American air strikes against Islamist militants on the borders of Kurdistan this week saved millions of Kurds from a terrible nightmare. But I hope they didn’t also kill our dream of an independent state. Only a few weeks ago, Kurds were talking of declaring independence and forever separating from Iraq. We set up an electoral commission for a referendum; Iraqi flags disappeared from the tops of government buildings and amateur Kurdish banknotes began to circulate on the Internet. We had never felt closer to having our own state than we did in the past two months.
We were given this chance by the Islamist fighters who swept across Iraq, took over Sunni provinces and removed the Iraqi army—our historical nemesis—from our immediate borders. But now it seems that this same group has ruined our chance by attacking us too. Now that the United States is helping the Kurds with air power, I’m not sure if we can speak of independence anymore. The world might consider us the spoiled kid who keeps asking for more.
We might keep quiet for now, but this demand of millions of Kurds for a state of our own will resurface again. The Islamist militants aren’t going to roam along our borders forever, and the American bombing campaign will one day stop. Then we will take to the street again, wave the colorful Kurdish flag and pursue our lifelong goal.
This doesn’t mean we are opportunists. It rather means that only an independent state could answer our plight. I speak for the Kurds of Iraq. We haven’t had a happy experience with Iraq. Genocide, imprisonment, persecution and deportation have been our share in that country. There isn’t a single Kurdish family that doesn’t carry the scars of a loss. Many mothers are still waiting for the bones of their sons and daughters—buried by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s—to be found and brought home from the southern deserts of Iraq.
In Iraq we have a term, “Kurdish-Arab brotherhood,” that was coined and promoted by successive regimes. But the truth is more like Kurdish-Arab suspicion and distrust. The Kurds see Iraq as the cause of all their miseries and Iraq thinks the Kurds are the reason that the country has never been stable.
Both sides are right. Iraq has brutalized us for decades, and we have fought Baghdad politically and militarily for years. The Kurds and Iraq are like a couple that starts another fight every time they try to make up. It is a forced and loveless marriage and we need a wise judge to speed up an inevitable divorce.
A country for the Kurds will also spare the world a lot of headache. Western leaders have to pause for a moment and think how many times they have had to rush in and save the Kurds from Iraq. It has happened three times in my own life.
In 1991, when I was 12 years old, we prayed that the West would come and save us from a vengeful Iraqi army that had just been defeated by the allied forces in Kuwait, and they did. They imposed a no-fly-zone in northern Iraq and prevented a genocide. Again in 2003, we hoped that George W. Bush would topple Saddam Hussein because we feared a retaliatory chemical attack from Baghdad.
Now for a third time in less than 30 years, I see again the Western powers sending fighter jets to protect the Kurds from yet another catastrophe. For how long is the world going to do this? If they are not tired of it, the Kurds definitely are. It is absurd to tell the Kurds to stay with Iraq and then scramble fighter jets every 10 years to save them from that same country.
Part of the hostility towards the Kurds from their neighbors is because they see us as allies of the West. So now as the West is marking the centenary of the First World War that divided the Middle East and left the Kurds without a state, it is time they redeemed themselves and let the Kurds join the world community as a sovereign state.
The artificial borders of the Middle East aren’t so sacred to cling to so dearly, nor is Kurdistan a sleeping giant to be afraid of. Autonomous for 20 years, the Kurds have already passed the test for statehood. The Kurdistan Region is a place where religious and ethnic groups live side by side and the Kurds have maintained friendly relations with the East and West without holding our past tragedies against anyone.
Ayub Nuri is a Kurdish journalist from Halabja, Iraqi Kurdistan. He is editor-in-chief of Rudaw English.