In September 2017, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq held a referendum asking its people if they wanted to become an independent state. Nearly 93 percent of voters answered yes.1 This result was unsurprising. The Kurds, who are spread over numerous countries, are commonly described as the world’s largest nation of people without a sovereign country to call their own.2 Their quest for independence spans generations, and the vast majority of Iraqi Kurds desire statehood.3
Masrour Barzani, the son of the region’s former president and the chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, said this of the referendum: “If you look at our history we have been mistreated throughout history . . . W e as a nation have every right to self- determination.”4
Iraq declared the referendum illegal.5 In the wake of the result, it also quickly seized large portions of Kurdish-held territory.6 Meanwhile, the international community provided little support for the Kurdish referendum, with Turkey, Iran, Syria, and even the United States condemning it outright.7 As of today, the Kurds’ quest for independence is indefinitely stalled.8 These events provide a useful paradigm for renewing considerations as to how secessionist movements should be viewed under international law.