Former UK Prime Minister Addresses the Kurdish National Assembly

The UK's former prime minister, the Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH, addressed the Kurdistan National Assembly on Sunday 29th May. The full text of his address is provided below:

I am immensely grateful to President Barzani for his kind invitation for me to visit Kurdistan. His invitation was issued a long time ago but alas, for various reasons, I have not been able to accept until now. The President - and the people of Kurdistan - have lived up to their reputation of being the warmest of hosts, with the most generous of welcomes, and I would like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for affording me the great privilege of addressing this Assembly today.

It is a great honour for me to be here. I stand here with a sense of pride and pleasure. Pride in the role Britain has played in supporting Iraqi Kurdistan. And pleasure at seeing the progress you have made in developing a democracy, in building your economy, and in helping to stabilise Iraq as a whole.

For me, this visit brings back powerful memories.

At the end of the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein was committing genocide on the Kurdish people, I looked on – we in Britain looked on – with horror, and pressed a plan to establish "safe havens" for the brave Kurds who were being attacked. The European Union, and then the whole international community, accepted our ideas. The "safe havens" were established, and a human tragedy of enormous proportions was avoided.

The recent street demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa have shown the world that millions of people in this region want democracy. It is a demand for freedom and accountable Government. They want to influence how they are governed. Since the fall of Saddam, Iraqi Kurdistan – and Iraq as a whole – has led the way in taking steps towards democracy. You have confronted many of the challenges that others will now face.

Every country is different and has the right to develop in its own way, with its own culture and traditions. It is not for the West to dictate the terms of change in the region. This is an Arab revolution, not a Western one. The United Kingdom's approach is built on our longstanding respect for the dignity and aspirations of the Arab peoples.

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