Perspectives on Kurdistan in German Politics

In this interview, Jian Omar, a member of the Berlin parliament and representative of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, shares insights from his 2021 visit to Kurdistan, emphasizing the nee

Perspectives on Kurdistan in German Politics
February 25, 2024

In this interview, Jian Omar, a member of the Berlin parliament and representative of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, shares insights from his 2021 visit to Kurdistan, emphasizing the need for international support in rebuilding post-ISIS. He envisions deepening German-Kurdish relations and offers recommendations for the Kurdistan Regional Government's environmental focus. Omar discusses his integration into German politics as a Kurd, emphasizing the enrichment of diverse identities. Regarding the Kurdish community in Germany, he encourages active participation in German politics and the preservation of cultural identity within the broader societal context. 

To begin, please tell us about your last visit to Kurdistan. Was it an official visit or for tourism and educational purposes?

The last time I was in Kurdistan was in 2021, two months after I had been newly elected to the Berlin parliament. At that time, I was officially invited as a parliamentary observer to the elections of the representatives of the Kurdish diaspora in Erbil. I also used the trip to exchange perspectives with some of the political groups in the parliament in the Kurdistan Region and had a very positive meeting with Mayor Omed Khoshnaw. We talked about the potential of Erbil, networking with cities in Europe, and how the administration in Erbil could be developed further. I offered him my support, both in my role as spokesperson for city partnerships and as a member of the Kurdish community.

What is your vision for Kurdistan and the development of German-Kurdish relations?

In my eyes, the Kurdish community deserves more support, which is why it was important for me to send a signal of support through my trip and help set up a longer-term network. The Kurdistan Region has achieved great things in the fight against ISIS, yet international support for the region has dwindled. The region urgently needs help in rebuilding the areas destroyed by ISIS, especially in the Yezidi region of Sinjar.

In the meantime, the region has largely recovered from the war, and people are actively working on further development. The current task is to persist and exploit the existing potential, especially in the areas of road transport, administration, tourism, science, and industry. Kurdistan, having demonstrated its ability in the fight against ISIS to network with other countries, should leverage this for further development. Many concepts have already been tried and tested in other countries, such as in the areas of administration and urban development, that can be easily adapted to fit here. In this way, Kurdistan can benefit from the experience and expertise of other countries and does not have to reinvent the wheel.

My vision is to strengthen and deepen cooperation between Kurdistan, Germany, and other European countries. I would like to work towards this.

In the Ninth Cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) under the leadership of Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, environmental issues have become a key focus. Since your organization is recognized at a global level for its interest in the environment and efforts to protect it, do you have any particular recommendations for the KRG?

I see a need for improvement, particularly in addressing the ongoing power cuts, in solar energy and renewable energies in general, and in environmental protection, which is why I am glad that these issues are now a high priority for Prime Minister Barzani's cabinet. I also think that these are issues that are worth working on for the future, both through networking with other countries and cities and attracting the necessary investment. In the long term, this will not only lay the foundations for better living conditions for the Kurdish population and contribute to global climate policy, but also enhance the international reputation of the region. 

Currently, the region’s climatic advantages are not being sufficiently utilized. Abundant wind and solar resources need to be utilized for the expansion of renewable energies. In this context, established concepts from other nations and lessons learned from errors elsewhere can be applied. It is now up to the KRG to network between Kurdish and Western cities, gather knowledge, apply it to regional needs and conditions, subsequently, utilize it as a foundation for formulating strategies to integrate energy and climate protection. My party, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens), alongside other European Green parties, is eager to lend support to these efforts.

In concrete terms, I see several key ways with which the KRG can counteract environmental pollution in the region: waste disposal and separation, the protection of ground water from pollution, and the expansion of public transport. There are already effective approaches for protecting groundwater from pollution, as well as for dealing with waste. For example, more waste is recycled in Germany than in any other country. This results in both financial profit and an enormous contribution to environmental protection efforts. 

There are also numerous studies and practical experiences in the field of mobility that prove that not using a car can reduce CO2 emissions and make a major contribution to improving the quality of life in cities. To achieve this, local public transport must be expanded and made more attractive so that people switch from cars to buses and trains. Apart from the aforementioned aspects, agriculture should be conducted and promoted in a more environmentally friendly manner, aiming for the ^ to become self-sufficient in terms of food, presenting a significant advantage. However, it is essential to protect the quality of the soil and promote regional agriculture so that good and sustainable harvests remain possible using modern technologies.

