The Kirkuk referendum could have the effect of transforming regional politics, should regional powers allow it to move forward. Syria and Turkey, in particular are both wary of the referendum's potential outcome, as they fear that if Kirkuk were to join with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), their own Kurdish populations would be empowered to push for greater autonomy, something they have long sought to repress.
In Syria, ethnic Kurds make up nearly 15% of the total population. Largely settled in the Northeast, Syria clearly regards Kurdish communities with unease. Syrian officials have limited the political and civil rights of members of these communities and marginalized them socially through systemic discrimination. Some 200,000 Syrian Kurds are deprived of citizenship and are unable to obtain passports, identity cards, or birth certificates, which in turn prevents them from owning land, obtaining government employment, voting, and travelling abroad. To keep visibility and organization to an absolute minimum, Kurdish political parties are also banned.
As many as 15 million Kurds live in Turkey today, primarily in the South and Southeast of the country. Though Turkey is far more liberal in its politics and in the rights it affords to its Kurdish population, the country still has concerns with ethnic Kurds, especially over the issue of Kurdistan. Turkey has been engaged in a long battle against the separatist group the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is considered by many a terrorist group with the stated end of establishing an independent Kurdistan. Turkey does not want to lose any territory or sovereignty to Kurdistan and Turkey has lobbied the government in Baghdad to postpone the referendum. It is important to consider throughout the operational planning phase that Turkey and Syria may have very strong incentives to interfere with the Kirkuk referendum if it appears likely that their interests will be undermined.
What is CKRO?
The Center for Kirkuk Referendum Operations (CKRO) is a collaborative initiative of the Center for Democracy and Society at Georgetown University. A policy institute and professional network, CKRO seeks to enable a successful vote in Iraq and refine the model for status referenda worldwide.
You can contact the Center at any time via email at CKRO@georgetown.edu.
From the Democracy and Society Blog
May 19, 2013
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