During a speech held in Duhok, Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani said the Kurdish people have “completely lost hope” in Iraq and must hold a referendum to decide their future.
“I say this, unfortunately, that we have no hope that Iraq could get better,” PM Barzani said at a ceremony which remembered the ISIS invasion of Sinjar and the murder and abduction of thousands of Yazidis. “We tried every way with Iraq but we have completely lost hope,” he said.
The Sinjar massacre, which began in 2014, took place as the Islamic State cemented its foothold in northern Iraq, killing thousands of Yazidi men and women while holding girls captive and forcing them into sex slavery. The United Nations has recognized the Islamic State’s treatment of Yazidis as a genocide. Remaining Yazidis have been exiled from their ancestral lands in northern Iraq, as ISIS largely destroyed Sinjar’s infrastructure.
Yazidis adhere to their own ancient religion, which the Islamic State considers devil worship. Some identify as Kurds, though this remains a point of contention within the community.
“Our past experience with Iraq has led us to this conclusion that there is no way we could defend ourselves and our rights in Iraq,” Barzani added. “Therefore, in order to maintain and protect our peace and coexistence, we will have to show our ambitions to the whole world in a referendum.”
“The voice of Shingal in this referendum is very important because it is the voice of the Anfal genocide and the voice of the pains of our people,” Barzani continued. “It will be a call for freedom from subjugation and slavery.”
In June, Kurdistan announced an independence referendum to take place this September, in a move that angered the ruling Shi’ite coalition in Baghdad, who have claimed they will oppose any attempts to hold a referendum or annex any regions important to Iraqi interests, such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
“Any decision concerning the future of Iraq must take into account the constitutional provisions, it is an Iraqi decision and not one party alone,” Iraqi government spokesperson Saad al-Hadithi said following the announcement in June. “All Iraqis must have a say in defining the future of their homeland. No single party can determine the future of Iraq in isolation from the others.”
However, current opinion polls suggest that a “yes” vote is the most likely outcome and could win by a landslide, which Kurdish leaders have said will strengthen their negotiating position in talks with Baghdad and other affected regions such as Turkey and Syria.
“I must say that a referendum by itself is not our goal, it is a means, a tool to a bigger goal. And I hope we can solve all these through dialogue with Baghdad,” Barzani added.