“Terrorists tried to divide us, but we are now stronger together”: Hasan Turan (Kirkuk Provincial Council) visit to Northern Ireland
by Allan Leonard for Northern Ireland Foundation
16 August 2013
On the back of the political assassination of a fellow member of Kirkuk Provincial Council, its Chairman Hasan Turan travelled to Northern Ireland for a weeklong series of meetings and events, to exchange knowledge and experiences in dealing with societal conflict, both in Kirkuk (Iraq) and Northern Ireland. The visit was organised by the Belfast group of the Forum for Cities in Transition (FCT).
At a reception hosted by Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, FCT Belfast member Councillor Tim Attwood reflected on his experience in Kirkuk: “Hopefully it won’t take as long to resolve difficulties in Kirkuk as it did in Northern Ireland. But the experience of our peace process gives us hope: we have a power-sharing government. There are still some problems, but there are a lot of positives and we are moving forward.”
One of the problems is the contentious issue of the display of flags. Mr Turan explained how this is a problem for his city as well, with disagreement over the erection and removal of Iraqi and Kurdistan flags.
Mr Turan sees economic development as a means for forging a common interest for the ethnically diverse people of Kirkuk. He had the opportunity to meet the Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster MLA, and promptly invited her to visit Kirkuk. Minister Foster opened a branch office of Invest NI in nearby Erbil.
The transformation of Northern Ireland was the keynote presentation at a leadership conference that was organised as part of the World Police and Fire Games. In his lecture, Professor Richard English reviewed what has transformed and what has not; why things have changed in the way they have; and what lessons there are from Northern Ireland’s experience that may be useful to other places in the world.
His nine lessons included the need to identify the right root causes (“Don’t send the solution to the wrong address”); the rule of law is the better way to make progress; a militarised reaction to conflict can make the situation worse; and the benefits of coordinating the efforts of officials within and between states, because it builds relationships of trust.
In a meeting with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay MLA expressed his sincere condolences to Hasan about the death of his council colleague, Sheikh Abdullah. The Speaker made specific reference to the killings in 2009 at Massereene Barracks, when two off-duty British Army soldiers were shot dead by members of a dissident republican paramilitary group.
Likewise, after Sheikh Abdullah’s death there was a unity of response in Kirkuk. Mr Turan explained: “Our message to the terrorists was that you tried to divide us, but we are now stronger together. We are all against you terrorists.”
At the office of the Equality Commission, Deputy Commissioner Jane Morrice (and co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition) and Mr Turan compared gender balance in their respective political assemblies. Mr Turan explained that constitutionally they must have 25% female representation. This is achieved through an electoral list system, not dissimilar to that used in the 1996 elections to the Northern Ireland Forum. He added that training for female candidates is important.
Mr Turan also described the variance in employment discrimination between the private and public sectors. There remains a lack of redress for such victims in the former, but in the latter, job applications are treated equally. Chief Commissioner Michael Wardlow described how anti-discrimination legislation has made a “huge difference” in employment in Northern Ireland, but how other forms of segregation remain, for example in housing and education.
Professor Michael O’Flaherty (Chief Commissioner, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission) told Mr Hasan that the dimension of human rights is critical for peace settlements, how this was recognised in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and that this has become commonplace in areas of conflict. Mr Turan and he discussed how serious poverty can engender insecurity — exploited by people of violence — and thus social welfare becomes part of the peace process.
Mr Turan described the tremendous challenges that he faces in Kirkuk, citing the deaths of dozens at an anti-government demonstration; a recent bombing of a cafe in Kirkuk on 12th July, which killed 41 mainly younger people; and nine persons killed in the bombing of two mosques during prayers. This is in addition to daily killings of police officers. While security forces use this as a justification for suspending human rights, Mr Turan’s retort is that that reaction will create a new generation of terrorists. He expressed his wish to develop closer links, to learn from the practice of human rights in Northern Ireland.
Mark Hamilton (FCT Belfast member and PSNI Assistant Chief Constable) gave Mr Turan a driven tour of various interface areas of Belfast, including Newtownards Road, Short Strand, Ardoyne, Cupar Way and Alexandra Park (a public park segregated by an internal steel barrier and gates).
Mr Turan learned from ACC Hamilton how some residents will not literally cross the street to use the local shops, because they are of “the other side”. This was juxtaposed by both of them, minutes later, meeting and welcoming visitors to the World Police and Fire Games at another interface.
In Derry-Londonderry, Shirley Brace provided a history of the development of the Peace and Reconciliation Group and its peacemaking activities. As her colleague Jon McCourt explained, “Our job was not to stop a war. It was to change the conditions on the ground so that war was not the first option.” In other words, their work was to de-escalate the conflict.
This work continues, and Mr Turan likened it to someone who thinks they are cured of a virus, only to have symptoms reappear; you need to remain vigilant about peace.
Nearby at the City Centre Initiative office, Jim Roddy (FCT Derry-Londonderry member) described how the local Unity of Purpose group, which he chairs, operates. This group consists of all the city’s elected leaders (six MLAs, two MPs and one MEP), statutory representatives (municipal officers, police, Department of Health, etc.) and the local Chamber of Commerce (business link). The group meets monthly, to progress agreed outcomes. But the biggest outcome, Mr Roddy reported, is the relationship building, between politicians themselves and with the statutory agencies.
This weeklong exchange was successful in several ways. Mr Turan learned firsthand from many leaders how peace was created and is maintained in Northern Ireland. Likewise, local representatives discovered commonalities, such as the display of flags and the politics of public housing, as well as stark differences, like how Iraq’s sectarian conflict is porous and part of a larger, geo-political contest.
The value of the Forum for Cities in Transition’s work has been proven: with its network of cities, all undergoing a process of conflict transformation, leaders are acquiring knowledge and skills to improve the livelihoods of those they serve.
As Mr Turan concluded: “For me all of the citizens of Kirkuk are in the same family; it is very important to keep the family together.”
Hasan Turan Bahaulddin Saeed was born in Kirkuk in 1962. He attended the college of agriculture. His languages are Turkmani, Arabic, and Kurdish. He is deputy chairman of Al-Adalah Turkmani Party, and his current position is Chairman of Kirkuk Provincial Council.
The Forum for Cities in Transition is an international network of mayors, councillors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector: http://citiesintransition.net
The Forum works on the principle that cities that are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in the same situation.
The Forum for Cities in Transition is an initiative of the John Joseph Moakley Chair at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Secretariat is shared by the Northern Ireland Foundation and the Moakley Chair.