View from Turkey: The Need to Stay Calm on Kurdish Referendum

Turkey’s reaction to Kurdish independence from Iraq will not be a military intervention at least for now and it should not be, says one Turkish analyst.

Posted on 09/26/17
By Taha Akyol | Via Hürriyet Daily News
Kurdish youth celebrating independence referendum in Kirkuk. (Photo via Rudaw)
Kurdish youth celebrating independence referendum in Kirkuk. (Photo via Rudaw)

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani went ahead with the independence referendum despite all the oppositions.


Kurdistan Chooses Independence

Via Iraqi and Kurdish media

Iraq’s Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has claimed the victory for ‘yes’ vote in the independence referendum. In a televised speech, he called on Baghdad and neighboring countries to respect the will of millions of people who voted yes on Monday.

In his first speech after the referendum,Barzani whom the Kurdish media has started calling “the Kurdistan president”, reiterated what he had said in rallies across the region in the days leading up to the vote – stressing the broken relationship with Baghdad. He accused Baghdad of violating the constitution and their partnership, while maintaining that the only way forward is through dialogue.
Addressing Baghdad, he said, “There is no need to be angry and issue threats.”
The referendum results showed 91.83 percent support for independence, according to preliminary figures from the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) election department.

Voter turnout was 77.83 percent, the KDP data revealed. The KDP, like other political parties, had observers at polling stations, gathering data. The election commission has not yet released official results.

“Instead of issuing threats and punishment, come in a friendly way to start a serious dialogue and give enough time to dialogue so that we become two good neighbors to each other. We think that dialogue in every case is the only way to reach a better future for both of us,” Mr Barzani told Iraqi leadership.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Erbil hand over control of airports and oil revenues. “If Erbil does not comply within the three days, Baghdad will close the airports,” he asserted. But Barzani said sanctions and threats will not affect Kurdistan.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım explained how a complicated and tensed period was waiting for Turkey. He also emphasized a couple of times that they would have “closer dialogue with Baghdad.”


A subject alarming everyone primarily is Kirkuk and the situation of the “contested regions” defined in article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. The problems in these regions were never solved and were always postponed because they were seen as ethnically very complicated.


Those who were expelled from the province of Kirkuk were supposed to return and those who were settled afterwards were to be sent back to their old places. The places separated from Kirkuk were to be given back to Kirkuk. Once the normal population structure was reached, the population census was supposed to be made under international observance to be followed by a referendum.


Baghdad and Iraqi Arabs were busy with the bloody Shia-Sunni conflict. The power of Iran increased. During this period, instead of calming down the problems, Ankara clashed with Baghdad. Barzani’s power enhanced. The Iraqi army fled before the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).


The Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga gained dominance in Kirkuk, and Barzani added that Kirkuk was added to his own regional governance by saying he put it into implementation with article 140 of the Iraqi constitution on June 27, 2014. Furthermore, Barzani declared Kirkuk as the “capital of Kurdistan” in their constitution.


Will the Turkmens and the Arabs accept this imposition?


Kirkuk is not only a province where emotions are focused on, but also an incredible powder barrel which can be “fired” because of oil.


Instead of trying to solve the ignitable problems with the negotiations, Barzani created a “status” by making use of the regional tensions and Ankara’s cooperation with him against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He aimed at consolidating this status with the “referendum” on Sept. 25.


It is clear that Barzani also wants to soften international reactions. The Barzani administration is saying that the referendum does not mean immediate independence and that there will talk with Iraq.


“We are thankful for Turkey,” Nechirvan Barzani told daily Hürriyet on the same day of the referendum.


Turkey’s reaction will not be a military intervention at least during this period; and it should not be. The claims that the 1926 treaty gave Turkey the right for military intervention are not true. Government officials also do not mention this anyway.


In fact, this is what was said in an official statement of the Foreign Ministry.


“We emphasize that we will take all the precautions generated from the international law and the authorization given by the Turkish parliament against some radical factors and terrorists who may want to exploit the situation by attempting acts directed at our national security and against every threat directed at our national security throughout Iraq,” it said.


The prime minister repeated the same messages and said, “Our citizens should not worry, we are not going into war.”


Yes, Turkey must stay calm.


The writer can be reached at

This article was first published in Hürriyet Daily News. Click here to go to the original.

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