are an independent state in a period of economic boom.