Despite threats, Kurds vote in historic independence referendum

World Today

A Supporter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, flashes the victory sign during a demonstration demanding the release of Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan, in front of the United Nations Headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Ocalan, the founder of the PKK, was captured in Kenya after being forced to leave a Greek diplomatic mission there in 1999, and was sentenced to death for leading an insurgency fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Early indications suggest that voters in Kurdistan’s independence referendum have chosen to split from Iraq. Many polling station in Erbil recorded high turnouts as Kurds participated in the historic vote, with few participants dissuaded by external opposition.

CGTN’s Tony Cheng reports.

After an independence campaign that lasted for more than a century, will Monday mark the establishment of a long-sought Kurdish homeland?

For 90-year-old Farida Shamon, it was a day she thought she’d never see. A lifelong resident of Erbil, Farida was able to cast her vote for an independent nation.

“Have you never been here before?” she asked. “Look how beautiful this place is. Why shouldn’t we have our own country?”

Her son, Jamal Younis, wasn’t afraid of threats from neighboring countries that independence would lead to isolation.

“We aren’t worried about Iran and Turkey. We’re in Kurdistan, and we like brother Massoud Barzani.”

President Barzani, the architect of the referendum, cast his vote early. He said he will step down, but independence would make a spectacular legacy.

Voting also went ahead in disputed territories once controlled by ISIL but now in the hands of the Kurdish Peshmerga militia. These same areas could soon become flashpoints once again, with the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad demanding troops be sent to seize the territory.

The Kurds said they will not be deterred, however. High in the mountains, Sirwan Barzani, a nephew of the President and senior member of the ruling KDP, rallied support.

He maintained that union with Baghdad only brings further instability and threats.

“So now we will go through the real democratic process, the referendum. Why does nobody support this process? This is the question: why?” Barzani asked. “And another question, which I didn’t get an answer to from anybody: what is the benefit of this famous union Iraq?”

The election process appears to have gone smoothly for the most part, with everybody getting their chance to cast a ballot. But if as expected an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote for independence is recorded, the  Kurdish administration will face a difficult task managing a stable and peaceful relationship with the government in Baghdad.

Edmund Ghareeb on Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum and regional reaction

To discuss how Kurdistan’s referendum could shift things in Iraq and the region overall, CGTN’s Mike Walter spoke with Edmund Ghareeb. He’s a scholar and specialist in Middle East affairs.