Here is an English version of my latest article in Al-Hurra
( photo via the Guardian)
In 838, a Kurdish leader based in Mosul named Mir Jafar Dasni revolted against the Caliph Al-Mu’tasim. After a series of armed confrontation between Arabs and Kurds in difficult terrain, a (non-Arab) commander of the Arab Caliph, Itakh, won the war and executed many of the Kurds, but Mir Jafar Dasni committed suicide to avoid capture.
Many opponents of the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum may not be aware of the region’s medieval historical conflicts, but undoubtedly they hope that history repeats itself and that the Kurds will be defeated once again, but this is unlikely. Their abundance of foes has united the Iraqi Kurds in support of the referendum. Never in their history have the Kurds been as focused and determined as they are today.
It is easy to join the chorus of opponents of the Kurdish referendum; however, I have humbly decided to stand with the brave Kurds in their quest for nationhood for many reasons:
First, because it is a just cause.
Growing up in Egypt, and despite avidly following regional politics from a very early age, I have never heard the word “Kurd” except briefly and ambiguously when Saddam Hussein butchered them with chemical weapons in Halabja in 1988. Still, many Arab apologists denigrated the Kurds and portrayed them as agents of foreign powers. My later travels in Syria, Iran, and Turkey opened my eyes to the depth of denigration, even racism, against the Kurds and it was frankly shocking. Regional powers have systematically lost their moral high ground in their repeated abuse of the Kurds; therefore, they cannot lecture the Kurds now about what should or should not be done.
Second, there will never be a “right time”.
Kurdish independence has been postponed several times, a dream that they have patiently waited to fulfil over the past 100 years. But apparently a century is not long enough, as the Kurds were asked to postpone again. “Timing is not suitable,” is one of the justifications given for this anonymous rejection. The Kurds, however, have learned one lesson from their century-old struggle for independence: there will never be a “right time.” The fragility of Iraq and Syria is not a product of Kurdish nationalism, and will continue regardless of Kurdish aspirations. Blaming the Kurds or asking them to wait is a disingenuous delay of the inevitable.
Third, an independent Kurdistan is a balancing state.
Amidst many competitive groups in the Middle East with Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia competing for power and dominance; Kurdistan could be the buffering zone that stops the fiery ambitions of both Turkey and Iran; both have issued emphatic statements against the referendum. “We will not allow the creation of a second Israel in the north of Iraq,” pro-Iran, Iraqi Vice President Nuri al-Maliki said. Moreover, a number of Turkish media outlets supportive of President Erdogan have spread false news reports claiming Kurdish groups entered into a secret deal with Israel to resettle Jews in the region. It is true that Israel backs the referendum, but the Kurds have stronger and deeper reasons to pursue their aspirations for independence, regardless of Israeli support.
In the Middle East, a good Kurd is either Arabized or Islamized, but never a Kurdish nationalist. The demonization of the Kurds only reflects the ugliness of all the dominant ideologies in our region, whether Islamism with its Sunni and Shi’ite branches, or Arab nationalism. This is precisely why, as a liberal, I stand against this ugliness and stand for the referendum.
Regardless of the referendum circus, I support the right of the Kurds to self-determination. But this support is conditional, as I expect the Kurdish region to embrace more liberal and progressive values. I look forward to a less autocratic and more inclusive administration in Kurdistan that wins the hearts and minds of Arabs and Turkmen living under Kurdish control. I trust the Kurds to provide a positive example for the rest of the region, and I hope they will not betray my trust.