Iran's Soft Position on Kurdish Referendum is Conditioned by Iran’s Confidence in Its Own Power: Expert in Iranian Studies
"Armedia" IAA presents an exclusive interview with an expert on Iranian studies Vardan Voskanyan on Iran's position and interests in the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum scheduled for September 25.
- What is the position of Iran on the upcoming referendum to be held in Iraqi Kurdistan?
- It is obvious that the formation of independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq is not in the interests of Iran. This is explained by a number of circumstances. First of all, Iran is in favor of maintenaning Iraq's territorial integrity. Second, there is also a Kurdish population near the Kurdish-populated Iraqi provinces, and the spread of Kurdish nationalism towards the Kurdish region of Iran does not stem from Tehran's interests and plans. On the other hand, the official Tehran, using both diplomatic and non-diplomatic channels, has its own ties and capabilities in the Kurdish-populated Iraqi provinces, and seeks to maintain the balance of power there as much as possible. It refers to two Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Patriotic Union.
If we follow official Iran’s statements, even though it seems strange at first glance, they were not too harsh. In any case, this cannot be compared with Turkey, especially with the country's President, Recep Tayip Erdogan’s radical statement. In this context, Iran seems to have somehow left the extremist manifestations to the Turkish side. This is a prudent Iranian policy, taking into account the connections of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan President Mesut Barzani with Turkey both at political and economic levels. It is natural that the Iranians are trying to shatter these ties as much as possible, formulating their position in a "more polite" manner.
- You referred to the challenges Iran can face, when Kurdistan holds a referendum on the independence. However, besides the challenges, are there any opportunities for Iran following the referendum?
- In any case Iran does not want Iraq to be divided. The Iranians have a tremendous impact both in Baghdad, in Erbil and in Suleymania. In this sense, the separation of this state is not beneficial for them. Let me repeat that there is a certain danger that in case of the so-called independence the process can be spread in the Kurdish region of Iran as well. Taking this perspective into account, Iranians manage the situation very reasonably in their own country by providing local Kurdish population with a range of cultural opportunities and privileges. As we know, Kurdish is taught at the Sanandaj University of Iran’s Kurdistan state. Kurdish is also broadcast on local television, on radio. In Iran, there is a periodical press published in Kurdish. In this regard, the Iranians clearly handle the situation in the Kurdish region of their own country.
On the other hand, Iranians have separate ties with Barzani and Talaban forces. One of the last noteworthy facts was that after the intention of the referendum on the independence of Kurdistan, Talabani's whole family arrived in Iran and clarified Iranian positions on this issue. There are also different approaches inside the Iraqi Kurdistan, even the inner-Kurdish approaches are very different. There is one important circumstance here that needs special attention. This is the issue of the rights of minorities living in the territory of Kurdistan, first and foremost the right to life, whether it concerns the Yezidi-populated areas or the Assyrian areas, which are in constant danger. In this respect, if the Kurdish government can secure the rights of these minorities and their right to life in these territories, it will be a serious achievement.
Anyway, we should wait to see if the referendum announcement was intended in order to clarify the positions of different actors both in the region and outside it, or whether there is a serious intention to hold this referendum and to have an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
- You said that the official position of Iran on the issue was softer than expected. Do you think there is any difference between the official position of Iran and its real position?
- Without the Iranian support and without the Iranian presence in the Kurdish autonomy, many problems can arise. It's no secret that during the fight against the Islamic State terrorist organization, Iranian high-ranking officials voiced that the presence of Iranian military at Eribil had a crucial role in preventing ISIS accession to the city. In that sense, perhaps, Iranians have the greatest leverage to influence the situation in the region. It is natural that the mildness of the Iranian position is conditioned by, first of all, the confidence in its own power. It should be noted that in the case of different problems, the Iranians seem to leave all the extremist manifestations to the Turkish side. As a result Iran maintains its normal relations with other actors.
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