Supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) hold Kurdish flags as they celebrate the results of the legislative election, in Diyarbakir on June 7, 2015 that saw the party enter the Turkish parliament for the first time. File photo: AFP/Bulent Kilic
ANKARA, Turkey – The issue of Kurdistan Region's independence referendum has divided political parties in Turkey. Turkish parties oppose the move while Kurdish parties have voiced their support.
A committee formed by some Kurdish parties in Turkey is now trying to lobby and influence decision-making in Ankara towards a favorable stance.
They have visited some Turkish organizations and political parties, including Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), to discuss the referendum, demanding the party send their observers when Kurdistan goes to the polls on September 25.
The government in Ankara headed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has already described the vote as a “grave mistake,” and called on Erbil to roll back the decision.
Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak stated Thursday that the energy cooperation between Ankara and Erbil could suffer as a result of the referendum. He said cancelling the vote is the right action for the Kurdish leadership to prevent this from happening.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, whose government enjoys strong economic and security relations with Turkey, has been very clear that the vote will move ahead on its set date. He even turned down a request by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to postpone the vote when the two made a phone call this week.
The lobby group in Turkey met with the CHP head Kemal Kılıcdaroglu this week. A member of the Kurdish delegation, Mesut Tek, described the encounter as “generally fruitful.”
Oztürk Yılmaz, the CHP deputy head, told Rudaw earlier this month that they believe in the right of self-determination, but that they see the vote in Kurdistan as against the Iraqi constitution.
“Independence is the right of every nation. We do not have any reservation on this [principle],” Yilmaz said. “According to the Iraqi constitution, a Kurdish Region has been founded, but the constitution does not mention that the Region can become an independent state--no such article is in the constitution. We do not see this step [by Erbil] as a right step.”
Yilmaz warned that the referendum “will inflict damage on Kurds.”
Following a meeting with a rights organization in Turkey the group said that their mission was to explain the position of Kurds to Turkey, a task they said is perhaps difficult for the Kurdish parties in Erbil to undertake.
“We explain the suffering of the people of the Kurdistan.Our brothers [from the Kurdistan Region], because of the current situation in Turkey, may not be able to visit [some] places or organizations, that is why we have to take our historical responsibility,” Sidqi Zilan said at a press conference.
Sertac Bucak, from the Turkish Kurdistan Democratic Party, said that “there is a great interest in the referendum, and independence of the Kurdistan Region” in Turkey, and it is this interest that has necessitated their mission.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the third biggest party in Turkey, has already stated that they support the referendum on numerous occasions, a position that is well in line with their constituency in Turkey’s Kurdistan, located south and southwest of the country.
Kurdish people in Diyarbakir, considered the capital of Turkey’s Kurdistan, like the rest of the Kurds there, are following news of the referendum with interest and enthusiasm.
On a typical summer day, Ferid Once, his sister, and friends are exchanging views about the vote in a cafe in Diyarbakir, also called Amed by Kurds.
For Once, an independent state for Kurds is the case of fish and water.
“Fish cannot live without water. We demand our water, we demand our life,” Once said, lamenting the fact that the Kurds have been denied this right at least since the end of the First World War when Kurdistan was carved up between the current Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian governments by the victorious states such as the United Kingdom and France.
His sister Hulya says she and the Kurds “are ready to sacrifice our lives and properties for the sake of the creation of Kurdistani [state]," as she pointed to the fact the road to independence is not flat and requires sacrifices.
Their friend, Besra Calisir, mindful of the Kurdish experience in the Middle East, is well aware of the risks ahead, especially opposition from Ankara and Tehran.
“The main obstacles are Kurdistan’s occupiers,” Calisir said about the four countries. “Turkey and Iran can come up with hurdles on the way to independence,” she continued, adding that these two countries put into action their opposition in less explicit ways.
The lobby group also paid a visit to President Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) which maintains an office in Ankara. The KDP sounds appreciative of their work.
“In fact this is a national duty that they have taken upon themselves," Omar Mirani, KDP's representative told Rudaw. "It is a strong support [for us] that would further encourage our people to carry out their national duty."
Despite the fact the Kurds in all four parts, known as Greater Kurdistan, and across the world are hoping for a united state, Erbil has said in clear terms that the referendum is confined to what they consider as Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish leadership say that they support a peaceful solution to the Kurdish cause in other parts, including in Turkey.