In making the case for Kurdish independence, the author reviews the favorable prospects of the Kurdish state. He explains that “the West must support Kurdish independence to right the wrongs of the past and create stability in the Middle East.”
By Hawar Shawki, 22nd August, 2014
Straddling the borders where Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria converge in the Middle East, the Kurds constitute the largest number of people in the world without their own independent sovereign state. Long a suppressed minority, the wars against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003 resulted in the creation of a semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the Federal Republic of Iraq. The KRG has inspired the Kurds elsewhere to seek cultural, social, and even political autonomy, if not independence. Kurdish history has seen many nationalist movements, but a fully independent sovereign state has yet to come to fruition and be recognised by the United Nations and other nation-states.
The Kurds have occupied the same mountainous region for thousands of years. The fact that a Kurdish state does not exist is basically an accident of modern history, made almost 100 years ago. An independent sovereign state would right the 1922 wrong in which a British and French diplomats synthetically carved out modern states from the defeated Ottoman Empire. In the Kurdish case, the lack of statehood appears not quite logical. Independence or autonomy for the Kurds, which had been on the agenda in 1921, somehow disappeared from the agenda in 1922, so there was to be no Kurdistan: it was a non-decision of 1922, that was, in effect, a decision.
In the past few years, Kurdistan has rapidly become a symbol of hope in terms of economic prosperity, equality, security and safety. Many believe that an independent Kurdistan is now more feasible than ever. The United Kingdom and the United States should take hold of this historic occasion to support a new and strong ally in the Middle East. Recent events inside Iraq and Syria have strengthened the moral and strategic arguments for an independent, sovereign Kurdistan.
As Iraq heads toward an uncertain future, a newly independent Kurdistan would quickly become one of the best British and American allies in the Middle East. The country would be what Jordan is to the West, a strong official partner in the region, but also a popular partner; similar to the relationship the U.S. has with the Israel. In fact, Kurdistan already has public support from Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was of the only leaders so far call for Kurdish independence. The U.K. and U.S. would be wise to grasp this extraordinary prospect and provide its diplomatic muscle to the Kurdish cause. On the other hand, there is also a moral argument to be made from this situation. From cultural repression to the chemical weapons campaign in the 1980s, the Kurds have suffered for decades as unwanted outsiders at the hands of the Baghdad elite.
At present, the Kurds have a military known as the Peshmerga (those who face death) with a civilian commander-in-chief and modern state institutions. In the last 10 years, Kurdistan has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment with oil & gas leading the economic boom, and is pretty much the only place in Iraq where westerners and others from Iraq actually feel secure.
Its army has women fighting in the front line and are not seen as second class citizens with many working in both the public and private sector. The KRG has outlawed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and forced and underage marriages. It is the closest you will get to a Western Europe state in the region in terms of socially liberally and progressive policies. Unfortunately, corruption, nepotism and freedom of the press have a long way to catch up in terms of Western standards, but relatively speaking, Kurdistan is progressing further than its neighbours in the region.
Given the circumstances in Iraq today, most sane and rational people know this 100 year experiment is over. The U.S. and U.K. failed miserably in the 2003 invasion Iraq. However, for both governments’ policy is to keep Iraq unified and not allow the Kurds to break away. This policy will bite them back hard in the future. Kurdistan became an example of what all of Iraq should have looked like after the initial invasion as US neo-conservatives prophesised. Instead, the Americans ignored the peaceful and prospers Kurdistan region and gave its full attention and tax payers’ dollars to Baghdad.
President Barzani of the Kurdistan Region recently announced that parliament will put together a referendum. Without doubt, it will probably be 99% in favour of independence. It is in the best interest of the region and the West to support an independent Kurdistan to at least give the people of Kurdistan what they’re owed and right the wrongs of history.
Hawar Shawki is a graduate of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is currently in the United States pursuing a Juris Doctorate concentrating on International Law. Hawar is also a Government Relations Consultant for the Kurdish National Congress of North America, a non-partisan, non-profit organisation advocating for Kurdish self-determination.
 Yildiz. K and Blass. T, The Kurds in Iraq: The Past, Present and Future, Kurdish Human Rights Project, (2003), p.26.