Recent events in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region have sparked a global outcry by infuriated and disgruntled Kurds from around the world against the United States and the international community. Similarly, in a recent interview with NPR radio and CNN, Masoud Barzani, the resigned President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), expressed his disappointment to the US for their lack of support regarding the Kurdish independence referendum and for allowing Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia Hashd al-Shabi militias to use heavy US weapons against them–the same weapons meant for the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
To make matters worse, Iraq unilaterally dismissed the Constitution and is no longer recognizing the KRG let alone its autonomy. In its latest budget report, it refers and orders all government departments to refer to the Kurdish region as the “Kurdistan province” henceforth. This is a tactic straight out of the regime’s handbook in Iran, which only refers to Sanandaj as the Kurdistan province, but intentionally ignores other Kurdish-populated regions like Kermanshah or Illam and others, in what constitutes as Kurdistan.
The disappointment with US policy and the outrage of Iraq’s military aggression is pushing the Iraqi Kurds to seek more reliable partners other than the US. For instance, in the same interview with NPR, President Barzani retorted that perhaps Russia would make a better ally. This may seem like an attempt to pressure the US, but the major gas deals that Rosneft has signed with the KRG says otherwise.
This turn to the Russians could do well to provide the KRG with much needed funds, but the Kurds must learn to accept that in politics friends are political. In the past, the Kurds placed their faith and trust in the Soviet Union and the US during the Kurdistan Republic in Iranian Kurdistan (1945-1946). The Republic had Soviet backing at the time, but when the Kurds needed their support most, that provision was withdrawn as the Iranian forces of Mohammad Reza Shah retook control and dismantled the short lived Kurdistan Republic. The KRG would do well to keep this in mind in its dealings with Russia.
Another predicament counterproductive to Kurdish aspirations is the widespread discourse and politics of victimization that comes from Kurds of all stripes and ranks. Emotional appeals of victimization only serve to passivize and disempower the Kurdish body politic and displays a lack of political maturity that is a sign of the failure to recognize the geopolitical reality that the Kurds are situated in and have been throughout modern history. The Kurdish liberation movement must stop playing victim and actively champion its own right. This goal is crucial and necessary for molding the national psyche for self-determination. A nation must be free in spirit before it can physically secure national liberation.
Regarding the current political impasse, the establishment of a national congress in the Kurdistan Region that sets rules of conduct and policy for every Kurdish political party is paramount. Internally, the Kurds must exhaust all avenues to secure signatures from all Kurdish political parties in a national memorandum that encompasses binding mechanisms of punishment for any political entity that violates the rules and principles outlined in it. Further, this national congress would differ in its function and principle from the KRG Parliament because its mandate would be to manage and administer principles and codes of conduct that lay out boundaries for national interests and enforce penalties upon parties that violate or act against the will and interests of the people of Kurdistan.
The congress’ establishment would demonstrate to the world that the Kurds place their national interest as a priority and finally comprehend the realist dictum that the international system is a self-help system where states must depend on themselves. Consider Israel, which plays politics with every power, friend or foe, to secure its interest but never forgets to put its national concerns first. The reality, however, is that Kurds have mostly sought relations and based too much trust in imperialist powers (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, the US, and Russia), which only makes them more vulnerable and allows such powers to take advantage of their internal divisions for limited and ill-intended diplomatic relations. Granted these powers cannot be ignored even if the Kurds desired, building stronger security, economic, and political ties with states outside of this imperialist and colonialist nexus that surrounds Kurdistan may provide the Kurds leg room when its neighbors decide to suffocate it both politically and economically or use military force against it.
Lastly, with every setback, the Kurds are reminded how their detrimental internal divisions and bickering costs them. However, by playing victim, they are failing to take responsibility. Only by maneuvering like a realist state and initiating a strategy and discourse that is empowering can the KRG attain what the referendum was intended to do.
Halmat Palani is an English teacher and political science graduate from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
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