Vladimir van Wilgenburg is a true friend to the Kurds, a 22 year old Dutch intellectual and I interviewed him today, enjoy!
Your honest answer, Vladimir. Do you feel appreciated and welcomed among Kurds? How do Kurds receive you?
Most of my friends are Kurds from different parts of Kurdistan. Most of the Kurds welcome me, but there are is also a small minority of Kurds that doesn’t accept me. But in general I am welcomed by every one. One Kurd from Rojhelat even made a special plate for me with a logo of my website on it. I also stayed at very Kurdish families and I enjoyed the Kurdish food and hospitality. Three years ago I also use to hang around with Kurds in Turkey. I also stayed at their apartment and watched Kurdish television. Sometimes I miss the Kurdish hospitality among Dutch people and the good tries between Kurdish families. They always stand up for each other.
How did you become interested in politics? Do you have any historical background in politics in your family that you have been carried on?
When I was a teenager, I already read history books about the Roman empire, Greeks, Germanic tribes, World Wars, etc. I’ve developed an early interest into biology, history, geology, palaeontology. On primary school I was reading a lot big books. Something that most young boys don‘t do. I already was interested into my own “Germanic” heritage when I was at a young age. I also developed an early interest into the Middle-East, when I was 16 years old. And started to read about Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc. Later, when I was studying on my secondary school, I had to choose an subject for a final assignment for history. When I was reading a book about the Middle-East in Turkey, I got interested into the Kurds. Apparently most of my friends in Turkey were Kurds. But apparently they didn’t show their identity.
This doesn’t have anything to do with my family, although my family in general consists of teachers, artists and culture loving people. My mother travelled a lot when she was young and loves folklore and folkdances. She now also loves Kurdish music and folkdances. Also my sisters have a profound interest in travelling. So maybe my interest in the unknown comes from my family.
My grandfather was one of the regional leaders of the resistance against the Nazi Germany, during the second world war. He has saved a lot of Dutch, Jewish and other people by falsifying passports. Sometimes Kurdish peshmerge remind me of my grandfather. It’s quite ironic actually, because my grandmother welcomed Premier Churchill for the first time in my country. He was also responsible for bombing Kurds with chemical weapons in Iraq and creating Iraq!
You have not yet travelled to Kurdistan even if you told me that you want to, what is your expectations?
I did travel to Kurdistan. I visited some Kurdish provinces in Turkey. With my own eyes, I saw the bad economic situation of the Kurds there. For one week I stayed with a Kurdish family. I noticed most old people speak one Kurdish dialect, or even more dialects. But that the young people are speaking more and more Turkish.
Coming summer I’m going to Turkey again and probable also to North-Kurdistan. I’ve read a lot about it and also saw video’s about it, so I know a little bit how it is. The Kurdish regions are beautiful, despite of the hard life of Kurds. The only friends of Kurds, the mountains, are beautiful. I really love your only friend! But I do you think, you have some more friends out there. Like Peter Galbraith.
Next study year I will probable also visit Iraqi-Kurdistan, with the “Kurdish study group“. This group consists out of Dutch and Kurdish students. I’m really looking forward to go to “Free Kurdistan” and see Kurdish flags and the Kurdish parliament. I know even non-Kurdish people, that cried, because they saw a Kurdish flag and the “Welcome to Iraqi-Kurdistan” sign.
There are still problems there, due to corruption, but it takes time to rebuild the Kurdistani region and to develop an adult political mentality. I expect a thriving and booming Kurdistan.
What do you think about the situations in the for parts of Kurdistan and which solutions do you think will solve this issues?
I also studied history and they teached me there, that you cannot predict the future. A lot of Turkish so-called experts and intellectuals made predictions about Newroz this year, but they were all wrong.
I think currently, it’s going better for the Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan. Kurds had autonomic principalities in the past, they had the Mahabad republic, but they have never had a Kurdish parliament and government like this. It really cannot be compared to the Mahabad republic, which only existed for one year. The KRG and Kurdish autonomy in Iraq is an inspiration for Kurds living over the whole world.
Recently an American blogger visited North- and South-Kurdistan. And he noticed how Kurds in the Kurdish parts of Turkey are talking about America and that America supports them. I think the Kurdish issue is improving a lot. In the past, this was unthinkable.
Turkey had several red lines in the past. Until the eighties Kurds were first mountain Turks and after that “eastern Turks”. Also Kurdish language was forbidden. But now, Barzani spoke on Turkish television about Kurdistan, Erdogan spoke about the Kurdish identity, Turkish newspapers also talk about Kurdish issues. I even saw some Turkish newspapers using the term Kurdistan (Maybe so-called Kurdistan, but they are still using it). I spoke with the very famous Turkish journalist Cengiz Candar and he said that the Turkish press will soon overcome their anxiety towards the word Kurdistan. Recently he visited Kurdistan, together with Ilnur Cevik and saw Talabani coming back to Kurdistan, after his hospital visit in Jordania. I think Turks are also more and more accepting the Kurdish identity. This was also shown by a recent poll of Milliyet, the results were promising: The majority of the Turkish citizens are in favour of a multicultural/multi-ethnic Turkey.