The question of identity is of central importance in Germany, with integration a priority goal of the government. As an integrated Kurd, how would you explain the story of your integration to the point of entering politics? Can an immigrant’s identity become an obstacle for them to realize their ambitions in the country to which they emigrate?

I immigrated to Germany for my studies because, as a member of the Kurdish minority in Syria, I didn’t see any future prospects for myself in Syria. I have always been very political, partly because as a person with a Kurdish identity you are confronted with political issues and sensitive topics early on. I quickly realized that I could not develop and evolve under Assad’s totalitarian regime and decided to emigrate to Germany in 2005. 

However, it was not an easy path. At the age of 19, I went without my family to a country whose language I didn’t speak and whose political system and culture were foreign to me. At the same time, I had significantly more freedom and opportunities in Germany than in Syria; I was able to develop myself politically, network with other politically active people at university, and get involved in politics in the way I chose. I quickly realized that it is essential to have a very good command of the language in order to settle in here properly. To achieve this, I meticulously attended German courses immediately after my arrival, met people who didn’t speak my mother tongue, took part in activities, and volunteered in my neighborhood. By volunteering for a while to accompany people from Kurdistan and the Middle East in general on visits to the German authorities, I also gained an insight into the basic values of communication and interaction in Germany. All of this helped me to learn the language well, find my way around, and ultimately feel like I belonged. 

I joined Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in 2014 for two main reasons. First, the issues of environmental protection and sustainability had been a key focus for me while I was studying political science. Second, I was looking for a party that supported human rights-based asylum policies, women’s rights, values-based international policies, and the protection of minority rights. This is the case with Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, and so for a long time I was involved in the issues of migration and asylum as part of my voluntary work with the party. After studying political science, I then decided to pursue a political career. I stood as a direct candidate for the party in Berlin Mitte in the 2021 parliamentary elections and was directly elected to parliament.

I firmly believe that my multiple identities were not an obstacle but an enrichment. Diversity within society is a positive quality, as Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and large parts of society in Berlin see it. The election results showed that, as I was able to win a majority of votes in my district, by a large margin. The participation of people with an immigrant background must be promoted in a country like Germany, and I am actively committed to this in my political work.

In our democracy, it must be a matter of course that people with an immigrant background are also elected as representatives of the people and take their place in active politics and all other areas. I see myself as a bridge builder within our pluralistic society in Berlin, which benefits from different experiences, perspectives, and knowledge. All in all, it is important that we treat each other with respect and stay in contact with each other instead of isolating ourselves. 

There is a large, heterogeneous Kurdish community here in Germany coming from several Middle Eastern countries. Based on your experience, do you see any hope that the Kurds will have electoral weight in Germany in the future? How can the members of this community maintain a balance between their original national identity and culture and their acquired German identity and culture? What are the obstacles to achieving this balance?

I believe that the Kurdish diaspora should become more involved in democratic German parties in order to represent their interests comprehensively and incorporate their perspectives on a national scale. They should also actively participate in elections when they can by voting for parties that stand for an open society and promote and protect diversity in society.

Today, I see many Kurds getting involved in Kurdish parties based abroad rather than in Germany. It will not be possible to solve Kurdish national problems from Germany alone, but involvement in German politics can represent the interests of the Kurdish community here in Germany. This includes promotion of the Kurdish language, culture, and identity and, in connection with this, the establishment of bilingual German-Kurdish day-care centers and schools so that children born and raised in Germany can learn both languages and thus preserve their mother tongue. The course has been set for influencing these issues, so now it is up to the Kurdish community to lobby, formulate demands to politicians, establish non-governmental organizations, and thus further promote Kurdish culture and rights in Germany. 

Kurdish life is part of German society and has been for decades. It is necessary for Kurds to understand themselves in this way and not limit themselves to only their Kurdish identity. These two identities do not contradict each other. Around one-fourth of Germans today have an immigrant background, and that number is rising. German society is diverse, and the Kurds are a part of it. People with an immigrant background should take their place in our democracy, participate, and stand up for our values together. 

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