File photo shows former Kurdish President Masoud Barzani during a rally in support of the Kurdish referendum held on September 25, 2017. File photo: AFP/Safeen Hamid
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Former KRG president Masoud Barzani welcomed improved relations between Erbil and Baghdad in his Newroz message while defending independence referendum that triggered military confrontation between Kurdistan and Iraq last year.
He also condemned “heartbreaking" reports of looting and violations committed against the Kurdish population of Afrin by Turkey and its Syrian proxies.
"Newroz, to the people of Kurdistan, has always meant a demand for freedom and a new start. The struggle of the people of Kurdistan to achieve freedom is nothing new – it has existed for a long time and will continue," said Barzani, who is head of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
The Kurdish leader was the driving force behind the independence referendum held on September 25 with the approval of the majority of the Kurdish parties and the KRG parliament. About 93 percent of the population voted to leave Iraq, drawing the ire of Baghdad which launched a military incursion into the disputed areas on October 16.
"The vote of the people of Kurdistan was not a crime, nor was it wrong," Barzani said in defence of the vote that was widely opposed outside of Iraq, adding that Baghdad pushed the Kurdistan Region to opt for the popular vote because of a lack of partnership.
Without naming names, he also accused some Kurdish parties of initially supporting the vote, but then trying to avoid the consequences.
The path ahead requires the parties of the Kurdistan Region to push for unity, he said.
The Iraqi government has recently taken a series of steps towards canceling the punitive measures taken as a result of the vote, including lifting the ban on international flights and paying partial salaries of KRG employees for the first time since 2014.
Barzani welcomed the improved relationship, but added that there are more steps to be taken, especially the long-overdue implementation of Article 140 of the constitution that concerns the fate of the disputed or Kurdistani areas like Kirkuk and Khurmatu
, two cities where he said crimes and "mass murder" took place at the hands of Iraqi authorities.
Those responsible for such violations must be held accountable, Barzani said.
Kurdistan and Iraq must learn from the past, Barzani said, hoping that "dialogue and peaceful means" will prevail to solve their outstanding issues.
With regard to Turkey's takeover of the Kurdish city of Afrin over the weekend where Ankara-backed elements of the Free Syrian Army committed acts of looting and retribution, Barzani condemned the violations and called for peaceful ways to solve the problems in Syrian Kurdistan.
"The images seen in Afrin are heartbreaking. Fighting between armed groups is one thing, but it is another thing to witness the inhumane violation against women and children, and the national symbols, and therefore it is necessary to end these inhumane behaviors," Barzani said.
He called on the Kurdish parties of Syria to come together and push for unity.