On the cusp of history, Kurdistan must seize the opportunity to determine its destiny and declare statehood. After decades of pain, suffering, and second-class status, Kurdistan must proceed with the referendum and drive toward statehood. This is a duty not only to the generations of today and tomorrow, but to repay the immense debt to the thousands of Kurdish martyrs.
Finding a Kurdish family without a list of martyrs, and who did not endure repression is a difficult undertaking. It is thanks to the valiance and sacrifice of our martyrs we can ponder any independence referendum.
The regional and Western powers may pressurize the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to abandon the vote, but this is for their own agenda, not the interests of the Kurdish people.
Like many other Kurdish families, my family endured many losses under the brutal hands of Saddam Hussein. Which child can forget becoming homeless after the destruction of their village, escaping across the Iraq-Iran border on horseback in the middle of a war, striving through poverty or seeing everyday reminders through my now permanently disabled father who, like thousands of others, risked his life by deserting the Iraqi army and joining the Peshmerga forces.
For five years, my mother lived in desperate fear of Iraqi secret police. My father, who we did not see for five years and presumed dead for many of these years, was a wanted man. For my mother, struggling with four young children amid great poverty and a lack of income, every day was filled with anxiety that brutal Iraqi forces could condemn us to mass graves.
The relative security, stability, and prosperity of life in the UK can never dampen the childhood experiences of my sisters or me. The only crime was our ethnicity.
What made matters worse was that many in Europe did not even know what a Kurd was, let alone where Kurdistan was located.
Today, the booming region of Kurdistan is very different from the days of repression, destruction, and genocide, but our tainted past and countless sacrifices should remind us we have earned the unmolested right to self-determination and to dictate our destiny.
The Middle East of today is a stage blotted by double standards. While there are 21 Arab countries, Arabs continue to decry the lack of a 22nd Arab state in Palestine.
In Turkey, the constitution is riddled with articles that promote the greatness of the Turkish nation.
Yet, these same countries, along with global powers such as the United States, warn the Kurds they are overreaching or their time has not come.
While Kurds were suffering from mass repression, chemical bombings, and destruction of their villages was there a notion of good time or a bad time? More importantly, how many of these countries came to the rescue of the Kurds in their hour of need?
The refusal of Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani to buckle to mounting pressure to postpone or cancel the vote was a welcome relief. The Kurds have succumbed to the influence or bullying of regional and Western powers too often.
The Kurds are not inferior to any other race and deserve to stand tall as strategic and vital actors in the region.
President Barzani recently acknowledged: “There were mounting pressures on us to postpone the referendum from many parties, countries and other people, friends, and allies. But, we asked them whether they had alternatives to offer to postpone the referendum and what they had for the people of Kurdistan. In fact, they did not have any alternatives.”
President Barzani, who recently lamented the decision to join the post-Hussein state of Iraq voluntarily in 2003, added, “If possible, we will declare independence before Newroz.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has labeled the referendum unconstitutional several times, recently stated, “I am speaking for the interest of the Kurds. This referendum does not serve their interests. Political leaders should explain to the people or else they would be sending them to a dark tunnel.”
For battle-hardened Kurds, they have already witnessed this dark tunnel and came out on the other side.
After enduring decades of persecution and dark chapters, it is Kurds who have earned the right to hold the referendum on Sep. 25, and as nationalist fervor increases in Kurdistan ahead of the vote, they can proudly proclaim the fruits of their sacrifice, patience, and suffering.
Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq, and current Middle Eastern affairs.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany