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The First Annual Conference

Co-Existence through Democratic Autonomy and Self-Governance:

The Kurdish Case


The Conference, co-hosted by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Representative Office in the U.S. and Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC)


Friday, April 29th, 2016

9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The National Press Club, Holeman Lounge

529 14th St NW Washington, DC 20045


The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC) are pleased to announce the First Annual Conference to be held on April 29 at The National Press Club in Washington D.C. The HDP and KPRC are jointly organizing this year’s conference, the theme of which is: Co-Existence through Democratic Autonomy and Self-Governance: The Kurdish Case.

Upheavals in the Middle East have shaped a new geopolitical landscape, while strengthening old alliances and forging new ones. The region has seen the formation of a Turko-Arab Sunni axis, which is challenging the axis composed of Shi’a Iran and its proxies. Examining the conflict and tensions between these two axes is central to understanding the dynamics that have led to the atrocities committed by the Islamic State (IS), a terrorist organization supported financially and militarily by regional players such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

As the fight against IS continues, the regional crisis drags on into its sixth year with no sign of a peaceful political solution. On the contrary, despair is on the rise and the war has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent memory. 

The only regional players who have shown a willingness and ability to fight IS and its allies, are the Kurds. The Kurds have not only been able to prevent territorial expansion, but also have been able to push IS back from territory it controlled. This is all despite the lack of regional support for the Kurds and the direct effort to undermine their victories against IS. Kurdish victories against IS have culminated in the newly established Kurdish Federal Region of Syria, a.k.a. Rojava, now a safe haven and potential model of democratic autonomy and self-governance.

The participants of this conference will offer their perspectives on the developing situation in the Middle East in light of the Kurds’ rise in political and military significance. The politicians, academics, and policymakers presenting will also engage in discussions about the political implications of the increasing importance of the Kurds for the future of the Middle East and international politics and the prospect of crucial partnerships between the Kurds and the U.S. to bring stability, peace, and democracy to the Middle East.

The HDP and KPRC hope that you can join us on April 29 for this exciting event that is aimed at offering an understanding and appreciation of the crucial role the Kurds have played in the regional fight against IS.


Opening Remarks by Deniz Ekici, Executive Director, Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC)


9:30 – 10:45am: The Crucial Role of Kurds in the Fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria

Omar Saeed Hasan Saeed, Commander of the Sengal Resistance Units (YBS)
* Redur Xelil, Spokesperson for People’s Protection Units (YPG)
* Polar Jangi, Commander of the Pesmerga’s Counter Terrorism Group (CTG)
* Kino Gabriel, Spokesperson of Syriac Military Council

Moderator: Yousf Ismail, Director of Media and Policy at the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI)


11:00am – 12:00pm: Ezidis and Decentralization in Iraq

David L. Phillips, Director of the Program on Peace-Building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights in New York
Khalaf Salih Faris Ali, Representative of Shingal Assembly

Lucy Usoyan, Founder and president of Ezidi Relief Fund


Moderator: Kirmanj Gundi, Prof. at Department of Educational Administration and Leadership, Tennessee State University


1:00 – 2:30pm: The Kurdish Challenge in Syria: Building Democracy in the Shadow of War

* Salih Muslim, Co-Chairman of Democratic Union Party
Amberin Zaman, Journalist, Columnist for portal Diken, and for Al Monitor Pulse of The Middle East.
Mehmet Gurses, Associate Professor of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University


Moderator: Deniz Ekici, Executive Director, Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC)

2:45 – 3:45pm:
Keynote Speech: The Kurds of Turkey: Civil War, Self-Administration, and the Peace Process

Keynote Speaker: Selahattin Demirtas, Co-Chair of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)


Moderator: Omer Taspinar, National Security Strategy National War College


* Speaking through Skype

Please RSVP required

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact at




Khalaf Salih Faris Ali

Khalaf Salih Faris Ali is an Ezidi from Shingal district of the Kurdistan Region, Iraq. He is an active member of the Shingal Administrative Council. He formerly served as the Director of External Relations at Shingal Assembly where he assisted journalists and humanitarian relief workers visiting the Shingal Mountains, which became a refuge for Ezidis including Mr. Faris Ali’s own family, after ISIS captured and destroyed the Shingal city. 

Selahattin Demirtas

Selahattin Demirtas is the co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest political party in Turkey, and a key player in the search for a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey. He served as the vice president of the Human Rights Association of Turkey before turning to active politics. Demirtas received nearly ten percent of the vote as the HDP’s presidential candidate in the 2014 Turkish Presidential Election.

