Catalans and Kurds have a long battle ahead for true independence



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People raise hands during a protest as Catalan regional police officers stand guard outside the
National Police station in Barcelona.
Reuters/Yves Herman

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Secession movements come not in ones but twos, it seems. In the space of a week, two regions in which national groups have chafed at central government diktat have voted overwhelmingly for independence.

In both cases, these protest votes are having ramifications far beyond the nationalist movements that have been agitating for a separation from the states in which they reside.

In each case, central government resistance risks further upheaval, even civil conflict in the case of the Iraqi Kurds, whose cause is threatened not simply by the Iraqi government in Baghdad but by surrounding states.

Meanwhile, there was confirmation overnight of overwhelming support in a referendum in the Catalan region of Spain for independence from Madrid.

Of the 2.26 million who cast ballots, more than 90% voted “yes”. However, a significant number of Catalans opposed to separation from Madrid simply did not vote.

After threatening to declare independence within four days, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is now calling for European Union mediation, indicating that he recognises limitations on the validity of the poll. He said:

It is not a domestic matter. We don’t want a traumatic break … We want a new understanding with the Spanish state.

Under Spain’s 1978 Constitution, which ended decades of Franco-led fascist rule, the country’s Constitutional Court declared the Catalan poll had no legal status and so its results were invalid.

On the other hand, Spain’s beleaguered leadership can hardly ignore the Catalan plebiscite. Resorting to force in which scores have been injured over recent days in clashes between police and nationalists is clearly not the answer to this rupture in the country’s unity.

The best case for Spain and European amity would seem to lie in agreement on greater autonomy for Catalonia, Spain’s wealthiest region wedged in its north-east on the Mediterranean coast by a mountainous border with France.


Further reading: As Spain represses Catalonia’s show of independence, the rest of Europe watches on nervously


A week ago, in a far more troubled corner of the world, Iraqi Kurds voted overwhelmingly for separation from Baghdad. Of those who cast ballots, 93% voted “yes”.

Commentators were quick to hail the vote as an “irreversible step toward independence”, in the words of Peter Galbraith, a former American diplomat and longstanding advocate for Kurdish separateness.

But that early optimism among supporters of Kurdish independence may prove to be misplaced, given forces arrayed against such an outcome.

The Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad threatened force to prevent oil-rich Kurdistan’s separation, and other players in the neighbourhood have made their opposition clear.

Kurdish people protest outside the Erbil International Airport in Erbil, Iraq.
Reuters/Azad Lashkari

Iran, with a sizeable Kurdish minority of its own living in areas contiguous with Iraqi Kurdistan, closed its borders and made threatening noises if the Kurds persisted.

Turkey, which has its own Kurdish separatist problem that has cost something like 40,000 lives, has warned that it is considering closing border crossings into Kurdistan, thus strangling lifelines to the outside world.

Implied in Ankara’s response to the Kurdish vote is a threat to stop oil shipments via a pipeline across its territory from Kirkuk, stifling struggling Kurdistan’s main source of income.

A decline in oil prices has brought the local economy to its knees.

At the same time, Iraq, Turkey and Iran are planning joint military manoeuvres aimed at further isolating the beleaguered and seemingly friendless Kurds.

Baghdad has stopped flights from its territory to the two Kurdish international airports.

In civil-war scarred Damascus, Syria has also voice its opposition to Kurdish independence, in acknowledgement of its own Kurdish separatist problem.

In Washington, the administration poured cold water on Kurdish aspirations, thereby acknowledging that further destabilisation of a volatile region represents a threat to US interests. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said:

The United States does not recognize the Kurdistan Regional Government’s unilateral referendum held on Monday. The vote and results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.

Reactions of the putative state of Kurdistan’s neighbours is hardly surprising given the region’s brutal realpolitik. But this does little to disguise the fact that a post-first world war construct in the Middle East is under siege.

In the wash-up of the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the redrawing the region’s boundaries under a secret colonial-era accord between Britain and France, the Kurds can consider themselves hard done-by not to have been given their own state.

A century later, the Iran-backed and Shiite-dominated Iraqi state is under enormous stress, having ousted Islamic State from most of its strongholds in bloody conflict backed by the US and its allies, including Australia.

