Kurdistan Referendum

Sun, 2017/10/08
Migel Santos

"Kurdistan," a long-standing dream for the Kurdish people since before World War One, is up for a referendum in Northern Iraq. The Kurdish people are an ethnic group of about 30 million strong whose ethnic boundary stretches from Southeast Turkey through the Northern parts of Syria and Iraq into Northwest Iran; but they are considered an ethnic minority in the countries they reside in. They have the means (militarily and politically) for independence as well as the motive, now they just need the opportunity.

Whether this referendum and the creation of a proposed Kurdish state is beneficial or not for the Middle East is relative to each viewpoint, but it will certainly change the way geopolitics is conducted in the region. For instance, the US has supported the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and considers it an ally in the fight against ISIS, but Turkey (a key US ally) and Iran (who has an ongoing nuclear deal with the US) condemns the referendum. This creates a difficult situation in which the US will have to tread lightly so as not to push away its allies/interests nor distract from regional operations against ISIS.

Why it matters to you:
Though this is happening thousands of miles away, regional conflicts have ripple effects in an ever-globalizing world. The creation of a Kurdish state could either create a stronger wall against ISIS or distract from the terrorist threat all together. The first outcome means a leaner US presence in the region and less defense spending (fewer taxes would go toward war) since the Kurds are already an experienced fighting force, while the latter outcome would require a stronger US/Western presence in the region (increased US military deployments and defense spending: more taxes go towards war).

It could affect regional economic growth and socio-political policies. A Kurdish state may create a new market for Turkish and Iranian as well as Caucasus businesses that also benefits the Kurdish people (if they could somehow find a way to get along), but it could also cut into Turkish and Iranian bi-lateral trade agreements and cause more conflict if trade dealings are mishandled.

On the Turkish side, the government and Kurdish secessionists have a long history of struggle and conflict. Many Turkish Kurds are also well-integrated with the socio-economic and political fabric of Turkey. The HDP Kurdish party (who won seats in the Turkish Parliament) as well as over a thousand people of Kurdish ethnicity were detained last year on the accusation of their “links to terrorism,” even as the Kurds have taken back ground from ISIS on the frontlines. Turkey’s fear is the domino effect that Iraqi Kurdish independence would have within the borders of Turkey, namely that Turkish Kurds would gain even more support to establish a Kurdish state and join it with the territory gained by the Iraqi Kurds. Iran has similar fears in that a large chunk of their country would be taken away in the event of the creation of a “Kurdistan”.

The Middle East is evolving fast; everything is fluid as geopolitical borders are constantly redrawn along ethnic lines and spheres of influence. The map once drawn up from the Sykes-Picot agreement is not the same map we see today: the lines on the map are being erased and drawn over in referendums or burned on the fires of revolution. The Kurds still have a long journey to independence; although the referendum is not currently accepted by Iraq, this social movement of thousands of people should be taken seriously as it is the reality of the sentiment in the region. One thing is for sure though: the world’s eyes are now on the people of “Kurdistan”.