By Junaid Jamali:
It seems that the topic of freedom is high on the Kurdish government’s agenda and there are reports that Iraqi Kurds may hold a referendum on independence this year, the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement which left Kurds without a state.
One hundred years have passed since Sykes-Picot which was a secret understanding amidst World War I signed on May 16, 1916 between the superpowers, including Great Britain and France with the consent of Russia, for the dissection of the Ottoman Empire.
The agreement resulted in today’s Middle East. Kurds see themselves as one of the primary victims. What is known as Greater Kurdistan has been divided mainly between four countries: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
The Kurdistan Region, also referred to as Northern Iraq, gained self-government in 1991 and was officially recognised in the Iraqi constitution of 2005, when it was allocated a 17% share of Iraq’s national budget, which Baghdad has withheld for almost two years, putting the region into severe financial crisis.
The Iraqi leaders in Baghdad show no inclination to persuade Kurdistan stay as equals. That they no longer allow the constitutionally mandated fiscal transfers may indicate that they hope to let the Kurds swing in the wind, and then sue for terms that would subordinate them. This is not what the Kurds signed up to in 2003 and it seems improbable that the chauvinist mentality in Baghdad, which once drove the genocide against the Kurds, will change.
Kurdish leaders acknowledge that an independent state will be accompanied by financial and other difficulties; however they trust that the area’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves will make them a flourishing country.
In late December 2015 President Masoud Barzani delegated high-ranking individuals from his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to work with other political groups towards accelerating the process and he was said to have raised the subject with foreign diplomats in Erbil in the first week of June 2016.
The question of why Kurdistan should become an independent country is answered below.
Kurdish Language is an official language in Iraq. I mention language because you can only declare independence if you have an identity and a common language.
The population of Kurds is sufficient to have a country, reported as up to 6 million Kurds living in South Kurdistan while the total population is estimated as exceeding 40 million living on their own lands in North, South, East and West Kurdistan and residing in foreign countries.
Kurdish culture is a resilient legacy from the various ancient peoples who have shaped modern Kurds and their society. As with most other Middle Eastern populations, there is a high degree of mutual influences between the Kurds and neighboring peoples. In Kurdish culture elements of other cultures are to be seen, due to the occupation of Kurdish lands by neighboring ethnic groups of Arabs, Persians and Turks.
Economy: Kurds have enough mineral resources and agricultural land to run their economy very well, although it will be a landlocked country. However, Turkey needs oil to run its economy and western states are very interested in securing good economic agreements for stable economies. Apart from this a peaceful Kurdistan will be suitable place for industrialization, as neighboring Arab countries don’t significantly contribute to the world economy.
Women: Kurds are the only nation in the Middle East where gender segregation and gender inequality is curtailed. It is one of the attributes of the Kurdish social structure that women participate and play their part in all aspects and institutions of society.
There are various other arguments for Kurdish freedom suggested by various scholars.
Political splits among the Kurdish parties are one of the hindrances towards achieving freedom, For example, the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and Gorran (Change Movement) do not openly advocate a referendum for independence, but they need to understand that there is no dignity in slavery. Kurds have seen some of the worst genocides in history, including recently in Syria and Turkey, and there is no guarantee that the Iraqi Arabs will not harm them again like the Baath regime did in the past.
All the Kurds have struggled very hard for hundreds of years against foreign forces and oppressors. A Free and Independent Kurdistan will give everyone the right of vote, right to learn in the Kurdish language, right to have open discussions and, most importantly, dignity under the Kurdish tricolored flag of red, white, and green horizontal bands with a yellow sun disk of 21 rays.
It would also be wise if countries like the UK, USA and Russia are open to the possibility and prepared to help broker complex agreements if and when the people of Kurdistan decide to take their destiny into their own hands.
Junaid Jamali is a political sociologist and friend of Kurdistan, from Balochistan.