A sullen and disenfranchised Sunni minority, who had lent their support to a murderous IS, is a residue of longstanding tribal conflicts and tensions across Iraq.

The Kurds have effectively gone their own way since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But they have found that attachment to a corrupt Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad has been a drag on their national aspirations.

At the heart of difficulties between the Kurds and Iran-backed rulers in Baghdad is money. The Kurds can legitimately claim they are not receiving their fair share of oil revenues.

This is not to say the Kurds are blameless in the conduct of their affairs. A Barzani political fiefdom led by Maassoud Barzani has its share of critics, not least those who question its democratic credentials.

Barzani himself remains in power two years after his term as president has expired. The Kurdish parliament is virtually defunct, and members of the Barzani family occupy many of the government’s leading posts.

In all of this, it is reasonable to speculate what might have been if a push in 2006 for a separation of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite enclaves had been countenanced.

This was a solution proposed by then Senator, later Vice President Joe Biden. Indeed, back then the Senate passed a resolution supporting the Biden proposal.

A re-emergence of Kurdish separatist demands is merely one consequence of upheavals that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It was an adventure that has cost the American taxpayer upwards of a trillion dollars and contributed to the de-stabilisation of the entire region.

In their separate bids for independence – or greater autonomy – the Kurds and the Catalans are facing gale-force headwinds.

Neither case has international support – although both the Kurds and the Catalans have their sympathisers. The Scots, for example, have expressed support for Catalan aspirations.

The two also have to reckon with resistance more generally to secessionist movements.

The last nation to win independence was landlocked South Sudan in 2011, with the backing of the international community. In that case, the independence referendum grew out of an internationally brokered peace agreement that ended Sudan’s long-running civil war.

Kosovo is another example of national aspirations that enjoyed widespread international support. Its declaration of independence from Serbia had the backing of the US and its European allies, but was opposed by the Serbian and Russians government.

While Kosovo is recognised by more than 100 countries, it has still not been admitted to the United Nations due to a Russian veto.

The ConversationThe Catalans and the Kurds have some way to go before they realise their aspirations. It is not clear that independence plebiscites shorn of international legitimacy will yield what some believe is their just rewards.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Islamic State News


Bomb Attack in Iraq Seriously Injures Christian Students


One person dead in explosions that end classes for students this semester.

ISTANBUL, May 5 (CDN) — At least 50 Iraqi Christian students are receiving hospital treatment following a bomb attack on Sunday (May 2) outside Mosul that killed at least one person and has forced nearly 1,000 students to drop classes for the rest of the semester.

Nearly 160 people were injured in the blasts targeting three buses full of Christians traveling to the University of Mosul for classes. The convoy of buses, which brings Christian students from villages east of Mosul, was making its daily route accompanied by two Iraqi army cars.

“This is the hardest attack, because they attacked not only one car, but the whole convoy and in an area that is heavily guarded by the army,” said Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mosul Georges Casmoussa.

The explosions happened east of Mosul between two checkpoints. A roadside bomb followed by a car bomb reportedly exploded as the buses were clearing the second checkpoint in the area of Kokjaly. The checkpoint was staffed by U.S., Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers.

The owner of a nearby car repair shop, Radeef Hashim Mahrook, was killed in one of the blasts as he tried to help the students, sources said.

Sources told Compass that lately there have been indications that Islamic extremists intend to increase attacks against Christians in more sophisticated and targeted ways. There were no warnings of the Sunday blasts.

Nearly 20 of the more seriously injured students are receiving treatment in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Casmoussa said the Turkish Consulate and the Kurdish Regional Government have offered to transfer students needing more medical care to Turkey.

“Some of them were severely injured in the face, arms, necks or eyes,” said Casmoussa. “Now the Turkish consulate and the government of Kurdistan offer us to bring the most injured to Turkey to continue the care.”

Many of Mosul’s Christians have fled the city after repeated violence targeting them and live in the villages east of the city. The students on Sunday’s convoy were from Qaraqosh, Karamless and Bartella, located nearly 32 kilometers (20 miles) away.

Over 1,000 Christian students, most belonging to internally displaced families, and about 100 university faculty and staff members commute to Mosul every week in buses belonging to the Syrian Catholic Bishopric. About 15 buses served the internally displaced Christian community daily.

