PARADIGM SHIFT| An Overdue Kurdish State

HISTORY is giving the Kurds a chance to establish an independent Kurdistan for their children and grandchildren, and no country has any legal or moral right to deny this to the Kurds. Abraham Lincoln said: “Self government is better than good government.” If the Kurds stand fast and united, they will be the winner. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), has announced that the “yes” votes won. On September 27, 2017, many Kurds gathered in public squares in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, to celebrate the preliminary results of the referendum on Kurdish independence. More than 93 percent of the people voted “yes” for Kurdistan. Kurds comprise about 20 percent of the Iraqi population, and 25 to 35 million of the more than 40 million Kurds in the world live in the mountainous region sprawling into Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Turkey. They are the only majority minority in the world—and the fourth largest–without their own permanent nation state. Kurds are mostly Sunni and speak an Indo European language close to Farsi. Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed significant autonomy since Father Bush implemented a no- fly zone over northern Iraq in post Desert Storm in 1991, having their own army, security forces, banks, airport, flags, more than 35 countries has representatives economy, and laws. The Peshmerga, Iraqi Kurdistan’s standing force, is a de facto US ally, fighting ISIS with US air cover after the Iraqi army collapsed, failed in its mission, and ran away from ISIS when ISIS subsequently took over Mosul in 2014.

A Kurdish state is long overdue. The Kurdish people have no representatives anywhere even though there are 40 million Kurds. For example, if we look at Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and East Timor, these countries are very small in area and sparsely populated, Kurds yet though larger in number and territory, the Kurds have no state. Kurdistan is a land of Kurds, none created it, and God did. If Turks, Arabs, Persians denying it, that doesn’t mean it does not exist. Land of Kurds “Kurdistan” remains God’s country. Kurds only want their own Kurdish land. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 led to the creation of fifteen states. Yugoslavia split in the same period, leading to the creation of more than seven states. Furthermore, Iraq does not exist as a state anymore since it is a failed state and cannot protect itself. There is growing political movement among Sunni Arabs, feeling marginalized today’s Iraq and inspired by Kurdistan independence referendum to hold their own similar vote to create federal state with Kurdistan. Iraq’s Sunni Arab population feels marginalized, starting with the end of Saddam’s regime. The Sunni boycotted the Iraq’s political process in 2005. They returned to political process in 2009, but they faced sectarian problem with Shiite authority and led to demonstration in Sunni Areas, which the government stopped with the use of force

It is ludicrous even to speak of the integrity of Iraq. That is why it is incredibly wrong for the West and the United States to tell the Kurds that the time is not right for having a referendum for independence. These who think Kurdish freedom is bad for the region, is there any part of the world where freedom is bad? All humans should respect values such as freedom and equality and help others to enjoy them. The Frenchman Jean Paul Sartre said, “We are all murderers because France is committing mass murder in Algeria.” Now the intellectuals of those countries mentioned above are silent about the Kurdish suffering, therefore, making them all murders. The people who speak about the integrity of Iraq are defending ideas of authoritarianism, racism, sectarianism, and bigotry, and all countries, although perhaps not individuals, in the Middle East are sectarian, racist, and authoritarian, not democratic. The Kurdistan Regional Government cares about the people of the region; for example, when the Shiites in the Iraqi central government were persecuting the Sunnis causing them to flee north and seek refuge, the KRG gave them safe haven. The Kurds also should remind the West about the mass murders in 1988, when no one spoke for the Kurds during the Anfal. When a group of German lawyers confronted Hitler, according to Mein Kampft, his response was,” “Here I stand with my bayonet, there you stand with your laws. We’ll see which prevails.” This is the situation Kurdistan faces right now.

Turkish President Erdogan keeps threatening the Kurds, “Our military is at the border, and we could arrive suddenly one night and take over Erbil.” Erdogan stressed Turkish power, “Let’s see how the Kurds will send their oil or where they will sell it. We have the tap. The moment we close the tap, then its done.” The Iraqi government voted for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadir to use all means necessary even sending tanks to the Kurdish region. Iran is also holding military exercises across the border from Kurdistan threatening the Kurds with its military and accusing the Kurds of being another Israel. Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq argue that Israel and the Jewish people are responsible for the Kurdish referendum, and they do not want to have another Jewish state in their neighborhood. Their proof is that they saw one Israeli flag at a Kurdish celebration, and this is the purported proof of the conspiracy circulating on Turkish Media today.

We are living in a multi-polar world system. If Turkey does not want to sell or buy the KRG oil, then the KRG will find a client like Russia. Russia has invested over 4 million dollars in the Kurdistan Region energy sector, overtaking the United States as the largest investor and becoming a regional broker at the expense of the US. Putin has a massive interest in oil and gas ventures in Erbil. The Russian government will be funding the construction of the gas pipeline; in addition, the Russian company Rosneft is going to be the biggest player in this region and, as the main party hat, will build Kurdistan’s energy infrastructure. Because the Russian government has an energy agreement with Turkey, Russia will build the gas pipeline in Kurdistan and will export gas abroad via Turkey.Righty Kurds refused to be pawns this time. There will never be peace in the Middle East without the Kurdish people having their own state. The Kurds are part of the Middle East. The problem remains that the Kurds do not have any genuine friends and are always being betrayed by their fair weather friends. The Kurds wanted a greater say in the region. Understandably, they want to achieve what they consider an overdue Kurdish nation state that will stand side by side with Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, not a semi-autonomous region that lives at the mercy of the Turks, Iranians, and Arabs.

