Barzani: Kurdistan will hold referendum before October

Islamic State (IS) presence in Mosul will not affect the referendum because Kurds are used to living in tough neighborhoods, said Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Islamic State (IS) presence in Mosul will not affect a referendum because Kurds are used to living in tough neighborhoods, said Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani on Tuesday.

In an interview with Al-Monitor media website, Barzani rejected the rumor of “instrumentalising” independence and said, “I have come to this decision after all the very bitter experiences of these long and hard years because there is no other path.”

“Now we are faced with two options. The first is that we abjure all our rights—that we give up on federalism and become just another province in Iraq. The other is that we go to our people with a referendum and ask them what they want,” he continued. “The status quo is not sustainable. If things continue as they are, we will descend into the bloodshed and destruction of the past.”

Regarding the referendum, Barzani said that it has not been finalized yet, but they are discussing it. He stated that the referendum will take place before October 2016—before the US presidential elections in November. “I can say with utter conviction that, barring circumstances beyond our control, that yes, we are trying to do it this year.”

Barzani mentioned that discussions will be made with neighboring countries, including Turkey, Iran and Iraq about the Kurdistan Region’s referendum. “We want to do it in a peaceful and balanced way,” he said.

Regarding Turkey’s stance on the referendum, he noted, “If the current Justice and Development Party [AKP] government does not recognize and accept an independent Kurdistan, I don't think any other government in Turkey would.”

Moreover, Barzani mentioned that the US’ role is important for the Kurdistan Region. “US security guarantees are vital for the viability of the Kurds, and we will be grateful if they don’t oppose our independence,” he stated.

He also touched upon the borders of Kurdistan as a state and said, “Article 140 of the constitution, which was never implemented by the central government [of Iraq], calls for a referendum on the disputed areas, in Kirkuk and in Sinjar. If the people say they want to be part of Kurdistan, their voices must be heard and respected. If they decide not to be part of Kurdistan, we will hear their voices and respect their voices.”

Regarding the presence of IS in Mosul, northern Iraq, Barzani said that there is no connection between Mosul and the independence of Kurdistan because he believes that “the Kurds are used to living in tough neighborhoods.”

President Barzani also noted that his main aim is to create an independent Kurdistan, with no political interests behind it. “My objective is to reach that point, to have an independent Kurdistan. And that is a pledge from me. The day we have an independent Kurdistan, I will cease to be the president of that Kurdistan. And I will congratulate the Kurdistan people and let someone else take my place. This is a pledge from me—I will not be the president of Kurdistan,” he said. “My goal is to establish an independent Kurdistan, not to remain president.”

He also commented on combating corruption in the Region and stated that nobody will be excluded in the process, including himself and his family.

“Nobody is excluded. If you find something on me, call me. And I will come to the court. You are legally responsible to fight corruption. So I want you to fight this. But if you don’t do your job, then I will bypass you and fight corruption myself, but later don't blame me that I bypass laws in Kurdistan, because this is very important for us in Kurdistan to fight corruption and to fight those people who exploited their government position…they all must be held responsible for what they have done.

For us, it is an existential issue—fighting corruption. So how I fought [IS] with all of the motivation and forces we have, I will fight corruption with the same dedication,” he added.

In another part of the interview, Barzani expressed his concern over the current instability in the Kurdish populated areas in southeastern Turkey and said, “We wish that the peace process had not stopped, and we have tried our best to keep the peace process going. I don’t want to go into details, but I think that, after the June 7, 2015, elections when they [the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)] got 80 seats in the parliament, we issued a statement saying that it would be a historic mistake if they were not going to be part of the coalition government [with the AKP]. And at that time, I thought that the [AKP] wasn't accepting HDP to be part of the coalition government, but later I heard from the people within HDP that it was they who didn't want to be part of the coalition. I think this was a big mistake.”

He also mentioned that if HDP had been part of the coalition, they could have voiced an opinion to some of the issues that concerned them. “I think that as long as there was a chance of them being in the parliament, to fight, to make changes, they should have seized it.”

Additionally, Barzani commented on the current declaration of federalism by the Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava) and stated that it suits the situation, but it needs consensus in the country. “When we declared federalism in the Kurdistan Region [in October 1992], we didn't do it unilaterally,” he said.

Barzani explained that Americans know very well that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are the same, but they don't want to admit it. “The top priority for us and the Americans is the fight against [IS], so they [US] might turn a blind eye.”


Reporting by Mewan Dolamari
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany and Ava Homa