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From Catalonia to Kurdistan

By Paul Iddon 10/10/2015
A 700-meter Kurdish flag flying over the Zakho football stadium. Rudaw file photo
A 700-meter Kurdish flag flying over the Zakho football stadium. Rudaw file photo

When Scotland held its national referendum in 2014 and asked its citizens to vote for or against secession from the United Kingdom it seemed as if the U.K. could possibly have split-up before war-torn Iraq. Which many deemed moribund. TIME Magazine aptly summed-up that mood when it ran a cover story flatly titled 'The End of Iraq after the fall of Mosul to Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists and renewed calls in the Kurdistan Region for an independence referendum after the threat posed by ISIS was eliminated.

The fight in Iraq continues. In Scotland the majority of the Scots opted to retain union with the rest of the U.K. One invariably finds the Scottish example a useful one in discussions about the prospect of independence, through a similar referendum, for Iraqi Kurdistan. For Iraqi Kurdistan as for Scotland a free and fair referendum over all its inhabitants should be permitted and their decision should be the deciding factor about the future status of their homeland. For either Baghdad or London to try and subdue either peoples — or stop them outright from having a free and fair referendum in the first place — if they voted in the majority to secede would be highly counterproductive. 

2014 also saw another minority people within a larger state hold an independence referendum. Catalonia in Spain. Recently Catalonia’s parliament voted in favour of separating from Spain which angered the central government in Madrid in the process.

While the elementary comparisons between the Catalan question and the Kurdish question are worth evaluating the specific historical comparisons that can be drawn are quite striking. And they are noted by both Catalan nationalists and, in particular, leading leftists in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava). Their interests in each others histories is also notable.

Just this summer, for example, a 400-page book about Kurdish history Kurdistan: The People of the Sun was published in the Catalan language. And on July 19 the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Defense Units (YPG) noted on its website that its revolution in Syria (the Rojava Revolution) began on exactly the same date as the Catalan Revolution — the former transpired on July 19, 1936 and the latter on July 19, 2012.

In comparing its revolution and autonomous region to the historic 'Revolutionary Catalonia' the YPG emphasized the leading role women played in the Catalonia of its day to the prominence women play in Rojava today (YPJ) ‘Women’s Protection Units’, is as you know, an all-female force as well as their leftist socialistic characters and attempts to establish systems as close to direct-democracies as possible in the midst of highly destructive civil wars: Rojava using its newfound autonomy in the course of the Syrian Civil War to try and build their vision of a perfect and just society based on socialistic egalitarian ideals and principles as Revolutionary Catalonian did during Spain's destructive civil war (1936-39).

One wonders if their comparison will ultimately extend to see the Rojava entity ultimately being dismantled like it's Catalan counterpart. Remember, in Catalonia at least the Catalan's could use the mountainous terrain across their homeland from which to fight their enemies. Bar the Kurd Mountains in Rojava's westernmost region of Afrin Rojava is mostly flat-land and is therefore very hard to defend. Meaning the survival of that region as at least an autonomous polity is questionable at best.

Iraq's Kurdish region on the other hand has plenty of mountains which have served the Kurds well in the past. But it remains a comparably small enclave surrounded by large and potentially hostile, and much more militarily powerful, states. Meaning that even if complete independence is attained for the Kurdish people of Northern Iraq another fight may well have to be fought in order to secure it.

Sadly, as history amply demonstrates, such arduous struggles are nothing new to the Kurds in their bitter struggle for independence and statehood.

Paul Iddon is a freelance journalist and political writer who writes on Middle East affairs, politics, developments and history.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


Sure | 10/10/2015
I don't think that geographical state matters for the question of achieving something or not. One should rather look at the fact here that whether you're stateless or a state, your enemies stay solid and you are going to fight them anyway. So it's better to have a state and be united to be able to do that organised whether on flat geography or a mountainous one.
Spaniard | 10/10/2015
Please, do not compare Catalonia with Kurdistan. Catalonia enjoys a high self governance, nobody is marginalised for using its language or living its culture. Situaton there is far away from the cruel war against crazy fanatics that Kurdistan is facing. On the other hand, socialism has nothing to do with the current proindependence movement in Catalonia. There a right wing party is leading the process and its aims has got more to do with economics rather than rights for women, workers or so on. And please, in 1936 19th July nobe Catalonian revolution started but an Spanish one. No conflict between Catalonia and Spain was held but a fascist uprising faced bravely by mostly the Spaniard people. Good luck for the Kurdish people, a better world will be built up when your rights are fully respected. And respect, no agreement, to people demanding independence for Catalonia. But please, don't compare wrongly.
FAUthman | 11/10/2015
Unless you are revenue independent and can count on it, and US guarantees your security, what is the point of holding a premature referendum for independence. If your independence fails like many others have (the Scotts were wise to stay part of the UK) what are you going to say then?: "oops . we made a mistake, sorry we cannot feed our people and provide for their security and now we are slaves of Turks and Persians". The young are full of zeal and would vote for independence anytime so would the majority of Kurds of course but if carried out without being ready for it or weighing its consequences the results may be disastrous. Jus look at the protests in Sulaimani is it about independence?, no, it is about jobs and not being fed!!
American | 12/10/2015
I think that Rojava, and Kurdistan will have to go it's own ways. The Rojavans already have their own Flag.
Turkey = ISIS | 12/10/2015
@Spaniard: I guess your opinion needs to be corrected, Catalonians have been waiting their indpendence it is now over 300 years, they have suffered discrimnation a civil war and are fed up with Spain's central governement, THEY WANT THEIR INDEPENDENCE, it has nothing to do with economics, it has to do with Respect and Freeodm otherwise the majority of the Catalonians wouldn't have bothered in asking for independence, RESPECT AND FREEDOM.
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