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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Iraqi Kurds vote for independence

Sep. 29, 2017

There are about 30 million ethnic Kurds today, living in countries across the Middle East such as Turkey, Iran and Syria. They are said to be the largest ethnic group with no nation.

Last Monday, the Kurdish autonomous government in northern Iraq held a referendum on independence from Iraq. More than 90 percent voted in favor of independence.

"The referendum will be the first step for Kurds toward deciding their own fate. A long process will follow," said Masoud Barzani, Kurdistan Regional Government President.

Why are the Kurds so eager to establish an independent nation? Farhad Shakely, a Kurdish poet who fought for the Kurdish liberation movement in Iraq in the 70s, and has been advocating for Kurdish independence in Europe, explains.

"The Kurdish liberation movement has a long history. So the way that we took as Kurds, was not furnished with flowers, of course. So every time, it has its own difficulties, and obstacles, and even calamities. Saddam Hussein committed many great crimes against the Kurdish people. After demolishing the villages, after demolishing many small and medium towns in Kurdistan and executing people, he began to use chemical weapons. Something like 4,000 villages were demolished, among them my own village, where I was born. Now that the opportunity has come for the Kurds to decide their future, and to do something about independence, it is a great opportunity for us. It is my hope that we will succeed in building an independent Kurdistan."

Neighboring countries are wary of the rising hope for independence among the Kurds.

"This is unconstitutional. We will pay no attention to the results of the referendum, but will take measures needed to protect the integrity of our nation and the interests of its citizens," said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

"So what if it is approved with 90 or 92 percent? What value does that have? Who will recognize your independence?" said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The referendum is not only straining relations with neighboring countries -- it's also affecting the battle against the Islamic State militant group.

The Kurdish militia, known as Peshmerga, has played a significant role in the fight against the militants. The US-led coalition forces have expressed concern that their operations have been affected by a lack of coordination between the Iraqi and the Kurdish autonomous governments since the referendum. "The focus, which used to be like a laser beam on ISIS, now is not 100 percent there," said the spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force.

But Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government, seeks negotiation. "Instead of threats and punishments, come and let's have a serious discussion. And let's give the dialogue time. Let's be good neighbors to each other. We believe that dialogue is the only way to reach a better future. We believe that dialogue is the only way to achieve a better future for both sides," he says.

Keio University Professor Koichiro Tanaka joins Newsroom Tokyo anchors Hideki Nakayama and Aki Shibuya in the studio. Watch the video for more.