An exclusive interview with Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler discussed his special relations with Mam Jalal and Kurds, his recent DNA project regarding the origins of Kurds and his craving wish for Kurdistan Region.
Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler is an Austrian Historian, former Diplomat and a Journalist. He graduated from the University of Vienna, studied History, German philology, Linguistics and Philosophy. Got his Philosophy PHD from Vienna University and had an Honorary Doctorate from University of Slemani.
Dr. Hennerbichler explained his first experience meeting Kurdish leaders, who then introduced him to Mam Jalal:
The late Wiriya Rawenduzy (1929-2011), a renowned internist and long-standing doyen of the Kurds in Austria, and Fuad Rasul (1945-1981), a relative of well-known entrepreneur Faruq Mustafa Rasul, were the first Kurds he met in his life. "The father of Dr. Wiriya was a very famous officer and a Kurdish representative of the town of Rawanduz, his family was very Nobel", Hennerbichler explained.
Wiriya Rawenduzy and Fuad Rasul helped Mam Jalal in 1976 to present the newly founded PUK for the first time in Vienna. Kamal Abdul Karim Fuad (1932-2014), co-founder of PUK, reputable linguist and later after the 1991 uprising e.o. Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament, assisted from Berlin, Germany. Fuad Rasul organized for Mam Jalal a press conference in his flat in the so-called Arsenal suburb of Vienna and became at the time both the first PUK representative in Austria as well as one of its most recognized in Europe. "It wasn’t a luxurious mansion, it was just a regular, down to the earth flat, in a suburb in Vienna", Hennerbichler said. There, and at this first PUK press conference 1976 in Vienna he met for the first time Mam Jalal.
Afterward he met with Nawshirwan Mustafa, who was studying in the mid-1970s Political Science in Vienna and who combined his Komala movement with PUK under the general leadership of Mam Jalal.
Asking about the reason which made Dr. Hennerbichler wants to visit Kurdistan Region back in the 70s, he said that he did not have time then to think about coming to Kurdistan for the first time in his life, but was later called by the Iraqi Embassy in Vienna and told: "You were introduced to rather one-sided information by Kurdish rebellion leaders, and we want to tell you that it's not true what they said and we present to you an alternative Kurdish leader, his name is Hashim Akrawi", who was at the time representing those Kurds who were cooperating with Saddam Hussein regime and he had a broad influence area, from Erbil to most parts of Kurdistan. Dr. Hennerbichler thought that it would be fair to meet this Kurdish leader as well and to listen to what he has to say, so he went to the Iraqi embassy, and met Mr. Akrawi. Dr. Hennerbichler described him as a "completely different kind of person unlike Mam Jalal, I liked Mam Jalal from the very beginning because he was kind of like me, he was very humbled and has sense of humor. He was smiling, on the other hand, this man was not like him, he was very serious, he was never smiling and he was just kind of giving me an alternative position". Mr. Akrawi informed him that the "Saddam Hussein Kurds" are establishing a kind of democracy, a kind of paradise situation in Kurdistan, Dr. Hennerbichler thought at the time that his words were completely different from what he heard before. Saying "I met a Kurdish leader who was very sympathetic to me and another one who had really serious problems in explaining his position to me, and make what he said credible", Mr. Akrawi said "if you are a man of honor, come to Kurdistan, I invite you and see for yourself that I am in charge, that the Kurds have all the rights as we say they have, we can prove it, and I would suggest you at least stay one week in Kurdistan", and he did.
As soon as Dr. Hennerbichler arrived to Erbil, he realized that everything Mr. Akrawi said was completely wrong.
"This man, Akrawi had such a weak personality, he could be controlled by a simple Arab officer, whatever he said, he was corrected, he was never free to tell me his story." Dr. Hennerbichler said.
Dr. Hennerbichler or (Ferdinand La Kurd which means the Kurdish Ferdinand) as he likes to be called, insisted on visiting Rawanduz (a city close to the borders with Iran and Turkey) and Haji Omran (a town located near the Iran-Iraq borders 180 kilometers northeast of the Erbil), when Mr. Akrawi asked him about the reason he is insisting on visiting these areas, Mr. Ferdinand said " I want to see whether you are really in charge or not" and of course Mr. Akrawi agreed.
He explained " When I went out of the car in Haji Omran, people were running towards me and started to clap and cheer welcoming me, but the officers immediately grabbed me and put me back into the car and took me away from them" he added " I didn't have the time to talk to these people", he was later explained that he was not allowed to talk to these people described to him as "rebels and apprising against the government".
