Northern Iraq, Catalonia and Turkish Cyprus

Northern Iraq, Catalonia and Turkish Cyprus

There appears to be some confusion regarding recent secessionist moves, with lots of action but little results. But do Catalonia, northern Iraq and Turkish Cyprus share any points in common?

Memories of the repressive Franco regime underpin the secessionist drive in Catalonia. Catalans cannot forget or forgive their traumatic past, even if their current advanced autonomy is little short of full independence. Not only does democratic Spain address their political, cultural and social rights but the region has flourished as the most advanced economy of the country. Madrid is also not guilty of social, political or economic neglect.

With regard to the EU umbrella and the “common European policy” that restricts Madrid’s sovereignty, what difference would a separate Catalan state make anyway? If Catalans kept Spanish citizenship, remained part of the EU, but still went ahead with independence, what would independence do apart from satisfy the ego of some local politicians?

The Catalan people retain the right to self-determination. They cannot be denied that right. But if self-determination affects the rest of the country, the government in Madrid and indeed the entire country should have a say. Otherwise the move would represent an unacceptable unilateral declaration of independence.

The Catalans did not calculate Madrid’s reaction well. Those behind the independence referendum paid a heavy price. Catalans suffered. Now a process of a “new beginning” is underway.

The Kurds of northern Iraq cannot be compared with the Catalans or the Turkish Cypriots. Does anyone remember “Operation Poised Hammer” or the “No-fly zone” that aimed to protect Kurds from the wrath of Iraq’s ruthless dictator, Saddam Hussein? Who were behind those efforts? Americans, Israelis, Germany, the U.K., and so on.

What happened next? A Kurdish zone came into being. Although never recognized by Saddam, this region became an autonomous area in the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, strengthening its status even as the freshly “democratized Iraq” suffered sectarian violence, foreign occupation and Islamic terror. As a result, pre- and post-Gulf War developments have elevated Kurdish territory in northern Iraq to the level of undeclared statehood.

In the recent independence referendum push, which ended with a vote on Sept. 25, Masoud Barzani and his local government became too greedy. They wanted Kirkuk, Mosul, border gates with Turkey and Iran, as well as a higher share of the country’s petrochemical riches. The end result? As he was stepping down, Barzani cried that the Americans had betrayed him, while senior Kurdish officials lamented their inability to imagine Ankara and Tehran aligning with Baghdad against the referendum. But surely no one with brains could seriously think Turkey and Iran would sit back and watch a development unfold that might affect their own country’s security.

Iraqi Kurds and Catalans enjoyed autonomy. They wanted to separate from the rest of the country without trying to reach a compromise first.

The Turkish Cypriots, however, were partners with Greek Cypriots in the sovereignty, governance and territory of Cyprus on a “7-to-3” basis.

In 1963-64 the Turkish Cypriots were forcibly expelled from the partnership government. Ever since then they have been trying to establish a federation and reunite the island, with their partnership rights restored. The Greek Cypriots, who occupied the partnership state, have refused any sort of compromise settlement and are waiting for Turkish Cypriots to exhaust themselves and surrender.

If Turkish Cypriots say federation hopes are dead, the time has come to begin a new round of talks, including a call for two separate states within the EU, which is not a unilateral declaration of independence but a call for a negotiated divorce.