People wave the flag of Kurdistan on Monday to show support for the upcoming independence vote in Akre, Kurdistan Region. Photo: Safin Hamed | AFP
The Kurdistan Region has consistently shown for years now that it stands as a factor of stability in the region and will continue to do so post-independence.
A cursory look at the foreign policy to date of the autonomous region indicates that it has been quite accommodating with its neighbours. The Kurdistan Region today adequately lives up to the standards of the famous saying about the Kurdish people: they are like fire, if you approach them kindly they will warm you, but if you approach them aggressively they will burn you.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has shown this to be true numerous times. In a recent interview
in the Saudi press, the interviewer pointed out that Iran has major influence in Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus and Sanaa before asking Barzani if he feared Tehran would attempt to subjugate Erbil under its control.
Barzani responded by first clarifying that Erbil does “not want to clash or enter a conflict with Iran” before warning that he will not permit his region to fall under foreign control. Simply put, any potential conflict between Iran and the Kurdistan Region would be initiated by the former. Iran is presently making more productive moves to increase its investments in Kurdistan
The Kurdish president made similar statements about Turkey before the thaw in relations between them in 2009 (Turkey previously contemplated outright subduing Kurdistan's nascent autonomy in 2003, by sending up to 70,000 troops there as part of the American invasion of Iraq but opted out of participating in that war).
When Ankara threatened to militarily intervene in Kirkuk, around 2006-07, on behalf of the Turkmen minority there Barzani hinted, after affirming that Turkmen rights in Kirkuk will always be preserved and respected under any Kurdish governance over that region, that his Region could respond in kind in Diyarbakir. Neither escalation transpired, primarily because Turkey didn't initiate it. Instead, Ankara has invested heavily in the Region and, in a twist that would be baffling to many less than a decade ago, the Kurdistan Region is in a sense the only neighbour with which Turkey presently retains good relations, in spite of its present stance against the upcoming independence referendum.
This goodwill extends to Iraq, the very state from which the Kurds are working to secede. Barzani has stressed
the independence referendum “will not affect the continued friendship and brotherhood between the Kurdistan and Iraq nations” but enhance it.
The Kurdish president has routinely deemed post-2003 Iraq a failure, especially after former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's divisive and tumultuous tenure. However, the Erbil's decision to remain tied to Baghdad for the 14 years since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein shows their present endeavour is not a quixotic one done without giving a federal Iraq a chance to succeed. In this respect Barzani is correct, no longer will the Kurds feel bound to a country they don't identify with being a part of, but can instead deal with its southern neighbour on more equal, neighbourly and productive terms.
The fear of Kurdish independence in the Kurdistan Region emboldening separatist Kurdish movements in Iran, Syria and Turkey
is demonstrably exaggerated in light of Erbil's commitment to non-intervention in the affairs of its neighbours. Kurdish officials have reiterated this several times: rather than becoming a cause of further conflict in the Kurdish regions of the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan Region can become the solution to these conflicts and troubles, an arbiter that can help bring about solutions on mutually acceptable terms.
Denying the Kurds their fundamental right to hold a referendum and pursue their basic right of self-determination shouldn't be excused under the pretext that it is merely being done in order to preserve some vague stability, especially in a region where Erbil conspicuously stands out for its stability. Denying this right will likely prove a factor in causing further instability. Coming to terms with it, on the other hand, will more likely than not prove to be a factor in the stability of the small part of the Middle East in which this new nation will be born.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.