He was then arrested and brought to Baghdad, and was forced to stay in a hotel room and interrogated several times by men of the Iraqi Intelligence (Mukhabarat) who ordered him to give them his tapes, as he recorded various interviews with Kurdish rebels and friends and he was given a few hours to do so.
Dr. Hennerbichler managed to get to the Austrian Embassy, he explained "I knew where the Embassy was, I took a taxi and went there without calling, the Austrian Ambassador, who was really frightened, he said what are you doing? I answered, Sir, just give me a few hours, I need to delete everything except for one tape, 'which was regarding Hashim Akrawi as he was told off by a simple Arab security officer, he should shut up he had nothing to say'. I asked the ambassador, if he could just take this tape, with a diplomatic bag out of the country, and he did".
The Intelligence men were very upset after they found out that the tapes were erased. After one week he flew back to Austria but insisted to come back to Kurdistan to learn the real truth about Kurds.
PUKmedia asked Dr. Hennerbichler to clarify his impressions on Mam Jalal after observing him as a person and a leader, he explained that Mam Jalal was a political leader "who can win you over his argument and he can introduce an alternative for the future of Kurdistan" adding that Mam Jalal is a credible man. At the same time, Dr. Hennerbichler said that he and Mam Jalal had a similar nature, explaining that he liked to joke and that the person should be flexible "life is not always serious" and Mam Jalal had the same attitude which was impressive for Dr. Hennerbichler.
In Vienna 1976, Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler asked Mam Jalal what was his aim and what did he want? The answer was "Ferdinand, you will see in your life time and mine a free and independent Kurdistan".
Of course at the time Dr. Hennerbichler couldn't believe Mam Jalal, he couldn’t imagine that in 1976, one year after so many Kurds had died and years of bad experience of cooperation between the Kurds and Arabs, a free and (regionally) independent Kurdistan will be established.
But now, in their life time "Yes it happened. I was experiencing a self governed kick free Kurdistan, this was astonishing for me and I did not expect it".
In 1979 near the county of Sardasht, Dr. Hennerbichler captured the most iconic photo of Mam Jalal were he was sitting on a ladder, asking if it accrued his main wail capturing that photo if it will be that iconic, he said "No".
Adding "Honestly I did not direct Mam Jalal to do anything so I could take the photo, I did not ask him to sit down on this ladder in the middle of chicken around us picking in the sand". That particular incident showed how humble Mam Jalal is, he just wanted to sit down, Dr. Hennerbichler wanted to get him a chair but he just sat on the ladder.
Ferdinand Hennerbichler had only one request; that the name of "Ferdinand La Kurd" would be written on that photo. He had given this photo to Kurdish friends and asked them to publish them with a request of writing his name on it, but that was not fulfilled till this day.
Then he described the circumstances which accompanied taking the photo "it was in November 1979 in a small town called "Under Beoran" located near Sardasht, there are small mountain villages, we stayed in a small village, it was one nice community house, at the time I was coming from Tehran because I was Tehran correspondent, there were efforts to find a peaceful dialog between the Kurdish leaders, in particular Dr. Abdulrahman Qasimlo, Sheikh Izaddin Husseini and Dariush Forouhar, he was the Minister of Labor, he was a very social minded man, I liked him very much, interviewed him in Tehran a couple of times, Dariush told me in Iran that he was not a Kurd but he learned Kurdish in prison, he was very sympathetic to the Kurds, Mam Jalal later told me, Dariush Told Mam Jalal, “You see, there is a foreigner here, we agreed there would be no foreigner no press, and Mam Jalal said don’t worry this is Ferdinand the Kurd the Kurdish Austrian, don’t worry he will not publish anything, Dariush agreed.”
Later on Mr. Dariush asked Mam Jalal, “What are you doing here?" He answered "as an honest Kurdish leader, like we are all here, I came from Iraq to help and to assist a Kurdish friend, and you as well, I am trying to mediate and find a peaceful solution, good for you, good for the Kurds, and I'm trying my best".
Mr. Daruish was warred that they could all be killed as they were in a very dangers area, Mam Jalal assured him that there were safe by ordering all Peshmerga fighters around them to stand from their bushes, at that point Mr. Daruish was relived and said “OK we can start negotiating.”
Dr. Hennerbichler is recently working on DNA projects to detect the real Origins of Kurds, he believes that he Kurds are "Indigenous, and founders of civilization in the Middle East who were later ethno-linguistically Iranianized by waves of immigrants from Asia" defeating the most famous theory regarding the origins of Kurds which indicates that they are the children of the Medians, and as a historian Dr. Hennerbichler couldn't believe that theory.
