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Farewell of a Giant

Nawshirwan Mustafa, the Giant

By: Hawre Hasan & Sarkawt Shamsulddin

“With deep sorrow, the great fighter, and leader of our nation Nawshirwan Mustafa passed away at 8:00 a.m. today on May 19, 2017, after a long struggle with illness,” this is the moment when Change Movement (Gorran) official media left people of Kurdistan in shock. Because people were expecting Mustafa to lead the last revolutionary step to end Erbil aggression and he could do that. However, he did not come to that level of leadership with the support of a tribe or a foreign country, but he got it through his dedication to his cause; change. The death of a charismatic leader left Kurdish people in mourn. What made him a charismatic leader among his followers was his honesty, dedication, fearlessness, and humbleness, and open door to the public without holding a government official. “If I can’t change people’s life, at least I can live like them,” he said. There are no even a minor corruption accusations against him, neither in the past nor now. He was considered is one of the most respect men by women in Kurdish politics for his personal attitude and his harsh treatment of women abusers.

Early Life

Nawshirwan Mustafa Amin was born in the city of Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in 1944. He was from a middle-class family. He finished his primary, middle and high school in Sulaymaniyah. In 1967, he got a bachelor in political science in Baghdad. Later, he joined Kurdistan Union Student, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) affiliate. He became a member of the KDP but supported KDP political bureau wing, but resigned from the KDP later. In 1972, he co-founded the Komala, a Marxist-Leninist Kurdish Party, but he abandoned the Marxism’s global approach and only promoted Kurdish cause by using the wave in favor of Kurdish cause. In the early 1970s, Mustafa lived abroad and went back to college and got masters in international relations in Austria.

After 1975

After the failure of Mustafa Barzani’s agreement with Iraqi Government, called March 11 Agreement, people of Kurdistan disappointed and lost hope in Kurdish revolution as Mustafa Barzani’s 100K armed men melt away in few days. In 1976, Nawshirwan Mustafa co-founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and abandoned his Ph.D. studies in Austria. He became PUK’s second man, but he was the de facto leader in the mountain and led all military missions against Saddam forces. Ideologically, he was the mastermind of the PUK. His commandership in the war made a consensus among Kurdish leaders of other political parties that Mustafa was the right person to oversee the uprising of 1991. He engineered the uprising and fought alongside with his Peshmerga friends until all of the cities taken from Iraqi forces including the city of Kirkuk for the first time in Kurdish history.

Kurdistan Regional Government -1992

The elections of 1992 disappointed Nawshirwan Mustafa due to cheatings and mishandling the vote counting and later disagreement between the PUK and the KDP on parliament seats. At that time, Mustafa suggested to Talabani to allow the KDP to form the government by itself  first as it won more votes by two percent. He suggested the opposition for the PUK in the parliament, but Talabani chose a different path, a 50-50 power sharing which later caused the civil war. In 1990, Nawshirwan Mustafa left Kurdistan to London few times. However, he distanced himself from the PUK due to t his disagreement with Talabani’s handling the PUK and mismanagement of the PUK’s finance and institutions.

After 2003 and Return to Baghdad

Mustafa had controversial engagement with Baghdad. His story in this city started in the 1960s when he was a college student, but his life was decided in Baghdad as well. Iraqi Governments issued multiple arrest warrants and then execution orders for Mustafa due to his political activities, but he was never caught. There were attempts by Saddam agents to poison him, but all failed and survived from all assassination attempts. Although Mustafa has believed that Iraq is a failed state and the best solution to Iraq is a three confederation to major groups, Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites.  But, in 2003, he accompanied Talabani and Barzani to Baghdad to negotiate Kurdistan’s future with Iraq. He participated actively in drafting Iraqi Constitutions but faced challenges by Talabani and left Baghdad to Sulaymaniyah. He didn’t want Kurdish leaders to compromise on Kirkuk and Kurdistan’s border. Many times, publicly and in private, he criticized Talabani’s handling PUK affairs and lack of transparency. As his disagreement with Talabani grew, he formed reform wing within the PUK seeking greater reform agenda, but it did not succeed because Talabani had open access to cash, and government positions, Talabani used both and influenced PUK’s local elections in his favor.

The Wsha Corporation

In 2008, Mustafa departed the PUK and established Wsha Corporation for research and media. His departure was expected for many years, but the media project was a new approach. Wsha and its affiliates played a vital role in holding government officials accountable. Unlike other Kurdish leaders, Mustafa’s office and his humble house in downtown Sulaymaniyah were always open to ordinary people, and that made him a charisma and “the leader of poor people,” as his supporters chanted during his funeral. He did not miss a chance to listen to people’s stories, and he was inspired by those stories which led to the formation of the Change Movement and won Sulaymaniyah Province and became the second largest political party in Kurdistan. No matter how educated you were or what age, Mustafa was interested to listen to your story and advises very patiently. But he was not hesitated to close the door on politicians at any time and was frank and tough with the leaders. He was against tribal and dynastic rules. He did not allow his two sons to engage in politics for a while and did not give them any chance to run for office. He did not want to repeat PUK and KDP’s mistakes.

The Change Movement (Gorran)

The Change Movement, the second largest political party in Kurdistan, was Mustafa’s last political project. By using his charisma and his connection with the public, Mustafa mobilized tens of thousands of supporters across Kurdistan Region. In 2009, the Gorran entered Kurdistan’s parliamentary election pool. Without having access to money and government institutions, the Gorran won Sulaymaniyah Province, PUK’s stronghold, by a landslide. Considering Erbil’s nature and KDP’s zero-tolerance policy, Gorran also did well in Erbil, but not very well in Duhok. Mustafa’s leadership was crucial for the Gorran. He ended the traditional and bureaucratical methods to bring people to the leadership. He opened Gorran’s highest council, the National Council, to the people from outside of large cities and invested in youth and educated people. By doing this, he paved the way for the young leaders to engage in politics and be active. After Gorran, other political parties were forced to bring young leaders to the forefront of the decision-making institutions. Also, Mustafa proved that the success of a political party in Kurdistan, unarmed and no access to cash, can attract hundreds of thousands of people who are ready to join without expecting personal benefits.

Nawshirwan Mustafa as Writer, Historian, Strategist

Mustafa’s achievements and heritage are not just in arm conflicts and political activities, but in writings as well. Mustafa is the only Kurdish politician in Iraqi Kurdistan at that level to have that amount of books about history, culture, literature, and anthropology. Other than books, he initiated many economic roadmaps such as investing in agriculture, cultural heritages. He has eighteen books printed and is among best-selling authors. According to the Gorran leaders, there are over five to ten more books to come out after his death which he wrote them before. Mustafa was a fan of archiving and collecting unique items and documents. He kept copies of all letters exchanged between Kurdish leaders. However, Mustafa did not want to promote his profile, and he hated praising and flattery. He was not interested in expanding his international portfolio as well but surprised almost every foreign diplomats by his deep knowledge of international affairs. He believed foreign affairs should be managed through national institutions.

Finally, he did as he said; “dedicating my life to Kurdish cause.”



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