“The project of transportation of students will be stopped,” said Casmoussa. “We can’t continue now.” 

While the church has focused on dealing with immediate medical needs, the bishop said the church simply could not take the responsibility of transporting students after such a calculated and fierce attack.

“The chief of army offered to help us again, but it is impossible,” said Casmoussa. “They were with us every day…yet this is the result. We don’t have another solution now.”

Last February, after attacks against Christians left three university students dead, the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union proposed that the Ministry of Education open a new university in a safer area on the Nineveh plains. Nearly 3,000 Christian undergraduate students and 250 graduate students are studying in Mosul.

Casmoussa said the Christian community is hoping the University of Mosul will help Christian students who are unwilling to commute to Mosul by sending faculty members to hold semester-end examinations in Qaraqosh.

“This is [an attack] against all the Christian people,” said Casmoussa. “Our culture is immense capital for the future to build our lives, not just to have bread to eat and continue life without any sense.”

Due to the violence against Christians in Mosul, Casmoussa relocated to the village of Qaraqosh three years ago, and commutes into the city to serve his diocese. On Jan. 17, 2005 gunmen abducted him and released him the next day.

Sunni Muslim insurgents have frequently targeted members of Iraq’s Christian minority, especially in Mosul. Iraq’s current government is Shiite-led.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Iran: Christians summoned to the office of Ministry of Information


According to subpoenas issued by the intelligence office of the Kurdistan ministry of information, several new Christian believers have been summoned to attend a hearing at the headquarters of the ministry in order to answer questions that the ministry is interested to know about, reports FCNN.

Farsi Christian News Network (fcnn.com) reports that on August 23rd and 24th, intelligence officers contacted several new Christian believers and their families and requested that they attend a hearing at the Ministry of Information. It is important to mention that these individuals had previously been identified by the intelligence officers.

According to this report, these individuals, upon reporting to the offices of the Ministry of Information, were detained and interrogated all day long and subsequently released from custody.

The names of some of these individuals are as follows: Mr. Sadegh, Mr. Farzam, Mr. Nik-khah, Mr. Sarmad, and Mr. Ayyoob. The women were: Ms. Tahereh, Ms. Nahid, and Ms. Roshanak – all from the city of Sanandaj. There were others who were detained from other cities that have requested anonymity. Also 2 new believers from the city of Saghez, one from the town Gharaveh, and one other from the town of Kamyaran that were taken to their local Ministry of Information offices for questioning.

FCNN reports that the intelligence officers were using these interrogations to identify the command chain and responsibilities of each and every one of these believers within the home-church movement in Iran and also to learn more about the tactics used by the believers in evangelism along with more information about a specific home belonging to a Christian man named Mr. Ghanei.

It needs to be reminded that Mr. Ghanei was summoned to the ministry, detained and questioned for his faith and beliefs in Christ for one week in July 2009, while his family and relatives were completely unaware of his whereabouts. Finally, through the follow up and insistence of a lawyer and posting of a bail bond, he was released. Shortly after this incident, Mr. Ghanei was re-arrested on the charge that his bail bond was not invalid and this time he was forced to post a 60 million Tooman bond (Approximately $60,000 USD). Subsequent to this and as of now, there is no information regarding his whereabouts.

According to these new believers who were detained and questioned, the intelligence officers are attempting to identify and locate the whereabouts of Mr. Ghanei in order to summon him to the office of the Ministry of Information. It’s not clear why these officers are so eager to re-question Mr. Ghanei and what seems to be the urgency in this matter.

In connection with this, the intelligence officers and plain clothes interrogators have visited Mr. Ghanei’s house as well as the residence of his father in-law in Sanandaj and have searched the house and questioned the residents. Also and apparently the intelligence officers have targeted several new believers and the church members of the church in Kermanshah who may know of the whereabouts of Mr. Ghanei and placed them under surveillance and undue pressures.

Lastly, it must be remembered that in October 2006, Mr. Ghanei was arrested for the first time and after lengthy interrogation and being charged for converting from Islam to Christianity was released. This cycle of arrest, interrogation, and released from detention was repeated many times over the last few years.

Report from the Christian Telegraph