Kurds are a nation that absorbed migrants including Iranians that they got their language from, but Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler thought that there must be a difference between those people who brought Kurds their language and their own indigenous homeland people.
Later, Dr. Hennerbichler was asked if his DNA project would affect the Kurds in any way, or affect the perspectives of civilization's development. He said that this finding will change "the way Kurds see their own identity", his project is leading to a substantial fact that the Kurds are a founder of civilizations like the Aryans and Sumerians.
Further elaborating, he said "Kurds were not immigrants, they are Master of their own country, and they are an indigenous master civilization. The Kurds had been here all along and had absorbed other civilizations, including that one of Medians, but in a leading way, not in a second class way."
Dr. Hennerbichler expressed his thoughts regarding the Kurds and their nature by likening them to the Austrians as both people have similar habits as skiing, having a great sense of humor and "eating a lot of meat", but most importantly; Kurds and Austrians had to fight for their rights, freedom, democracy and social justice.
The First Austrian Republic was established in November 1918 after years of struggle under the Austrian-Hungarian rule.
Both the Kurds and Austrians ware victims of the World War One, as foreigners had divided the land of Kurds.
"We have a similar culture, which makes us sympathetic to each other", adding "most of my friends are Kurds and regard them as my best friends".
Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler told PUKmedia about his decision not to come back to Kurdistan Region after his visit back in the 70s and 80s and his reason, saying that he thought that after 1976 that no civil war will happen in Kurdistan Region, but he was "disappointed" as in 1991 he was informed about the tragic civil war in Kurdistan Region. At that point Ferdinand refused to come back to Kurdistan Region "Kurds promised to establish democracy, they did not. Everything was ruined, I will not come back"… In 2011, Ferdinand's dear friend Mr. Wiriya Rawenduzy died, but before his death Rawenduzy made Ferdinand promise that he will come back to Kurdistan.
In 2012, Ferdinand was invited and received by Mam Jalal and Hero Ibrahim Ahmed over dinner in the Kurdistan Region.
At that occasion Hero Ahmed asked Ferdinand to stay in Kurdistan Region- Slemani and teach History at the University of Slemani also to continue his research about the Kurds origin. Finally, Ferdinand did stay in Kurdistan.
Currently, Dr. Ferdinand is still working on his DNA research projects by taking saliva samples to be analyzed as well as for taking samples from skeletons aging from 8th millennium to 1st millennium BCE, and compares them to modern people, then publishes the results.
His DNA research was approved in 2014, Dr. Ferdinand is cooperating in this research with the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany.
After Dr. Ferdinand's long journey with politicians and politics, PUKmedia asked him to review his observations regarding the political situation in Kurdistan Region; Dr. Ferdinand stated that there is an increasing international recognition of Kurds as they are considered the only military forces which showed their ability to fight ISIS in Kirkuk, Mosul, and Syria.
Several years ago, Dr. Ferdinand was in America to bring back the files, which were brought upon request by Mam Jalal to the U.S.A., were digitalized there, are documenting torture weapons used by the former Baath regime against the Kurds and are also to be shown at Slemani Red Museum. The Americans asked "why we should trust and support the Kurds? It will cost the United States billions of dollars to help fight ISIS, why should we spend that amount of money to help you (referring to the Kurds)?"
The answer was very simple: "you have no alternative; either you support the Kurds or you will lose this fight". At the end, Americans started their air bombarding and supported the Kurds.
"For the first time in contemporary history, the Kurds are proving internationally that they are a reliable and successful partner. As long as the war against ISIS is still ongoing, Kurds will remain the trusted partner also with a limited but important support from the Europeans." He added.
At the end of the interview there was one vital request to shear a particular incident that changed Dr. Ferdinand's points of view, he explained: "I was assigned as the head of Austrian Humanitarian mission for the 1991 Kurdish displacement and my aim was to try to help to rescue 1 million Kurds. We came back to Kurdistan and tried our best, we also had some Austrian soldiers with us. We did not gain permission from Turkey, they didn’t let us in neither did the Iraqi government, only Iran allowed us to set up camps, in half a year we managed to help approximately 1 million Kurds to survive, this changed my life."
Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler had only one last craving wish to be accomplished; he wants to see a free and independent Kurdistan in "our life time" as Mam Jalal told him back in 1976.
Editor's Note: this is the full interview with Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler. Man with a remarkable life story, with achievements that make you stop and think about what you can do as a human being for others. Thank you for your long and loyal friendship with Kurds.
The photos below were taken by Dr. Ferdinand Hennerbichler while he was in Kurdistan Region.
Meer Nahro Barznji