A Kiss That Threatens to Divide the Kurds

The issue of the morality of a kissing scene quickly became a debate on the gaps between the older and younger generations.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Young versus old, Iraqis versus Syrians – internal frictions are preventing the Kurds from realizing their historic dream of establishing a united, independent state.

In what became a symbol of the rift, five Kurdish actresses refused to participate in the new Kurdish film, “Simai Kholamesh” (“The Image of Ash”), directed by Iraqi Kurdish director Idris Shakhawan. The reason for their refusal: a long kissing scene between the film’s hero and heroine. In the end, actress Hero Hassanzadeh mustered the courage and took on the role, which obligated her to kiss Muhammad Sherwani for six takes, before Shakhawan was satisfied with the results.

Although Kurdish cinema has won international awards, romantic scenes still cause public controversy in the Kurdish region of Iraq, or Iraqi Kurdistan, even though the status of women in Iraq is relatively good. The storm of controversy generated by the kissing scene became suitable material for an Internet squabble via Facebook pages, with young Web surfers hurriedly posting pictures showing them in their own kissing scenes. The surfers asked whether Islam forbids kissing and public displays of affection, and complained it was unfair that they should be expected to go into denial, when it is a known fact that everyone kisses and everyone watches romantic scenes in movies.

The issue of the morality of kissing quickly became a debate on the gaps between the older and younger generations, who are developing the affluent Kurdish region in Iraq. The dispute is connected indirectly with Iraqi Kurdistan’s current political crisis: A relatively new political party, Gouran (Movement for Change) is threatening the political status of the old generation. The party was founded in 2009 under the leadership of Nawshirwan Mustafa as a liberal, reformist opposition to the rule of the two major parties: the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Massoud Barazani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan. Four years later, in the elections to the Kurdish parliament on September 21, Gouran became the second largest party, leapfrogging Talabani’s faction.

Gouran’s electoral success and the weakening of the party led by Talabani, who is recuperating in Germany from a stroke, might have far-reaching implications for the elections to the Iraqi parliament, which will take place next April. With the increase in the number of Kurdish representatives in the Iraqi parliament, in accordance with the new elections law, Gouran, because of its strong electoral clout, might be wooed by Shi’ite parties and even be in a position to determine the future of relations between the central government and Iraqi Kurdistan, which continues to treat it with flagrant disregard.

What to do about Syria

In addition to its complex relationship with the central government, Iraqi Kurdistan acts as if it were nearly an independent state: It prevents the Iraqi army from operating on its territory, bars entry to Iraqi citizens who are Arabs, and enjoys relative security as investments pour in from foreign investors. However, Kurdistan does have a problem: It must now decide how to respond to the Syrian crisis. In particular, it must determine its position regarding decisions that were made last week by Kurdish political groups in Syria, the most prominent of which is the Democratic Union Party, on the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region in that war-torn country. This new development has been made possible by the military victories of the party’s militia over the Islamist forces affiliated with Al-Qaida, and by the resulting creation of a territorial infrastructure for the founding in Syria of an autonomous Kurdish region along the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan.

However, what appears to be the possibility for creating a unified Kurdish Crescent is raising serious fears in the mind of Massoud Barazani, who, as noted above, is the president of Iraqi Kurdistan. Barazani, who sees himself as the supreme leader of all Kurds and who aspires to have Syria’s 2 million Kurds under his rule, shares the fears of Turkey – which he regards as a partner – toward the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria. This party is regarded as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – the PKK, which is banned in Turkey and considered a terrorist organization by numerous states. The alliance between Barazani and Turkey, which has grown more solid over the past two years, especially in light of major economic cooperation between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey and following the completion of the oil pipeline between Kurdish oil fields and Turkey, is a threat to Iraq, which considers the alliance a potential danger for the existence of Iraq within its present borders, and which is also deeply concerned over the loss of revenue from the oil fields.

American apprehension

Washington is also apprehensive about this alliance, because America still attaches great strategic importance to keeping Iraq territorially intact. At the same time, the Americans are continuing to refuse to enter into a dialogue with the Kurds in Syria, in accordance with Washington’s position that there must be no negotiations with isolated opposition forces. and that talks can only be held with the Syrian National Coalition, which is the largest opposition group in Syria and very flimsy at present. That opposition group loudly condemned the decision of Kurdish movements in Syria to establish a region of autonomous rule and even defined the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria as an enemy of the opposition. Prior to that declaration, there have been reports that the Kurdish movements are cooperating with Syrian President Bashar Assad and hoping to be major players in the government when the civil war ends. The fact that these movements are doing well in their armed struggle against Islamist forces is not helping them much – in the eyes of both Barazani and the Turks, who, according to reports from the Syrian opposition, have themselves been assisting the Islamist forces for a considerable period of time.

The political and military whirlpool in which the Kurdish region in Syria finds itself is becoming more and more explosive because of the activities of the independent Kurdish parties, which are relying on young people who aspire to a local independence that will not be connected to Iraqi Kurdistan and Barazani’s regime. Thus, although the civil war in Syria is offering the Kurds in Iraq and Syria the opportunity to close ranks and create a large independent state that would have regional political influence, the internal political and social frictions are continuing and evaporating the prospects for the realization of a historic dream. Apparently, there will be no romantic kiss in this scene.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin November 16, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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