Kurdistan`s independence: a new state in the Middle East?People in Iraq's northern autonomous region of Kurdistan are voting in an independence referendum, amid rising tensions and international opposition on September 25, 2017. This referendum can produce a new state on the world map, in the most turbulent region of the planet. Heydar Mirza, expert in foreign policy and security studies, comments on the situation. 


Interviewer: Elmira Hasanova



Hasanova: Do you think it is the best time for the already ripe independence of Kurdistan? 

Mirza: The question is incorrect. The best time for whom? For Kurds? For Iraq and Turkey? For the whole Middle East? In my opinion, when it comes to the Kurds themselves, desire for independence cherished by certain tribal elites is understandable. But I really doubt if there is anything as the Kurdish nation. Unified Kurdish nation is a socio-political construct development of which began in the second half of the 20th century for political reasons. Kurds who speak Kurmanji, Sorani, Zazaki or Pehlewani may speak and understand more than one of these languages, but in fact differences between these dialects make them different languages in fact. Kurds are also different in confessional terms. Besides that, scattered around the whole of the Middle East they belong to different political cultures. Kurds exist, and it is undeniable. But it is hard to talk about Kurds as a nation. 


What type of positive and negative aspects can the independence of Kurdistan bring to the region?

Again, it depends to whom. Independent Kurdistan in the North of Iraq means deconstruction of Iraq as a state. One of the first effects will be further growth of Iranian influence in the rest of Iraq, dominated by the Shiites. On the other hand, common Kurdish threat will inevitably bring closer Ankara and Tehran, and this can already be partially observed. We shouldn’t forget that according to the Ankara Agreement of 1926, Turkey can claim buffer zones in the north of Iraq to secure own territories, in case threat to Iraq’s territorial integrity materializes. In certain sense, independent Kurdistan in the north of Iraq is in Turkey’s interests, - this new state, if it becomes reality, will depend on Turkey in number of aspects, first of all in infrastructural terms. But bearing in mind the context and the aggressive rhetoric, the project of independent Kurdistan is rather destructive for the whole of the Middle East, than positive. Those who support the project definitely support destabilization of the region.      


Kurdistan will be surrounded by four hostile countries, three of which also contains the Kurdish population with irredentist ambitions. How will the policy of Kurdistan and its neighboring countries be designed?

At the moment, we are talking about the right of nations for self-determination, and this is in case we accept that Kurds are a unified nation – I have touched upon this in the beginning. But if independent Kurdistan is established in the north of Iraq, any further attempts to expend its territory to the areas of the neighboring states where Kurds live will carry the character of irredentism. This is quite a different thing. Bearing in mind level of neighboring hostility – even Turkey and Iran are enough – as well as the general context in the region, I think the project of independent Kurdistan is not viable, unless some sort of agreement with Turkey and Iran is reached. Of course, in any scenario Iraq is in worst condition, because if such an agreement between Turkey, Iran, and the new Kurdistan is made, it will be made at cost of Iraq.


Will Kurdistan be able to establish itself as an independent entity in a long and efficient manner? 

If independent Kurdistan becomes a reality in the North of Iraq, then its survival will first of all depend on communications with the external world, i.e. his neighbors. Bearing in mind current context it is hard to predict these perspectives.


What could this independence mean in the context of the ISIS and anti-ISIS struggle?

The ISIS and “struggle with ISIS” as you call it, in my opinion, are not the primary issues in the Middle East geopolitics. It is a secondary matter, carrying instrumental character. The two issues are of course interlinked, but I wouldn’t necessarily argue that new independent Kurdistan means end of the ISIS.