In northern Iraq there is an area known as the Kurdistan Region, a self-governing area comprised officially of three governorates, Dohuk, Erbil and Soleimani, four unofficially with the addition of Kirkuk. The Kurdish people are a separate population with their own language, customs and culture. As was most of the Middle East they were part of the Ottoman Empire for 600 years, until the end of the First World War. Following Turkey’s defeat, the allies, France and England, divided the Middle East into separate countries. The division was not intended to right any past wrongs or concerned with cultural or linguistic differences, but to serve as new colonies for Europe, with interest in oil production. The Kurdish people saw this as an opportunity to become a free and independent country and such was promised by the Treaty of Sèvres that ended the war with Turkey and was designed to break up the Ottoman empire. For reasons best left to your own research a second treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne was written, and the hope of independence was removed. The Kurds have been fighting for the right to their own country ever since.
On September 25th, a referendum will be held in the Kurdish region to determine the desire of the Kurdish people to seek full independence from Iraq. This referendum is expected to pass by greater than 95%. Then what?
Most western nations, including the United States, have opposed Kurdish independence for many reasons. Some of the reasons are political such as Turkey will be opposed, others are emotional such as the entire Middle East will fall apart if we allow for a separate Kurdistan. This last assumes a stable region, which it is not. These arguments have been made and discussed and dissected for many years and I will not go into the reasons why Kurdish independence should be opposed or argue the points others have put forward in opposition. I intend to simply argue why there should be a free and independent Kurdistan.
What makes a country/nation is a combination of a common language, common culture and shared values, or simply stated a uniqueness that sets them apart from others. Without this uniqueness, there is always problems. Forcing different people to adopt other cultures or languages has proven to be disastrous. For many years the Kurdish language was not allowed in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. Kurdish culture was suppressed and the Kurds themselves were removed from their homes and replaced by Arabs from the south. Surrounded by Arab states, Turkey and Iran, Young Kurds do not speak Arabic, Turkish or Persian. While most Kurds are Muslim there is a thriving Christian community of Kurds as well as Yezidi (a culture all its own). There is also a diversity of political thought, not always as readily accepted, but accepted. Nowhere else in the region will you find such a wide-ranging acceptance of diversity.
After centuries, we see the desire for independence in the Scots and prior to this the Irish, today we also see the continuing independence movement by the Basque . Currently we have seen a resurrection of older nations in eastern Europe such as Serbia, Bosnia, etc. The common thread has been language and culture. Iraq is not a natural country, it was made-up by foreign powers. The Kurds have nothing in common with their Arab neighbors, not language or culture or history. To allow the regional population to redraw the boundaries is not earth shattering but natural. Is Kurdistan perfect, no. Will there be problems, yes. But at the end of the day it’s the right thing to do. As a nation born of revolution and a desire to be free we have an obligation to help this new nation in every way possible. At the end of the First World War President Wilson made it clear in his 14 points that “XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development…” Kurdish children are more familiar with Wilson’s 14 points than most American adults.
It is time to fulfill the American promise to the Kurds.