Kurdish independence deserves Canadian support

Since 2014, Canada and the Kurdish autonomous region have become strong but unlikely partners in the offensive against ISIL in Northern Iraq.

On Monday, Iraqi Kurdistan held an independence referendum that could set a mandate for separation from Iraq. However, Monday’s vote could complicate Canada’s role in the region.

Days before the referendum, the leader of the autonomous Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, said boldly to The Guardian that Kurds “refuse to be subordinate” to Iraq’s central government in Baghdad.

The Kurdish people are widely considered the world’s largest ethnic group without a state. The nearly 30 million Kurds living in the Middle East today are spread out between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

After gaining the right to autonomous government in 2005 under the American occupation, the Kurdish majority in the North of Iraq is taking the next step in defining a secular state — a dream that has lived in the minds of Kurds for the better part of a century.

The large and complex displacement of Kurds began in the fall-out of a shattered Middle East after World War One. During that time, millions of Kurds were divided by the region’s re-drawing at the hands of international powers.

In his interview with The Guardian, Barzani condemned Iraq saying, “from World War One until now, we are not a part of Iraq.” He described the country as a “theocratic, sectarian state.”

For years under Saddam Hussein, the Kurdish people were heavily persecuted. During the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, thousands of Kurds were murdered by Hussein’s regime using chemical weapons.

The Kurdish people deserve a vote. Their unique culture, language and persisting desire for peace and secular government makes them stand out in the region.

However, the initial reaction to Monday’s referendum by international powers is disappointing.

In fears that Kurdish independence could destabilize the region further, neighboring and international powers have warned against it. Unfortunately, Canada continues to tiptoe around the issue. 

Currently there are around 200 Canadian troops training the Kurdish regional Peshmerga forces in Northern Iraq. Those troops have become essential in helping the Peshmerga prepare for the fight against ISIL in Mosul, only 50 kilometers from the Kurdish capital Erbil.

Though Monday’s referendum could spark unrest, Canada is uniquely positioned among international powers to help support Kurdish independence.

The Liberals have reasserted the position that Iraq should remain unified, staying in line with the United States and other allies. But because Canadian forces are actively involved in training the Kurds, difficult choices will have to be made in the wake of Monday’s vote.

Canada is a country that built its international reputation on the principles of freedom and democracy. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government should act boldly and support Kurdish independence.

Iain is one of The Journal’s Assitant News Editors. He’s a third-year History major.

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