THE BLOG

Remembering Halabja and Boosting the Kurdish Diaspora

18/03/2014 11:09 GMT | Updated 18/05/2014 10:59 BST

Several MPs referred favourably to Ukrainian communities and organisations in their constituencies in a recent Commons debate on Russian actions against Ukraine. Such links with voters, who may be seen as newsworthy locally and electorally important, makes MPs more attentive.

It illustrates that foreign policy is not only made by states and between states but that much of it is formed within states and that Diaspora communities can make a difference. My route to work takes me past the Downing Street office of the Prime Minister where there are often peaceful demonstrations by Diaspora communities urging the UK to defend their causes.

They protest to raise awareness but also because the UK remains a great power, economically more than militarily, but most importantly through soft power. For example, English is a global language.

Another is that its diplomacy is based on long experience. The Government and a host of independent groups have a good record of sharing of some of the secrets of British success with nations, parties and civil society groups seeking to overcome their own difficult legacies. Westminster doesn't have all the answers by any means but such activities allow people to learn from each other.

Such mutually beneficial exchanges, in the Kurdish case, owe much to Kurds who have lived and those who continue to live in the UK. One of the key drivers of the increasingly warm relationship between the UK and the Kurdistan Region is that very many of its leaders spent years in exile here and often completed their education here.

The decision by over 80% of those on the KRG's Human Capacity Development Programme to choose British universities will continue this. They are both ambassadors of the Kurdish cause here and back in the Kurdistan Region.

Last week many Kurds in Britain attended an event in the Commons organised by the KRG in London together with the all-party group to mark the 26th anniversary of the attack on Halabja, the single biggest chemical weapons attack on a civilian population in history.

The panel included world famous chemical weapons experts, legal experts and Kamaran Haider, a representative of the Halabja Chemical Survivors' Society. The meeting was part of the continuing campaign to persuade the British Government to recognise that what happened to the Kurds was genocide.

Robert Halfon MP also tabled a Commons motion last week which says that "in the absence of any likely national or international judicial process after so many years, the Government should follow the example of the House which, on 28 February 2013, formally recognised this action as genocide."

Recognition can help make sure that the comforting slogan, Never Again, is made into a reality. But at the packed meeting in the Commons, British chemical and biological weapons expert, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon expressed concern that chemical weapons in Syria could get into the wrong hands and "before we know it, terrorists are using them on international flights."

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman voiced the anger felt by many that chemical weapons are being used against civilians again whilst the west watches but does nothing: "'We as human beings should do whatever we can to stop genocide and atrocities. The west's reaction to Syria is despicable. We say that it mustn't happen again, but we know that it does, a quarter of a million refugees have come across the border from Syria to Kurdistan. We're seeing genocide happen again right before our eyes."

Labour MP, John Woodcock, who attended the meeting and also recently visited Kurdistan, movingly raised the Syrian issue in Prime Minister's Questions a couple of days later. He noted that it was three years since the bloodshed began in Syria and that "more than 2.5 million people have fled the country, and the dead can no longer even be counted." He passionately opined that "We must all bear responsibility for our shameful failure to intervene, but the Government are supposed to be the ones running the country" and urged renewed effort to end the slaughter before all hope fails.

It was an important note of dissent against the tide of inaction over another Baathist tyrant who has used chemical weapons and one that is nurtured by an understanding of what happened to the Kurds.

The inspiring Commons event to mark Halabja was, however, marred by two extremists who provocatively aired false accusations. They represented no one but themselves although it left a bad taste in the mouth.

The Iraqi Kurdish Diaspora in Britain is as diverse as back home, though can be a little out of touch with developments there, but should also become more unified and vocal with their MPs. This a big asset to Kurdistan and could do more to advance diplomatic, commercial and people-to-people links.