By Mahnaz Murad
Although there are many who argue for a return of Iraqi Jews to Iraq, the subject has always been a taboo in the printed media. In Iraq, and also in the surrounding Arab world, the launch of Israel-Kurd was greeted with surprise. And even more astonishing was the appearance of a second edition on 22 July. Has press freedom in Kurdistan entered a new phase? Or is this magazine a political stunt designed for foreign consumption?
Israel-Kurd has 50 pages in Kurdish, the official language of semi-autonomous northern Iraq. Two pages are in English. The first impression is that it is aimed at building bridges between Israel and Kurdistan. The editors are also interested in the history of Kurdish Jews who emigrated from Iraqi Kurdistan to Israel in 1948, and their right to return to their country of origin. Articles and reports are anonymous; the publisher’s is Dawud Baghistani.
Farhad Awni, leader of the Kurdistan Syndicate of Journalists, sees the magazine as evidence of press freedom: “Our media laws give every citizen who is a member of the Syndicate of Journalists the right to publish a magazine or newspaper within 24 hours, provided it is not in breach of the general conditions for press freedom. And we know that Dawud Baghistani, the magazine’s publisher, is impartial and not allied to any political party or faction. And he has a foreign nationality.”
Dutch journalist Judit Neurink, who gives media training in the city of Sulaymaniyah, says, “I was a bit surprised when I saw the magazine. It means that freedom of expression in this part of the world has improved and is making progress. It’s really unusual and nothing like this has happened before. The ultimate importance of the magazine will be determined by the readers.”
Nevertheless, political considerations do seem to play a role. Kurdish Iraq is increasingly positioning itself between Israel and the Arab world. Farhad Awni cites the recent visit by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, “which strengthens ties with the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular”. It is known that the late Kurdish leader Moustafa Barzani made two visits to Israel.
Via his magazine, publisher Dawud Baghistani is inviting Jewish Kurds to return to Kurdistan, where they lived before their departure to Israel. Farhad Awni says, “He sees them as native Kurds and expects the return of Jews to Kurdistan to clear the way for Palestinians to return to Palestine.”
It remains to be seen whether Kurdish Jews will return. There are no reliable figures on the number of Jews from northern Iraq who emigrated. Perhaps they will be published in the third edition of Israel-Kurd, expected in September.