Kurdistan Referendum: Changing the Status Quo

In connection with the upcoming Kurdistan Referendum for independence on September 25, 2017, Hemin Hawrami, Senior assistant to President Masoud Barzani, Responsible for Political & General Relations, Member of KDP Leadership Council, gave an interview to www.valdaiclub.com.

Why does the leadership of Kurdistan insist on holding a referendum on time?

Holding referendum is not a new thing. The leadership in Kurdistan discussed this subject since April 2015. On January 26, 2016 all political parties and representatives of the religious and the ethnic components in Kurdistan convened with President Barzani and made 6 decisions. One of them was to hold referendum.

On June 7, 2017, during the meeting between President Barzani and the 16 parties who represent 83 seats of parliament out 111, it was decided to set the date for holding referendum on September 25, 2017.

The leadership and the people of Kurdistan went through 14 years of failed federalism in Iraq. The new Iraq in post 2003 failed to implement the main pillars of power sharing and consensus. Since its creation in the post WWI, we as the Kurds in Iraq went through series of Iraqi governments. All of them failed to deal with us as citizens in equal manner. They have denied our basic rights and used chemical weapons, mass graves and Anfal campaigns. After 2003, we hoped to live in a new Iraq defined by the constitution which we voted for in 2005. The constitution was the contract for our voluntary unification with Baghdad. The constitution had major pillars on which we wanted to define our relations with Baghdad: power sharing, balanced representation, federalism, consensus, democracy and rule of law, federal institutions and revenue sharing. Unfortunately after 14 years, not only those main principles were violated, other 55 articles of constitution were violated too. In February 2014, then Prime Minister Maliki cut the budget from Kurdistan Region. Iraq failed to protect us from the barbaric attacks of ISIS. Thanks to the coalition partners who helped us and thanks to the sacrifices of our Peshmerge forces which led to the defeat of ISIS. Iraq state system failed to achieve national reconciliation because of politicizing state institutions, rampant corruption, sectarian policies, disenfranchisement of the Sunnies and so on. All that led to the rise of ISIS.

We have tried all forms of relations with Baghdad, from decentralization to autonomy and federalism. Unfortunately, all failed because the culture in Baghdad does not accept partnership. Still strong central mentality, lack of accepting others as partners, rule of a sectarian component killed all permissive environment for coexistence in Iraq.

Our leadership decided to resort to the people of Kurdistan to see what they want after such failure with Baghdad. Insisting on having referendum is to give a natural God given right and democratic peaceful right to our people to decide on their destiny. This is to prevent the call of one leader or one party or two parties in Kurdistan to decide on the future of people.

Could the split from Iraq through a procedure such as a referendum be a precedent not only for Syria, but for Turkey and Iran, where Kurds also live?

We have to be very clear: this referendum is for the Iraqi Kurdistan and has nothing to do with other Kurds in other countries. It is true as Kurds are one nation, but the reality is that we have been divided into four parts after the WWI. Since then each part has its own circumstances. What fits one country doesn’t  fit for the solution of the Kurdish question in other countries. The referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan is for the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan without changing the current international borders of Iraq with Iran, Turkey and Syria. We do hope the Kurdish question will be solved in peace through mutual understanding with respective states. We do not support any violence by any Kurdish groups in those countries to seek solution for the Kurdish question and do not believe that military and security solutions by those states can solve or end the Kurdish question.

How can all this affect the geopolitical agenda of the Middle East?

Well, the geopolitics of the Middle East is a dynamic geopolitics in itself. It has gone through many changes and still many to come. The fact is that the post-colonial state system in the Middle East failed. It failed to be inclusive and democratic for the mosaic nature of the people. It failed to deliver to the needs and developments of the people. There is no sense of national identity and the return of sub-nationalities or supra-nationalities is back.

The region is engulfed with failed states and non- state actors. Kurdistan Region has proved in the last 26 years that it is an island of stability, safe haven for the Christians, embraced refugees and IDPs. Kurdistan Region proved to be a contributor not a consumer for the regional and international security. For Turkey and Iran, we have been asset for developing trade, commerce, regional cooperation.  The post WWI system and order in the Middle East does not fit the evolution of new societies and new realities. It is high time to accept the realities as they are not as what one wish. The new order must be inclusive for the non-Arabs, non-Turks and non-Persians as well. An independent Kurdistan will continue to provide such positive contribution.

What multilateral configurations and behind-the-scenes intrigues can be expected from all interested countries, given the fact that it is not only the status of Iraqi Kurdistan, but also control over one of the world's oil-richest regions that is at stake?

Well, indeed Kurdistan Region proved that in terms of energy security, counter-terrorism, multiculturalism and coexistence, it is a beacon of stability. Denying realities and resorting back to old solutions cannot bring about stability for the region. Kurdistan is seeking peaceful ways to reestablish new terms of relations with Baghdad. We are in the state of unhealthy interdependence now and want to change it into the state of healthy interdependence.

 If independence is right thing for Arabs to have 21 states, for Iranians and for Turks, for other nations in the UN, why it is not good for the Iraqi Kurds?

 We don’t have any intention to establish a Kurdish nation state. In Kurdistan other nations exist, Kurdistan will be a homeland for all citizens despite their ethnicity, religion or sect.


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