The Kurds are an ethnic group with no country to call their own. They’ve been present since the beginning of the Ottoman empire as one of the indigenous peoples of the Mesopotamian plains and highlands and have been stateless ever since the empire’s collapse in 1922. The Kurdish people are mainly spread out among the four countries of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, with the largest number residing in Iraq.
On September 25, the Iraqi Kurds held a referendum to determine if they would declare independence from Iraq. Although they recognized that a vote would not automatically lead to statehood, Kurdish leaders said that a strong “yes” would give them a reason to initiate conversations with the Iraqi leaders about separating peacefully.
On Wednesday, September 27, the results of the referendum came in. An overwhelming 93% of the Kurds voted for independence. Some 72% of the 4.58 million eligible voters took part in this vote.
Unfortunately, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that he would not recognize the results of the vote and vowed to “preserve the unity of the country” by pursuing military action.
But the Kurds don’t share his belief of a unified country. Instead, they believe that they’ve been victims of Iraqi discrimination.
Prime Minister Abadi made good on his promise. Earlier this month, he launched an assault against the Kurdish forces and claimed the oil-rich and strategically important city of Kirkuk. On October 27, both sides agreed to a cease-fire but the Kurdish leadership has been in disarray because the Kurdish region’s president, Masoud Barzani, stated that he will step down in response to the failed referendum. This is another blow to a movement that is already struggling.
It’s sad that this group of people wants to be independent but can’t achieve the dream. They tried to separate democratically and asked that Iraq would at least be open to discussion. But instead they were attacked and their dream of having their own state was torn from them.
Kurdish allies such as the US and certain Middle Eastern governments didn’t intervene to avoid upsetting the surrounding nations. But shouldn’t the US be more involved?
As a nation who strongly believes in independence, we should’ve supported the Kurds’ bid for independence by encouraging Iraq to open discussions with the Kurds. Surely, we could’ve sympathized with the oppressed in their struggle to break free from an undemocratic country.
Granted, the US can’t send support to every single cry for independence, but when a region pushes for independence democratically and peacefully, shouldn’t the world’s leader in democracy feel even a little inclined to send support?
Instead, the United States was more focused on our primary reason for being in the Middle East: securing the flow of oil. It’s sad that we’ve gotten to a place where we are so focused on how we can benefit from a region that we don’t think about how we could help the people that live in it. After all, the Kurds are our allies in the fight against ISIS and they’re constantly on the front lines.
Wesley Rodriguez-Diep is a sophomore studying international relations.