Kurdistan Region is home to millions of people, among them Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians and other diverse ethno-religious groups, including the Yazidis. The Kurdistan Regional Government has provided Christians and other minority groups with a safe haven in a region facing extremist terrorism on an unprecedented level.
The influx of internally displaced people (IDPS) in Iraq has reached nearly 2 million people, approximately 47% of them are situated in Kurdistan Region according to United Nations Population Fund.
Duhok governorate currently hosts more than 450,000 internally displaced people across four districts, making them the highest receiver of IDPs in the region. Erbil’s IDPs is numbered close to 400,000 while Silemani hosts 160,000.
The Iraqi government has not provided sufficient financial support to KRG, or other means of assistance to deal with the influx of IDPs, a by-product of the Iraqi government’s security failure, and inability to protect its citizens from extremist groups such as the recently declared Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS).
Despite the contributions Kurdistan Region has made in safeguarding people, the growing local attitude seems to be one of disdain, tainted by racism towards Arabs. This is primarily because Arab tribes are vastly accused of hosting and sheltering militants belonging to ISIS, an extremist terror group currently controlling swathes of territory in Syria, and parts of Iraq.
Under Saddam Hussein, the former leader of Iraq, Kurdish minorities were forced to endure the grit of the Arabisation policies, enforced by the Baathist party. Kurdish people were subject to several genocidal and ethnic cleansing campaigns, which continues to contribute in propagating a hostile attitude towards Arabs locally.
Kurdish racism has manifested itself in several ways, namely landlords not renting their properties to Arabs, Facebook pages opening under the name of “No to Arabs in Kurdistan”, locals scolding the increasing number of Arab IDPs. All of which must be confronted unequivocally.
The lack of “Iraqi” identity, and increasing sense of “Kurdishness” in the region has fostered an ill-conceived perception of what being nationalist entails. Undoubtedly, the emergence of extremist groups such as ISIS has furthered racist sentiment locally, and the beheadings of several Peshmerga (Kurdish armed force personnel) has heightened tensions in the region.
Racism is not unique to Kurdistan, countries far more advanced militarily, technologically and even culturally are facing similar, if not worse, levels of racism, such as the United States of America.
For decades Kurdish people faced Arab racism, often perceived as less or inferior while Saddam Hussein was in power. These ill-conceptions, which caused Kurds great misery caused immense cultural divisions between Arabs and Kurds during the Baathist years. The region’s fragile state can only be understood by acknowledging the past racist onslaught Kurds faced.
The remedies or corrective strategies to ensure that racism does not increase in the region can only be possible through governmental-led initiatives in promoting equal rights, and ending marginalisation of minority groups on the basis of ethnic background, which can be generated through the establishment of legal precedent.
Racism towards Arabs or any other group in Kurdistan Region is unacceptable, and morally wrong. The government should ensure that Arab-Kurdish or Kurdish-Arab relations do not turn sour, ensuring that the region’s neighbourly-relations are intact.