DOHUK, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The US’ misreading of the situation and its diplomacy in the run-up to the Kurdistan Region’s Sep. 25 referendum has turned the poll into a crisis, according to a political analyst.
In an interview with Kurdistan 24, Dr. Arzu Yilmaz, the Chair of the Department of International Relations at the American University of Kurdistan (AUK), said regional powers and the international community had not taken a negative stance toward the referendum until the very last days before the vote.
“On the contrary, they had a moderate approach to the Kurdish referendum,” Yilmaz added.
She believes the first mistake the US made was to assume the entire referendum initiative was merely a political maneuver designed to strengthen the President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani and his administrative authority or to overcome the political challenges he was facing at the domestic level.
“Although the Kurdistan Region’s Parliament has not been functioning, and there were some disagreements with the other parties, there was no real challenge to Barzani’s authority,” she continued.
“It is a political shortsightedness to claim that Barzani—whether he is a democratic leader or not—is defying the whole international community just for local consumption,” the lecturer noted.
Yilmaz claims the second mistake was the sudden change of rhetoric used by the US days before the referendum.
“It is either due to preferences of the US or the diplomatic incompetence of Brett McGurk, Special Envoy for the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS),” she said. “This will go down in Kurdish history as the second Henry Kissinger case.”
“This sudden change encouraged Baghdad and neighboring countries like Turkey and Iran to harden their rhetoric on Kurds, threatening them with the sanctions. The US could have mediated between Baghdad and Erbil to ease the tension,” Yilmaz explained.
According to the university lecturer, peaceful dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad is key to any solution, and there have been some serious attempts to prepare the ground for it.
“The US, Russia, and France are the prominent international players in the region now,” she stated. “They are working hard behind the scenes to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.”
“It remains to be seen which of these attempts would lead to a solution, but we may see Turkey and Iran softening their rhetoric once the two sides come to an understanding. In this case, it would be wiser for Turkey and Iran to stop being a part of this conflict,” Yilmaz said.
According to Yilmaz, Russia may step in as the main player, as it did in Syria in the past, if the US shows signs of hesitation.
Although the Kurdistan Region appears to be alone following a lack of international support for the referendum, the vote led to Kurds putting their disagreements aside and strengthening their unity, Yilmaz mentioned.
Yilmaz added that the Sep. 25 referendum was the strongest expression of the people of Kurdistan’s desire to have an independent state in their long struggle for self-determination.
“We are now seeing a powerful Kurdish energy in the Middle East. I mean, a political energy centered around the Kurds,” she stated.
“There is also a national awareness which is going beyond the national borders,” the lecturer continued. “There is a high level of political and military mobilization which is also not limited to the national borders.”
“Additionally, we are witnessing that the relations between the Kurds and the central governments are weakening in the countries with a Kurdish population,” Yilmaz noted.
She said neighboring countries that have a significant Kurdish population are struggling to deal with Kurdish geography and the political demands of their Kurdish citizens.
“This contributes to the political scene comprising violence and suppression. I believe the declaration of independence will divert this over-pouring energy into a center, releasing the pressure on those countries,” Yilmaz concluded.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
(Zerrin Efe conducted the interview)