The Un-academic Nature of the Third World Kurdish Congress- A Personal Account of a Peculiar Conference

Attendants during the WKC 2013

Attendants during the WKC 2013

It has now been 10 days since the third World Kurdish Congress ended. I decided, while still on the second day of the three-day conference, to write a blog post about how I experienced the conference and the lack of academic content, which was very evident.

Before I develop my argument I however wish to mention that this blog post is in no way an attempt to undermine the efforts of the many volunteers who helped organise the conference, nor is it a critique of the works presented by the speakers or the attendants’ discussions.

The aim of this post is merely to give my thoughts on what I expected from this conference and why I was disappointed at the management of a conference, which claims to be both “scientific and cultural”.

The conference took place in Stockholm this year, in Musikaliska, a venue where mainly concerts are held, located in the central parts of the capital and it was held during 11- 13 October.

The first day of the three day conference was dedicated to opening statements, after which the first panel consisting of representatives from “successful Diasporas” was presented. The panel consisted of Natan Sharansky, Former minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Israel for a talk about the experience of the World Jewish Congress and how they managed to create a successful diaspora, and Jim Karygiannis member of the Federal Parliament of Canada for a talk about the experience of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association and last but not least Kaspar Karampetian, President of European Armenian Federation for a talk about the experience of the Armenian Diaspora.

It is here where I start to scratch my head and think: “Is the first panel really going to consist of politicians and nationalist representatives of equally nationalistic movements in an academic conference?” But as it is the first day and I am not sure if these are prolonged opening speeches, I listened to the talks, many of which were very interesting, although un-academic.

The following Q&A session was not helping my mood in any way either, with attendants asking the panel;

  • how they thought the Kurds should go about becoming a state
  • what they thought the world community’s response to a Kurdish state might be
  • what they could advise us (i.e. “poor Kurds”) to do to achieve unity amongst ourselves.

This was truly upsetting but as organisers cannot be blamed for what the attendants talk about and discuss, I took deep breaths and continued listening.

The second really upsetting aspect of the conference however came later before the keynote speech of Michael Gunter. Minutes before, the panel was told that they would have to shorten their speeches as the conference has not gone according to the time table and they were behind schedule, but when Gunter takes the stage he starts with saying that he will not accept 20 minutes even but wants his full 30 minutes.

This is not what upset me, I have been to enough conferences to know that conference attendants always conduct a war over minutes to prolong their talks.

No it was the fact that the conference organisers, in this case Alan Dilani and KRG representative Falah Bakir, shouted aloud “ Not this guest of ours, he is a special guest. Let him have his full time” while pointing to the stage in a manner resembling old stereotype images of Ottoman Sultans half sitting in Harems pointing at their subordinates.

The looks on the panel members’ faces were heart breaking at this moment, but the show went on as if this was perfectly fine.

Next Gunter presented his talk, which was more a summary of the last years’ events in the Kurdish regions than anything substantially analytic and academic. He however mentioned these facts, which did not please the organisers;

  • The Goran party is an anti-corruption party- (as professed by themselves, no matter what one may or may not think of them).
  • The PYD is a political party of importance in Syria (Western Kurdistan) (Yet another fact, no matter one’s own political views)
  • Kirkuk will be hard to return to Kurdish governance no matter efforts that may be made by the KRG (Also a fact, although a tragic one)

After the talk the floor was open for questions and in normal procedure being the WKC, Falah Bakir was given the first opportunity to talk whereas he expressed his discontent with Gunter’s talk.  Not based on critique of Gunter as an academic though, but based on Bakir’s personal preference of the details of Gunter’s talk.

His main points for his harsh criticism were that Gunter apparently “talked less of political unity and more of party politics” which was his expectation as a friend of Gunter’s (!?) and he continued with the below points as a reply to above statements by Gunter.

  • Goran was a part of the PUK until disputes occurred.
  • Why do you say that Goran is an anti-corruption party, as if the rest are corrupted?
  • Kirkuk has not been forgotten so nobody can claim that. We are working on returning Kirkuk but it is difficult.
  • Why do you mention PYD in Syria and no other parties? They are not the only actor you see!

