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An election and a referendum

Germans and Kurds exercise their voting rights to set their future course

An election and a referendum

n the face of it, the elections in Germany and the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan are two entirely different events with no apparent connection. But at least there is one common streak and i.e. the sanctity of votes and the superiority of the ballot over the bullet. Human societies have learned to respect the people’s right to vote over a period of centuries. No society in the modern world can be deemed civilised where just a few people belonging to a royal family or representing capitalists and feudal lords make decisions or civil and military bureaucrats usurp the power.

Before discussing the Kurds, some highlights of the recent elections in Germany. On September 24, German people elected Angela Merkel the chancellor of Germany for the fourth consecutive term. The Christian Democratic Party with its ally, the Christian Social Union, won over 35 per cent votes. Angela Merkel was elected chancellor for the first time in 2005, and since then she has remained at this position for 12 years without a break. After being elected for the fourth time she has joined the rank of her political mentor Helmut Kohl.

At her first election, she was just 51 and now she is 63 but her energy and verve have not waned. She has developed and displayed tremendous political sagacity and wisdom, especially during the past five years. The daughter of a priest in East Germany, she belonged to a conservative family, but her recent decisions and policies can hardly be called conservative. In the recent elections, her former ally Social Democratic Party could win just around 20 per cent votes, but this time around they are not willing to join a coalition government with Merkel.

The people should be allowed to express their choice through plebiscites or referendums. If any region and its people do not want to remain subjugated in the name of unity and faith, their declaration of independence should be respected, provided it is not the voice of a few disgruntled elements but of most of the nationality in question.

Rather, it is planning to play the role of an active opposition. In a way, the recent elections served as a test for Merkel’s pro-refugees policy that had angered many Germans. The most vocal opponent of this policy, Alternative for Germany (AfD), has strengthened its position substantially. It is worth appreciating that during the past couple of years, Merkel has admitted over one million migrants from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and has now successfully defended her position with another election win. The AfD is a narrow nationalist party that never hides its especial hatred for Muslims.

Mainly thanks to this anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric AfD has been able to get over 13 per cent votes and has emerged as the third largest party in the lower house. Interestingly, almost everybody knew that Angela Merkel would win the election but hardly anyone expected AfD to win that many seats. Most surveys had given them five to ten per cent of the votes cast, but AfD has managed to surpass all expectations. Now it will be the very first time, after the Second World War, that an extreme-right party is going to occupy seats in the parliament.

After the election results were announced, Merkel in her signature style expressed no remorse at AfD’s better than expected performance, rather she promised to listen to the concerns of the rightist voters to better understand them and entice them back to the centre. Many in Germany have started calling Merkel ‘a chancellor for life’ or ‘a perpetual chancellor’. Not only that, she is now increasingly seen as the leader of the ‘free world’. It was a term mostly used by America during the Cold-War era when the Soviet-dominated socialist bloc was dubbed as an enslaved world whereas the USA arrogated to itself the title of ‘the leader of the free world’.

Kurdish people attend a rally to show their support for the upcoming September 25th independence referendum in Duhuk

The UK considered itself the second in command, but now Merkel has emerged as the undisputed leader of the ‘free world’ where the wretched of the earth are making a beeline. In this transformation, at least two important events at the world level have played a decisive role. First was the election of Donald ‘Dumb’ Trump as POTUS, and the second was the elevation of a lackluster Teresa May to the premiership of Great Britain. With their new isolationist policies, both the UK and the USA have embarked upon a journey to negate their own ideals.

The ideals that the ‘free world’ had been propagating in the name of globalisation i.e. free movement of capital, goods, and services. Though the idea of free movement of people was limited to only a select few countries, even that is almost abandoned by the UK and the USA. Now with its open arms for the refugees, Germany has taken the leadership role with Merkel as the godmother. The positive politics practiced by Merkel has been appreciated and it is expected to play a catalyst for German economy and for the European Union.

