Millions of Kurds say ‘Yes’ to independence

No home to go to: Kurdish people make up 18% of the population in Turkey, and 17% in Iraq.

Should Kurdistan be an independent country? And for that matter, should Catalans also gain independence? Both are in the midst of independence referendums which have infuriated neighbours.

“We have been waiting 100 years for this day,” said one of the millions of Kurds who voted in a historic independence referendum this weekend. Although votes are still being counted, “Yes” is expected to win. If it is recognised, maps in the Middle East would be completely redrawn.

The Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic group without a homeland. Most of the population is split between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Since 1991, they have governed an autonomous region in Iraq, where that referendum was held, and where an independent Kurdistan might arise.

There will be obstacles. The referendum is non-binding, and the Iraqi government has branded it “unconstitutional”.

But many support the Kurds, who have been crucial in the brutal fight against ISIS. Diplomat Ron Prosor argues that Kurdish independence would be a “victory for democratic values”.

They are not the only people struggling for independence. In Spain, Catalonia is planning a referendum for October 1st. However, the Spanish government has declared the vote “illegal” and arrested 14 officials.

With 5m Catalans and 45m Kurds in the world, both nations would have bigger populations than many other countries. Tuvalu is a UN member despite having a population below 12,000. Across the globe, 95% of people live in fewer than 90 countries, yet the UN has 193 member states.

This inequality is down to history. After the first world war, the Kurds were promised independence. But in 1923 Western powers drew the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria straight through Kurdish lands. In these new states, Kurds immediately became second class citizens.

In Africa, European powers ruthlessly divided the continent into countries based on economic benefit, rather than culture. The Kongo people are an ethnic group who share the Kikongo language. Colonial borders split them between three different countries, and they became a minority in each.

Should the Kurds and Catalans have their own countries?

Divide and rule

“Independence is the solution,” argue some. The old imperial masters who cheated the Kurds out of a homeland are no more. Justice will only come if their historic wrong is righted, and Kurdistan becomes independent. As for the Catalans, their language and culture is distinct from the rest of Spain. We must allow them to embrace their own identity.

“This is a dangerous idea,” others respond. The Middle East is in chaos, and Kurdish nationalism will make the whole region more unstable. An independent Catalonia also sets a dangerous precedent. Next it will be Scotland, then Cornwall. And before long Europe will have become a band of squabbling micro-states reminiscent of the dark ages.

You Decide

  1. Should Kurdistan be an independent country?
  2. Imagine the world in 50 years time. Do you think there will be more borders, or fewer?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you had the power to invent one new country. Where would it be in the world? What laws would it have? What would its flag look like?
  2. Do some historical research and find a country that used to exist, but does not exist any more. You could look at world maps at different points in history. Pick one country that interests you. Why does that nation no longer exist?

Some People Say...

“Nothing is more precious than independence and liberty.”

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese revolutionary

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The referendum was open to those who currently live in the three states which comprise Southern Kurdistan. This means that around 5.2m Kurds were eligible to vote. The vote was non-binding, and does not guarantee independence from Iraq, which has branded it illegal.
What do we not know?
We do not yet know the official result, although yesterday Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani said in a televised address that “Yes” had won a majority. One Kurdish TV channel said it could be as high as 90%. We also do not know if Kurdistan will actually become independent, or how many Kurds would return to Kurdistan if it does.

Word Watch

Autonomous region
South Kurdistan has its own military and parliament. Whilst its government has control over domestic issues in the region, Iraq remains in charge of international policy.
Catalonia
An autonomous region in Northern Spain which has had its own parliament since 1979. The biggest city in the region is Barcelona.
Tuvalu
A small island nation in the Pacific Ocean, located approximately midway between Hawaii and Australia. It became a member state of the UN in 2000.
1923
The borders were agreed as part of the Treaty of Lausanne, signed by France, Britain, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and Turkey. It established the borders of modern day Turkey.
Three different countries
The Kongo people are currently split between Angola, Republic of Congo, and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bundu Dia Kongo is an independence movement wanting to re-establish the pre-colonial Kongo Kingdom. This would unite all Kikongo speakers in one country.