As pressure from Iraq and neighboring powers increases over the Kurdistan referendum that resulted in an overwhelming vote for statehood, these same powers have tried relentlessly to discredit the plebiscite.
One of the frequent lines emanating from Turkey and Iran is that the Kurdish drive toward independence is an initiative fostered by Israel.
By using the “Jewish card” against the Kurds, these countries seek to stoke hostilities from the Arab and Muslim world with the usual inference to the handiwork of Mossad in major regional developments, while choosing to paper-over the glaringly different reality on the ground in Kurdistan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has mentioned the role of Israel several times in the Kurdish referendum, warned that “a decision made at the table with Mossad is not legitimate, it is illegitimate.”
This view was recently echoed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who again repeated the Turkish threat to close borders and shut-off the Kurdistan Region’s oil supply.
“The support came only from Israel; from Netanyahu and a few other political figures,” Çavuşoğlu stated.
Meanwhile, according to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, only America and Israel benefit from the vote, and, “They want to create a new Israel in the region.”
Iranian media was in a post-referendum frenzy with conspiracies accusing Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani of colluding with Israel.
Again, the media hype from neighboring powers only seeks to divert attention from a peaceful vote where the voice of millions of Kurds was abundantly clear.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected allegations his country played a role in the Kurdish referendum.
“Israel played no part in the Kurdish referendum, aside from the natural, deep, and long-standing sympathy the Jewish people have for the Kurdish people and their aspirations,” he noted.
Erdogan had pointed to Israeli flags in Kurdish rallies as some proof of Kurdish history with Mossad and how they were “hand-in-hand together.”
Firstly, any support from Israel, a key power in the Middle East, is not a stain on the Kurds. Secondly, the presence of some Israeli flags hardly signifies a greater conspiracy other than mutual respect for their respective plights.
Kurdistan was promised a country of its own long before Israel was even created. As the largest nation in the world without a state, and the fourth largest ethnicity in the Middle East, even hostile regional players struggle to justify why Kurdistan is not worthy of the principle of self-determination.
The harsh measures adopted by Baghdad in response to the vote, steps the Kurdish leadership has labelled as “collective punishment” of the Kurds, and ubiquitous threats from Turkey and Iran, serve to dilute the legitimate aspirations of the Kurds, and, ironically, turn the tables by portraying the Kurds as taking “illegal” steps and fermenting instability and strife.
It also assumes the notion Iraq is united, stable, and inclusive which the Kurds are now in danger of spoiling.
Since 2003, the Iraqi project has resulted in nothing but sectarian violence, instability, widespread animosity, and now with the costly war against the so-called Islamic State (IS), billions of dollars in damages, mass deaths, and suffering of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).
The sectarian policies of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fueled Sunni discord and the eventual sweeping of IS into large swaths of Iraq.
Kurdistan has continuously suffered under the Iraqi umbrella, and Baghdad or regional powers cannot silence the desire of millions of Kurds expressed in a peaceful and democratic vote.
It is the threat of military action, economic embargos, and divisive language that is making the situation worse.
Echoing Erdogan who deemed the Kurdish vote a betrayal to Turkey, Khamenei stated, “The Iraqi Kurdish secession vote is an act of betrayal toward the entire region.”
However, it is the Kurds who were betrayed by imperial powers over a century ago, then through repressive policies of respective governments, and again in 2003, under the promise a new Iraq would usher a new plural, federal, and democratic chapter in the country.
Countless constitutional articles have been violated or not fully implemented by Baghdad over a decade after the constitution was signed.
The Kurds are now faced with a decision to either succumb to the will of Baghdad and the status-quo or face punitive measures.
For the Kurds, both choices are a form of punishment and having waited decades for their time, the majority of Kurds would choose statehood in spite of the costs this may entail.
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