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Students, faculty react to Kurdish referendum

by Ian Down October 10, 2017
Students, faculty react to Kurdish referendum

Turkish Student Association Concordia fear referendum will spark violence

Kurds in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favour of establishing their own independent state on Sept. 25. In the aftermath of the referendum, which has received both support and criticism from the international community, Concordia students and faculty were divided in their feelings about Iraqi Kurdistan’s fight for independence.

Turkish Student Association Concordia (TSAC) condemned the independence movement in a written statement to The Concordian. “We don’t support any separative movements that might cause violence,” the organization wrote. “Moreover, we don’t separate our members as Kurdish or Turkish. For us, we are one together.”

“I suggest you also support peace,” the statement continued. “What happened is very sad news that will potentially cause more violence in the region.”

This statement was in line with the Turkish government’s official stance on the referendum. The country fears the creation of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan could encourage an independence movement among its own Kurds, who represent 15 to 20 per cent of Turkey’s population according to the BBC. Quoted in The Independent on Sept. 30, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in.”

Juman Al-Mashta, president of the Iraqi Students’ Association at Concordia, declined to comment on the referendum, saying the association is only a “cultural association” with “no official stance” on the issue. According to CNN, the Iraqi government has declared the referendum “unconstitutional” and is prepared to use violence to suppress separatism in the region.

Concordia professor Richard Foltz said he doesn’t foresee violence in the region. As an expert in Iranian civilization, his field of study has often brought him into contact with the culture, history and society of the Kurds, an Iranian people. He said he believes it is in Turkey’s best interest to maintain its trading relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan and to have a relatively stable democracy on its southern border.

He said Canada should break away from the United States’ foreign policy by officially backing Kurdish aspirations for independence. Foltz acknowledged that any referendum for independence around the world may be a “sore spot” for Canada, given Quebec’s history of referendums for sovereignty.

According to Foltz, since the time of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, who successfully kept Canada out of the Iraq war, “Canada’s foreign policy has been dictated by Washington.” He said the United States is “trying to play both sides” by “supporting the Kurds militarily on the one hand, while at the same time [having] this stubborn insistence on maintaining the integrity of Iraq.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has avoided publicly taking a side on the issue. However, a week before the referendum, Canada participated in a joint meeting of foreign officials, organized by the U.S. State Department, which collectively agreed the referendum should not take place, according to the National Post.

Foltz said he does not know whether or not the Kurds will gain independence. However, “the Kurds will never, ever give up their quest for independence,” he added.

“There is nothing that anybody can do or say that will entice them to renounce that aspiration,” Foltz said. “I think that any foreign policy—be it Canada’s or America’s or Russia’s or Iran’s or Turkey’s—if it wants to be a successful foreign policy, it needs to begin with that understanding.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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