An estimated 40, 000 people attend a rally in support of the Kurdish independence referendum on September 22, 2017 where President Masoud Barzani delivered a "historic" speech telling the nation to head to the polls on Monday. Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – When they go to the polls on Monday, the people of Kurdistan must choose between a life of subordination or one of freedom in an independent Kurdistan, President Masoud Barzani told a rally of thousands in the Kurdistan capital on Friday afternoon.
He stressed that Kurdistan is not a threat to its neighbours, as has been demonstrated over the past 25 years, but warned the Peshmerga would not allow anyone to feel “comfortable” and invade Kurdistan.
He also reassured the UN Security Council and the global anti-ISIS coalition that they will fight against ISIS even “stronger.”
The rally, gathering an estimated crowd of 40,000 that spilled out of the stadium and into the streets, opened the national anthem Ey Reqib. Senior Kurdish officials and foreign delegates were in attendance.
Barzani said that the “free union” described in the Iraqi constitution has failed and that the path ahead is for the Iraqi and Kurdish nations to part.
“We no longer can live with Baghdad,” he said.
“The referendum is out of my hands now, or the political parties. It is now in your hands – the people of Kurdistan,” he said.
Describing how Iraqi did not respect partnership in the new Iraq established after the 2003 US-led invasion, Barzani declared, “We won’t go back to a failed experience.”
He said that Erbil is open to have serious and friendly talks with Baghdad after the September 25 vote, but it is now too late to postpone the vote.
Kurdistan is not a threat to its neighbours
Since the foundation of the Kurdistan government 25 years ago, the Region has never been a threat to its neighbours, Barzani said.
And yet they receive calls and “threats” to postpone the vote “day and night.”
Turkey’s Security Council will meet on Friday to discuss “sanctions” against Kurdistan with regard to the vote. And in a show of force, the Turkish military began a military drill on its border with Kurdistan on Monday.
Iran has threatened to withdraw its diplomatic mission, close its borders, and carry out “deeper” military intervention.
Barzani, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said the Peshmerga “will not allow Kurdistan to fall to the enemy.”
He directed the Peshmerga to be prepared to “pay whatever cost” necessary to protect Kurdistan.
Addressing Turkey and Iran, Barzani said, “You have punished us for 100 years. Are you not tired yet?”
“If you want to go back to punishment, come punish me, and leave the people of Kurdistan,” he said.
Explaining that it was too late to call of the vote despite global pressure, Barzani said he would not postpone the referendum to please foreign capitals.
“I am not that person who can bring shame to myself before my nation,” Barzani said with determination.
Addressing the Kurdish nation, he called for bravery at the polls. “On September 25, head to the polls and decide your future. Those who are fearful, don’t go, or vote no,” Barzani said, while telling the nation the road ahead is difficult but worth it.
“Either we live a life of subordination, or a free life,” Barzani said. And if they must die to achieve freedom, they will “die with honour.”
Reassuring message to Coalition and UN Security Council
Responding to a UN Security Council statement calling on Kurdistan to postpone the vote out of fear it may affect the war on ISIS and the return of one million or displaced Iraqi who are currently in the Kurdistan Region, Barzani said Kurdistan’s coordination with Iraqi and global forces will continue.
“We will be more insistent in the fight against ISIS and will fight even stronger,” he said.
He also said the displaced Iraqis are “our guests,” and “their problems are in Fallujah and Baghdad” where the Iraqi government does not want to receive them or has problems letting them go home.
Since the war began against ISIS in early 2014, the Peshmerga lost 1,789 soldiers and another 10,199 were injured.
When visiting foreign delegations met with Kurdish leaders during the war with ISIS, they are full of praise for the Peshmerga, Barzani said, thanking the coalition for their support, “but it was us who shed blood.”