A referendum of independence seeking independence for Kurdistan saw high voter turnout on September 25th, 2017.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced the referendum and has announced that the country may block key oil exports of the Kurdish Regional Government as a result.
Kurdish history is deeply intertwined with the geography and the politics of the modern Kurdish regions.
The region of Kurdistan is an autonomous area in Iraq governed by its own regional government. There are around 5 million Kurds in the region. Kurdistan is also the only autonomous self-governing area for Kurds. According to estimates, there are around 40 million Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and neighboring regions.
In 2014, the movement for an independent state of Kurdistan began. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq led to the destabilization of the region. Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani called for a referendum of independence in 2014.
However, there was a change in the main leadership in Iraq and this resulted in better relations. At the time, the referendum was called off. Countries like Turkey have long been concerned of the power wielded by Kurd leaders in the region as they fear their own Kurdish population would seek independence. Since 1978, there have been frequent conflicts between the Turkish government and insurgent Kurdish forces.
A brief history of Kurdistan can be found here.
In 2017, the Kurdish government once again called for another referendum for independence. The vote, which took place on September 25th, 2017, witnessed high voter turnout. The results will be declared 72 hours after the vote and is expected to be a comfortable “yes.” According to authorities, over 78% of the 5 million Kurdish population voted in the elections.
However, the Iraqi government has signaled that it won’t be recognizing the legality of the vote. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, “We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional. Most of the problems of the [Kurdish] region are internal ones and not with Baghdad, and will be increased with the calls for separation. The economic and financial problems the region is suffering from are the result of corruption and mis-administration.”
Additionally, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also denounced the elections. He said, “Our armed forces are on the borders with Iraq to do whatever it takes. We will never allow anyone or anything to go from Turkey to Iraq. This week we will adopt so many other measures. We will close the borders. Nothing will go across the borders.” He also announced that travel will be closed on both sides this week. He also called the elections illegitimate and declared the results “null and void.” Additionally, Turkey might also block key oil exports of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
Iranian Kurds have taken to the streets in support of an independent Kurdistan.
Our assessment is that an independent Kurdistan would pose a threat to the stability of Iraq, Turkey and Iran. We feel that the Kurds have the right to aspire for their own freedom and this seems to be a trend in many parts of the world including Spain and the Scots in the recent past. The concern will be the timing of the referendum. The Kurdish Cash Negara have been a vital link in the fight against ISIS. The results of the referendum on Wednesday will therefore alter the metrics of power in the region especially between the Arabs and the Kurds.