Turkish Politics

Is independence achieved with a referendum: Iraqi Kurdish case and Turkey’s role

The  head of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Mesud Barzani,  said during an interview with BBC that every Kurd would fight for the  city of Kirkuk in case of independence. KRG plans to hold an  independence referendum on September 25. There are many strings attached  to the road that goes to independence. Fighting is certainly one of  them. However, there are far more important other aspects for a state to  survive following a unilateral secession. To be able to understand the  survival chance of Iraqi Kurds in a region that has turned into a  fireball, those aspects need to be understood first.

Any  territory seeking to secede in the contemporary international system  faces enormous structural opposition. It has been particularly the case  especially since 1945. Indeed, Bangladesh is still widely regarded as  the only truly successful case of unilateral secession since 1945. And  it has only been made possible by the consent of the parent state,  Pakistan. So when we talk about the independence of Iraqi Kurds, we are  looking at only one successful secession case among tens of examples in  the past century.

Also,  there is one semi-successful state: Kosovo. The tiny Balkan country  unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008. The United  States and the European Union threw full support to Kosovo’s  independence. But even with the absolute backing of the EU and the US,  Kosovo has yet to fully integrate into the international institutions.  As of 2016, Kosovo has been recognized only a little more than the half  of the countries of the United Nations.

And  there are also unsuccessful unilateral independence cases. One of them  especially stands out for the Turkish public. After Turkey militarily  intervened in the coup attempt which aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece,  Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was established and declared  independence in 1983. The unilateral secession of TRNC was not  recognized by any country other than Turkey. Even closest traditional  allies of Turkey such as Azerbaijan has not recognized TRNC. We could  see a similar scenario in the breakaway regions of the Caucasus. After a  brief war between Georgia and Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia  seceded from Georgia with the support of Russia. But Despite strong  pressure from Moscow, only a handful countries have recognized them.  Even Russia’s closest traditional allies, such as Belarus and the  Central Asian Republics, have not been persuaded to recognize them.

So  the biggest impediment for unilateral secession is to get recognized in  today’s World order. The international community has a very strong  aversion to acts of secession, wishing to protect their own sovereignty  and territorial integrity.

But  one could still argue that Barzani’s Kurdish region could go on with  the referendum and declare independence despite knowing that it wont be  recognized by any states. Not having the support of mainly the United States, the KRG region would be an example of Turkish Republic of  Northern Cyprus rather than Kosovo. But here, another important aspect  of unilateral secession kicks in: a parent state who will provide a  life line. This parent state, in other cases in the World, is often made  up of the same ethnic background and shares a border with the de facto  state. The KRG region, however, lacks both them. There is no ethnic  Kurdish state nor any state for that matter who supports KRG’s move and  would provide life line of transport of goods. Turkey play that role for  TRNC as Russia does the same role for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The  Sunni Iraqi Kurds are surrounded by Shia whose influence in the region  has multiplied ever since the civil war of Syria. The only country  that could play the parent state role fort he Kurds is Turkey. And  Ankara sees the very move of Barzani a threat to its own territorial  integrity because of its own Kurdish-covered terror problem.

In  the end, the leader of Iraqi Kurds must be well aware of the facts that  have been stipulated in this article. And it seems that Barzani is  determined to move on with the referendum despite lacking any of the  requirements for a successful break up from a sovereign state. Then the  question up in the air here is what is the reason of the move if the  result is almost certain in his region’s disfavor? The answer to that  question should be seeked by the experts to make an healthy analysis of  the developments in the region.

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About the author

Ahmet Hamdi Şişman

Ahmet Hamdi Şişman

Mr. Ahmet Hamdi Şişman is a journalist

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