Pro-independence demonstrators in Catalonia march the streets of Barcelona on September 23. Photo: Josep Lago | AFP
In the contemporary circumstance of international relations one would be hard pressed to point to substantial political issues that readily garner collective agreement amongst the United States, European Union, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. Indeed, this coalition in the context of contemporary history is an unfitting and seemingly impossible one. Their inability to reach agreement in the fight against ISIS indicates as much. Yet such is their distrust of the independence vote being held in the Kurdish region of Iraq, such a coalition is a reality today.
The general line from this anti-independence coalition, if you will, is that such an act — which is actually a non-binding vote, that does not seem to make specific claims regarding secession — will foster instability in a region that desperately requires it. There is no doubt that stability is certainly required in the region, but so do others in the world. This appears to be straightforward and common to knowledge all the relevant participants, to think that the Kurdish people do not realise this seems rather patronising. Perhaps more significantly, not holding this referendum, at least as a logical or even practical matter, does not entail that there will be stability in the region.
It might also be noted that when considering why there is such instability in the region today, very few people would suggest that a democratic vote for self-determination had anything to do with it — and rightly so, because such a claim is ludicrous. Indeed, the United States and its allies argued that the Iraq war in 2003 was necessary, despite the stability of the region under Saddam’s regime. Their general argument, although focused on supposed weapons of mass destruction, was predicated precisely on the abuses and instability that stable dictatorial governments can have.
Further wars in Libya and Syria, along with a long history of crusading democratic interventions by the United States and NATO make their current stance even harder to contemplate. Iraq, Iran and Turkey, given their close proximity can understandably have reservations — although whether their acts are justified or not is another matter. Why however the United States and European Union are against the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan is rather paradoxical. The Peshmerga have been a key ally in their fight against ISIS, while Iran has long fought and distrusted the West. In this context, one is left contemplating the kinds of interests that are in play, and the agreements that have been made for such a drastic change of policy and strategic realignment to take place.
Having recently returned from a trip to Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan, as a distant observer, what makes this independence (and anti-independence coalition) more interesting is the lack of a similar focus on the other independence referendum taking place merely a week later on the 1st of October 2017 in the Spain Catalan region. Spain's stance that the referendum is unconstitutional and illegal seems to suggest that there is a real possibility of instability. Given the economic problems faced by Spain, Portugal and Italy, and the emergent far right movements across Europe, such instability should, one would think, be the focus of concern for the European Union and its most valued partner, the United States.
Yet despite this very real threat of instability, there seems to be no mass inter-state coalition suggesting this referendum be halted. Iraq, Iran and Turkey have not, as far as I know advised the Catalans to reconsider the vote. And it is precisely this that I think fosters a feeling of scepticism amongst Iraqi Kurds.
The Catalans have a strong case for self-determination and independence. In a world where democracy seems to be the paradigm political system, it is hard to reject a claim for independence. The Kurdish example is perhaps an even more acute case of a justified secession claim. Longstanding persecution by various regimes, a collective culture and ethnic identity distinct from others, and a democratically sound procedure for deciding independence, are the fundamental pillars that justify self-determination. All which of which are relevant to the Kurdish independence claim.
Whether or not one agrees with the claims of either peoples, the really puzzling issue is why one has the eye of the world literally on it, whilst the other is merely the source of momentary international interest. It is this I continue to struggle to make sense of. Yes, the continued instability of the region might point to us that Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence should be managed carefully. But, why the West is so intent on making sure that this debate does not even emerge is dubious.
Mekebeb Berhanu is a graduate student at University College London, School of Public Policy. He has written the topics of freedom and liberty.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.