Kurdistan24, in conjunction with The Washington Times, is sponsoring a conference on Capitol Hill, entitled, “The Kurdistan Region: Strategic U.S. Ally in a Tough Neighborhood.”
We are holding this event at a time of major change in the Middle East. A century ago, Kurdistan was divided among four countries against the will of the Kurdish people — despite American promises of self-determination, as embodied in Woodrow Wilson’s famous “Fourteen Points.”
We think that it is time, indeed long past time, for the international community to recognize the right that was denied the Kurds 100 years ago.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold a referendum on independence on Sept. 25. We expect that an overwhelming majority of the people will vote in favor of independence.
We believe that this manifestation of the will of the Kurdish people for an independent Kurdistan will work in America’s favor and help promote stability in the region.
We also believe that it will be difficult for Western countries to ignore that vote — or at least to do so in good conscience. After all, if the peoples of Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia are entitled to a referendum on independence, by what legitimate logic can the Kurds be denied the same right?
In the Kurdistan Region, the people do not feel part of a political entity called Iraq. We have not forgotten Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression in which he sought to obliterate our identity as a separate and distinct people. Every year on Anfal Memorial Day, we recall the Baathist regime’s genocidal campaign against us.
For the past 25 years — since the 1991 Gulf War — the Kurdistan Region has been an independent, self-governing political entity. A whole generation has grown up for which the national language of Iraq, that is Arabic, is incomprehensible.
In that quarter of a century, the Kurdistan Region has demonstrated several crucial points.
First, it has shown that it is perfectly capable of self-government. In that same period, four Middle Eastern states — Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya — have all fallen apart amid violent conflict, which was exported to the rest of the world in the form of terrorism.
However, the Kurdistan Region has remained peaceful.
In fact, we have become a haven for others. Nearly 2 million people fleeing the Islamic State have found refuge in the Kurdistan Region. Despite the large number — 40 percent of the indigenous Kurdish population — and our limited resources, we have taken them in.
We are a hospitable and tolerant people, and most of us have been refugees ourselves.
Second, the Kurdistan Region has shown that we are not a threat to anyone in the region. By and large, our borders are quiet. Ironically, the country that has taken the strongest stand against our independence referendum is Iran, even as others, including Americans, would claim that Iran will gain from our independence. Tehran clearly has a different view.
Third, we have demonstrated an enduring commitment to partnership with America. The people of the Kurdistan Region are extremely friendly to the U.S., and with good reason. Between 1991 and 2003, a “no-fly zone,” enforced by the U.S., protected us against Saddam’s depredations.
Rather than fight America and us, Saddam chose to ignore the Kurdistan Region. American protection was a crucial factor in allowing us our first dozen years of self-rule, which have laid the institutional foundations for our independent state. The people of the Kurdistan Region remain extremely grateful to America for this.
The Kurdistan Region is the only area in the Muslim Middle East where both the government and the people are friendly to America and its values. A country like Saudi Arabia may be a U.S. ally on an official level, but Riyadh keeps its distance because elements of the population are hostile. That dualism does not exist in Kurdistan: The people support the government in its pro-American policy.
Thus, an independent Kurdistan could well prove America’s closest and truest Muslim ally — which would certainly go far in explaining Iran’s hostility to our referendum.
These issues are of vital concern to the Kurdish people. But we recognize that the perspective of the U.S., as a global superpower, is different. The U.S. national security agenda is very crowded, and Kurds are a relatively small part of it.
It is unlikely that U.S. policymakers have rigorously considered all the implications of our referendum and of Kurdistan independence. That is why we are holding this conference: to present crucial information and vital perspectives to an important U.S. audience whose decisions and opinions matter so much to a people, much smaller in numbers, but whose yearnings, including our thirst for freedom, are surprisingly like Americans.
• Noreldin Waisy is the General Manager of Kurdistan24 News Network. He can be followed on Twitter @nwaisy