ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Gaining recognition as a sovereign state will be key for Kurdistan independence, but the Region has a strong case to make, argued international experts.
International and Kurdish experts gathered in Erbil this week to discuss independence in the Kurdistan Region at a conference hosted by the University of Kurdistan Hawler titled Iraqi Kurdistan at a Crossroads.
Gaining international recognition as an independent state is straight forward if the home state, Iraq in this case, permits independence, explained Dr. Ryan Griffiths, senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, Australia.
“But in the absence of that, you need to get key states to support you. And that becomes a very difficult political and diplomatic process. And it involves all the key actors that everybody’s familiar with, including Turkey, and Iran, Iraq, the United States. Getting those actors involved and prepared to recognize Iraqi Kurdistan I think is the key,” Griffiths said.
Should Iraq dissolve as a state, Kurdistan’s case for recognition as an independent state is much stronger, said Dr. Thomas Grant, international law expert based at Wolfson College, Cambridge, who argued that Iraq is beginning to look like the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
The central government has failed to deal with the constitutional issues of revenue sharing and internal boundary disputes and, in the first phases of the war against ISIS, it failed to provide security. The only organized military force fighting ISIS at the beginning was the Peshmerga, Grant explained.
“If you have a state that cannot handle its fiscal relations, it cannot handle internal disputes, and it cannot provide security, those are very serious deficits. It starts to look more like a dissolution of a state.”
This general crisis within Iraq must be taken into account, he stressed, but added that “It’s a difficult diplomatic campaign that lies ahead.”
Dr. Thomas Grant, international law expert based at Wolfson College, Cambridge
In its negotiations with Baghdad amid what maybe the dissolution of Iraq, Kurds must not be their own worst enemies, warned Gary Kent, director of the UK parliament’s all-party group on the Kurdistan Region and Rudaw columnist.
The separation of two entities that have been together for a century is complex with many factors to consider, including oil, water, security, and the economy, and these must be carefully addressed, he explained.
“If the Kurdistan Region is independent, its best friend, its nearest neighbour, its closest economic partner will be Iraq.”
The time is right, however, for Kurds to push for independence as they have proven themselves on the world stage, he said.
“A forced marriage, an arranged marriage has failed. An amicable divorce may lead the way to friendship. I think that given that the Kurds have demonstrated how important they are in defeating extremism, in upholding religious freedoms, all the different religions that are here, the importance of the Peshmerga in defeating jihadism, all these make a lot of people in the West very much more open to the idea of Kurds.”
Gary Kent, director of the UK parliament’s all-party group on the Kurdistan Region
Dr. Kirill Vertyaev, director of the Department of Kurdish Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that Kurdistan independence has strong support in Russia, which has a long history of ties with Kurds.
“In Russia, the idea of Kurdish independence has very, very strong support among different people, mostly of leftist orientation,” he said, adding that this support is not only for Kurds in Iraq but also Rojava, northern Syria.
He dismissed the idea that Russian-Kurdish relations may be negatively affected if the United States were to establish a military base in Kurdistan, saying he believed ties between the two super powers will improve in the future.
However, he argued, Turkey is likely to strongly oppose a permanent American military presence so close to its borders.
Among Kurds, the current debate is whether or not parliament must be reactivated first in order for the legislative body to launch the referendum process.
Safeen Dizayee, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said that first the political leaders must solve the issues that led to the shutdown of parliament in 2015. Reactivating parliament will come afterwards, he said, warning against putting the cart before the horse.
Safeen Dizayee, spokesperson for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)