The Kurds are a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. We cannot abandon them now
By Julie Lenarz
25 September 2017
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In a landmark referendum on September 25, the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq will vote on whether to break free from Iraq. The Kurds, scattered across four different nations – Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran – remain to date the largest ethnic group without their own state.
There is little doubt that the referendum will pass in favour of independence. The vast majority of Iraqi Kurds support the decision by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to split from Iraq. It is a development that the West should embrace with excitement. A win for democracy and peaceful coexistence. And a defeat for terror and religious extremism.
But after the Kurds fought for us on the frontline against the Islamic State -- and make no mistake, without their monumental contribution, the jihadist executioners would still rape and kill their way through Iraq -- the West has now decided that the KRG’s legitimate aspiration for independence is a disturbance to the status quo.
“This is not the right time for independence,” they are told. That’s correct. The time for independence would’ve been a long time ago, before they were forcefully Arabized, mass-slaughtered with chemical weapons, and banned into the mountains by the Saddam Hussein regime.
The West is wrong to think that the birth of the Kurdish nation will lead to more chaos and disorder. The opposite is true. It is the most promising democracy experiment in the Middle East since the creation of the state of Israel. If the break-away leads to violence, then only because the government in Baghdad will do what it has done many times in the past: try crush the Kurds by force.
Yes, it’s true. Iraq as a unitary state will cease to exist. So what? When have the artificial borders imposed on the country ever contributed to peace and stability? Iraq for many decades has left behind footprints of war and sectarianism. Tens of thousands of Kurds and other ethnic minorities have perished in concentration camps and were dumped into mass-graves. And yet the Kurds have survived and many of their executioners are dead.
The fight against Islamic State was not merely a battle for the survival of Kurdistan. It was a homage to civilization, an act of bravery that saved the West its own blood and treasures.
And yet, in a grotesque display of historic miscalculation, we seem to be more concerned about the sensitivities of countries that have stabbed us in the back countless of times, than support a people that have proven to be our most steadfast ally.
Leading the resistance to an independent Kurdistan are Turkey, Iran, Syria and the central government in Baghdad -- none of which are guardians of democratic principles. To the contrary, Syria and Iran are brutal dictatorships that hold hostage their own people and Turkey is not far behind these days.
Why would the Kurds, who have proven their commitment to the fight against Islamic extremism, gender equality, religious pluralism and modern values, want to remain part of such an amalgam of horror and tyranny? Why should a Muslim people that climb on churches to restore the cross of Christ, torn down by murderous jihadists, be forced into oppression by their neighbours, which strive on sectarianism.
If the West has any moral integrity and, for that matter, a sense of self-preservation, it will throw its robust support behind Kurdish independence – a peaceful people and a strong ally in a region where true friends are a rarity.
The Kurds stood with us when we intervened in Iraq in 2003. They saw the removal of Saddam Hussein not as an invasion but as a liberation. They have accepted the challenge to build something new from the rubbles of the past. Now we have the opportunity to stand with them and prove wrong the traditional Kurdish saying that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains.