If any nation was befitting of holding an independence referendum months shy of a century since the Sykes-Picot agreement that artificially divided the Middle East then it’s the Kurds.
100 years later and the Kurds continue to suffer the implications of the selfish imperial interests that carved the region into spheres of control and influence.
The strong desire of the Kurds to attain independence is hardly a secret. Yet for decades, the Kurds across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran had to struggle for basic human rights let alone their legal right to statehood.
Seemingly shackled by the Sykes-Picot legacy, the Kurds have been warned at every juncture that they must live within the reality of the Middle Eastern landscape.
Yet this same reality is a delusion that the West continues to cling on and the regional powers continue to use against the Kurds. The notion that Iraq is breaking apart lacks logic. For something to break, it must have been whole to start with. The Kurds never agreed or accepted to part of the artificial state of Iraq.
Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani has stated the right to self-determination for many years. However, this became a more tangible dream with the chaos of 2014 that was propelled by the Islamic State and the rapid disintegration of the Iraqi army and with it the de facto boundaries in place.
The promise of a referendum was curtailed in 2014 as the US-led air support for Kurdish forces undoubtedly came with the price of preserving unity. This is the same US dream since 2003, to bring all Iraqi factions into the political picture and promote national reconciliation. However, in spite of all the US sacrifice and efforts in Iraq, the country is further from any semblance of unity than ever before.
The referendum dreams were rekindled this week with Barzani proclaiming “The time has come and the situation is now suitable for the Kurdish people to make a decision through a referendum on their fate.”
Although, this referendum is non-binding for now, it will hold great symbolic value. An unofficial referendum was already held in 2005 alongside the Iraqi parliamentary elections with 98.8% voting in favor of independence.
The referendum result will not be a surprise but the timing of the any formal declaration of independence will be much trickier. The simple answer to when is a good time for Kurds to seek their rights is that there will never be a perfect time. There are more favorable circumstances but waiting for the green light from others is delusionary.
Regional hypocrisy towards the Kurds is illustrated with the usual reaction of any talk of a referendum or independence. Turkeys, Arabs or Kurds would not have accepted a lack of statehood or their national rights for 1 year let alone 100! Yet the Kurds are still seen as the overreachers or the bringers of instability.
When Kurds were systematically repressed and denied basic rights, did the same governments warn of adverse consequences?
Any referendum is not designed to put pressure on Baghdad. Kurdistan government already controls most of the disputed lands and independently exports their oil thanks to a lack of budget payments from Baghdad.
Kurdistan has an increasing number of backers for independence, including Russia and European states and many in Washington embrace the idea of a pro-western and secular new state.
Kurdish independence will not be the factor for instability and mayhem in the Middle East, the other sides are already doing a good job of that.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc