BASHIQA, Kurdistan Region – The local government of the Yezidi town of Bashiqa that was liberated by the Kurdish Peshmerga from ISIS militants late last year decided in a unanimous vote to take part in the Kurdistan Region’s September independence referendum, the second such vote on Wednesday.
Khanaqin, a Kurdish city located in Kurdistan’s southernmost border with the rest of Iraq, also voted in a unanimous vote to be included in the referendum.
Bashiqa, 40 kilometers northwest of Erbil, and Khanaqin, 240 kilometers southeast of Erbil, are both outside the Kurdistan Region in what has become known as the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
Kawa Mohammed Yousif, a member of the Bashiqa Town Council told Rudaw that the vote came at the request of the people in the area, from all 47 villages that fall under its administration.
“It is based on a request filed by them that the people in these areas want to take part in the referendum and independence for Kurdistan, so that they also can decide their destiny,” Yousif added wearing Kurdish outfit.
The Council has nine members, including Arabs who voted in favour of the decision. There are five Arab villages in the town.
“The one who provides protection to the Arabs, Shabaks, and Kurds is Peshmerga,” Sheikh Mohammed Ziyab, an Arab member of the Council said, “That is why all our Arab villages demand to become part of Kurdistan.”
The town is yet to rise again from the damage caused by the war against ISIS, both human and material.
Bashiqa with a population of 30,000 people before the war against ISIS, is largely a Yezidi area. The ISIS militants committed genocide against the Yezidis when it controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014, killing and enslaving thousands of the religious minority.
Shakr Haidar, a Yezidi man who was rebuilding a place of worship in the town, said that he believes thy way forward for the Yezidis is with the Kurdistan Region.
“It is necessary that our destiny would be with the Kurdistan Region, so that ISIS and the likes do not destroy our sacred places,” he said, adding that Bashiqa is known for its brotherhood and coexistence–something he said it is under threat if they remain part of Iraq.
Yezidis in Bashiqa are rebuilding a place of worship after it was liberated late last year by the Kurdish Peshmerga. Photo: Rudaw TV
Vian Dakhil, a Yezidi Iraqi MP who became renowned for her outspokenness inside the parliament in August 2014 to protect Yezidis when ISIS kick-started its genocidal campaign, told Rudaw in June that they believe their future is with Kurdistan.
“This is a very important issue so that we will figure out which direction our people will choose,” Dakhil said at the time.
She said she believes that the majority of Yezidis will vote to join the Kurdistan Region.
“Today we have to determine our fate by ourselves to be with the Kurdistan Region,” she said. “Here at least, the stability, safety, prosperity, and development that exists here can also be expanded to Shingal,” Dakhil added, making reference a Yezidi area west of Mosul.
Rozh Nuri Shaweys, the head of the Kurdistani delegation in Baghdad this week to discuss the referendum, reiterated that the disputed areas would take part in the referendum if elected bodies in those areas asked Erbil to do so.
Najmaldin Karim, Governor of Kirkuk, which is a disputed province with large oil reserves, told Rudaw on Wednesday that if Erbil requests for the Kirkuk Provincial Council to take a similar vote, he is certain that the Council would vote in favour.
He said though that the Kirkuk Council already voted to join the Kurdistan Region in 2008, and therefore he does not think a second vote is necessary.
Karim said preparations are underway to hold the referendum in Kirkuk on time, September 25. He added that the result will be a ‘Yes’ for independence.
Baghdad considers the referendum as unilateral and unconstitutional, and has said it will not recognize the result.
Turkey’s presidential spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, told a Turkish radio on Wednesday that holding the referendum in the disputed areas is of particular concern to Turkey, especially in Kirkuk which he called a “Turkmen city."
Kalin also said Iraq, Iran, Turkey, which are countries with significant Kurdish population, do not recognize an independent Kurdistan if declared “unilaterally”.
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution concerns the disputed areas which should have been settled via a referendum at the latest in 2007. But it was never implemented. Nearly all disputed areas are under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Kurdistan’s election body stated on August 10 that they will open offices in Mosul and Kirkuk in preparation for next month’s independence referendum.
Jutyar Adil, a member of the Kurdistan Region’s elections commission, said that they will have ballot boxes in every place where the Kurdish Peshmerga are.
He said the election body also has decided to open a secondary office in Kalar to monitor areas such as Tuz Khurmatu and Khanaqin.
The Kurdish Peshmerga liberated the Yezidi town of Bashiqa, about 20 km northeast of Mosul, late last year as part of the Mosul offensive, backed by the US-led global coalition against ISIS.