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Spaniard Pushes Cultural Ties With Kurdistan

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image Spanish journalist and historian Manuel Martorell. Photo Rudaw.


ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan -- Manuel Martorell is a Spanish journalist and historian who has authored several books on the Kurds. He first got to know Kurds through Abdurrahman Ghassemlou, the former leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) in the early days of the Iranian Revolution.

Martorell recently formed an organization, Tiger, to establish cultural ties between the people of Kurdistan and Spain. Martorell said he wants to challenge the stereotypes that exist about Kurds and the people of the Middle East.

Earlier this year, Martorell attended the annual Galawezh Cultural Festival in Sulaimani and gave a well-received presentation about relations between Kurds and Spain.

In an interview with Rudaw, Martorell said Tiger views Kurdistan as an example of cultural and religious pluralism. His group launched a campaign in Spain called “Kurdistan: The Unknown Face of the Middle East.”

Rudaw: When did you learn about the Kurds and how did you spend so much time among Kurdish revolutionaries?

Manuel Martorell: I got to know about the region during the Islamic revolution in Iran. I was a university student and I was studying the Iranian revolution. I got to know Abdurrahman Ghassemlou there. At first, I thought Kurds were only living in Iraq, but I later found out that there were Kurds in Iran and Turkey as well. It was interesting to me that I didn’t know anything about them. I was studying journalism at university. It helped raise my awareness of the Middle East and Kurds in Spain. Ever since, I have been trying to learn more and the Kurdish issue helped me understand the Middle East.

Rudaw: In your presentation, you said it’s not easy in Spain to work on the Kurds. Is it because of the government or other reasons?

Manuel Martorell: No, it’s not because of the government. It has to do with the history and culture of the country. Spain’s relations are mostly geared toward Latin America and some countries in North Africa that have Christian populations. Spain is a country that doesn’t have a specific policy on the Middle East. Even its diplomats aren’t experts on the Middle East.

We want to add skiing to the physical education curriculum in colleges (in Kurdistan) and our experts are ready to come to Kurdistan to offer training

Rudaw: Have your efforts to introduce Kurds to the people of Spain paid off?

Manuel Martorell: With all humility, I should say yes. Thirty years ago, I was the only journalist in Spain who knew about Kurds. But now there are many journalists who know more than me.

Rudaw: You said Kurds aren’t well-known in Spain. Is it because the government doesn’t prioritize the Middle East or because the Kurdish community there isn’t active?

Manuel Martorell: In fact, the Kurdish community there has not grown. There are no more than 1,000 Kurds in Spain which has a population of 50 million..

Rudaw: Is your Tiger organization only for Iraqi Kurdistan?

Manuel Martorell: No, the activities here are also for Iranian Kurdistan and Turkey’s Kurdistan. In the past, the Nevara region in Spain and Diyarbakir (in Turkey’s Kurdistan) exchanged dance groups. But continuing those activities needs lots of money.

Rudaw: How have your projects been received by the Kurds?

Manuel Martorell: We’re now in the process of establishing ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its representative in Madrid has promised to assist us. We want to add skiing to the physical education curriculum in colleges (in Kurdistan) and our experts are ready to come to Kurdistan to offer training. We want to develop skiing in this region. 

Rudaw: The ETA group recently gave up its armed struggle for an independent homeland in Basque region. Some observers in Turkey say the Turkish government wants to do the same with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to force it to give up armed struggle. Do you see a similar fate for the PKK?

Manuel Martorell: It’s very hard for that to happen to the PKK. In the ETA’s (Basque) region, they have autonomy, and their own language, flag and Parliament. But how can the PKK lay down arms when it has none of that. So, I think it is hard to see the PKK do the same as ETA did.

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Wladimir van Wilgenburg image Wladimir van Wilgenburg studied the BA International Relations and Political History and also finished the two minors Journalism and New Media and Conflict Studies. This year he is busy with his masters degree in Conflict Studies and Human Rights at the University of Utrecht. He has been working as a freelance journalist and analyst for Turkish, Kurdish, Dutch and American institutes and media outlets. Recently he participated in a project of the NGO Pax Christi about the future of the Dutch military.