Masoud Barzani: the Kurdish Churchill


David Adamson, a British journalist meeting Mulla Mustafa Barzani in the Kurdish mountains in the winter of 1963, described him laudably as “a tough, obstinate warrior and leader”. When asked did he regard himself as “the leader of the revolution [against Abdul-Karim Qasim], and the physical embodiment of the people’s aspirations”, Mustafa Barzani replied modestly, “I am not the body of the revolution. The body and brain of the revolution is the people. It is their blood which is splashed across the mountains”.

Something of Mustafa Barzani’s fighting spirit, his patriotic leadership, and his irrepressible desire to fulfil the long cherished Kurdish hope of independence is seen in his son, Masoud Barzani, the current President of Kurdistan.

Born on 16 August 1946, the same day that Mustafa Barzani founded the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Massoud Barzani has worked tirelessly for his country and its people. As he himself once stated: "I was born in the shadow of the Kurdish flag in Mahabad. I am ready to serve and die for the same flag”.

Now in his early 70’s, his credentials are impressive. An experienced peshmerga fighting in the Ayloul revolution of the 1960s and later against Saddam Hussein, Masoud Barzani, following the death of Mustafa Barzani in March 1979, was elected as the new president of the KDP, a position he has been re-elected to ever since. Since 2005 he has served as President of Kurdistan.

During the last decade, as he has visited most European capitals and Washington, western leaders have come to recognise Masoud Barzani as a capable leader and sagacious diplomat. In many ways he has proven to be the Kurdish Churchill providing the strong and wise leadership needed as the country faces war with Da’esh, an economic crisis and a humanitarian crisis involving the care of millions of refugees.

On such diplomatic visits abroad President Barzani has been tireless in reminding the world of the courage of peshmerga, and how peshmerga (often with inferior, outdated weapons) has successfully driven back the evil of Da’esh. Just like his father did before him, Masoud Barzani is often at the front lines personally commanding his troops. Many of the peshmerga I have spoken to on my visits to the front line have praised Barzani for the way he personally visits the homes of fallen soldiers.

Barzani’s concern for peshmerga was shown just a week ago when he, through the Barzani Charity Foundation (BCF), offered to provide 1,000,000 IQD ($850) to every family who lost a member in the fight against Da’esh. The BCF, sponsored by Major-General Sirwan Barzani, and Ibrahim Sameen (the BCF communication director), plans to distribute the funds to all families before Eid, the end of Ramadan.  

With Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, (Masoud Barzani’s nephew), Barzani has done much to build good relations with western powers and with Kurdistan’s neighbours, particularly Turkey. 

But his role is not an easy one. Barzani walks a political tightrope negotiating with Turkey and the PKK, particularly the latter’s controversial presence in the Sinjar region. Barzani regularly negotiates with Al-Abadi, the Iraqi PM over Da’esh; Kurdish independence and the “disputed” areas such as Kirkuk.

Barzani wants the best for Kurdistan. In January, with notable temerity, he reminded the western powers that Sykes-Picot, the pact of 1916, that led to the creation of the Middle East as we know it today, has failed, and called for a new plan which would involve the creation of an independent Kurdistan.

In his drive for independence, President Barzani, has regularly emphasized to the West that “the Kurdistan region is not a source of threat for any of our neighbours”. “Our experience throughout the last 15 years”, he stated, “proves that we are the element of stability” in the Middle East.

But as well as stability, Barzani rightly emphasizes the tolerance of Kurdistan. Speaking to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, in March 2017 Barzani affirmed: 

"We are a nation, not a faith. The Kurds are Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yazidis, and more but have a common national identity. We are a society based on the recognition of people's identity, a nation that believes in peaceful co-existence, a people who have self-determination and which must be protected by international law”.

Despite criticisms of failing to hold a referendum Masoud Barzani, showing political integrity, recently stated a referendum would be held on 25 September this year. 

In pursuing the goal of independence Barzani readily acknowledges the need for Kurdish unity, something he has tirelessly striven for.  Again, speaking to La Stampa, Barzani said: “We, more than ever, need to be united, live up to our responsibilities and take into account the higher interests of Kurdistan”.    

Time Magazine, in 2014, described President Barzani as “A powerful president whose life encapsulates the history of a people whose time finally appears to have come”. 

Of course Masoud Barzani has his faults, who doesn’t? I am sure he would be the first to acknowledge that, like any other world leader, he is not perfect, that he too is human. But as the old adage states “Cometh the hour, cometh the man”. In my opinion, concerning Kurdistan, Barzani is the man for the hour, the indefatigable leader needed to guide the Kurdish people through political mayhem to independence.

Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a freelance writer regularly visiting Kurdistan


[The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BasNews.]