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Kurdistan party, supporters threaten magazine over Barzani criticism

Kurdistan party, supporters threaten magazine over Barzani criticism
Father of Kurdish nationalism: In the August 1 interview, Harvard doctoral student Irfan Qani Fard discussed the legacy of Mustafa Barzani, a Kurdish nationalist leader and the father of Masoud Barzani, the current president of the Kurdish Regional Government and the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). In the interview, Fard asserted that Mustafa Barzani had betrayed Qazi Mohamed, president of the short-lived Republic of Kurdistan, and claimed that he was supported by Iranian intelligence services.

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, has been waging a hate campaign for the past week against Lvin magazine, accusing it of besmirching the memory of Barzani’s father, the late Kurdish nationalist leader Mullah Mostafa Barzani.

The offending article in Lvin magazine, published on August 1, consisted of an interview with a student, Irfan Qani’ Fard, who is currently preparing a thesis at Harvard University on modern Kurdish history. In the interview, Fard criticised Mostafa Barzani, one of the earliest leaders of the KDP and a dominant figure on the Kurdish political stage until his death in 1979.

Fard said his research into British and US archives showed that Mostafa Barzani, when commander of the army of the Republic of Mahabad, a short-lived Kurdish political entity founded in December 1945, was encouraged by the British to help bring down the republic and betray its president, Qazi Muhammad, who was hanged by Iranian troops in 1946 when they recovered the region after a Soviet withdrawal.

Fard also said his research showed that it was the Iranian intelligence services that placed Mostafa Barzani at the head of a Kurdish revolution in 1961. The publication of the interview triggered a wave of attacks on the newspaper and its staff that has grown in virulence.

The KDP’s supporters are on the warpath and are threatening all sorts of terrible things if they do not get a public apology. The KDP has also brought a libel action against Rojname, an opposition weekly, over an article accusing the party of corruption.

“Both of these cases pose a very disturbing threat to press freedom in Iraqi Kurdistan,” Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “There are many red lines that journalists must not try to cross, there are many subjects that are off-limits and Mostafa Barzani, a historic figure, is clearly one of them. We are extremely worried, especially by the death threats that have been made against Lvin’s journalists. Two journalists have already been murdered in the past two years.”

The organisation said, “We appeal for calm. The KDP’s leaders must accept that they have a duty to talk sense into their supporters or else the situation will get out of control. The regional government also has a duty to protect journalists working in Iraqi Kurdistan. Politicians must learn to distinguish between defamation and criticism. And the lawsuit against Rojname is absurd. Would the KDP dare to sue the New York Times, which the first to report what Rojname reported?”

The newspaper’s editor, Ahmed Mira, told RSF, “Lvin magazine interviewed the student in a neutral and professional manner. The staff is in no way responsible for the comments this historian made during the interview. Soon after its publication, Lvin and its journalists were the target of serious direct and indirect threats from the KDP. The attacks took various forms. They included death threats. They promised to make us pay.”

On Thursday, an entity describing itself as "youth group defending the sanctity of Kurdistan" published a statement in Khabat, the daily newspaper of the KDP, calling on Kurds to "raise their hands against those who want to abuse the history of our leaders, like Qazi Muhamed and General Mullah Mustafa Barzani." It stated that "those who are responsible must be abused and insulted. We are here to sacrifice our lives against those who do not know the borders of their freedom and freedom of others." The statement insisted that Lvin journalists apologise or "pay the price."

Leaflets attacking Lvin and its journalists began being distributed by party supporters on the streets of Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. Samad told New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the text and email threats were similar. "The general message is that when it comes to writing, Mustafa Barzani constitutes a red line that should not be crossed," Samad said by phone.

Pro-KDP mullahs publicly attacked Lvin and its journalists in their Friday sermons on August 5, accusing them of blasphemy against Islam and urging the population to demonstrate against the newspaper. Some even called for physical attacks on its staff.

“All these threats were made because we published an interview in which a researcher dared to criticise what the official version of Kurdish history has to say about Mullah Mostafa Barzani,” said Mira, who added that Lvin’s journalists had ceased to be protected by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) despite being citizens of Iraqi Kurdistan. Mira announced on August 8 that he had filed a complaint against Massoud Barzani as KRG president and as leader of the KDP because of the murderous appeals issued by KDP organisations and media.

"The KDP is building a record of intimidating journalists who present critical views of the party or its leaders," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator. "We are dismayed the KDP would claim ignorance of the thinly veiled threats made on the pages of its own newspaper. We call on the party's leadership to unequivocally denounce these threats."

Date posted: August 12, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 1385