The Kurdistan Regional Government's Head of Foreign Relations officially opened a new Representation Office in Vienna on Saturday, making it the 13th KRG representation office abroad. At the same time, Austria's Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister announced that Austria also plans to open a representation office in Erbil as well.
Minister Falah Mustafa opened the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) representation in Vienna along with Iraq's Ambassador to Austria, Dr Surood Najib, and the Head of the Middle East Section with the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Dr Friedrich Stift.
In his speech Minister Mustafa congratulated Dr Mustafa Ramazan, the new KRG Representative to Austria, on his assignment to his post. “This new KRG Representation Office, with its Head, Dr Mustafa Ramazan, will provide a direct point of contact for businesses, government, institutions and individuals from each of our respective sides, and we will use every resource at our disposal to further develop and support the relationships that this connection makes possible.”
Dr Ramazan said, “We open this office in line with the Constitution of the Republic of Iraq. It is within this framework that the KRG Representation in Austria will work vigorously to further deepen the existing relations between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Austria.”
Minister Mustafa and Dr Ramazan recalled the historical relationship between the peoples of Kurdistan and Austria. Minister Mustafa said, “The government of the Republic of Austria was responsible for transporting and receiving the first 100 Kurdish refugees from refugee camps in Iran in the 1976 crisis. They ensured that these 100 individuals received an equal share of the opportunities afforded to all Austrian citizens, including housing and education. Many of these people have now become prominent members of the Austrian and Kurdish societies...The people of Kurdistan are, and will remain, tremendously grateful for this and for other significant assistance that you provided for us at a number of critical moments in our history during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.”
Minister Mustafa met Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger at the Austrian Foreign Ministry, accompanied by the KRG Representative and the Iraqi ambassador. At a press briefing after the meeting, Minister Spindelegger announced his country’s plans for a representation office in Erbil early next year. He said, “This is a great step forward. It will be a special trade office, where we can handle all the different issues of getting enterprises involved in more cooperation but at the same time to handle visa issues.”
Minister Mustafa also gave a keynote address at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. He highlighted the history of the Kurds and their struggles for universal rights: “We will continue to utilize every political tool at our disposal to achieve a federal government of true partnership that is based on the federal constitution. However, we will not become a part of a return to the old Iraqi traditions of centralized power and authoritarianism. We in the Kurdistan Region have come too far, and suffered for too long to allow this to happen.
The speech was followed by a panel discussion between Minister Mustafa, Ms Maria Fantappie, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, political analyst Mr Joost Hiltermann of the International Crises Group. It was moderated chaired Dr Cengiz Günay, a scientific researcher with the Austrian Institute for International Affairs (OIIP).
Minister Mustafa highlighted the tremendous growth that Kurdistan has seen in recent years, saying: “Since the formation of our regional government, and especially since the fall of the dictatorship, we have seen progress in all aspects of our daily life. Health care, education, electricity, agriculture, roads, housing, shopping centers, and general infrastructure have been dramatically improved, and continue to be developed.”
This was the KRG Austria Representation’s first official event and was coordinated with the think tank the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, and with the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. Commenting on the discussion, Dr Ramazan said, “Hosting events such as this panel discussion are important for facilitating dialogue and cross-cultural understanding that is essential for gaining an appreciation of the realities that the Kurds face. I believe we were able to achieve that here today with our international panelists and look forward to continuing the ongoing dialogue between our peoples.”
During his three-day visit Minister Mustafa also attended the 5th OPEC International Seminar in Vienna and a reception hosted by Iraq's Oil Minister Abdul-Kareem al-Luaibi, who holds the rotating presidency of the organisation.