In recent weeks Israel flags appeared frequently among the sea of Kurdish flags at pro-independence rallies across Europe and in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. In Cologne in late August and then Geneva and Oslo, Israel flags were waved proudly by attendees. On September 16 the blue and white appeared at rallies in Brussels, Hamburg and Stockholm. The unprecedented embrace of the Israeli flag comes amidst Israel’s support for Kurdish rights and historic connections between the two nations.
The rallies are in response to an independence referendum planned by the Kurdistan Regional Government for September 25. Announced in June, the Kurdistan parliament in the autonomous region in northern Iraq approved it on September 15. Since September 5 the Kurdistan region and diaspora communities have been holding increasingly large rallies in support of the nation’s hopes for independence. This has been more than 100 years in the making, say many Kurds. The Kurdish people live in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, divided by the colonial borders set down after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In Iraq they have enjoyed autonomy since the 1990s. After three years of war against ISIS the local government thinks it is time to show the world that the people want independence.
The international community’s response has been tepid. On September 15 the White House released a statement saying the United States does not support the intention to hold a referendum. Other members of the international coalition fighting ISIS, who have been working with the Kurds and the Iraqi government, have also pressured the KRG to postpone. Israel is the only country to openly back Kurdish aspirations. “Israel supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on September 13. Speaking at the ICT’s World Counter-Terrorism summit on September 11, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, “Israel and countries in the West have a major interest in the establishment of the state of Kurdistan.”
by Seth J. Frantzman