London, United Kingdom (uk.gov.krd) To mark the 30th Anniversary of Kurdistan Uprising and Sir John Major’s safe haven initiative, the KRG UK Representation and the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Kurdistan Region held a historic event to reflect on Sir John Major’s safe haven initiative which was established 30 years ago endorsed in UNSCR 688 that ensured the protection of Kurdish people from tyranny.

To honour the success of this initiative, a virtual platform was held with the presence of the KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, Sir John Major KG CH Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, HE Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Business and Industry and Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment), Minister Safeen Dizayee, the Head of Department of Foreign Relations (DFR), Mr Karwan Jamal Tahir, the KRG High Representative to the UK, the Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, Chairman of APPG on Kurdistan, Alicia Kearns MP, Jason McCartney MP, Gay Kent Secretary of the APPG, James Thornton, British Consul-General in Erbil and Captain Tom Hardie-Forsyth.

The Chairman of APPG on Kurdistan Region, Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP, opened the event and welcomed the distinguished speakers. He said: “Without such focused military intervention, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq would probably not exist today. It was also the greatest Kurdistani uprising, the effective lobbying of Kurds such as foreign Minister Safeen Dizayee, our vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi and many more. The generosity of the British public, our service personnel and our allies France and America all saved Kurdistan, a firm ally in the continuing fight for religious pluralism and open society and reform in the Middle East. It proved that Kurdistan has more friends than the mountains.”

As an honourable guest, Sir John Major joined the event to share his legacy of success in 1991 when he took the necessary measures to enforce Security Council Resolutions with allies to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s regime. He said:

“It was for the Kurd a truly frightening and terrible time and one they faced with great bravery and great resilience. Today. I watch with admiration the bravery of Peshmerga. The Peshmerga, who suffered many casualties in their fight against extremism, their role has been critical, as indeed as the heart-warming generosity of so many Kurds and their families in offering homes and their support to over a million of their fellow citizens fleeing from war and from the conflict. Our two countries share an opposition to extremism; they also share a common commitment to democracy and liberal values without which no citizen can ever be truly free in their lives.”

He added: “As I look ahead, I know that the Kurdistan region of Iraq can continue to rely on the support and goodwill of the United Kingdom. Our commitment to the Kurdish nations goes beyond the military; it focuses on improving the lives of the Kurdish families. Many have suffered in ways perhaps the outsider can barely imagine and suffered for a long time to ease their hardship.  It was in the past governments, and it is in the present government; it is an ambition to see a thriving Kurdistan Region, one can live in peace within an increasingly prosperous Iraq. We wish to help Kurds to build a future that offers security, jobs, the opportunities to create an economy that would transform the lives of this future generation of young Kurds. We cannot achieve our ambitions alone; it will be a joint effort, it will require a partnership not only with the Kurds in Iraq but also the United Nations and other willing international partners.”

Following Sir John Major’s speech, Prime Minister Barzani delivered remarks reiterating the importance of this resolution in supporting the Kurdish nation much in need at that time. The Prime Minister said:

“The 1991 intervention set us on a course to shape our destiny and manage our affairs ever since. It also laid a foundation for a lasting partnership with the US, France, UK and others.”

Prime minister Barzani stated that: “ Following the overthrown of Saddam Regime, we have remained true to the shared values with you. We know that we have a long road ahead of us, and we are trying to build a thriving society for Kurdistani people, for all those who see Kurdistan as a safe haven for themselves even until today. Our journey has not ended, and we still need the support of the international community and all those who helped us to build this Kurdistan Region that is a symbol of freedom and success of the biggest humanitarian prevention in history.” To Honour Sir John Major’s initiative, Prime Minister Barzani officially renamed a street in the capital city of Kurdistan, Erbil.

HE Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Business and Industry and Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment) took part in the event and shared his experience as a young Kurd who campaigned and marched in London against the tyranny and genocide that was committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.  He said: “I will never forget those scene of the mountains after Saddam’s army have been pushed back from Kuwait and the Kurdish people had risen up for their rights but were being attacked by that tyrannical dictator.” He added:

“The Kurdish people have since those early days have continued to rely on themselves to build that democracy and tolerant society that welcomes people of all religion to the lands of the Kurds.”

