Turkish President Erdoğan to Kurds in Iraq: Cancel independence referendum

Turkish President Erdoğan to Kurds in Iraq: Cancel independence referendum

Turkish President Erdoğan to Kurds in Iraq: Cancel independence referendum President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has once again reiterated Ankara’s stance on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) planned independence referendum in northern Iraq, saying “it should not be carried out.” 

“Let me say this very clearly: We have always defended Iraq’s territorial integrity from the beginning. We did it when no one else was doing so. This referendum shouldn’t be carried out. They are living as Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds altogether there,” Erdoğan told PBS NewsHour in an interview in New York, drawing attention to the fact that Turkey has a 350-kilometer-long border with Iraq.

“How can we as Turkey accept such a referendum when we have a 350-kilometer-long border with Iraq? Iran doesn’t seem to be on the same side as this referendum either, and the same goes for Iraq federal government. So how can you decide on such a thing by yourselves, only as northern Iraq? We don’t accept this decision,” he said. 

The decision to hold the independence referendum has been criticized by Ankara, Baghdad, the United States and other Western powers. However, KRG leader Masoud Barzani has pushed forward with his plans, vowing to go ahead with the vote planned for Sept. 25. 

Erdoğan had on Sept. 19 warned of “sanctions” against the KRG if it proceeds with the referendum. 

“We have always supported the KRG,” he told reporters after his address at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, complaining that Arbil’s approach “amounts to ignoring the Republic of Turkey, which has stood by it and counted it as a close ally.”

The cabinet and the National Security Council (MGK) will convene on Sept. 22 to make a final decision, Erdoğan said.  

“The cabinet will undoubtedly evaluate this situation and assess possible sanctions, which will not be ordinary. We will express our determined stance on this,” he added.        

In his address at the U.N., the Turkish president also warned that the vote could spark “new crises” in the region.

“There is a need for consensus that would be reached based on the territorial integrity of Iraq and realization of the ideals to build a common future. Steps such as demands for independence that might cause new crises and clashes in the region should be avoided,” Erdoğan said. 

“From here, we are calling on the Iraqi Kurdish regional administration to give up its attempt in this direction. Ignoring Turkey’s clear and determined stance on this issue could pave the way for a process that would deprive the Iraqi KRG of the opportunities in its hand,” he added.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, meanwhile, said Barzani is “playing with fire” that will “burn the Kurds first.” 

“This is a dangerous path. Barzani is playing with fire. The right thing to do is to give up playing with this fire, submit to common sense, and cancel the referendum,” Bozdağ said on Sept. 20.

“Turkey’s stance on the subject is clear and this clarity will make [Ankara] take further steps if it is necessary. This referendum is a big bomb to the peace, stability and environment of trust in the region. In order to prevent further destruction from this bomb, give it up immediately,” he added. 

Another statement on the referendum came from Moscow, which has up to now mostly remained silent on the issue.

“Russia’s position is the one in favor of the territorial integrity of regional states,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Sept. 20, adding that he would refrain from commenting on whether the results of the vote will be recognized by Moscow.