Kurdistan’s efforts towards independence
Jordan Ryan | Thursday, October 12, 2017
As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the purveyors of democracy. Our entire foreign policy agenda of the twentieth century could be summarized by the word “democracy.” We strive to support our belief in liberty, stability and safety through democracy all across the world.
Last week, the Trump administration did just the opposite by rejecting the Kurdish referendum for independence. This decision is not only unethical, but also fails to recognize the countless positive effects an independent Kurdistan could grant to our own interests.
The Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a nation to call their own. Roughly 30 million Kurds live in the northwest region of the Middle East, occupying territory in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. They have their own language, race, security force and cultural identity. However, the redrawing of national boundaries by Western nations post-World War I left the Kurds scattered across a variety of states. For the last century, the Kurds have been fighting for unity with no success, all the while suffering under discriminatory structural and physical violence in their countries of residence.
After decades of struggle, there seemed to be hope for the Kurdish people this year. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the semi-autonomous government set up by Iraq to grant limited power to the ethnic group within the Iraqi border, held a non-binding referendum to gauge support for an independent Kurdistan. The result was an overwhelming yes, as nearly three million Kurds voted to form an independent nation, which is 90 percent of the Kurdish population. If independence were pursued, it may spark a domino effect across the remaining Kurdish-occupied territory in surrounding nations, leading to mass calls for independence or emigration. Kurdistan could finally be born.
The Trump administration was swift in its rejection of the referendum. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated: “The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.” This kind of rhetoric is very different from typical American support of self-determination.
President Trump likely finds the implications of an independent Kurdistan too dangerous to risk. Working towards independence now would distract energy and resources from the Kurdish fighting force, the Peshmerga, from battling the Islamic State (IS). The United States has relied on the Peshmerga for decades as an ally in the Middle East, a reliance that has only increased since the war on IS began. We have significantly increased supplies sent to the Peshmerga in recent years to aid them in our united effort against the terror group. They have been incredibly helpful in leading IS defeats in Iraq and Syria and have reclaimed important ground. The move for independence would significantly destabilize the region and inhibit our ability to maintain our battle efforts.
Though there are legitimate military concerns, more important is the fact that the rejection of Kurdish independence puts us in agreement with Iran, who has also rejected the referendum. Iran routinely subjugates and executes Kurdish dissidents within its borders as it works to dominate the Middle East. Kurdish independence serves to cause major internal strife between the large Kurdish population and the government. By supporting a free Kurdistan, the United States would help to destabilize Iran, breaking down their regional strongholds in the process.
Most importantly, our self-designated duty as the protectors of democracy ought to guide our foreign policy. The emphasis placed on self-determination in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points has served as a guide for our foreign policy for the last century. We have led the fight for democratization all over the world. In the case of Kurdistan, we are acting as hypocrites by rejecting their call for independence. As the world’s chief example of democracy, we have supported independence movements in every single continent on Earth. Not only that, but we also risk upsetting our only true and vital ally in the region, injuring our ability to fight IS. We cannot reject a fair and deserved desire of our ally to establish a nation of their own, merely because of the estimated military implications.
The development of Kurdistan would likely bring about major shifts in the Middle East. However, the Trump administration has wrongly concluded that this instability is such a threat to our interests and ought to override our duty to the Kurds. As the poster child for self-determination, we must respect the Kurdish desire for independence. Kurdish independence is long overdue; it’s time we step up and support them.
Senior Jordan Ryan, a Pittsburgher formerly of Lyons Hall, studies political science, peace studies and Constitutional Studies. She welcomes any inquiries, comments or political memes to [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.