Saturday, 26 November 2011, 07:25 GMT
The "mother" of Kurds dies

The former first lady of France and human rights campaigner, Danielle Mitterrand./ GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamed``

The Kurdish Globe

Danielle Mitterrand mourned in Kurdistan

Kurds were saddened by the death of their loyal friend, Danielle Mitterrand, the former first lady of France.

Many Facebook members from the Iraqi Kurdistan Region changed their profile pictures to that of Danielle Mitterrand on Nov. 22, in gratitude for her sympathy and support for the Kurdish cause.

The former first lady of France and human rights campaigner, Mitterrand, 87, died on Nov. 22 at the Georges Pompidou hospital in Paris, following a short illness. Mitterrand devoted herself to human rights work and humanitarian causes. She became the French Foreign Office's favorite "bÍte noire," armed with good intentions. The plight of the Kurds became a particular passion. After nearly being blown up in a car bomb in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992, which killed seven and wounded 17 others in the convoy, she vowed: "I will continue fighting until my death." In the late of 1990s, people and politicians started calling her the "mother" of Kurds.

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said Mitterrand played a key role in introducing the Kurdish people's suffering to the outside world. Barzani said Mitterrand's death had greatly grieved him as "she was an old friend of Kurds... she was one of the key advocates for Anfal [victims] and chemical attack [against Kurds] victims and the 1991 exodus."

The president recalled an encounter with Mitterrand in 1989 where "her eyes were full of tears as I told her about the atrocities against the Kurdish people." Barzani said "Mitterrand was a loyal friend in times of joy and hardship."

Kurdistan Regional Government declared one day of mourning on Nov. 23, and lowering the Kurdish flag at all government establishments. Many government officials visited the French General Consulate in Erbil to give their condolences.

Madame Mitterrand motivated her late husband to lend strong support for the Safe Haven that was established to prevent the continuation of the former Iraqi regime's use of helicopter gunships to kill fleeing Kurdish civilians following the 1991 uprisings -- ultimately preventing the regime's full-scale return to the genocide attacks of the late 1980s Anfal campaign.

As a result of her efforts, and those of others like her, more than 28,000 coalition flights supplied aid and shelter to Kurdish refugees who had fled to the mountains in the middle of winter. Hundreds of thousands of lives were saved as a direct result of the aid and security that was provided through Operation Provide Comfort.

Her last visit to Kurdistan Region was in October 2009. She gave a short but powerful speech in the Kurdistan Parliament.

Madame Mitterrand

"I am very happy today, sitting and talking in front of you; I rarely deliver speeches in parliaments, but in Kurdistan I feel I am at home," she told the MPs. "I want to tell you that you are the real representatives of Kurdistan people [referring to the MPs], since you have been elected by the people. The friends of the Kurds were so pleased and proud of the last election in Kurdistan Region; it was a free and democratic election. I am very happy to see there are a lot of women MPs in your parliament -- there are more women in your parliament than in France's parliament.

"I can say Kurdistan, in the aspect of democracy, has remarkably improved. I remember my first visit to Kurdistan Region. It was 1991, at the end of April. I came to Iraqi Kurdistan through Iranian Kurdistan; the representative of the Iranian government escorted me to the Iraqi border, and then I was smuggled across the border and entered Iraqi Kurdistan.

"When I crossed the border, I saw a lot of Kurdish people on the border, chased by the Iraqi government of Saddam [Hussein].

"In July 1992, again I visited Kurdistan Region; it was for the first time when the first Kurdish government was formed. At that time, Kurdistan was a devastated country; the cities looked like a big village.

"Despite two sanctions on Kurdistan Region and the neighboring countries' military interferences into Kurdistan Region, as well as the civil war, you were able to overcome all the obstacles and reconstruct the country -- build roads, airports, schools, universities and hospitals, and above all, provide people with a unique security.

"There are now several Western consulate offices in your Region. Your government could also try to open diplomatic and cultural offices in these countries and use this opportunity to establish strong relations and make more friends.

"In the past, during the miserable times, Kurds from Iran and Turkey helped you a lot, and now it is time for you to help them in the field of culture, education, and media.

"Do not deal with your brothers like the United Arab Emirates deals with Palestinian and Egyptian people."