Next to this, a lot of Turkish companies are investing in South-Kurdistan. Although the Turkish government first opposed even Kurdish autonomy and said they would invade if the Kurds would set up their own government, they eventually didn’t do anything. They still haven’t recognised the region, but they didn’t invade Kurdistan. There are still problems between the Turkish government and the Kurdish government. But I think eventually they will realize, that it’s better to have good contacts with the Iraqi Kurds. Some former Turkish generals and the former Turkish president Kenan Evren called for better ties with the Iraqi Kurds and the Kurds in Turkey. Currently there is a battle between extreme-nationalists/military/Kemalists and the democrats in Turkey. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but I don’t think attacks on tourists by TAK or a resumed armed rebellion against the Turkish military will help. It will only help to keep the military domination of the army intact.
Due to the possible attack on Iran of America, the Kurdish opposition movement in Iranian Kurdistan is also growing. Political parties set up three TV-stations and there is growing a bigger international interest in the Kurdish situation Iran. Sadly, the Kurdish parties are still very divided, but they will probable realize, like KDP and PUK, that’s in their best interest to work together. I only don’t look very positive to other Iranian opposition parties, that have treated Kurds bad the past too. I think it would be hard for Rojhelati Kurds to work together with other opposition parties. The activities of Komala and KDP-I are also restricted by the KRG. They should do more to operate inside Iranian-Kurdistan.
In Syrian Kurdistan, the Kurdish parties are working together with the biggest opposition parties against the Baathist regime. They’ve signed several treaties with the Syrian opposition forces. I don’t think Syria or Iran will change fast, without an American regime-change, because the opposition groups are still weak.
In South-Kurdistan it’s going very well and I think Kerkuk will become another province of the KRG’s provinces.
To give a short answer to your question, I think the Iranian, Turkish and Syrian government have to look to the Iraqi constitution and Kurdistani constitution as an example. The problems will be solved if they recognise the Kurdish identity, support Kurdish education and develop the ignored Kurdish area’s. In all Kurdish regions, Kurds suffer from underdevelopment and unemployment, as a result this stimulates urbanization to big cities outside of Kurdistan. This brought the Kurdish issue to the front doors of these governments, they cannot ignore it. But I think it’s a long road, till they will recognize the Kurdish identity.
The European Council gave a good solution to the issue, in a report about the cultural situation of the Kurds (6th of July), they encouraged Turkey, as a Council of Europe member state, and Iran, Iraq, Syria to acknowledge that the Kurdish language and culture are part of the heritage of their own country, that they are a richness that is worth being preserved and not a threat to be combated and asks them to take the necessary measures.
Unity is the word that every Kurd is speaking of nowadays, how can Kurds from all parts gather and unite do you think?
Do you mean a united greater Kurdistan? I think this will be very difficult to achieve for Kurds, but about unity amongst the Kurdish people in general, I think Kurds have to separate themselves more from the political dominance of political parties.
Kurds from different parts should come together through independent organizations. For instance, Newroz parties, are organized by political parties. Among Iranians you see that Newroz parties aren’t organized by political parties. Kurds would achieve more unity, if they would celebrate big Newroz parties for all Kurds. It are actually the political parties, that separate Kurds into several sections. There is off course also the language problem, but I think that Kurdish affiliations are a bigger problem for Kurdish unity, because Kurds think about Barzani, Ocalan, or Talabani, but not about the fact that they are all Kurds and come from Kurdish cities. Where is the “Kurdiyeti” and “Yekiti”? Kurds should learn to work together, in demonstrations, lobbies, etc.
Also parties should stop to try dominate Kurdish events. From my personal experience, I know a lot of efforts to bring more unity for Kurds, were crushed by parties, that wanted to claim these events for their own flag.
But you shouldn’t forget that Kurdish unity is growing. Recently Leyla Zana spoke about the three Kurdish leaders Ocalan, Talabani and Barzani. And the contacts between Kurds from several parts are increasing, compared to the past.
How advanced or underdeveloped do you think the Kurdish Diaspora around the world?
I think the Kurdish diaspora isn’t very well organized compared to the Turkish, Iranian or Armenian diaspora. This is due to the language barriers, political parties and due to the 80 years of separation between Kurds, due the borders and influences of non-Kurdish cultures (Arabic, Turkish and ‘Iranian’). I think Kurds can achieve more, if they organize themselves independently in Europe and America and work together for the common Kurdish cause.
And last of all. We can hope for it but, will you marry a Kurdish girl?
Haha, funny question. My Kurdish friends said that I’m born in a wrong way and that I should’ve been a Kurd. I wouldn’t be surprised to end up with a Kurdish girl. It would be better for me to learn the Kurdish language and to get to know the Kurdish culture. I also tend to like girls with dark hair, eyes and a “Middle-Eastern” look… haha. Kurdish girls are very beautiful. Ehmede Xane already wrote about this in the past. It would probable be bad for my objectivity though. There is actually one Dutch professor, which I know. He is married with a Kurdish women from Dersim and they have children together. He can speak Kurdish very well. But we will see what the future will bring.