ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The people of Kurdistan are preparing to stage the largest rally for independence in the capital of Erbil where President Masoud Barzani and other Kurdish leaders take the final chance to push for a yes-vote on independence referendum, despite growing regional and global pressure to call off the vote.
Friday is the last day for official campaigning for and against the vote after 18 days of continued rallies where the yes-campaign drew large numbers of rallies across the Kurdistan Region and in the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
Voting for the diaspora is scheduled to start on Saturday, while the people inside the country head to the polls on Monday.
There are currently an estimated 40, 000 people. The Stadium itself has a capacity of 19, 000, but many have also filled onto the pitch.
President Barzani and other officials attended large rallies in Duhok, Zakho, Soran, and Sulaimani where tens of thousands of people voiced their support for leaving Iraq, about 100 years since the current borders were drawn by France and the United Kingdom as the victors of World War I. They split the Kurdish people between Iraq, Turkey and Syria — Kurdistan had previously been split between the Ottoman and Persian empires.
Video: Independence rally in Duhok on September 16, 2017.
The Kurds are referred to as the largest stateless nations. They have dreamed of an independent state for at least a century. But the current referendum concerns only Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iraq, the regional countries such as Turkey and Iran, and the United States and European Union, have all expressed their opposition to the historic vote. But the Kurdish leaders say they are determined to choose independence over subordination.
There has been only one official no-campaign against the vote. But they held only one large rally in Sulaimani where only about 2,500 people attended the event, compared to an estimated 20,000 who came to support a yes-vote in the same city.
Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled to suspend the vote until it makes a final decision, a decision taken at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who demanded that the court rule against the separation of “any region or province.”
Video: Independence rally in Sulaimani on September 20, 2017
The rally comes as the Turkish Security Council is scheduled to convene in order to discuss “sanctions” against the vote, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters Friday that they consider the issue of referendum as part of its “national security,” and that they are prepared to take whatever actions against it. He said that the leaders in Erbil still have time to cancel the vote, something he considered as “very wrong.”
The Kurdish parliament voted last Friday to hold the referendum on independence on September 25 in the entire Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani or disputed areas such as the oil-rich and diverse Kirkuk province.
PM Yildirim claimed that Kirkuk is a “Turkmen” city, saying that the vote is of particular concern in the province from the Turkish point of view.