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Talabani: China’s “Special” Friend

  • KurdishMedia.com - By Hishyar Abid
  • 10/12/2010 00:00:00

The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo was a poignant occasion. Liu Xiaobo, the laureate for this year’s prize, is incarcerated in China. His wife was put under house arrest and any other dissident who could have represented him at the ceremony has also been prevented from travelling. The ceremony did not include handing any certificate as no one could claim it on Mr. Liu’s behalf. The last time that happened was when Nazi Germany refused to release Carl von Ossietzky from his prison camp in 1935 to travel to Oslo.

Mr. Liu’s empty chair was a reminder that the globalised world, which was flung open for trade thanks in big part to the Chinese economic openness, still has many doors locked, not least that of Mr. Liu’s cell. But his chair was not the only one that remained empty. Indeed, 18 countries, bowing to pressure (and some threats) from China, have abstained and shunned the ceremony. The list is curious and needs some pondering, as it includes Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, who had its share of embarrassment when Dr. Shirin Abbady, the Tehran based Human Rights lawyer, received the prize in 2003. But one country stands out because their abstention is a reminiscence of an era that a great deal of blood was shed to overcome it.

Iraq under Saddam was no fan of the prize, or indeed of any similar grandiose accolades bestowed in recognition of efforts defending Human Rights or political freedoms. But the Iraq of 2010, having emerged from brutal dictatorship and invasion, and still reaping the benefits of democratic institutions and elections, under the presidency of Mr. Jalal Talabani, should be different.

China is an economic power in the world to be reckoned with. But in the Middle East, it is a relatively new-comer and somewhat still remain in the margins. The last giant communist country has little ground to occupy in a predominantly Muslim region. They are not engaged in the Iraqi political process that turned into an arena of different local and international interests vying and competing. Beijing is eager to maintain invisibility that enables them to continue importing oil from Iran without too much upsetting the Obama Administration. They are indeed not a major player in Iraq, even though their growing interest in the lucrative growing market in Iraq is palpable.

By attending the ceremony, Iraq was not risking the well-brandished wrath of the Chinese. This stance was not likely to have been initiated by PM Maliki, who, as devout Muslim, is fundamentally opposed to communism. However, President Talabani has always pride himself in his “special” history that linked him to the Chinese. He was, after all, an advocate of Maoism in the 60s, when the debate between Peking (as it was called then) and Moscow culminated into the ideological split of the international communist movement. Not only he propagated Maoism within the ranks of his faction of the KDP, but also he later plaid a leading role in setting up Kurdistan Marxist Leninist League (Komala), a Maoist group that became the main component of PUK and the generator that powered the 1976 resistance movement in Iraqi Kurdistan.

At that time, we all in Komala heard about his special links to the Chinese and about his secret visit to China and meeting Chairman Mao. This legend, true or false, was part of Mr. Talabani’s legacy that has widened his appeal to the wider Kurdish activists, especially the intellectuals, to rally around his leadership. This legend further strengthened the notion that he was an international personality who is recognised by the world and will help to break the isolation, with which we, the Kurds, were gravely plagued.

As president, Mr. Talabani has taken even keener interest in the relationship with China. He successfully campaigned to appoint Dr. Mohammed Sabir Ismail, President Talabani’s brother in law, as the Iraqi Ambassador to China in June 2004. He visited China for a whole week in June 2007, and, only last week he has accepted another invitation to visit China next year.

This especial friendship was created in bleak times to help us to break the clutches of the dictatorship that suppressed us and abused our rights. It is a travesty if it is used to help dictatorship and abusers of Human Rights. President Talabani, a lawyer by training and a freedom fighter by tradition, should have taken a stand in support of freedom. Instead, we see yet another piece of our good history turned into a commodity and haggled upon in the international bazaar.

  • KurdishMedia.com - By Hishyar Abid
  • 10/12/2010 00:00:00