Gunter in turn replies: “I try to be an objective scholar. A friend tells you the truth and not propaganda!”

By this time I wonder where I am and whether this is a parallel universe where this conference is being held.

If that comment had been directed at me I would have dug a hole and escaped from it out of shame for what that really means.

It does not stop there however.

During the last session yet another peculiar aspect of the conference is to take place, namely the WKC’s annual report and KRG’s statement.

Why oh why is there need to dedicate one whole day, of a three day conference during which only one day has seen panels being held, on something the organisers and financial supporters could deal with themselves before or after the conference?

But it was held and the organisers entered the stage, shared some (long) views about their ideas for the future of the WKC, most of which first praising the WKC for excellent academic work.

After this, the microphone was sent around the room for the audience to speak and give their suggestions to improve the WKC.

I had not intended to speak but as I was sitting in the back and they were waving the microphone at me and nobody else was in line to speak, I rose up and started to talk.

I had not prepared any notes besides, in my opinion, the hilarious comments above. I did however give suggestions from my heart, as a Kurdish academic, feeling strongly about my homeland and wishing to improve this great platform for exchanging research on Kurdistan, that unfortunately has seen fewer and fewer attendants for each year since the first congress was held merely three years ago.

My points for suggestions were;

  • Could there perhaps be a board for next year which could deal with questions about nomination and future prospects etc. instead of using up a whole day of the conference?
  • We need to see greater gender balance amongst the speakers. I have several women sitting here who all have submitted papers, which have been accepted as posters but not for the panels.
  • Last but not least there needs to be a clear divide between politics and academia and in this case between the WKC and the KRG. This is not a political platform in which to discuss political unity in Kurdistan and how to achieve statehood for the Kurds. This is an academic platform (or aims to be) and I wish these discussions could be shaped into academic ones where proper analysis of the current situation in Kurdistan can be made.

I was still on the second point when a member of the first panel by the name of Jim Karygiannis started shouting and pointing my way. I had preciously engaged in pleasant discussions with him about his work and had formed the opinion of him as a social figure who loves to talk and gather crowds for good laughs over alcoholic drinks. You know, the kind of prejudice you might have of people when you hardly know people.

Well that opinion of Mr Karygiannis changed quickly when he interrupted me for the second time. I asked politely if he could let me finish my talk but he was screaming and pointing fingers at me accusing me of inexperience of conferences and claiming that this conference met all and more of his demands as a seasoned conference attendant and speaker.

That did not bother me as I had formed a whole new opinion of him by then, expecting nothing less than what he was delivering. I was upset that he was allowed to continue with his at times furious and static repetitions claiming indirectly how he was a better academic, conference attendant and “Kurd” than me as he was appreciating it all and not criticising, while I was interrupted several times and also the people that stood up and agreed with me.

I was also interrupted by the panel chair and ended my talk abruptly.

What follows next is disturbing as Mr Karygiannis is given the microphone to continue his harsh speech directed straight at me. Next after, attendant after attendant, with the few exceptions being those who thanked me for speaking up about the WKC, takes the microphone and teary-eyed they describe their love for Kurdistan and how they would do everything for that flag (pointing to the Kurdish flag on the main stage). This includes Mr Bakir when he finally ends the session, but not before he adds; “It is enough now. It feels like we are on trial here. It all went wrong with that first woman speaking. There are people here who can improve the WKC the way we want it. I wished some of you would have spoken instead. You know who I mean. But now we will end this session.”

I had suggestions to improve something that claims to be scientific and a base for academics working on Kurdistan or with an interest in Kurdish issues. Do not make this about a national pledge to let all evil pass by in order to save our Kurdish faces. This conference is not a reflection of me as a Kurd, or as someone who loves their country. This conference is a reflection of the organisers.

Having said that I agree with the last sentence of Mr Bakir. Let us end this session. And hope for the best!

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