Deniz Ekici

Deniz Ekici is the Executive Director at Kurdish Policy Research Center (KPRC). He holds a Ph.D. in Kurdish Studies from the University of Exeter and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Brooklyn College.  He is a former Assistant Professor at the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) where he taught courses on the Middle East including Introduction to the Middle East, Nationalism in the Middle East, Media in the Middle East, Critical Kurdish Studies and Kurdish Culture and Society.

Kino Gabriel

Kino Gabriel, a native of Qamishli City in Rojava (Northern Syria), is the Public Relations Officer and the official spokesperson for the Syriac Military Council (MFS). He is also a Military Council Member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Kirmanj Gundi

Kirmanj Gundi is a professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Leadership at Tennessee State University. He has numerous publications on leadership, teaching strategies, educational psychology, impact of technology on education, and global peace through education. He is the author of Thirty Years of Struggle and Devastated Country, which offers a historical account of the assimilationist policies of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria directed to the Kurds. He also co-produced More than the Mountains, a documentary that reveals the atrocities inflicted on Kurds by the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. From 2008-2010, he served as president of the Kurdish National Congress of North America (KNC-NA).

Mehmet Gurses

Mehmet Gurses is an associate professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. His research interests include ethnic and religious conflict, post-civil war peace building, post-civil war democratization, and Islamist parties in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in such journals as International Interactions, Social Science Quarterly, Civil Wars, Defense and Peace Economics, International Studies Perspectives, Conflict Management and Peace Science, and Political Research Quarterly. He has recently coedited the book entitled Conflict, Democratization and the Kurds in the Middle East.

Yousuf Ismael

Yousuf Ismael is the Director of Policy and Media Relations for Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI).  He has extensive professional experience in foreign policy, diplomacy, press relations, security, and campaign management.  He was a liaison coordinator for the U.S. Department of Defense in Suleymania. He served as the chief of staff for Dr. Najmaldin Karim, governor of the Kirkuk province of Iraq. He has also worked as an office manager for the Representation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq to the U.S. in Washington, D.C.

Salih Muslim

Salih Muslim is the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) since 2010. He is also the deputy coordinator of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. He became involved in the Kurdish political movement during the 1970s while working towards his BA in engineering at Istanbul Technical University. During this time he was influenced by Molla Mustafa Barzani's heroic struggle against the Iraqi government.

David L. Phillips

David L. Phillips is the Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He has worked as a senior adviser to the United Nations Secretariat and as a foreign affairs expert and senior adviser to the U.S. Department of State. He has held positions as a visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Center for Middle East Studies, executive director of Columbia University’s International Conflict Resolution Program, director of the Program on Conflict Prevention and Peace-building at the American University, Associate Professor at New York University’s Department of Politics, and as a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. Mr. Phillips is a author of numbers of books he has also authored many policy reports, as well as more than 100 articles in leading publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, and Foreign Affairs. He has recently published the book entitled The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East.

Polad Jangi Talabani

Polad Jangi Talabani is the commander of the elite Special Operational forces of the Counter Terrorism Group (CTG), which has been carrying out effective military operations against extremist groups in Iraq. Talabani has been serving as the head of the CTG special operational forces since 2004 and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom alongside the CTG forces and U.S. special operational forces.

Omer Taspinar

Omer Taspinar joined the faculty of the National War College in 2006. His focus is Political Economy, Europe, the Middle East and Turkey. Prior to joining the National War College he was a Foreign Policy Fellow and Director of the Turkey Program at the Brookings Institution. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Taspinar has a Ph.D. and M.A. in European Studies and International Economics from SAIS and a B.A. in Political Science from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. He is the author of two books: Political Islam and Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey and Fighting Radicalism with Human Development: Education, Employment, and Freedom in the Islamic World.

Lucy Usoyan

Ms. Lucy Usoyan is an Ezidi activist hailing from Armenia. She holds a BA degree in Economics from Russia and a Legal Studies Degree from University of Washington. She is the founder and president of the Ezidi Relief Fund, an advocacy and humanitarian organization for refugees and internal displaced persons (IDPs) in Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. She has attended numerous conferences and other events to inform the public of the plight of the Ezidis throughout the history including the recent atrocities inflicted on them by ISIS.

Redur Xealil

Redur Xealil is a native of the Hasakah province in Rojava (Northern Syria). He is the official spokesperson of the People’s Protection Unites (YPG). Prior to his involvement with the YPG, he worked as a journalist.

Amberin Zaman

Amberin Zaman is a prominent journalist who has covered Turkey, the Kurds and Armenia for The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, The Los Angeles Times and the Voice of America. She served as The Economist's Turkey correspondent for 17 years. She is a columnist for the independent online news portal Diken and Al-Monitor. She is currently a public policy scholar at The Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, where she is focusing on Kurdish issue.

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