Iraqi Kurdistan offers olive branch to Ankara with renewed anti-terror commitment

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and ex-President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani greet people during a ceremony in Diyarbakir. (Reuters/file)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Iraqi Kurdistan offers olive branch to Ankara with renewed anti-terror commitment

ANKARA: The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is reportedly attempting to recover its relations with Turkey by contributing to Ankara’s anti-terrorism efforts.
According to Turkish press reports, Irbil is planning to establish security along its border with Turkey, often used by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists to infiltrate Turkey from northern Iraq and conduct terror attacks. As a practical step, the KRG has some plans to declare security zones in regions near Turkish borders.
Consequently, civilians will not be permitted to cross into the security zones, and those trying to enter these zones will be considered terrorists and be prevented from crossing.
Northern Iraq has been a long-time hub for terrorist activities against the Turkish state. In early November 2017, Turkish security forces clashed with PKK terrorists who were trying to cross the border from northern Iraq, resulting in the death of eight Turkish soldiers.
The bilateral ties between the KRG and Turkey shattered following the independence referendum the KRG held on Sept. 25, 2017, despite all regional and international warnings against it.
After the referendum, international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan were canceled at the request of Baghdad, but Turkey did not close its land border with the region.
And now, with the deteriorating economic conditions in Iraqi Kurdistan, its lose of control of the oilfields in Kirkuk and the high rate of unemployment leading to protests in Sulaymaniyah last month, the Irbil government has become obliged to reconcile with regional countries.
Galip Dalay, research director at Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul, thinks that apart from this latest step, it is plausible to expect a gradual mending of ties between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The fact that the KRG leadership has visited Europe through Turkey points to such a prospect,” Dalay told Arab News.
In the first two weeks of December, KRG officials, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Deputy Qubad Talabani, paid visits to France and then to Germany by crossing by land into Turkey, and then taking a flight from there to discuss regional issues, including the fight against Daesh and the deadlock on Irbil-Baghdad relations.
Nevertheless, Dalay noted that this rapprochement process between Irbil and Ankara would be slow and gradual, and a swift recovery of relations is unlikely.
“Beside foreign policy projections, Turkey’s domestic politics will define the momentum of such a rapprochement. In this respect, if KRG’s recent decision is materialized, this will contribute to giving a positive momentum to the relationship,” he said.
Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from Istanbul-based think-tank Bilgesam, said this latest move by Irbil to forge a relationship with Turkey is the outcome of the isolation of the KRG following the independence referendum, both regionally and internationally.
According to Semin, the KRG cannot afford further deterioration with Turkey under its current international isolation, and the decrease in Turkish investments in the region has further contributed to its economic difficulties.
But the plan is not feasible without adequate human resources, he said.
“Currently Irbil, due to the dire economic state of the region, cannot pay the salaries of its Kurdish Peshmerga forces and civil servants. So such a plan will mostly fail unless it is supported by Turkey’s contributions with its own soldiers or launching a military training camp in this region, similar to Bashiqa camp in Mosul,” Semin told Arab News.
Although it was later considered by Iraq’s central government a move against “national sovereignty,” Turkish troops have been stationed in Bashiqa in northern Iraq following an invitation by Baghdad in 2014 with the mission of training Peshmerga forces in the fight against Daesh.
Semin also noted that the KRG began seeing the PKK as an imminent security threat to itself after the terror group recently declared autonomy in five regions in northern Iraq.
Turkey has recently launched sweeping aerial operations against PKK hideouts following the terror group’s recent attacks from northern Iraq to Turkish territories with rocket launchers.
“The KRG leadership is also concerned that central government’s security forces might conduct an operation in the region if the PKK gains regional clout,” Semin noted.


Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

Updated 18 July 2018
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Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

  • Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives
  • Projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants

BEIRUT: Since arriving in Lebanon, Sudanese migrant worker Abdallah Afandi has been turned away from beach resorts, mistaken for a cleaner and prevented from renting an apartment — all because of the color of his skin.
Now he is hoping to challenge the “racism and prejudice” he says he has encountered by taking part in Lebanon’s first radio show to be hosted and produced by migrants from countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Philippines.
The aim is to give Lebanese people a greater understanding about where migrants come from to create the tolerance and respect that local migrant rights groups say is lacking.
“Many Lebanese see Sudanese only as cleaners and workers — we want them to see us in a different way,” Afandi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The 27-year-old came to Lebanon seven years ago when he no longer felt safe in his home of Darfur in western Sudan, where conflict had raged since 2003.
He now earns a living preparing food in a restaurant and doing maintenance work in a Beirut residential building.
Afandi’s episode is one of a series airing on Voice of Lebanon, a popular independent radio station, featuring migrants talking about their own food and culture as well as the issues they face in Lebanon.
In it, he and two other Sudanese migrants discuss their country’s pyramids and interview Sudan’s ambassador to Lebanon on migrant rights.
“I want to use my voice so that people in Lebanon understand where I come from, my culture, music, food — so they will look beyond what I do for a living, and the color of my skin,” he said.
KAFALA
Migrant workers in Lebanon and much of the Middle East work under the kafala sponsorship system, which binds them to one employer.
Rights groups have blamed the system for abuse of migrant workers and say it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by denying them the ability to travel or change jobs.
Race is also a factor — last month two Kenyan women migrant workers suffered an attack that Lebanon’s justice minister condemned as “shocking” and “abhorrently racist” after footage of them being beaten was circulated on social media.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants.
“This radio show is a brilliant example to be replicated across the region, and to bring attention to stories ‘by migrants’,” said spokeswoman Farah Sater Ferraton.

’NOT FOREIGN’
The show — whose name “Msh gharib” means “not foreign” in Arabic — has been in the works since 2017 and was created by the Anti-Racism Movement, a local non-government organization, with the help of migrants from the community center it runs.
“The title of the show really communicates its purpose — migrants are not ‘the other’. Their voices and stories shouldn’t be ‘foreign’ to Lebanese,” said Laure Makarem, spokeswoman for the center.
“Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives.”
The 15 episodes will air in the next few months and are mainly in Arabic, with small sections in the hosts’ native language — particularly when talking about their rights in Lebanon.
Tarikwa Bekele, a 33-year-old domestic worker, is working on one episode with fellow Ethiopians, who make up the biggest migrant group in Lebanon at more than 100,000 people.
They are planning to talk about Ethiopian traditions, famous athletes and a famous model in the hope of showing Lebanese that Ethiopians are not “just working in houses and cleaning bathrooms,” said Bekele.
“There are so many Ethiopians working in Lebanon,” said Bekele. “Once they can see that we are like them — like any other country — I think they will treat us better. Treat us with respect.”

Funding for this story was supported by a fellowship run by the International Labour Organization and the Ethical Journalism Network.