In previous days, The American Prospect magazine made public, documents relating to the hundreds of millions of dollars held by the Barzani family, which includes Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Nechirvan Barzani and Prime Minister Mesrur Barzani. These documents reveal how the family’s wealth, including some $300 million of real estate assets are hidden away under the shady cover of real estate and law firms, and how these assets are made untouchable. Considering the social turmoil and violence caused by the increasing corruption, poverty and the state’s failure to pay civil servants, it is easy to see why the Barzani family would want to hide their fortune abroad, despite the widespread knowledge of their fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars within Iraqi Kurdistan.
The issue is not to the family’s wealth. As we know through the Panama, Paradise and Man Island papers, it is not just Middle Eastern governments and families in power, including the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who use such methods to hide their wealth. European leaders and their families use similar ways, too. But the Barzanis’ and their Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) approach to the very diverse national fight of the Kurds makes it necessary for us to question how much they profit in their defence of the so-called Kurdish cause and what it is based on.
Firstly, considering the way the Barzanis (and their party, the KDP) approach matters ranging from attempts to achieve Kurdish unity to their relationship with Erdoğan’s regime, their policies appear geared towards defending their own class interests rather than “defending the international interests of the Kurds” as they put it.
KDP leader Mesut Barzani and his successors (Neçirvan and Mesrur) sought to utilise the call for Kurdish unity and the demand for the establishment of a national congress as a basis to support their own claim to leadership and to disband democratic elements within the Kurdish national struggle. By claiming leadership over Kurds and a control over the so-called “national market”, they hoped to increase their bargaining power with other regimes in the region.
As of today, when we look at Iraqi Kurdistan’s relationship with Erdoğan’s regime, it is very clear to see that the decisive factor in this relationship is not the international interests of the Kurds, but the Barzanis’ own economic interests. Everything aside, the Ceylan Pipeline oil deal signed between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Erdoğan regime maintains its strategic importance for the economic independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. Even though oil imports bring billions of dollars every year (some $9 billion, although this number changes every year), the fact of how exactly the revenue is used not being transparent points to clues of the source of the vast Barzani fortune.
The billions of dollars’ worth of resources that belong to the Kurdish bourgeoisie, led by the Barzani family, showcases the class interests behind the 2017 independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan. Over three million Iraqi Kurds voted Yes in the referendum on 25 September, 2017, yearning for independence and freedom. But Iraqi Kurdistan’s bourgeoisie used this longing for their own selfish interests, namely, the energy resources and other profitable elements in the country.
What is being said here can not be interpreted as a defence of the Iraqi central government’s offensive approach against the Kurds’ strong will for their national independence. On the contrary, we are focusing on the fact that their national pursuits are being used for class interests.
The protests that erupted in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017 and 2020, caused by increasing poverty, corruption and unpaid salaries of civil servants (where many were killed after the government used brutal violence against the protesters), can be read as a working class backlash for exploiting the working classes’ demands and desires.
On one hand, there is the Barzani Family’s hundreds of millions of dollars exposed by the The American Prospect. On the other, there are the Iraqi Kurdish people living in poverty who don’t even get their paychecks. What has been happening in Iraqi Kurdistan is a great example why we should insist on the interests of the working class instead of using their will for the Kurdish bourgeoisie’s benefits while discussing the Kurdish issue in Turkey.