Senior political commentator Mohammad Masjed-Jamei has, in an interview with the Persian-language news agency Khabar Online, weighed in on the repercussions of the recent referendum on the secession of the Kurdistan region from Iraq.
He has reviewed the historical trends of secessionist moves, the future of the Middle East and tendencies toward disintegration. The highlights of the interview follow:
The referendum on the separation of the Iraqi Kurdistan region from Iraq was held at a time when its results could not be accepted under the current circumstances in the region, Europe and the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, several countries emerged from within the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and broke away from them. But the present situation in the Middle East is very much different from that in those years.
Back then, superpowers supported independence-seeking tendencies within the Soviet territory in order to help bring about the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, although the situation was different in Yugoslavia. Moreover, the proportion of the number of ethnic groups in those two countries to that of ethnic groups in Moscow and Belgrade at that time is not the same as the proportion of the number of Kurds in Iraq’s Kurdistan to that in Baghdad.
[On whether or not the referendum on the secession of the Iraqi Kurdistan region can be compared to the plebiscite on Catalonia’s independence, he said] there are practically two active independence-seeking currents in today’s Europe: Catalans and the Scottish. Although the European Union says it is committed to safeguarding the rights of minorities, the bloc is opposing any unilateral decision made without coordination with the capital of the country they are residing in. Despite the fact that Europeans lashed out at Spanish police for their acts of violence against pro-independence Catalans, they termed the referendum illegal as it had been held without the consent of the Spanish government. And the EU is now trying hard to find a way to keep Catalonia from separating from Spain, and blames itself for not having mediated between the two before the plebiscite was held.
Although the European Union says it is committed to safeguarding the rights of minorities, the bloc is opposing any unilateral decision made without coordination with the capital of the country they are residing in.
Furthermore, Europeans know well that they cannot tolerate and even calculate the consequences of such moves. The independence of Catalans would trigger independence-seeking moves in many parts of Europe, from northern Italy to Ireland located to the north of Britain, to Belgium, to ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, to Hungarians in Transylvania and residents from the Bask region both in Spain and France.
If these developments continue to unfold, that will seriously threaten their political and social stability and provoke ethnic, racial, lingual and local conflicts. In addition, the independence-seeking drive will stabilize the situation of Russians in Crimea because most of its people want to be reunited with Russia as an overwhelming majority of them voted “yes” to reunification in a referendum. Crimea was the main reason behind the straining of relations between the West and Russia. Therefore, the recognition of the current independence-seeking moves would amount to abrogation of their anti-Russia policies.
It is not Europe, only. Basically, calls for independence in big countries such as Russia, India, China and even Brazil and the United States and African countries will be problematic. Brazil’s Sao Paulo and the United States’ California have long been calling for independence due to economic reasons which are understandable. Tuaregs in Mali want their own country. They include the Tuaregs in Mali, Niger, Libya, Algeria and Chad. Berbers in North Africa have the same idea. Given Internet connections and the growing causes and effects, inattention to independence-seeking currents can result in numerous problems for our tense and chaotic world. Of course, it is not the only the issue of independence-seeking. This idea alone will lead to a rise in enmities and revive the negative memories in history. It might also trigger uncontrollable armed action, as has been the case on several occasions in the past.
[Regarding the prospects of the political landscape of Iraq’s Kurdistan, he said] If the organizers of the referendum had a more precise and more rational understanding of the situation in today’s world, they would not have done such a thing, at least for the time being. Provoking the sentiments of people and, directly or indirectly, adopting a carrot-and-stick policy vis-à-vis those who opposed the plebiscite, is not in the interest of anyone, even Iraqi Kurds themselves. They need security, welfare and progress on different fronts, not moves which run counter to all of these. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, their general situation has been much better than that of other Iraqis, and their proportionate share of oil revenues is much more than that of other Iraqis. The extent of the development in their territory is not comparable to that of other areas in Iraq.
Most probably, the flames triggered in Kurdistan will subside. The organizers of the plebiscite believed that others, especially countries from beyond the region, would back their initiative. However, such a thing did not happen, nor will it happen in the foreseeable future. The current situation is such that even Israel, which was first happy, backed down from its comments. Furthermore, since the time Kurdistan was established, they have been trying to identify and widen social, ethnic and religious rifts.
We need to adopt our own independent policy towards the Kurds. We can cooperate with others, including Turkey, within this policy, but the two countries cannot pursue the same policy towards the issue.
Zionists are following a two pronged-policy. First, they want to turn into the number-one power in the region. Second, they seek to disintegrate the region into small countries which would become Israel’s satellites. This point along with other issues has been described in an article about Israel’s strategy in the 1980s written by high-profile diplomat Oded Yinon. The article was published in a World Zionist Organization magazine.
We need to adopt our own independent policy towards the Kurds. We can cooperate with others, including Turkey, within this [independent] policy, but the two countries cannot pursue the same policy towards the issue.
Turkey is Iran’s major neighbour and cooperation with that country will benefit both sides as well as the whole region. This initiative will help boost regional cooperation, something needed by all in the region; nevertheless, one should not forget that the history and nature of the problems that Turkey has with Kurds are different form the problems that we have with the recent referendum. Moreover, we have different potentialities. Due to its industrial as well as economic and trade structures together with the features of its foreign policy, Turkey has high maneuverability power and uses it frequently. Currently, trade between Ankara and Iraq’s Kurdistan exceeds $12bn. This has somehow led to some kind of dependence, and Turkey can capitalize on this reality and benefit from it unilaterally to serve its own interests.
Iran-Turkey cooperation is a useful and necessary principle, which should be utilized in such a way that will not serve the interests of one side only. We witnessed a similar experience at the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). Iran tapped into its full potential to revive and expand the organization, but others benefited from the end result, at least in the economic arena, because they had more preparedness and capability.