My Remarks at the Rally to Mark Sir John Major’s Safe Haven that saved Kurdistan

The great Irish Poet, Seamus Heaney wrote

History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave,
but then, once in a lifetime,
the longed-for tidal wave
of justice rises up and make hope and history rhyme.

That opportunity for Kurdistanis came in 1991. Discrimination and genocide appeared eternal until Saddam invaded Kuwait.

The frantic weeks between his defeat and Sir John Major’s safe haven saved the Kurds and decency in foreign policy.

The other key heroes are the Kurdistani people and their brave rebellion, astute leaders such as Safeen Dizayee and Nadhim Zahawi, horrified public opinion, those who sent aid, MPs of all parties, especially Labour’s Ann Clwyd, and service personnel such as Jason McCartney and Tom Hardie-Forsyth.

The APPG has taken many MPs to Kurdistan and I am pleased that one of them, the Deputy Speaker of the British Parliament, Rosie Winterton is watching this rally.

Saddam cynically counted on warm words and wishes from the wider world.

Number one in the charts at the time was Should I Stay or Should I Go by the Clash. It was also a political dilemma.

The normal position would be to say this was an internal Iraqi matter. It would have proved that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains and the UK only has eternal interests rather than allies, as Palmerston put it in the 19th century.

Sir John Major rejected this Realpolitik. His moral pragmatism saved the Kurds who built a safe haven for religious groups, refugees and displaced people.

The safe haven gave Kurdistan the freedom to build freedom, to paraphrase another Irish figure, Michael Collins.

Kurdistan used freedom to build a parliament and expand universities. After the liberation of Iraq, it built a modern energy sector and boosted living standards.

But life doesn’t stand still. Our bilateral relationship can help build better universities whose research and innovation can encourage enterprise, create jobs, and diversify the economy after Covid and as carbons fade.

I also hope Kurdistan can build a film sector so we hear their stories of the past, the present, and the future.

We are not merely marking history but seeking to make it. But bravo to Sir John and all those who saved Kurdistan. We have more to do. As they say in Kurdistan, Ba Broin – let’s get on with it.

Gary Kent, APPG Secretary

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