Interview with Hywel Williams

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Sign the petition for Iraq's three-region solution December 7, 2007 Interview with Hywel Williams 

Kurdishaspect.com - By Raz Jabary

The British Palace of Westminster, London 

1) Could you give us a short description of how your political career developed, and when did you decide to go into politics? 

I have always been involved with Plaid Cymru since the early ‘80s. The issue of the Welsh language was one of the things that got me into politics. At the age of 48 I began my political career quite late. Before that, I had what you could call a normal life. I was interested in politics but not deeply involved in it. This is why currently being a Member of Parliament is a strange path for me.

In 1999 during the Welsh Assembly elections, I stood for Plaid Cymru and I did very well. By gaining 25% of the votes I secured the second biggest win in North Wales. At the following British Parliamentary elections I decided to stand and was finally elected to MP. 

“..Concerning our struggle to maintain the Welsh language, we are now nearly at a position where Welsh is almost equal to English..” 

2) Could you give us a short description of what your party stands for? 

Plaid Cymru developed greatly since it was set up in 1925. In 1966 we had our first parliamentary seats. Since 1977 we did well in London as well as in Cardiff, but since the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999 we have had even more success. However, the party does not represent Wales in London. We have been fiercely against the Iraq war, and got much attention for opposing Prime Minister Blair. Concerning our struggle to maintain the Welsh language, we are now nearly at a position where Welsh is almost equal to English. In the last century, considerably more people from the younger generation have been speaking Welsh as their first language.

“..I do not consider myself to be British, but Welsh..” 

3) Do you aspire to get a higher position in British politics? Would you aspire to gain a seat in an international body like the European Union, or even represent Great Britain in the United Nations? 

No. I am here to pass measures in favour of Wales. Working for the House of Commons itself is as far as I would like to get. We, the representatives of Plaid Cymru, do not see ourselves as part of the British state, and I do not consider myself to be British, but Welsh. My main aspiration would be to get into the National Assembly in Cardiff.

“..The favour of Wales and the fact I want to get measures through for Wales is more important to me than my personal ambitions in politics.. ”

4) Would you consider establishing your own political party? 

No. One of the remarkable things of my current party Plaid Cymru is the level of its integrity. If you would ask the party members whether they agree with the party’s aims you would find out how united we are. I think this makes us having a nationalist side as well. The last split that took place in Plaid Cymru was in the 1980s, where rightist party member under the name ‘Hydro Group’ split apart. This was however very short lived. After the split, the party gradually moved towards political left and is now a socialist party. The favour of Wales and the fact I want to get measures through for Wales is more important to me than my personal ambitions in politics.

“..The phenomenon of people in captivity who can speak their own language is like having the key to open the cell..” 

5) On September 1st 2007 you were at the International Kurdish Cultural Festival in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. There, you made several statements regarding the Kurdish issue, in which you compared the Welsh and Kurdish political struggle. You said that ‘the language is a people’s power’. 

In what respect do you believe that the Kurdish language can play a crucial factor in leading to Kurdish nationhood? 

The language is a people’s symbol as it represents what they stand for, and it defines the way through which one can see itself. Nowadays, many Welsh people who do not speak the language themselves send their children to Welsh schools. The phenomenon of people in captivity who can speak their own language is like having the key to open the cell. This is true for the Kurds as well as the Welsh. Initially, language is more important than independence, because if the language is lost, the independence is harder to achieve, and, it is more difficult to become independent and consequently develop the language rather than the other way round. Today, the result of this can be seen in South Kurdistan, which is what I call the area. If we, the Welsh, could have maintained our heritage only having a small proportion of 600,000 Welsh speakers whilst having undergone strong English rule for centuries, then the 20 million Kurds should be able to achieve the same. 

“..South Kurdistan is what I call this area..” 

6) Recently, there were rising tensions between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government in South Kurdistan, where Turkey threatened to carry out a cross-border operation to carve out Kurdish PKK fighters struggling for Kurdish self-governance in remote mountain border areas. However, many Kurds believe Turkey is targeting South Kurdistan instead, which is virtually an independent state and has growing regional power. How do you view this belief, and, how would you recommend the whole issue to be resolved? 

I certainly believe an independent South Kurdistan is no direct threat to Turkey as Turkey has a huge military and South Kurdistan hasn’t. An independent South Kurdistan would be a symbol for freedom for the Kurds to consider as their home. Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, had a more pluralistic view of Turkishness. Like a Welsh person is British at the same time, the same thing could be applied to Kurds being a Turkish national. This would be no threat to the Turkish state. However, the Turkish extreme right does not view this as such and sees South Kurdistan as a threat. The ruling state in Turkey actually causes the country problems. Some years ago I was in Diyarbakir, where I noticed the big influence the military and Para military played in people’s lives. If the view on Turkishness would be moderated, it would be beneficial to both Turks and Kurds. Who knows, in the future, there might be a North Kurdistan.

“..If we, the Welsh, could have maintained our heritage only having a small proportion of 600,000 Welsh speakers whilst having undergone strong English rule for centuries, then the 20 million Kurds should be able to achieve the same..” 

7) What do you think are the main similarities between the Welsh and Kurdish people regarding their political struggle? 

The language issue concerns both the Welsh and the Kurds. Although it was the target of oppression, the Welsh language was never banned, and in 1588, Britain decided for the first time to even translate the bible to Welsh. But, the oppression that the Welsh people faced never reached the level that the Kurds faced from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. 

Another similarity is music (smiling). Welsh and Kurdish people love to sing and to listen to songs, as I have found out.

“..The ruling state in Turkey actually causes the country problems..” 

8) Does Turkey belong in the European Union? 

Turkey should be in the EU. It would be good for the Turkish and Kurdish people, and for the EU itself. As long as Turkey complies with the Copenhagen conditions around Human Rights they would belong in the EU. 

“..The oppression that the Welsh people faced never reached the level that the Kurds faced from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey..” 

9) You were fiercely opposed to the war on Iraq in which Great Britain participates. Does the fact that the decision came from London to go to war present a reason for Plaid Cymru to administer for complete Welsh self-governance, to prevent future Welsh submissiveness in political decisions? 

Sure. I think the Iraq war defined Welsh politics. It has defined a Welsh position on the war. Wales was actually more against sending troops to Iraq than England was. We at Plaid Cymru, were fiercely opposed to the war. We were not pacifist, but did have pacifist elements. In all, I think the war pulverized political stances in Wales.

10) How would you regard the three partitioning of Iraq into a Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite part to be pursued by the US and Great Britain as an exit strategy?

That is a matter for the people who live in Iraq rather than the US and Great Britain. After all, they are the victims of the strait line boundaries drawn last century that divided Iraq. Whether a solution could be achieved whilst the US and Great Britain are in Iraq is another question. I do not like to see the break-up of Iraq. However, if the situation deteriorates who knows what would happen. 

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Photo: Hywel Williams MP and Raz Jabary in the House of Commons, London

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