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Looking back on JFK/Jackson institute conference series: “Kurds in the Middle East”

Tuesday May 4th was the last day of the conference series “Kurds in the Middle East”, co-hosted by the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University and Justice for Kurds. 

We take this opportunity to look back on four weeks of fascinating conversations, debates and questions. 

The series of events gathered a wide array of Americans, Europeans, Middle Eastern practitioners, and senior Kurdish representatives from Iraq and Syria.  

In the first session, President Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdish Region of Iraq (put exact title, not Kurdish.. don’t know it exactly but check) gave a powerful and engaging speech. He spoke about the historical and significant partnership between the US and Kurdistan and the role of Kurdistan as a regional “island of peace” in the region. President Barzani then saluted President Biden’s new administration, noting its renewed global engagement. 

After Barzani’s speech the conference moderator, Emma Sky, asked Justice for Kurds Chairman, Thomas Kaplan, and President, Bernard-Henri Lévy, a series of questions. They explained their interest in the Kurdish cause.  

The second session focussed on Regional Power Competition and the Kurds. Ambassador Dennis Ross and General David Petraeus spoke with Emma Sky. A wide array of issues were delved into, from the place of Iran in the region, to the military plausibility of Kurdish independence. 

In the third session, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish Regional Government representative to the US, and Sinam Mohamad, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council to the US, gave Kurdish perspectives from the region. Moderator Rory Stewart interviewed them about their first-hand experiences in government, and the role of Turkey in the region. A particularly interesting part of the conversation dealt with what foreign observers misunderstand about Kurdistan and the region. 

The final session dealt with the topic of America’s New Strategy for Iraq, Syria and the Kurds. Two experts, Ambassador Robert Ford and Kenneth Pollack, discussed with moderator Janine di Giovanni. They talked about the Syrian war, and how it affects the Kurds. The prospect of an independent Kurdistan was eloquently debated, and this conference taught viewers about the history of the Kurdish fight for independence. 

All of these recordings can be found on the Jackson Institute’s website: https://jackson.yale.edu/the-kurds-in-the-middle-east/ 

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