ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - The Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) Masrour Barzani is one of the top senior Kurdish figures in the region that leads the independence referendum of the Kurdistan Region.
Scheduled for Sep. 25, 2017, the independence referendum is one of the most-discussed topics in the Kurdistan Region, Iraq, and the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with Kurdistan24, Barzani highlighted the significance of the referendum, emphasized on the long-awaited Kurdish aspiration of establishing an independent state and reiterated that an independent Kurdistan will never be a threat to anyone.
Baghdad and many other countries have been opposing the timing of the referendum and not the democratic choice of asking the public opinion.
However, Chancellor Barzani argues it is a suitable time to hold the independence referendum.
“We believe [September] is the most appropriate time because we look at what interests our people and what the party can accomplish. Other countries don't like the timing because they are concerned about what benefits them, not us," he said.
KURDISTAN REGION CONSENSUS ON REFERENDUM
While most parties in the Kurdistan Region support the referendum, Gorran (Change) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) which together make 30 seats of the Kurdistan Region Parliament oppose it.
They argue the region needs to solve internal issues before holding the referendum.
Chancellor Barzani agrees that national consensus on the poll would add more weight to the process and is ideal but not a necessity.
“We haven’t vetoed anyone or any parties. Those who didn’t participate in the decision-making did so of their own accord. What kind of party would prevent people from deciding on their destiny?” he asked.
He mentioned that in most countries parties have disagreements and it is usually one main party or group who leads the cause despite challenges.
“Independence [referendum] is a democratic right. If a party doesn’t want to participate, we respect their choice. But eventually, the independence will also be for those who didn’t vote for it,” he said.
Barzani emphasized that referendum is a means to hear the opinion of people. That is what matters more than what parties say.
“Our objective is to implement this decision… We believe that majority of the people in the Kurdistan Region support the referendum and will vote for independence," he added.
OBSTACLES TO KURDISTAN INDEPENDENCE
Barzani noted that throughout history, there had never been an ideal time to achieve independence. Internal and external obstacles have always been there.
Chancellor acknowledged the problems and yet argued this year is the best opportunity for Kurds and it should be seized.
"The challenges are surmountable. If Kurdistan Region votes in favor of independence, no one can stop people,” he emphasized.
Opposing parties argue that reactivating Parliament should be a priority, not the referendum.
Barzani responded that his party, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which has the highest number of seats, would benefit the most from re-activating the Parliament.
"However, the re-activation of the parliament should be in the interest of national causes, not parties," he noted.
The parliament was dismantled in 2015 when KDP accused Gorran of breaching agreements and causing a riot in the region while the government was focused on battling Islamic State (IS).
Regarding financial crisis in the Kurdistan Region, Chancellor Barzani reiterated that there would never be a perfect time to hold a referendum where no obstacles would exist.
Pointing to the experience of other countries, he stated that they reached independence because of and in spite of the crisis.
“Crisis is not in the result of the independence referendum, but rather it is the crisis that pushes us to hold the referendum. It is the crisis that pushed us to think about an appropriate solution,” he stated.
OTHER COUNTRIES’ REACTION TO THE REFERENDUM
Barzani said that most countries acknowledge that this is an internal matter related to the people of the Kurdistan Region.
“We [Kurds] cannot be denied this right [independence] while others have been exercising it for many years. We have to insist on our right and continue a dialogue with other countries until they’re convinced,” he said.
The Chancellor said Western countries do not oppose the independence.
“Especially in the West, no one has said that they are against Kurdistan independence referendum because it would contradict their own principles,” he said, noting some have commented on the timing.
Some are concerned that the referendum might affect the fight with the Islamic State (IS), create issues on the border with neighboring countries, or affect the upcoming elections in Iraq.
Regarding the fight against the IS, Barzani said the responsibility of the people of the Kurdistan Region in combatting the jihadist group has no relations with the political ties between Erbil and Baghdad.
He mentioned that the wrong policies of Baghdad led to the emergence of the political, security, and social gaps which allowed al-Qaeda and then IS to mushroom.
“Baghdad’s wrong policies sent 1.8 million IDPs to the Kurdistan Region. We were fighting IS on the one hand, and hosting 1.8 IDPs at the same time. It was this Iraq that cut the federal budget share of the Kurdistan Region and avoided providing for their own displaced people,” he said.
He mentioned that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was expecting Baghdad to help Peshmerga in the fight against IS. They prevented other countries from arming Peshmerga with heavy weapons.
Regarding the upcoming Iraqi elections, he said it is not certain if that would be held on time.
He also added that the results of the elections are clear because, in the system, more seats have been given to the Shia-populated provinces and far less to Sunni and Kurdish provinces.
“Therefore, the [federal] government of Iraq would remain a Shia majority with Kurdish and Sunni minority anyway. Kurdistan Region does not have much influence on the formation of the Iraqi cabinet,” he said.
RIGHTS OF ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS MINORITIES IN THE KURDISTAN REGION
The Kurdish Security Chief stated the Kurdistan Region for decades has been an example of peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious groups who live in harmony.
He explained that the referendum is not a national case only for the Kurds but all other groups living in the Kurdistan Region.
“All the components are free to decide on their destiny. We believe an independent Kurdistan will be a beautiful example of co-existence. Now, Kurdistan [Region] is a point of pride not only for us [people of the Kurdistan Region] but for the entire world.”
“We believe Kurdistan can be an island of stability and co-existence. It will never be a threat to anyone,” he said.
DECLARING INDEPENDENCE AFTER REFERENDUM
Barzani stated some argue that independence is what political parties desire, but after the referendum, it will be people's decision.
He added that the problem between Erbil and Baghdad has deep roots and it has two solutions.
“Either we can use violence just like the Iraqi government used against the Kurds, or peacefully solve the issue. We want to solve the issues through peaceful means.”
Commenting on the period between the referendum and declaring independence if the majority of the people voted in favor of secession, Barzani stated that it depends on the result of the negotiation between Erbil and Baghdad.
“The time period will be shorter if Baghdad initiates a dialogue. If talks fail, we will get back to the decision of people in the Kurdistan Region. We will think about the interest of the Kurdistan Region people and homeland. We will not wait to know what others approve or disapprove,” he concluded.
(Farhad Rasool conducted the interview in Kurdish)
Editing by Ava Homa