On Monday, September 25, an embattled and persecuted people democratically voted for their independence. Voter turnout was high, approximately 72 per cent of the 8.4 million-strong population taking part. On Wednesday evening, election officials in Irbil, the semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)'s capital, announced that the Kurdish people voted overwhelmingly in favor (93%) of the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
Of all the countries in the world, only one expressed support for Kurdish independence when the referendum was announced: Israel. Every other country has discouraged this move.
Leveraging the successful referendum, the leader of the Kurdish independence movement, Masoud Barzani, is expected to enter talks with Baghdad to begin the secession process. This bid for independence (from a government that cares little for them) to create a haven for their persecuted members has been met with inordinate resistance. The lack of support for a Kurdish state is both a moral and intellectual travesty.
The potential benefit of an independent Kurdistan cannot be understated, and it is disappointing that Israel is the only member of the Western world thus far that officially supports the move.
Iraq is constantly on the verge of collapse and Baghdad is vulnerable to Iran’s anti-West influence. On the other hand, the Kurdish people have repeatedly demonstrated they are more than willing to work with Western countries to create a free, democratic country. Israel recognizes this and sees a potential ally in a region that hates them both.
The Kurds have always been good to the Jews. After Israel’s support for their independence movement, they went so far as to wave Israeli flags during one of their independence rallies. In 2015, the regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan appointed a Jew to an official position in their government as the Jewish representative to the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs.
Now that the Kurds are looking for their own state, they turned to a referendum rather than military means that could certainly further destabilize an Iraqi country already on the brink of collapse. This is a clear demonstration of the Kurdish leadership’s values and their investment in achieving their goals through democratic means.
It is ridiculous that the world wants to create a Palestinian state that will almost certainly not be democratic, yet fears the creation of a Kurdish state that will be. A Kurdish state is the best possible outcome for the West. It enables another democracy in a region where the failures of the Arab Spring to form democracies out of existing countries suggests that the only way to bring democracy is to create new states. It gives Israel a vital new Muslim ally while trying to improve relations with their Muslim neighbors. It gives the West another true ally in the war against terror: the Kurds have had some of the most military successes in fighting off the Islamic State.
Imagine how much better they could be if only they had a state of their own as a base. Israel should be commended for making the brilliant move to support an independent Kurdish state, and the U.S. should follow suit and become the second country to officially support an independent Kurdish state.
Everyone who believes in aiding the State of Israel, everyone who believes in bringing democracy to the Middle East, and everyone who believes in fighting terrorism should help the Kurds achieve their goal of a free, democratic, and independent state. Everyone should call their senators and tell them to put pressure on the State Department.
Instead of fearing possible instability, we should be celebrating the advancement of democracy and moderation in the Middle East. The U.S. helped Israel survive its infancy, and it can serve that role again by supporting the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
By Shep Gerszberg
Shep Gerszberg is a junior at the George Washington University studying international affairs, Middle East studies, and conflict resolution.