Tag Archives: Kurdistan independence referendum

Global powers cannot deny legitimate Kurdish rights

In the tumultuous new age of the Middle East, Kurds have risen as strategic players, and this exhibits their increasingly influential position in settling regional conflicts.

The by-product of this new prominence is strong relations with regional powers such as Turkey but also with the European Union, the United States, and Russia.

With Kurds at the center of the battle against Islamic State (IS), both in Iraq and Syria, their role is vital to achieving long-term peace in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and the greater Middle East.

Both the US and Russia have worked with Kurds as key actors in battling terrorism. As much as Kurds have grown in strategic standing and received increasing acclaim, they are still stateless.

However, more and more countries are supporting their legitimate rights, and it appears this is something that Russia is also willing to do. Russian President Vladimir Putin, while responding to a Kurdistan 24 reporter, emphasized their “special and very good relationship with the Kurds” who he believes had “a very difficult past.”

When pressed about Kurdish independence by the same reporter, Putin added, “ultimately, the legitimate rights of the Kurds will be ensured, but what will be the form and how it depends on Iraqis and Kurds themselves. We have been and would continue to be in contact with Baghdad and Kurds, but we will not interfere in domestic affairs of Iraq.”

US President-elect, Donald Trump, has also praised the Kurdish role in the fight against IS while acknowledging that wrongs were committed against them. Trump stated that they should be “using and utilizing those people, they have a great heart. They are great fighters, and we should be working with them much more so than we work (now).”

Trump’s appointment of Rex W. Tillerson, ex-CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State may bode well for the Kurds. It was Tillerson who supported Kurdish rights by insisting on working in Kurdistan in 2011 in spite of opposition from Baghdad and Washington.

Clearly, global powers, as much as their short-term foreign policies center on the sovereignty of Iraq and having normal relations with Baghdad, cannot deny the legal right of the Kurds to self-determination while much smaller nations have been able to secure these rights long ago.

If neighbors such as Turkey that were historically opposed to any notion of Kurdish nationalism, let alone autonomy, are coming to terms with the reality of Kurdish Independence, then little stands in the way of the Kurds.

In a recent interview, Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani underscored that the question of independence has gone from a “red line for Turkey no matter what” to an “opportunity to open this dialogue.”

While Barzani only emphasized that the aim was to get Turkey to “listen,” in reality, Turkey has long acknowledged the end-game, and they have directly or indirectly already supported the foundations of this emerging state.

The deal to export oil through Turkey independently of Baghdad is one such act that boosted the Kurdish bid for statehood.

Barzani believes that the road map for Kurds to secede from Iraq is “a very serious dialogue with Baghdad.” He added, “For argument’s sake if we do declare our independence without consultation with Baghdad or any form of dialogue, our independence won’t be viable.”

The question is not permission from Baghdad, but rather to establish the ground rules for an “amicable divorce.”

Iraq does not have the resources or national will to oppose the Kurds, even if neighbors such as Tehran are against the idea of independence.

The common line has been that Kurdish independence would cause instability in the Middle East, yet the Middle East has never been stable. On the contrary, a Kurdish state will help bring stability to the region. A century after the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the Middle East, no side can justify the Kurds remaining as the largest nation in the world without a state.

First Published: Kurdistan 24

Separating the right of Kurdish independence from the right regional, political or economic climate

If an ethnic group ever deserved an award for patience and perseverance then it is the Kurds. Still the largest nation without a state, the Kurds are told to bide their time for independence or worse are threatened by its consequences.

One hundred years have passed since the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement and it is approaching the centenial of the respective Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne.  The truth is, Kurdistan may be embroiled in a valiant battle against the Islamic State (IS) today and in many ways carry the global fight against the group, but their struggle for existence and freedom is nothing new.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani announced plans to hold a referendum as far back as July 2014 when Iraqi forces rapidly collapsed under IS attacks. This intention was renewed with repeated plans to hold a referendum by end of 2016.

Skeptics point to the difficult fight against IS, Kurdistan’s economic crisis, retaliation from neighboring powers, the instability engulfing the rest of Iraq and so on.

However, if Kurdistan ties its independence to a perfect moment in Iraq and the Middle East then independence will remain a distant dream. The Kurds must not equate their right of independence with a perfect regional, political or economic climate.

If independence was based on buy-in from all sides, a flourishing economy and a perfect democratic and social system, then dozens of sovereign countries would not exist today. On the contrary, independence will give the Kurds a strong hand to dictate fiscal matters such as devaluing their currency, printing money and borrowing from international markets.

Moreover, the independence of Kurdistan should not be a piecemeal measure.  Even Saddam Hussein was willing to give the Kurds substantial autonomy with the exception of Kirkuk.

Kurdistan should declare independence and a referendum is the right and legal platform. As governed by United Nations charters, the voice of the people in deciding their fate is vital. Many nations have declared their independence in such a manner and the fate of many disputed cities has been resolved via plebiscites.

Abandoning the legal notion of self-determination and asking permission from Western powers, Ankara, Baghdad, and Tehran is a sure path to failure.

The Kurds have suffered under the hands of such governments and struggled for even basic rights, why should the fate of millions of Kurds and a legal right be placed in their hands once more?

Kurdistan has a rich array of ethnicities and religions. Assyrians, Chaldeans, Turkmen, Shabaks, Yezidis and Christians have enjoyed a historical foothold in these lands. This very coexistence should be heralded across the West and serve as a model of co-existence across the Middle East.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc


The time of the Kurds – rewriting the wrongs of history after 100 years of Sykes-Picot

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