The APPG Secretary, Gary Kent also spoke at the rally and said: “Sir John Major rejected this Realpolitik. His moral pragmatism saved the Kurds who built a safe haven for religious groups, refugees and displaced people. The safe haven gave Kurdistan the freedom to build freedom, to paraphrase another Irish figure, Michael Collins. Kurdistan used freedom to build a parliament and expand universities. After the liberation of Iraq, it built a modern energy sector and boosted living standards. But life doesn’t stand still. Our bilateral relationship can help build better universities whose research and innovation can encourage enterprise, create jobs, and diversify the economy after Covid and as carbons fade.”

The rally also brought together MPs, including Jason McCartney MP. He reiterated that “Sir John Major changed the course of my life as a young RAF officer but, much more importantly, he saved the lives of very many Kurds who have become essential allies and friends in the Middle East. Sir John Major and the Kurds were not to know that back in 1991, but Major’s generous and humanitarian intervention stands out in history. He and the UK are deeply respected in the Kurdistan Region, as I have seen for myself, and are our good friends and allies. We can be very proud of what we did 30 years ago.”

Tom Hardie-Forsyth, a British Army Officer, and former Nato Chairman expressed his personal involvement as a British Army Captain. He said: “Arriving in the spring of 1991 in the mountains of Kurdistan, I was greeted by unimaginable suffering – the mud, the stink, children dying of dysentery, adults almost beyond despair. We had arrived, the British military and others, to try and put a stop to the inhuman manhunt of innocent civilians following the uprising of persecuted peoples against Saddam Hussein’s regime and our disgraceful failure at first to support it. Having called for it, not only did we not support it, but America actually foolishly gave Saddam the means to continue it by allowing his helicopter gunships to continue to fly ‘for internal security purposes’, thus giving him a licence to kill civilians.” He added: “For this and other reasons, I am determined to keep my own personal promise made 30 years ago to the Kurdish people, never to abandon them. I, for one, still have unfinished business.”

The event was also addressed by HE Safeen Dizayee, the Head of Department of Foreign Relations. He also spoke of his personal experience when he raised awareness of the repression of Kurds by Saddam’s regime. He said:

“Despite the certain problem we have endured, we have not let our friends down and I must say the story does not end here and we must look to the future. The fact that we have been able to build a country with free democratic election. Not being an independent entity yet, we have been able to be an important player in the regional politics.”

James Thornton, the UK Consul-General in Erbil indicated that “Thirty years ago last month, the world’s TV screens were filled with the pictures of Kurds who had fled into the mountains and were living in appalling conditions. The response in the UK was enormous. Our then Prime Minister, John Major, was also moved by the images. He became clear that the atrocities being perpetrated by Saddam could not be allowed to continue. He ensured UK support for the critical resolution of the UN Security Council, Resolution 688, which was passed thirty years ago Today. He played a key role in the promotion of the idea of a safe haven, persuading other world leaders. He had strong backing from members of the UK Parliament”, James Thornton added.

In his opening remarks, Mr Karwan Jamal Tahir, the KRG High Representative to the UK stated that “Today is a historic day for the United Kingdom’s history and the Kurdish nation’s history; therefore, it is worthwhile celebrating together and being proud of our shared achievements. Today, we thank Sir John Major and argue that as much as the decision was necessary then, it is even more important Today in preserving the success story of the Kurdistan Region and in ensuring that the Kurdistan Region continues to be a force of stability and prosperity in the Middle East.”

The event was concluded by Alicia Kearns MP highlighted that:

“30 years ago under Sir John Major’s leadership, the UK refused to sit by in silence and we refused to let the Kurdish people to be silent. By recognising our responsibilities to the Kurdish people, we save tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives and that’s a bright spot of humanitarian leadership in a decade. There is more to be done to stand by our Kurdish allies and protect them from those who still seek to silence them.”