While living thousands of miles apart, separatist Kurds and Catalans in many ways share the same struggle.
The Kurdistan regional government has convened a referendum calling for independence from Iraq on September 25, while the government of Catalonia plans to hold its own vote calling for separation from Spain a few days later, on October 1.
Enrique Ucelay-Da Cal, an expert on contemporary history at Pompeu Fabra University, told Euronews that self-determination “is not a law anywhere and always depends on the consensus of the great powers,” that is, the unanimous vote of members of the United Nations Security Council.
For now, a lack of legal support is a problem shared by both plebiscites, but how does the Kurdish independence challenge differ from Catalonia’s? Here are five key points.
1. Question of ethnicity
Kurdish nationalism, unlike Catalan’s, is based on ethnicity. Kurds make up the largest ethnic minority in the Middle East without a nation-state. They currently live in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
2. Federal system The Kurds in Iraq enjoy considerably greater autonomy than the Catalans. In 2005, the United States divided Iraq into Arab and Kurdish areas. Through this, they obtained a semi-independent state in northern Iraq in which they have their own parliament, can pass laws and control areas such as education.
3. An undisputed separation
The Catalan parliament debated and passed a law about breaking with the Spanish state, which foresees the transition. However, in Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament, neither the transitional mechanisms nor the system to be established after separation have been debated or finalized.
4. Baghdad does not have the capacity of action of Madrid
Baghdad is in a very different position from Madrid in terms of its ability to stop the vote. While the Spanish state has brought out heavy artillery, confiscated ballots, intervened in the accounts of the Catalan government and arrested people involved in organizing the referendum, Iraqi authorities have their hands tied. Iraqi Kurdistan has a number of rights that the Catalans do not have as it has its own army of Peshmerga fighters.
5. Uncertain borders
The Catalan borders are well defined, but those of Iraqi Kurdistan are not so clear. The significance of this difference is the question it poses to citizens. For the Catalans the question is: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state in the form of a republic?” while Iraqi Kurds must ask: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and Kurdish areas outside the region’s control to become an independent state?”