Estonia is a both an old and a new nation. Next year is the centenary but also the 27th anniversary of its independence in its modern incarnation. Photo: Estonia World
No foreign parliament has taken a formal collective position on the referendum in the Kurdistan Region and its ramifications, as far as I know, except for the Riigikogu in the Republic of Estonia.
Estonia is a both an old and a new nation. Next year is the centenary but also the 27th anniversary of its independence in its modern incarnation – it was occupied by the Soviet Union for 51 years from 1940.
It is now a respected member of the EU and NATO, known for its expertise in e-governance and in countering cyber-warfare in which it punches well over its weight as a country of 1.3 million people. Its position at the borders, in the confines of the Russian 'prison of nations,' and at the borders again of a vast imperial neighbour also makes it hyper-sensitive to the dilemmas of small nations in international relations.
The far-sighted Estonian parliamentary statement was agreed just a week after the Iraqi seizure of Kirkuk in October and deserves serious study by other parliaments and foreign ministries as they seek to finesse their policy on the dilemmas faced by the Kurdistani people.
The motion states the often conflicting principles of foreign policy: the right of self-determination of peoples, upon which Estonia was founded in 1918, and that it says is a cardinal principle of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, and Estonia's respect for the principle of territorial integrity. It adds that borders can only be changed peacefully through a democratic, free and fair expression of the will of people, and that Estonia always seeks peaceful resolution of conflicts.
The motion seeks to square the circle between these conflicting doctrines by expressing hope that “the Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum of 25 September will be a step in [the] nonviolent resolution of the status of the Kurdish minority in Iraq by reconciling the right to self-determination and the principle of territorial integrity.”
The motion explicitly makes the latter conditional on the former. It affirms that “...it respects the territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq, as long as preserving it will not bring along violent suppression of the human and political rights of the Kurdish minority in Iraq.”
The conditionality is vital.
It then upholds the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish people in exercising their right to national self-determination, urges all parties to maintain a peaceful, transparent, democratic and mutually respectful attitude, says all countries of the region should not interfere with internal Iraqi issues, and urges Baghdad and Erbil to negotiate the status of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Several countries are now effectively calling time on Baghdad's over-reaction. First, the German Foreign Minister sought to visit Kurdistan after an official visit to Baghdad but the request was rejected by Baghdad. Second, President Macron broke the blockade and hosted the KRG Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in Paris. Third, the UK announced that it would invite them to London, probably in January, adding for good measure that it would “fight” to protect Kurdish rights and identity. Fourth, Germany invited KRG leaders for talks and is encouraging dialogue and Kurdistani rights within the Iraqi constitution. Fifth, the Dutch Prime Minister has urged the lifting of the embargo on international flights to and from Kurdistan.
This sea-change is because Baghdad has gone far too far and needs to be reminded that the KRG is an essential part of Iraq rather than just the northern governorates. And the US has also argued that, whoever controls them, the disputed territories remain disputed and in need of resolution.
It's all very welcome but let's remember that the economic squeeze on Kurdistan will have dreadful economic consequences for its people and hamper the humanitarian effort including the continued care by the Kurds for Sunni Arabs who have not yet been able to return to Mosul, as well as Kurds who have been forced to flee Kirkuk and other disputed territories.
Let's hope for more international concern and pressure on Iraq, which flouts the pledge that it’s a claimed free union of Arabs and Kurds that should be nurtured and not imposed. The Estonian parliament deserves high praise for being the first to highlight real diplomatic dilemmas. The Estonian Parliament's thoughtful foreign policy formulae should be heeded, for instance, by the British Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into Kurdish aspirations and British interests.
**I recently wrote about the redesignation of the British Consulate-General's Facebook title
from the British Consulate General in the Kurdistan Region to the British Consulate General Erbil, which worried some Kurds given Iraqi efforts to downgrade the officially recognised Kurdistan Region.
APPG Chairman Jack Lopresti MP tabled a written parliamentary question seeking clarification from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Respected Middle East Minister Alistair Burt's answer, for the record, was: “The British Consulate General in Erbil has not changed its name. Its Facebook page was recently changed from a monolingual (English) to a bilingual (English and Kurdish) version. Subsequently, the Kurdish name on the site was shortened as the previous title exceeded the maximum allowed characters in Kurdish. The British Consulate General in Erbil has informed local media and officials of the change.”
The question confirms that the reasons for redesignation were mundane and understandable but also elicited further confirmation that “the British Government continues to support the security, stability and prosperity of the Kurdistan Region within a unified Iraq.”
Gary Kent is the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity. The address for the all-party group is email@example.com.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.