I do not think that the consequences of holding a referendum over the right of self-determination in the Kurdistan region and disputed lands have pushed the dream of Kurdish independence far as some analysts are saying.
Before the referendum day on September 25, the Kurdish dream was not close to becoming a reality so how can it become far from achieving now? The governments of Iraq, Iran and Turkey have agreed on punishing the Kurds for practicing their freedom of expression regarding their future, imposed a siege on them and deployed Iraqi federal forces in all disputed lands and on land and air border crossings.
For a whole century, this dream remained captive of the international formula which was formed during World War I and after it. This formula divided Middle Eastern countries among colonial empires and left the Kurds divided between four countries, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. They are not allowed to be united. Arabs were also divided among 20 countries and they’re also not allowed to be united.
This formula has not changed today as the Middle East in the second decade of the 21st century is not that different from the second decade of the 20th century.
The only difference for Iraq’s Kurds is that their peaceful and armed fight to get their national identity and administrative and political rights recognized has resulted in an incomplete autonomy that they only enjoyed a little during the era of Saddam Hussein who sought to impose his domination by using chemical weapons and resorting to mass graves. Later, during the disturbed post-Saddam era, there was an incomplete federalism which was also unstable.
A successful and clever politician is he who does not get dragged behind “the masses” which are often influenced by the theory of the herdAdnan Hussein
The main excuse
Although it seems like another relapse for the dream of Kurdish independence, the uncalculated measures which the Iraqi government took may have repercussions that contradict with the main excuse stated to justify these measures, and which is protecting Iraq’s unity. A state’s unity can only be maintained via the unity of all the society’s components, whether ethnic, religious, sectarian or political.
It seems the Iraqi government’s measures against the Kurds may push them, and may particularly push the new generations who lived away from Baghdad’s authority and influence for over 25 years, to take an extremist stance either under the umbrella of nationalist movements or within the context of Islamist movements.
In the past, the Kurdish cultural and political elite knew Arabic very well and many of its members lived and learnt Arabic language and literature in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. Notable intellectuals wrote books while in these cities and contributed to the Iraqi cultural scene.
Many Kurds were also involved in national political work (such as in the Communist Party, the National Democratic Party and others). The Kurdish national movement which operated inside Arab cities was also part of the Iraqi national movement which mainly opposed the Iraqi governments’ policies, including the policy towards the Kurds and their cause.
Now, however, it’s very rare to find a Kurdish from the new generation who knows the Arabic language or who visited Baghdad, Basra or other cities. They did not visit any of these cities for security reasons and also because there’s no need to. This was one of the main reasons behind the overwhelming result of the recent referendum as more than 90 percent of the voters backed the right of self-determination and independence.
The current Iraqi regime did not pay attention to this aspect. Therefore, the measures which the Iraqi government took after the referendum seemed like a collective punishment against the Kurds. There are fears that this may help with the emergence of extremist nationalist movements which neither Masoud Barzani nor any other Kurdish leader can control of curb.
The measures taken against the Kurds were taken under the excuse of protecting Iraq’s unity. However, Arab chauvinist parties, which are this time Islamic (both Sunni and Shiite) and not traditional nationalist ones like Baathists, found in these measures and in the Iraqi government’s stance regarding the referendum a golden opportunity to launch a hate campaign against the Kurds.
This campaign went as far as publicly resorting to traditional media outlets and social media platforms to urge launching a war against the Kurds, invading their cities and areas and weakening their leaders.
A successful and clever politician is he who does not get dragged behind “the masses” which are often influenced by the theory of the herd. He is one who leads people by convincing them of what he thinks is the right decision to achieve balanced interests in the society. Securing these interests is the task of politicians, particularly of statesmen.
I can almost assert that the government’s rhetoric and the political rhetoric in general, which are directed against the Kurds amid this referendum-related crisis, did not succeed in convincing any Kurd of the federal government’s stance and its measures. This rhetoric rather seemed hostile, arrogant and personal and it’s kind of naïve to think that this rhetoric and these measures can convince Iraq’s Kurds to give up on their historical dream and return to the “marital dwelling.”
By resorting to this rhetoric and policy, we have pushed the Kurds further from this “dwelling” and pushed them to further adhere to their legitimate right which may not need another 100 years to be achieved.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.