By Mohamed Koodbuur
The Kurds in Iraq, in seeking for independence through referendum, without collaborating with the rest of the Iraqi community, are either taking the wrong path or the right one. As a Somaliland citizen, I have been where the Kurdish people are, and I’m talking nearly a quarter of a century long.
Years ago majority of the Somaliland people unilaterally went to the poll and split from the rest of Somalia. The country (Somaliland) and its beautiful people still pay the prize for choosing a fragmented journey to an undisclosed destination, with little hope of ever getting diplomatic recognition soon.
In Iraq, following the referendum, tensions are high as neighbouring countries set up extreme measures against the move. This was the case with Somaliland, where the Somali state and some other regional institutions, are yet to be convinced of the legality of the 2001 referendum and how it was conducted.
Like Somalia, Iraq views the Kurdish referendum as illegal and unconstitutional, and has threatened to curb the impact of its result using any means necessary, including military confrontation. Unlike the Kurdistan, Somaliland, which is one of the poorest country in the world did not receive this kind of threat from neighbouring countries initially, but continuously tries to find at least one state institution that acknowledges their right of existence as a nation.
Since Somaliland declaration, all attempts at statehood have failed. For this, the people of Somaliland blame the international community instead of their leaders that have failed to critically analyze what went wrong. Therefore, in the rest of this paper, I will examine the similarities and differences in the Somaliland and Kurdistan scenario, and try to predict the future of the Kurds.
Believe it or not, the Kurdish people are the biggest single ethnic group in the world, and have been living stateless since the last century. Borderlines between countries have divided the Kurd territorial sovereignty into small portions of lands that falls under the control of adjoining states.
This injustice, before and now, is supported by superpowers. Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Azerbaijan are the countries where large communities of Kurdish people are found, and all of them do not recognise the rights of the Kurds. Each has time without number systematically tried to eliminate the common identity (ethnicity, culture, language and lands) of the Kurds.
Fortunately, after a long struggle, a glimpse of hope came to light when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey took the unprecedented step towards reconciliation between the biggest guerrilla war fighters of PKK and the Turkish government. Despite many obstacles, the discussion still continues behind closed doors, and all sides have good faith in the final outcome. If all goes accordingly, this will be the best chance for peace between the Turks and Kurds in Turkey, and also mean the acknowledgement of the existence of the Kurds.
Also, in the early days of the Arab Spring in 2011, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad pledged that his country was considering citizenship for Syrian’s Kurds; a decision that never materialised before the country descended into civil war.
Previously, when the United States of America invaded Iraq in 2003, the Kurds in Iraq got a golden opportunity to make their case, and created an autonomous administration within the Iraqi nation, north of the country.
In the case of Somaliland, it is different; their national identity and the objective of their mission are absolutely opposite to that of the Kurds. For the Somaliland national identity, the people are actually Somalis that decided to remove their country from the unity pact they entered with southern Somalis. Meanwhile the national identity of the Kurdistan is that they are ethnically Kurds, and the aim is to unite all Kurds that live in Iraq and elsewhere of the region.
The Kurdish case is complex than Somaliland’s in that neighbouring countries have explicitly rejected the idea of a Kurdistan state, and have made it hard for the Kurds to reach their ultimate goal to unite their people.
For Somaliland, some neighbouring countries are against the idea of it being a separate nation from Somalia, but, the biggest countries in the region are not so keen to see the unity of the Somali people, not to mention that politicians of this tiny country are missing to communicate their case properly.
However, referendums of these two countries share one thing in common: a self-determination right, one of the important principles of the United Nations which gives every nation the right to aspire. The real problem with this universal right to self-determination is with the timing and the process.
For example, both the Somaliland and Kurdistan referendums were held by one party. In both cases, the rest of Somali state and Iraqi federal state respectively were excluded. This clearly nullifies the legality of the results. For a referendum to be recognized, the international obligations require that the groups looking to exercise their right to self-determination must negotiate with every related actor. In other words, the referendums should be worked by all sides.
In the beginning it was essential that Somaliland negotiated with Southern Somali to avoid the legal limbo they’ve been in for decades. For the Kurdistan, they entered unknown territory, somewhere Somaliland has been floating for a long time now. The Iraq government was not consulted, and for this, major regional powers are on high alert for issues of national security.
When one considers also that other minority community groups who were not carried along now feel unease, and have become another symbolic threat to the Kurdistan state creation, it is not difficult to see that all of these (including now that the Israeli government has backed the Kurdish people) will directly affect other Kurd communities living in neighbouring countries.
These events will push situation to boiling point, and may mean that the Kurds will never get an international recognition as major countries have expressed their opposition to the referendum. With the world battling for a control of the region, this will definitely inflame the current situation further.
Although the Kurdistan issue is more complex than that of Somaliland, both of them will not be getting any diplomatic recognition whatsoever, at least for now. Their determination, a right, is at best categorised as suicidal.
Koodbuur is a Somaliland activist with focus on the Horn of Africa.