The Kurds have made their voice heard and chose independence, and now it is up to Iraq, Iran, and Turkey whether they will respond to the outcome of the referendum responsibly and peacefully or will escalate tensions. There are not many options available for Iraq, Iran, and Turkey to deal with an independent Kurdistan. The big three players want to overthrow the KRG, which is led by Masoud Barzani, by imposing an indefinite blockade on Kurdistan’s air and land frontiers or by inciting internal revolt to overthrow or to weaken Barzani. A third option, which is the right option for Kurdistan’s neighbors, is to live with the reality of a de facto independent Kurdistan and cooperate and coordinate with this new entity.No matter how much Turkey, Iran, and Iraq try to be united against their common enemy the Kurds, in reality Turkey and Iran are competing for leadership in the Middle East and each is the other’s biggest enemy. Turkey’s Middle East policy is shrouded. One day President Erdogan labels the Hashd al-Shaabi as terrorists. The next day his ambassador is posing for a photo with the leader of the same militia. President Erdogan’s hand is tight; it does not matter how much he talks on media, because in reality Turkey’s closeness with Baghdad upset the Sunnis. Turkey has long opposed a Shiite expansion, yet it now stands in the same trench as Iran and the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.

In the end the international community will accept the will of the Kurdish people. Iran, Turkey, and Iraq’s response to the Kurdish referendum will backfire. The military threats, the flight ban, the economic embargo, and the patronizing racist comments will unite the various Kurdish groups in all of Kurdistan. Turkey stands to lose the most in this issue, and President Erdogan is wrecking his last positive relationship with a neighbor. Billions of dollars of trade with the KRG are at risk. Russia is already in charge of Syria and now because of Russia’s multi billion dollar investment in Kurdistan’s oil and gas industry, it would not be surprising if Russia builds a pipeline from Iraqi Kurdistan to Syria and its Mediterranean coast. This would be a nightmare for Turkey, and the PKK would gain a permanent foothold. In addition, the Kurds would no longer depend on Turkey. The KRG already has improved its relations with the Sunni Arab groups because earlier some of the Sunni tribes escaped from Shia Nouri al-Maliki’s Sunni persecution in Iraq.

If Ankara loses the Iraqi Kurds, it will most certainly lose its own Kurdish support in Turkey too. The Kurdish people are not happy about the way Erdogan, the AKP party, and the Nationalistic Party have taken an antagonistic stance. Assuredly, Erdogan will lose the Kurdish votes and support that carried him to become president. People do not trust President Erdogan any more, and his position could shift overnight because an individual or group could be a friend today and tomorrow be the enemy. For example, Erdogan was very close to Barzani and even invited him to his AKP opening ceremony, but now he has called him an enemy. The same thing is true of Syrian President Assad. One time Erdogan invited Assad and his wife to his home, and he defended the position that Muslims cannot kill, but now he calls Assad a murderer and killer. President Erdogan betrayed Libya’s Col Muammar Gaddafi too, urging him to step down after initially having taken a conciliatory approach. At a point in time Erdogan was very closely allied with the Gulen movement, but once he and Imam Gulen began fighting for power, then Erdogan declared Gulenists a terror group.

Ankara’s stance against the Kurdish referendum makes them look like hypocrites, since Ankara denounced and opposed the blockade on Qatar by its neighbors Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

Slammed such a blockade as antithetical to the norms of human rights. He also faces challenges justifying such a strategy as a means to counter potential national security threats and would be less likely to convince the international community, especially the EU, to get on board. With lost trust in the Turkish president, is upset and asked if Erdogan is a sincere friend. Ankara will lose one of its best allies in the region.

In conclusion, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria are telling the Kurds that they cannot self-govern. Kurds respond by asking these neighbors to give them their home, and then they will put their home in order. The Iraqi government should engage in serious discussion with out the involvement of Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Kurdish referendum is an internal matter. The Kurds should be determined, so that their neighbors, and indeed the world, will accept the truth. If Ankara continues on this path of threats and takes any action to prevent the Kurds’ independence, it will soon find itself having lost both Iraq and Kurdistan. The US wants to contain Iran, a Shiite country hoping to expand its powers in the Middle East. Both the American and Turkish governments know that they lost Iraq to Iran. For example, Iran runs the Iraqi force Hashd al-Shaabi because by helping Iraq with financial assistance, Iran is delivering it to the Hashd al Shaabi, which fights the Kurds, more than ISIS. The world should be reminded that, after all, the Soviet Union, East Timor, and Yugoslavia split, and no one objects to their transformed status. Why would they prevent the Kurds from being free and independent?

Dr. Aland Mizell is President of the MCI and a regular contributor to Mindanao Times. You may email the author

Posted in Opinion