WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Kurdish diaspora in America has come out in support of the upcoming vote for Kurdish independence, scheduled to take place on September 25. However, some still believe the timing is not yet right for such an event to take place.
“I think Kurds across the board are in support of an independence referendum regardless. Do they support this particular referendum? That’s an open question,” Akeel Abbas, a professor from Iraq who teaches at the American University of Iraq in Kurdistan, told Breitbart News.
The upcoming referendum vote is the result of longstanding calls for an independent Kurdish state in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Iraqi Kurdistan is part of Greater Kurdistan, which includes Rojhilat (Iranian Kurdistan), Bakur (Turkish Kurdistan), and Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) and Basûr (Iraqi Kurdistan).
Iraqi’s Shi’ite coalition in Baghdad is likely to oppose the move. They previously said they will oppose any attempts to hold a referendum or annex regions that are important to Iraq’s interests.
Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani announced the date of the Kurdish independence referendum on Twitter:
I am pleased to announce that the date for the independence referendum has been set for Monday, September 25, 2017https://t.co/Woj0JuYZNE
— Masoud Barzani (@masoud_barzani) June 7, 2017
Abbas explained his view that “the regional situation, and some situations in Iraq, do not allow [the] emergence of a Kurdish state. Even Kurds in Iraq are saying it’s not the right time.”
“You find many Kurds coming out against the referendum in foreign media.” However, Abbas added, “Generally, Kurds who criticize the referendum, they are criticizing the timing,” but noted that “ultimately, they want it.”
Kani Xulam, of the American Kurdish Information Network, told Breitbart News of the Kurds living in the United States, “I would say a majority of them are in favor of it.” Xulam, who grew up in the Kurdish region of Turkey for 19 years before moving to the U.S., noted that some Kurds may be concerned that the circumstances will not be right for independence—”but the thirst for political space is real on the part of the Kurds, whether they are in Kurdistan Iraq, Kurdistan Turkey, Kurdistan Syria or Kurdistan Iran.”
“There are 12,000 Kurds living in Nashville,” Xulam said. He was visiting the city on Tuesday and Wednesday. Asked if he would move to Kurdistan should the nation gain independence, he said, “I would love to,” but noted that it would be challenging since he and his wife have a small child.
Asked the same question, Nyma Ardalan, a Kurdish network engineer based out of Los Angeles, California, said, “I probably would. And as a matter of fact, I think back in 2000, Kurds were one of the few nations in the diaspora that did start and move back to southern, or Iraqi, Kurdistan. Barring this thing with the rest of the neighbors, especially ISIS, I think a lot of American Kurds would go back.”
Some Kurds oppose holding the referendum next month, arguing that the timing is not right. On August 8, they launched the “No For Now” movement.
Less than a week after “No For Now” was launched, several armed men broke into the former Erbil home and workplace of Shirwan Shirwani, a member of the movement. According to NRT, the armed men seized a number of documents related to Shirwani’s company.
Shirwani told NRT the attack from the armed men was due to his involvement in the “No for Now” movement, which was launched to encourage people to vote in the referendum on Kurdistan’s independence.
Ardalan, the network engineer, told Breitbart News, “It’s a good thing that Kurds, in general, are in a position that they can actually even talk about it or have a dialogue about it and the international community has recognized them.” Asked whether this is the best time, Ardalan said, “I can’t really answer that. Is it an opportune time?” He added, “I can assume they will probably win. But from a political perspective, you know and I know and everybody can attest to that: Kurds aren’t the most popular in that region anyway. They are stuck between Iranians and the Turks and they are all hostile to the Kurds. There are still hostilities from Iraq, too.”
In June, the State Department issued remarks warning against scheduling the vote before the ultimate defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We have expressed our concerns to the authorities in the Kurdistan Region, but holding a referendum even a non-binding resolution at this time would distract from urgent priorities and that be the defeat of ISIS, the stabilization, the return of displaced people, managing of the region’s economic crisis, and resolving the region’s internal political disputes.”
Ardalan dismissed the argument against the referendum. “They can say what what they like, but the truth is the only people who have really fought and won against ISIS are the Kurdish people,” in regard to concern that the Islamic State’s presence in the region poses a danger to an independent Kurdistan.
“You have 22 different Arab countries. Why not five different Kurdish states?” he asked, adding, “The Kurdish population is more diverse percentage-wise than most of its neighbors, including Iran.”