A Kurdish man shows respect to the dead bodies of the victims of the Kurdish genocide of Anfal killed in late 1980s and returned to Kurdistan in 2012. File photo: Rudaw/Sartip Othman
Kurdish leaders are adamant that the region goes ahead with its planned independence referendum on September 25 and not a day later. They cite lost opportunities of the past and the fact that this referendum has been a long time coming rather than an opportunistic move.
Kurdistan Region's President Masoud Barzani did not mince his words in a recent interview with France 24 when he said the Kurds have “been waiting 14 years for it – we can't wait anymore.”
Barzani called the decision on holding the referendum on September 25 as “irreversible”.
Hoshyar Zebari echoed Barzani in a recent telephone interview with Reuters when he declared that Kurdistan has “crossed the Rubicon with that decision, there is no going back.”
Regional and international powers have contended it's not the right time for the Kurds to hold a referendum, arguing they should wait until after Islamic State (ISIS) is firmly eradicated and the wider region becomes more stable.
“Why not now?” Barzani went on to ask rhetorically. “We have already very delayed. This has been delayed multiple times. If we wait and wait to solve all the issues beforehand, and if we wait until the region is stabilized, we're probably going to be waiting a long time.”
Bayan Sami Abdulrahman, the representative of the Kurdistan Region in the United States, also takes issue with these calls for further postponement, arguing that it’s natural to oppose any change in the status quo that a Kurdish independence referendum would cause.
“This is what we expected. We'd hoped, of course for a more positive response,” she said in a recent press briefing. “But the pattern of independence movements elsewhere has shown that that's the pattern. Nobody wants borders to change, nobody wants anything to change.”
For Kurds the status quo has invariably meant that their independence aspirations should remain, more or less indefinitely, shelved. A state of affairs they, understandably, take serious issue with.
On the domestic front in Kurdistan critics and opponents of the region's leading parties argue the referendum should not be held until the region's parliament is reactivated.
Dr. Beriwan Khailany, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament representing the KDP bloc, argues that whatever disagreements people may have with the region's two leading parties that should not dissuade them from exercising their right to vote in a referendum on this fundamentally important issue.
“Lots of people think referendum is just for benefit of KDP and PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan], not of the people,” she told Rudaw English. “This is not true. The two parties are working for them, not just for themselves.”
“No Kurdish people on the planet think we don't need a country, but we need to teach them how to think about it, as a country for them as opposed to one just for the political parties,” she added.
In another recent interview with Foreign Policy President Barzani said if outside powers try to isolate an independent Kurdistan in a bid to deny the Kurds' right of self-determination then their only “glory” will be that they “they have killed our people by starvation just because those people wanted – through democratic means – to express their destiny.”
For years a major talking point among critics of any Kurdish drive for independence have argued that it would embolden Kurds in neighbouring countries to seek separation.
It's highly unlikely Erbil would encourage, or incite, Kurdish separatist movements nor intervene in any way against Ankara or Tehran over events in Diyarbakir – or Kermanshah and Mahabad – provided those powers do not seek to aggressively and unilaterally subvert or forcibly subdue an independent Kurdistan Region.
Dr. Khailany also stressed that the Kurds have missed opportunities for independence in the past and hopes this time will be the historic exception.
“We have lost three chances for independence,” she told Rudaw English. “We lost our first chance after Sykes-Picot when we did not have enough will, and perhaps not enough educated people, or a proper economy and forces to protect the state. Now we have those things.”
“Another lost opportunity was when we had the no-fly zone against Saddam over Kurdistan following the Gulf War,” she added. “Then in 2003 we had a big chance and again we lost it.”
“Now is our chance and we should not lose it this time around,” she concluded.