As could have been pre­dict­ed, the sequels to the ref­er­en­dum ini­ti­at­ed by Mas­soud Barzani in Kur­dis­tan do not in any way resem­ble a path strewn with rose petals.
Inter­na­tion­al medias paid scant atten­tion to it, pre­fer­ring to turn the spot­light on the “high and mighty” who declared it null and void pri­or to its occurence, or the bel­li­cose ones in the region, sud­den­ly rec­on­ciled against a polit­i­cal hand they find disturbing.

The 92% “sound­ing” pro­voked by this ref­er­en­dum and its over­whelm­ing result in favor of inde­pen­dence has reshuf­fled a few cards in the deck, and has the mer­it of estab­lish­ing a nec­es­sary ground for debate between Kurds and between the move­ments rep­re­sent­ing them, as well as in the midst of those move­ments themselves.
For now, as could be expect­ed, the Barzani gov­ern­ment has been con­tent with gath­er­ing the ben­e­fits of what it con­sid­ered as a kind of plebiscite in the con­text of the inter­nal cri­sis with­in the par­tial­ly autonomous region. Mas­soud Barzani him­self declared that uni­lat­er­al inde­pen­dence wasn’t forth­com­ing and this cur­rent Pres­i­dent of the autonomous region of Kur­dis­tan has reit­er­at­ed on sev­er­al occa­sions “that there were many ques­tions to solve, notably, that of fron­tiers. For this, there would be need to nego­ti­ate with Bag­dad, even if it took years.”
His inter­nal Kur­dish oppo­si­tion returned the “com­pli­ment” by using this ref­er­en­dum as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to advance toward a Kur­dish uni­ty that would not be “nation­al­is­tic”, but veered toward pro­pos­als to end the cri­sis in the region along with the pop­u­la­tions vic­tim­ized by the ongo­ing wars.
The dif­fer­ence lies – and the Roja­va exam­ple is essen­tial to this reflec­tion – pre­cise­ly in the man­ner of ana­lyz­ing the crises of the nation-states in the region, their ori­gins and their con­se­quences on the peo­ple. And this dif­fer­ence in the polit­i­cal approach nec­es­sar­i­ly leads to avoid­ing mecani­cal addi­tions as if to pro­vide a miss­ing link in the late Sykes-Picot agree­ments of 1916.

In very prac­ti­cal terms, the ref­er­en­dum has caused a qua­si unan­i­mous wave of inter­na­tion­al diplo­mat­ic repro­ba­tion, from the very ones who, in order to resolve the crises, have always pro­posed re-appor­tion­ments or the cre­ation of new States, as was done in Europe in the nineties.
For over a cen­tu­ry, lib­er­al cap­i­tal­ism has always sworn by noth­ing oth­er than its classics.
And yet, the after-ISIS is vis­i­bly far from being thought out by the inter­na­tion­al or region­al pro­tag­o­nists, and the nest­ing-doll arrange­ments of the future Mid­dle-East­ern nego­ti­a­tion tables are end­less­ly in the process of being con­sti­tut­ed. The urgency remains in stretch­ing out the dura­tion of the wait.

The vic­to­ry in Mossul achieved over a hecatomb of civil­ians and sol­diers his­to­ry will recall as “war vic­tims”, with an offi­cial num­ber to be pro­vid­ed at a lat­er date, was soon eclipsed by what is more than a “stiff­en­ing” on the part of the cen­tral Ira­ki gov­ern­ment, goad­ed by its Iran­ian allies.
You know of the block­ade ini­ti­at­ed as a retal­i­a­tion against the ref­er­en­dum results. A cur­few was even imposed in Kirkuk.

I appeal to all : we do not want an armed con­fronta­tion. We do not want con­fronta­tions. But fed­er­al author­i­ty must pre­vail,” declared Ira­ki Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Aba­di, dur­ing a vis­it in Paris. The new French Pres­i­dent replied that he was “plead­ing for the recog­ni­tion of the Kur­dish rights with­in the frame­work of the Con­sti­tu­tion and that there exist­ed a path respect­ful of the people’s rights which allowed for the preser­va­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion­al frame­work and the sta­bil­i­ty and ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty of Irak.” His words on Cat­alo­nia [Eng­lish trans­la­tion to fol­low] were prac­ti­cal­ly a copy and paste of these.
For their part, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment and the Iran­ian lead­ers blew both hot and cold, with threats and block­ade measures.
Erdoğan had already declared shut the “faucets” for oil refin­ery of crude oil from the Kur­dish Ira­ki zones, along with oth­er breach­es to the cir­cu­la­tion of mer­chan­dise and food sup­plies. He massed tanks on the bor­der in sup­port of his words.

