In an opinion piece on Wednesday, the editorial board of The New York Times joined a chorus of Western and Iranian voices saying “now is not the time for the Kurds’ referendum on independence.” While conceding that “self-determination is an understandable goal” and that Kurds have yearned for independence “for generations,” The New York Times throws out the same concerns and objections as others.
They say that now is not the time: “The vote, expected to endorse a separate state, would be a mistake, increasing turmoil in a part of the world roiled by the fight against the Islamic State and further threatening Iraq’s territorial integrity. Postponement makes better sense.” One could easily foresee the same people in the future arguing against any move that threatens the hard-earned stability in the region, of course. That was precisely the argument used to deny the Kurds self-determination for the past 100 years.
A Kurdish move towards independent statehood remains, by definition, destabilizing. It therefore makes perfect sense for the Kurds to take advantage of the current state of flux in the region to reach out and seize their aspirations. There is no better time. Currently there is no stability to safeguard in the region.
The next line of argument for The New York Times and company focuses on democracy, governance and diplomacy: “It does the Kurdish people little good if their leaders do not make a strong effort to first ensure that Kurdistan’s democratic institutions are functioning, the economy is strong and they have support from Iraq and other countries before striking out alone.”
How many recent states since WWI met these conditions before declaring statehood? Did the Israelis have a good economy or support of neighboring states? Was Jordan democratic or economically strong or enjoying support of neighbors when it was created? Syria, Lebanon? Turkey? Iran? Perhaps Kurdistan’s economy and democracy are better than any of those were at the time.
The people objecting about “insufficient levels of democracy in Kurdistan” also never address the most obvious question, as one of my Kurdish friends pointed out on Thursday: “Does democracy thrive better in an independent Kurdistan or as part of Iraq? They obviously know the answer and that is why they avoid asking it or discussing it. We will have a much better context for democracy as an independent state. Besides, the referendum itself is an exercise in democracy, a direct democracy! So what is their problem with that?”
Regarding the stance of Baghdad and neighboring states, it likewise seems difficult to imagine a better time for the referendum. Baghdad and Syria are both otherwise occupied or too weak to truly threaten current moves towards self-determination in Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey, despite the droning warnings of analysts incapable of understanding changes in Ankara, is ready to acquiesce grudgingly to Kurdish independence from Iraq. There will be no joint Turkish-Iranian embargo of South Kurdistan. Turkey’s Foreign Minister told Rudaw the same thing on Wednesday, despite Turkey’s negative view towards the holding of the referendum:
Asked after their meeting about speculation Turkey may impose a blockade on Kurdistan in response to the referendum, Cavusoglu told Rudaw that trade relations between the two have no connection with the referendum, despite Ankara’s belief the September 25 vote on independence is “not a good idea.”
“The decision of the referendum for a separation is not a good idea. This is nothing to do with our trade with this Region,” Cavusoglu said. “We have been supporting the KRG and the Kurdish brothers and sisters here in Iraq as well as others. So we have not put any condition or we do not wanna [sic] come to this stage,” he continued.
That only leaves Iran as the most outspoken and dangerous opponent to the Kurds’ upcoming referendum. Which also begs the question: If Iran is so opposed to the Iraqi Kurds’ planned exercise in democracy and self-determination, while Turkey can acquiesce to it, why aren’t the United States, Europe and other Western countries supporting it? Why is Israel the only state to have publically come out in favor of the referendum and Kurdish independence? Are Israeli policymakers the only ones smart enough to favor whatever hardline Mullahs in Tehran oppose?