It has been nearly 100 years since the world promised the Kurdish people a nation of their own. That promise came as World War I drew to an end. At a Paris peace conference, the victors in that great war signed the Treaty of Sevres, which guaranteed self-determination for the Kurds and named them specifically as overdue for nationhood.
Tragically, it was a promise that could not withstand the complexities of the Arab world and European dreams inflamed by oil. Instead of nationhood, the Kurds were bundled into a newly conceived entity called Iraq.
They would suffer much in the next 100 years as a result. Their own government in Baghdad would often treat them as enemies, the Western powers would alternatively ignore and betray them, and for decades Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime would seek to wipe them from the face of the earth.
Now, though, at long last, the Kurdish moment has come. On Sept. 25, the Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq will conduct a referendum on independence. If it passes, as it surely will, the Kurdish people will have made their intentions known to a watching world. We will be free. We will have a nation of our own. We will have a place among the nations of the earth.
When this moment comes, the United States and her allies ought to hasten to support Kurdish independence in every way possible and with every resource available.
This is certainly because a promise was made to the Kurdish people and its fulfillment is long overdue. Yet there is more.
The Kurds are the largest people group in the world — 35 million strong — who do not have a homeland of their own. Denying them a place among the nations any longer would make a mockery of Western declarations about human rights, ethnic self-determination and international justice.
The West should also support Kurdish independence because the Kurds represent what we hope for the future of the Middle East. They are fiercely pro-democracy, Western-friendly, and, surprisingly, positive toward Israel.
They are also intent upon a free-market society. In the days between Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against them and the rise of ISIS, days in which the Iraqi Kurds could take their affairs into their own hands, they put out the welcome mat to foreign investment in a stunningly innovative 2006 investment law; connected the Erbil Stock Exchange to the NASDAQ; declared war on the vestiges of Baathist regime socialism; and began encouraging entrepreneurship on a vast scale.
The result? In 2013, the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan found themselves on the “must visit” lists of National Geographic, Conde Nast and The New York Times. This in a recent war zone. The transformation the Kurds effected was a miracle. Then, of course, ISIS struck. Other priorities rushed to the fore.
The Iraqi Kurds are also what the West should want the Middle East to be in matters of religion. Though the Kurds are 97 percent Muslim, they are moderate and open. There is a Christian department in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). There is also a Yazidi department, that religious minority ISIS has so bloodily targeted in recent years. The senior mullah of Kurdistan has said, “I am a Kurd first, a Muslim second. I will not allow the radicalism of other Middle Eastern nations to torment us in Kurdistan.”
This is all the democratic nations of the world might hope for. And the Kurds are leading the way.
A promise has been made, then. A people have prepared themselves. They have proven themselves ready. Their time has now come. We must stand with the Kurdish people as their moment in history dawns.
There will, of course, be birth pangs. Nearby nations will oppose Kurdish independence and blood will likely be shed. The Kurds themselves will understandably stumble along the way. No nation comes into the world fully formed. Yet come into the world as a free and independent nation they must.
Our destined role is to be vigilant midwives to this historic birth and to hope that one day we may say of Kurdistan, in the words of one of her poets, that
From this day on
She was a flute,
And the hand of the wind
Endowed her wounds with melodies,
She has been singing ever since for the world.
• Stephen Mansfield is a faith and culture commentator and best-selling author of over 20 books, including “The Miracle of the Kurds: A Remarkable Story of Hope Reborn in Northern Iraq” (Worthy Publishing, 2014). He is also founder of The Mansfield Group (StephenMansfield.TV), a media training firm based in Washington, D.C.
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