Every­one knows that the region­al lead­ers can’t live up to the anti-Kur­dish ambi­tions they dis­play so osten­si­bly. But the glob­al cri­sis in the Mid­dle East caus­es legit­i­mate inse­cu­ri­ties, hav­ing demon­strat­ed that war­like log­ic and bar­bar­i­ty lead to uncon­trol­lable outcomes.

From the per­spec­tive of Iran and of Turkey, Irak and Syr­ia are indi­vis­i­ble and inde­pen­dent enti­ties. We will accept no mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the fron­tiers”, Rohani declared dur­ing Erdoğan’s vis­it in Teheran on Octo­ber 4. Erdoğan used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to issue new threats, in accord with his sud­dent­ly dis­cov­ered “Iran­ian homologue”.
Claim­ing the ref­er­en­dum caused the “rap­proche­ment” would be a mis­take. It only serves as an occa­sion for its dis­play. Besides Turkey and Iran’s wish­es to “do com­merce” again, the AKP pol­i­cy is read­just­ing with­in the fog of the Amer­i­can posi­tions, and fol­low­ing judi­cious advice from the new Russ­ian ally. And what it most mat­ters to remem­ber of these meet­ings are the appli­ca­tion of the agree­ments in the so-called de-esca­la­tion zones in Syr­ia and the com­mon deploy­ment of “ded­i­cat­ed forces”. We can wager that Erdoğan will inter­pret that as a blank check for his mil­i­tary pres­ence and that of his sup­port troops in the Syr­i­an fron­tier zones, espe­cial­ly along­side the can­ton of Afrîn. In fact, one of his min­is­ters declared that “every­thing was at the ready.”

When you add up all these bits of infor­ma­tion, meet­ings, threats and ges­tic­u­la­tions, you real­ize that the ref­er­en­dum served more as an excuse for the wolves to sur­face out of the woods than it changed the deal for the Kurds in the region, and even less for the pop­u­la­tions as a whole.
The Iran­ian gov­ern­ment pur­sues its repres­sion of minori­ties, while the Bag­dad gov­ern­ment recov­ers its legit­im­i­ty and drapes itself in the diplo­mat­ic “Mossul vic­to­ry”, the fed­er­al enti­ty in North­ern Syr­ia is under direct threat, as Raqqa is about to fall…

So this ref­er­en­dum was noth­ing more than a survey?

The pop­u­la­tions involved obvi­ous­ly do not see it that way. But real­i­ty con­firms the views of those who, although not oppos­ing it, con­sid­ered this con­sul­ta­tion with­out real pos­si­bil­i­ties for tan­gi­ble results, giv­en the very struc­tures of the autonomous region, the absence of demo­c­ra­t­ic func­tion­ing, and the absence of true ter­ri­to­r­i­al lim­its in eco­nom­i­cal­ly rich and con­test­ed zones.
Kur­dish rejoicers face a titan­ic job in order to come togeth­er on a polit­i­cal project. And those who, out of prag­ma­tism, call for this uni­fi­ca­tion, also know per­fect­ly well that it will come up against fun­da­men­tal class, social and envi­ron­men­tal ques­tions it will have to resolve through a com­mon path for the peo­ple involved, as a solu­tion to the Mid­dle East­ern crises.

The bud­ding project in Roja­va is one such path, a frag­ile one, and still sur­round­ed by wars. The ref­er­en­dum will not have con­tributed to con­sol­i­dat­ing it in any way.
In a pre­vi­ous chron­i­cle, I wrote : “Play­ing the win­ning ref­er­en­dum card in this con­text where all the eco­nom­i­cal, polit­i­cal, mil­i­tary and reli­gious con­flicts find no oth­er out­lets than a war of inter­na­tion­al inter­ests between imper­alisms, in which the canon fod­der is sup­plied local­ly, is noth­ing oth­er than an addi­tion­al unpinned grenade.”

I admit we could be less pes­simistic, but the recon­quer­ing of Raqqa by the FDS will bet­ter open my eyes and pro­vide more of a rea­son to plant a rose­bush for its flow­er­ing at the next Newroz.

Trans­la­tion by Renée Lucie Bourges

En français : “Kur­dis­tan • Un référen­dum pour quoi faire (suites)” Cliquez pour lire

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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…