ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The people of the Kurdistan Region are marking the first anniversary of its historic referendum on independence, which saw an overwhelming majority vote in favor of statehood.
In an event scheduled to be held in Erbil on Monday, Kurds and Iraqis in the Kurdistan Region will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the vote for independence. Many Kurdish officials will be in attendance, including the former President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, who led efforts for the referendum.
On June 7, in a meeting chaired by Barzani, political parties in the Kurdistan Region decided to hold the referendum on Sep. 25, 2017.
The vote also included the disputed territories, which were under the control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces after they drove Islamic State (IS) militants out of the areas.
Despite pressure by regional states, Baghdad, the US, the UK, and the UN to postpone the vote as the date neared, the President of the Kurdistan Region decided to proceed. At the time, Barzani argued they had received no alternative offer to express the Kurdistani people’s voice and no guarantees Baghdad would address grievances that encouraged the Kurdish leader to push for the referendum.
The ‘Yes’ vote won by a landslide, with 92.73 percent favoring secession from Iraq.
Before the vote was held, the Kurdistan Region’s leadership repeatedly emphasized a ‘Yes’ vote win would not lead to an automatic and immediate declaration of the Kurdistan Region’s independence. Rather, it would provide the Kurdish leadership a mandate to engage in serious dialogue and peaceful negotiations with Baghdad for an amicable divorce.
According to the referendum’s commission, 4,581,255 people were eligible to vote. “Out of this number, 3,305,925 people cast their vote, amounting to 72.16 percent,” the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission (IHERC) stated.
An independent state of Kurdistan has been the long-awaited aspiration of over 40 million stateless Kurds around the world.
Soon after the independence vote, Iraqi federal government launched a military attack with the help of Shia militias to take over contested areas, namely the oil-rich province of Kirkuk. Baghdad also imposed an international flight ban on the Kurdistan Region’s airports, a move Kurdish officials said aimed to “isolate the region from the international community.”
The Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, eventually decided to freeze the results of the referendum as a way to initiate talks with Baghdad and lift the sanctions, but embargoes were in place for months.
One year since the referendum, the Kurdistan Region participated in the Iraqi national and parliamentary election on May 12 and is currently in talks with Iraqi parties regarding the formation of the new Iraqi government. They are also in negotiations to appoint a new Iraqi Kurdish president in hopes that this time, Baghdad will view them as equal partners considering the overall dissatisfaction with public institutions in the south and need for the country to rebuild.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who imposed punitive measures on the Kurdistan Region and led the government at that time, is unlikely to secure a second term as head of state, and Kurdish parties are seen as the swing vote that will determine which Shia bloc will form the new government.
Editing by Nadia Riva