There could be no referendum that did not include the Kirkuk city

On the 2nd of May, Oxford University’s Kurdistan society hosted Mr. Himan Hawrami, senior advisor to President Massoud Barzani, and Ceng Sagnic, a researcher in the Middle East. The event was designed to discuss the referendum in Kurdistan on its relationship with Iraq, its likely impact, and its possible outcomes.

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Photo By the New Mail Staff

They both spoke, explaining the process involved in a referendum and the importance of Kurdistan’s stability to the Middle East as a whole. They touched on Kurdistan’s crucial role in fighting ISIS, being the only ground force involved in the fight against them since the start of the conflict in 2014 and liberating more than 32000 square km of territory.

Mr. Hewrami went further, emphasising Kurdistan’s role as a safe haven for religious and ethnic minorities in a wider region where many have been targeted on those grounds. He argued that this role was only possible because of the degree of autonomy Kurdistan possesses and that a vote for independence would increase its ability to fulfill that role.

Ceng Sagnic emphasised the prominent role Kurdistan is playing in the peace process in the Middle East, along with its strong relationship with several European partners, who have been very supportive of the possibility of a referendum.

Mr. Hewrami stated that the referendum date would most probably be set somewhere between July and December of this year, in spite of the risks to the process created by Kurdistan’s current economic difficulties. He stated that there was not a clear budget for the process as yet, but that the emphasis would be on creating a fair, open, transparent process.

Attendance was high at the event, with an open question and answer session at the end. One question, obviously designed to be provocative, was ‘Why did peshmerga forces abandon Kurdish Yazidi in Sinjar, and why are the YPG no longer welcome in Sinjar?’

In answer, Mr. Hewrami stated that the Peshmerga did not abandon the Yazidi population of Sinjar, but that Iraqi forces had handed over their weapons to ISIS, allowing them to fight against Kurdish forces, who lost more than 650 lives in the fight to retake Sinjar.

Regarding the YPG, Mr. Hewrami thanked them for their efforts in providing safe passage for Kurdish Yazidis but stated that it was inappropriate for them to control Kurdish areas. He drew parallels with the liberation of Koban from Isis by Kurdish forces, which returned after their success, because it was appropriate for Koban to be ruled by its own people.

He added that he hoped that, in the wake of any referendum the YPG would not make the same mistakes as in the past since there was a risk in that of destabilising Kurdistan exactly at the moment when it needs to come together.

In answer to further questions, on Kirkuk, Mr. Hewrami made it clear that there could be no referendum that did not include the city. He stated that while it is a city that welcomes and will continue to welcome all people, geographically, it is Kurdish territory, and it would be inappropriate to allow it to be torn away from any final, independent Kurdistan.

The discussion raised important questions, and it seems crucial to answer more before the referendum process is complete: who, exactly, is in charge of the referendum? What form of independence is on the table, and what are its likely impacts? If the referendum fails to produce a vote in favour of independence, what then for Kurdistan? Our understanding of the referendum is far from complete as yet, but the discussion in Oxford at least allowed us to see that Kurdistan is taking the opportunity seriously.

The New Mail