Jalal Talabani

Founder and Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Mr. Talabani has been an advocate for Kurdish rights and democracy in Iraq for more than fifty years. He was born in 1933 in the village of Kelkan in Iraqi Kurdistan near lake Dokan

He received his elementary and intermediate school education in Koya (Koysanjak) and his high school education in Erbil and Kirkuk. Mr. Talabani has a record of lifelong activism and leadership in the Kurdish and Iraqi causes. In 1946, at the age of 13 he formed a secret Kurdish student association. The following year he became a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and in 1951, at 18, he was elected to the KDP's central committee. Upon finishing his secondary education, he sought admission to medical school but was denied it by authorities of the then ruling Hashemite monarchy owing to his political activities. In 1953 he was allowed to enter law school but was obliged to go into hiding in 1956 to escape arrest for his activities as founder and Secretary General of the Kurdistan Student Union. Following the July 1958 overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy, Mr. Talabani returned to law school, at the same time pursuing a career as a journalist and editor of two publications, Khabat and Kurdistan. After graduating in 1959, Mr. Talabani performed national service in the Iraqi army where he served in artillery and armor units and served as a commander of a tank unit.

When in September 1961, the Kurdish revolution for the rights of the Kurds in Iraq was declared against the Baghdad government of Abdul Karim Qassem, Mr. Talabani took charge of the Kirkuk and Sulaimani battle fronts and organized and led resistance in Mawat, Rezan and the Karadagh regions. In March 1962 he led a coordinated offensive that brought about the liberation of the district of Sharbazher from Iraqi government forces. When not engaged in fighting in the early and mid 1960s, Mr. Talabani undertook numerous diplomatic missions, representing the Kurdish leadership at meetings in Europe and the Middle East. When the KDP split in 1964, Mr. Talabani was part of the "Political Bureau" group that broke away from General Mustafa Barzani's leadership, although he later rejoined the KDP and fought during the 1974-1975 revolution against Iraq's Ba'athist dictatorship.

The collapse of the Kurdish resistance in March 1975 presented a moment of profound crisis for the people of Iraqi Kurdistan. Believing it was time to give a new direction to the Kurdish resistance and to the Kurdish society, Mr. Talabani, with a group of Kurdish intellectuals and activists, founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Yekiaiti Nishtimani Kurdistan). In 1976, he began organizing armed resistance inside Iraq. During the 1980s, Mr. Talabani led Kurdish struggle from bases inside Iraq until Saddam Hussein's brutal genocidal "Anfal" campaign of 1987 and 1988. The Kurdish movement was again cut adrift and Mr. Talabani was forced to leave Iraq.

Returning in 1991, he helped inspire the Kurdish rising against Saddam Hussein's regime. He negotiated a ceasefire with the Iraqi regime that saved the lives of many Kurds and worked closely with the US, UK, Turkey, France and other countries to set up the safe haven in Iraqi Kurdistan. He established a close personal relationship with the then President of Turkey, Turgut Ozal. Democratic elections were held in the safe haven in 1992 for a Kurdish parliament and the Kurdistan Regional Government was founded.

Mr. Talabani has pursued a negotiated settlement to the internecine problems plaguing the Kurdish movement, as well as the larger issue of Kurdish rights in the current regional context. He worked closely with other Kurdish politicians and the governments of the UK and Turkey during the Ankara process of Kurdish reconciliation. He worked closely with all factions of the Iraqi opposition. In close coordination with Massoud Barzani, Mr. Talabani and the Iraqi Kurds played a key role as a partner of the US-Coalition in the liberation of Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds have also joined in the fight against international terrorism.

Mr. Talabani was a member of the Iraqi Governing Council that negotiated the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), Iraq's interim constitution. The TAL governs all politics in Iraq and the process of writing and adopting the final constitution. In many ways, the TAL exemplifies the values that Mr. Talabani has promoted, of compromise, consensus and tolerance.

A politician par excellence, Mr. Talabani is a secularist and a believer in democracy, inter-ethnic harmony, equality and women's rights. He is known for his affable personality, his love of politics and his broad minded outlook. He has defined the PUK as an internationalist party and Mr. Talabani has made a point of publishing in Arabic. A strategic thinker and believer in reconciliation, he has reached out to Turkey and to the Sunni Arab community in Iraq to build bridges. Mr. Talabani stands for progressive politics, for a society based on social democratic values with a market economy. Close to his political base, and always open to debate, and quick to tell a joke, he has established a close rapport with party members. His elevation to the presidency of Iraq is recognition of his fifty years of service to the cause of freedom and democracy.

Source: University Programs and Events Planning Resources, September 2005