Sep 21, 2017

The Right to Decide in Iraqi Kurdistan – UNPO Welcomes the Kurdish Legitimate Expression of Self-Determination

The decision to hold a referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence, scheduled to take place early next week [25 September 2017], is the greatest expression of the right to decide that a nation can undertake. While the outcomes are yet to be decided, this referendum will hold immense significance for the Kurdish community in Iraq. At the same time, it is of great importance that this political process equally respects the rights of other ethnic and religious groups living within the Kurdish region and claimed areas. 

After being delayed for three years and despite numerous calls for it to be called off, including most recently from the White House, the referendum on Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence has been scheduled for Monday 25 September 2017. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) welcomes this expression of self-determination that the Kurdish people have been wanting for a long time.

UNPO strongly believes in the right to self-determination of all nations and peoples around the world. The decision to vote about the direction of one’s own national community, regardless of the eventual outcome, is the greatest exercise of a group’s democratic right. For this process to be conducted in a fairly and inclusive manner,  it is of utmost importance that it respects the will of those ethnic, religious and linguistic components who are currently living within the areas that are controlled or claimed by the Kurdish Regional Government and who have been living in that region for many centuries.

In order to have a peaceful transition to independent statehood - in case of a “Yes” victory - it is vital that Baghdad and Erbil work together to ensure an arrangement that is respectful of the rights of all the components of the very diverse population of the region. In this context, it is worrying to see that the Iraqi authorities are opposed to this referendum.

This disagreement between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) can have negative consequences for minorities living in areas claimed by the KRG, among which the Assyrians and Iraqi Turkmen are or have been for many years. Among other things, the referendum is planned to also cover areas that have been freed by Peshmerga forces, in spite of minority leaders voicing concern that they are not within the traditional Iraqi Kurdish region.

While not calling for outright independence, also in view of the overlap of many of their traditional territories, many minority leaders in the Ninewa region have argued that the creation of separate governorates within the region would be one way of actualizing Article 125 of Chapter Four of the Iraqi constitution, which extends the rights of decentralized powers to minorities. The creation of separate governorates would grant minorities of Ninewa devolved powers with which they could carry out self-administration on matters pertaining to their own communities.

Therefore, in light of the approaching referendum, UNPO calls the GoI and the international community to respect Iraqi Kurd’s legitimate right to decide; and the KRG, in turn, to make sure that the interests of all minority components are taken into account and balanced in the process that could lead to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan.