I wish to begin today with a statement of appreciation for the increasing interest which this body is taking in the Middle East, and in particular your expressions of support and friendship for the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Over the years of our struggles we have learned that there is no substitute for the understanding and support of the great nations of Europe. We are determined to use every opportunity to build closer economic, political, and social ties to Europe; and the values that the Atlantic Alliance preserves are a key vehicle for us in this regard.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the horrific genocidal massacre perpetrated by the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, against the Kurdish people.
I believe we can all agree that what happened in the past in Kurdistan should not be forgotten—over 182,000 Kurdish men, women and children disappeared during the infamous Anfal campaign, 4,500 villages were razed to the ground, and civilians were directly targeted by Saddam’s chemical weapons.
We are pleased that the Iraqi High Tribunal and Council of Representatives have recognized these past crimes against the Kurds in Iraq as genocide, but we must do more. Accordingly, I am very grateful to those who are working to raise this issue in your respective legislatures, and I encourage others to join them in advocating for a just recognition of the genocide committed against the Kurdish people, and we invite you to join in with them.
There are still many who do not know the course of events and that’s why for us informing you about what really happened is such of great importance.
What happened in Kurdistan was a crime against all the people of the world; against humanity itself, and we will always be grateful for your support in keeping the memory of this tragedy alive in order to dissuade others from pursuing similar courses of action.
This important commemoration takes place at a time of great upheaval in the Middle East that many of us never expected to see.
In some places change has come relatively peacefully, in others the struggle against violence and repression goes on.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Region has always been considered a mosaic of ethnic groups and religious minorities; and, in this regard, has become an example for Iraq and for the rest of the Middle East.
We have maintained an environment of safety and security in our Region through the cooperation of our security forces and a vigilant population.
We have, and will continue to play our part in the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism which threatens the fabric of democratic societies worldwide.
The common values and our prerogatives are those to live in peace and freedom and in safety within a united, federal, and democratic Iraq, and where all human rights, religious rights, are respected, and especially what enshrined in the Constitution, voted on by more than 80% of the population.
Dialogue, religious coexistence, tolerance, civil society are considered fundamental values, as a means of peaceful resolution of any dispute, something precious and widely shared.
Our doors are open to all. We are a multi-ethnic region, which has strong historical traditions for tolerance and respect.
Today we continue to receive thousands of displaced Christians and other IDPs from the rest of Iraq, and we gladly offer them shelter, assistance, and where possible, jobs. And yet in these days, we continue receiving syrian refugees and providing them assistance.
While we face great obstacles to the consolidation of our democracy, the people of Iraq have very fresh memories of life under the tyranny of the Ba’athist regime, and they find the current state of politics much more to their liking.
From our perspective, the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq are not so much issues of freedom and democracy as they are the consolidation of a new federal state.
Our political system, while young, is maturing and we are learning to meet the challenges of a modern participatory democracy and to fulfill the responsibilities of democratic leadership, staking all on our future, on our young people.
I was strongly impressed with youth programs that you have undertaken and it would be a great honor for us being able to achieve them also in Kurdistan.
This is the transformational power of freedom and democracy. There is nowhere else in the modern world that stands more resolutely as a success story of democracy’s ability to unleash the potential of a long-suffering nation than the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Where Kurds once fought for their very survival from the genocidal policies of a dictator, where we were once locked in a zero-sum struggle with a state that was supposed to protect us, but instead sought to destroy us, democracy and federalism now offers us the opportunity to contribute to the building of a truly strong state, one that aids its citizens in realizing their own dreams and destinies.
Our success is the success of a long historical march. We are extremely proud of our record of consistently working for this day and the rights of the Iraqi people, both as a liberation movement and now as a government.
In closing, I commend you, members of the Association in your efforts to promote peace, democracy, tolerance and coexistence. The Kurdistan Region stands with you in these efforts.
Together we have a bright future ahead of us and we look forward to the continued cooperation of our people to prevent tyranny and ensure global progress on the values that unite us.