Ankara's rejection of Kurdistan referendum unites Iraq and Turkey Kurds

Although the streets of Kurdish cities in Turkey were largely empty politicians took to social media to defend the Erbil government.
author_image Ari Khalidi

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - As pressure on the Kurdistan Region by the US, UK, France grew, with threats from Iran and Turkey and disapproval from the UN Security Council to postpone or cancel the Monday referendum on secession from Iraq, Kurdish factions across the region rallied to back the vote.

In Turkey, lawmakers from Turkey's second largest opposition bloc, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), and others poured messages of support for Kurdistan Region, defying Ankara's staunch opposition.

Although the streets of Kurdish cities there were largely empty in contrast to those in Iranian Kurdistan and Rojava whose people celebrated the referendum of their brethren in Iraq in thousands, politicians took to social media to defend the Erbil government.

HDP's Spokesperson Osman Baydemir on Tuesday barely hid his happiness over the referendum.

"Congratulations. Congratulations for a thousand times. Long live the will of the people of Kurdistan. Now is the time for national unity," tweeted Baydemir in Kurdish.

The party's Co-leader Serpil Kemalbay a day earlier criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government's stance, saying it was up to the Kurdish people to decide their future.

"Every [people] has the right to self-determination. Why shouldn't the Kurdish people? Is the Kurdish people expected to live colonized forever? We do not want the Turkish state to declare war on Iraqi Kurdistan or Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan]," she said, urging Ankara peaceful relations with Kurds.

As the counting of votes began, MP Leyla Birlik of the Sirnak Province highlighted the sense of unity the referendum created among all Kurdish communities across the Middle East and called for a national congress.

Birlik's statement came in line with a similar message of support from HPD's imprisoned co-leader Selahattin Demirtas who wrote an article two weeks ago in a supermax prison where Turkey has held him since November 2016.

On Tuesday, Turkish police detained Birlik for several hours to interrogate as a part of a trial against her for allegedly insulting President Erdogan in an earlier speech.

Few people showed up in the streets of Diyarbakir, waving flags of Kurdistan, some young men with masked faces apparently fearful of an ongoing crackdown on Kurdish civil and political organizations that has seen other than Demirtas, ten lawmakers, 80 mayors and thousands of local politicians as well as scores of journalists jailed.

MP Adem Geveri described the referendum as "South Kurdistan's revolution of justice and liberty."

"This is a new page in Middle Eastern history. Hopefully, it is the turn of other parts of Kurdistan," he tweeted.

A day before the historic vote, Kurdish politics' towering figure Leyla Zana penned a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to defend the UN's first article on peoples' right to self-determination.

Imam Tascier who represents the Diyarbakir Province, a bastion of Kurdish nationalism, criticized an ongoing Turkish military drill on the border with Kurdistan Region.

"Iran is missing in this picture," he tweeted with a photograph of Turkish troops joined in the exercises by Iraqi soldiers.

"Do not forget, over 20 million Kurds live in Turkey," he said.

An Ezidi member of the HDP, Ali Atalan stated that the right to self-determination was legitimate.

"With threats and blackmail you get nowhere," he added in response to a heightened tone by the government mulling economic sanctions and military action against Kurdistan.

MP Mehmet Emin Adiyaman drew a contrast between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey in their respective approach to linguistic and religious minorities.

"Five official languages, eight religious groups. This is how the South Kurdistan is where Kurds, Arabs, the Turkmen, Assyrians, and Armenians all are constituent elements," he said.

People take part in a rally in the Kurdish city of Qamishli in Syrian Kurdistan to support the independence referendum of their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sept 25. (Photo: AFP)
People take part in a rally in the Kurdish city of Qamishli in Syrian Kurdistan to support the independence referendum of their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sept 25. (Photo: AFP)

MP Ziya Pir, on the other hand, came to the defense of Kurdistan Region's President Masoud Barzani whom the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim threatened with "talking the language he understands," implying violence.

"Barzani knows six languages. Which one of them can you speak," he asked in a tweet.

Pir separately slammed state media regulator's decision to drop the broadcast of the three Kurdistan Region-based news channels of Kurdistan 24, Rudaw and Waar TV from the national satellite provider Turksat on the day of the referendum.

"We stand for a free press," he said in English posting a collage of Kurdish TVs' logos.

However, a statement by MP Dilek Ocalan, a niece to the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan shocked many on Kurdish social media.

"We do not approve of this referendum. Kirkuk and Mosul should be annexed to Turkey," read Ocalan's Twitter feed.

Other HDP MPs quickly revealed to their followers that ultranationalist Turks had hacked Ocalan's Twitter handle.

Masked young men celebrates by waving Kurdistan flags in support of Kurdistan Region's referenum on independence from Iraq, Diyarbakir, Turkey, Sept 25, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)
Masked young men celebrates by waving Kurdistan flags in support of Kurdistan Region's referenum on independence from Iraq, Diyarbakir, Turkey, Sept 25, 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

On Erdogan's labeling the Kurdish vote as "shady and illegitimate," MP Lezgin Botan reminded of a referendum last April on extending the President's powers that passed with a 51 percent yes votes, a result the opposition challenged.

Meanwhile a lawmaker from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Galip Ensarioglu continued to stand his ground that Kurdistan's independence should not be viewed as a national security threat for Turkey.

Ensarioglu, a representative for Diyarbakir, faced questions by journalists on Haberturk TV who demanded to know how he voted in an extraordinary parliamentary session over the weekend on extending a mandate that allowed the army to conduct cross-border operations in Iraq and Syria.

The motion approved by AKP, its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) was passed with a majority while HDP opposed it, describing it as a "declaration of war on Kurds."

Ensarioglu, who last week warned his party that it was losing even its own Kurdish voters because of a "hyperbolic" reaction to Erbil, refused to give a definitive answer to the question as tensions rose high in the studio.

CHP Deputy Sezgin Tanrikulu, a vocal human rights defender also from Diyarbakir but representing Istanbul, announced his opposition to any prospects of war.

"They do not want the Kurd to see his mother," he tweeted, alluding to a popular anecdote in Turkey about two prisoners, a Turk and a Kurd, condemned to death.

The saying Tanrikulu referred to recounts that when the hangman asks the two prisoners on death row what their last wishes are, the Kurdish one demands to see his mother. The Turkish one tells the executioner that his wish is that the Kurd does not see his mother.

 

Editing by Ava Homa

Young woman in Diyarbakir waves Kurdistan flags in support of Kurdistan Region's Monday referendum on independence from Iraq, Sept 25, 2107. (Photo: Reuters)
Young woman in Diyarbakir waves Kurdistan flags in support of Kurdistan Region's Monday referendum on independence from Iraq, Sept 25, 2107. (Photo: Reuters)