Germany is already the biggest European economy and in need of new hands to buttress its agricultural, manufacturing, and services sectors. It has already launched skills-development programmes for the newcomers with the German language-proficiency courses in tandem. Reports suggest that many of the newcomers into Germany have already joined the workforce where physical labour and skills are more important than accuracy and fluency in the German language. Soon these new cogs in the German economy will be shouldering the burden of a depleting German youth. In this regard, the entire German nation deserves appreciation for reelecting the woman chancellor who is so sagacious and wise.

Now coming to the Iraqi Kurdistan, an independence is in the offing. On Monday, September 25, a referendum was held while Iran and Turkey kept their borders closed in the adjoining Kurd areas of their own countries. The Kurds are scattered among five countries in that region including Iran, Iraq, Israel, Turkey, and Syria. Estimates put the total Kurd population around the world somewhere between 30 to 40 million people. Out of which 15 to 20 million Kurds are reported to be living in Turkey alone. The second is Iran where 10 to 12 million Kurds reside.

Iraq is reported to have the third largest Kurdish population in the world with around six to eight million people. Syrian Kurdish population estimates range between two to three million. In addition to these countries the largest Kurdish diaspora is in Germany where almost a million Kurds live. One reason for the Turkish President Erdogan’s recent anger at Germany is that Germany recognizes them as Kurds while Turkey insists that all of them are Turks and does not recognize Kurdish as a district language and nation despite the fact that Kurds are one of the most civilised nationalities in that region.

Every Kurd is usually proficient in two to three languages such as Arabic, Kurdish, Persian, and Turkish. The recent referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan has perturbed Turkey the most as its own 15 to 20 per cent population consists of Kurds. Since 1991, Iraqi Kurdistan has been enjoying a limited autonomous status that was formalised in 2005 with even more powers devolved from the Iraqi federation to the provinces.

In Iran, the situation of the Kurds is somewhere in the middle of what it is in Iraq and Turkey. Iran does have a province called Kurdistan but it is not as autonomous as in Iraq, neither are Iranian Kurds as persecuted as they are in Turkey.

As a civil war raged in Syria, the Kurdish rebels occupied the Kurd-majority areas bordering Iraq. It is anticipated that if Iraqi Kurdistan wins its complete freedom from Iraq and becomes a new country, the Syrian Kurd areas may join it. Especially America and Israel would prefer such an outcome because both want to weaken Syria as a country and a breakup would be an ideal for anti-Asad powers. Both Iran and Turkey are troubled at the possible emergence of an independent Kurdistan. Both fear that their own Kurdish regions may intensify demands for a separate Kurdish homeland.

The president of Iraq, Haider al-Ibadi, has warned that Iraq would do everything to keep the country intact, but in the given circumstances such warnings appear to be hollow. To conclude we may stress that be it Kurdistan or Kashmir, nowhere a central government should have the right to deny its citizens the right to self-determination. The people should be allowed to express their choice through plebiscites or referendums. If any region and its people do not want to remain subjugated in the name of unity and faith, their declaration of independence should be respected, provided it is not the voice of a few disgruntled elements but of most of the nationality in question.

And the best way to determine this is through a plebiscite or a referendum. Most freedom movements emerge from a prolonged denial of people’s rights and an unnecessary insistence on the supremacy of one language or nation. When a majority of a certain nationality wants independence, in most cases it is not out of place.

Dr Naazir Mahmood

Naazir Mahmood
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator.

One comment

  • As far as Kashmir is concerned, it seems to me that things are not so simple. I don’t support human rights abuses. I also don’t agree with ethnic cleansing. In my opinion we shouldn’t have any more 1947s. J&K is not Scotland or Quebec or Czechoslovakia. There is a good article in Dawn today.

    About the Kurds, I don’t have much information but the various governments involved ought to agree to stop suppressing their language and culture and allow Kurds to communicate with each other freely. Kurds should be satisfied with this if offered. My impression is that Turkey is the chief culprit in suppressing the Kurds over the decades.

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