Top Developments in the lives of the Iraqi Kurds: Why it MattersThe fight against ISIS and the turbulence in the Middle East has adversely impacted Iraqi Kurds recently. The poverty rate in Iraqi Kurdistan has quadrupled to 15 percent, largely due to the fight against ISIS, civilian casualties, the influx of refugees and insuperable pressure on resources. One in 10 Iraqi Kurds live below the internationally recognized poverty line.

Since 2014, over a million refugees have arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2015, the World Bank estimated that the Kurdistan Region needs $1.4 billion in humanitarian response. The number of internally displaced persons to the region continues to increase.

The Kurds are an important ethnic group in the Middle East, often recognized for their efforts to achieve self-governance. Iraqi Kurdistan is a rather controversial oil-rich region, with especially large reserves in the province of Kirkuk. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been the ruling body of Iraqi Kurdistan since 1992. In 2005, the Iraqi Constitution officially recognized the autonomy of the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The Iraqi Kurds have played a pivotal role in the combat against ISIS. The Iraqi Kurdish forces are a vital part of the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State. Despite accounting for close to 20 percent of the population in Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds have suffered a slew of human rights violations over the years and have been oppressed due to their “minority” status. In most recent years, these attacks can be traced back to the time of Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War.

Moreover, the KRG faces many obstacles in its path to win a pending referendum and mend the infrastructure and administration in the country. The economy, resources and commerce of the region is in a poor state. The government is facing problems in financing the incomes of the people in many conclaves, as individuals are only receiving about half of their monthly salaries. The KRG is also working on improving the transparency and accountability of state financial institutions and businesses in the region to regulate the channeling of public funds.

Even though unemployment has peaked at more than 13.5 percent due to labor immobility and the lack of labor market reforms, the World Bank is still spearheading reform plans for the future. The Iraqi Kurds face a rather uncertain future ahead of them, given the clamorous events of the past and present. Self- determination has been an unavailing right for many. In a landmark move, a referendum is being called for Kurdish independence from Iraq.

However, the referendum is being eyed with a great degree of skepticism from the U.N., Iran, Turkey, Iraq and the United States. Iraqi President Haider al-Abadi is demanding a suspension to the referendum scheduled to be held on September 25, given the precarious position the region is currently in. Many are reminded of the Arab-Israeli conflicts that still impact many countries in the Middle East.

Many leaders have expressed that the referendum vote could potentially destabilize the region further, threaten Kurdish minorities and negatively affect the campaign against ISIS. Russia remains a strong ally of the Iraqi Kurds and is a major contributor to Kurdish oil and gas revenue. This will help bolster the region’s economic potential. Israel also remains another country pledging their support for the vote.

Furthermore, supporting the Iraqi Kurds’ right to establishing a sovereign state could also create safe zones and conclaves. This could effectually deal with the refugee crisis plaguing Iraq currently and help offer a more sustainable solution to the problem in the long run.

Contrary to what many entities believe, the vote could prove to be successful in ushering more progress and development, both socially and economically. It can also pave the way for improved relations in the region and put an end to the suppression of Kurds in many landlocked regions in the Middle East and finally liberate an important minority group.

-Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

The Kurdish Democracy Model
In Northern Syria, the Kurdish communities have established three administrative and autonomous regions. These regions are called cantons and each enjoys their own legislative, administrative and legal bodies. Although these cantons are part of the Syrian territory, the Kurdish communities enjoyed autonomy in the wake of the Syrian crisis and oppression from the Islamic State fighters. These three cantons are named Afrin, Jezira and Kobani.

The Kurdish democracy model is an outcome of the Rojava movement, which seeks autonomy for Kurdish communities in Syria. The model is manifested in the Rojava constitution, which is also known as the social contract. It was approved on Jan. 6, 2016.

The preamble of the constitution reads as: “We the peoples of the democratic autonomous regions…by our free will have announced this contract to establish justice, freedom and democracy … without discrimination on the basis of religion, language, faith sect or gender.”

This Kurdish democracy model does not accept any imposed ideas of nation-state, centralized, military or religious state. It solemnly believes in human rights, democracy, free will and strives to protect those goals no matter what the cost is.

In every canton, there is a Legislative Assembly, an Executive Assembly, a High Election Commission, a Constitutional Assembly and Regional Assemblies. The Rojava Movement resembles historic acts of resistance such as the Algerian war against France and the Warsaw battle against invading Germany.

The Rojava cantons are remarkable examples of beacons of hope emerging from the Syrian civil war. Rojava maintained its independence and created its own democracy. In the Kurdish democracy model, the top three officials have to be from Arab, Kurdish and an Assyrian/Armenian Christian. One of these has to be women. In this phase of the Kurdish struggle, the Kurdish democracy model could start a global movement towards a better implementation of democracy and a cooperative socioeconomic model.

Financial Times describes the Kurdish democratic model as a power to people model. It is a radical experiment in narrow stretches of Northern Syria. In Rojava, which is hard to access due to Turkish blockade, the authority rests in the communal level (the village). In the villages, every social group has a say in decision making. The communities enjoy self-governing measures.

Furthermore, all minorities are included and everyone gets a chance to speak and participate in governing matters. This might seem radical to even the old-established democracies. But for the Kurds, after decades of oppression, this is one thing to look forward upon with eyes full of hope.

Noman Ahmed

Photo: Flickr