ERBIL — In his latest interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Friday, President Barzani makes it clear that he does not regret the independence referendum as postponing it could have caused great harms to the future of his nation.
He however expresses disappointment at Western friendly countries’ indifference to Baghdad’s recent military offensives against the people of Kurdistan, arguing that such a deafening silence puts their claimed principles about human rights, democracy, and freedom under question mark.
Amanpour: President Barzani, welcome to the program.
Barzani: Thank you.
Amanpour: Were you surprised when Baghdad sent troops all the way up to border with Kurdistan, all the way up to Kirkuk? Were you surprised at the reaction of Baghdad?
Barzani: I would like to make one fact clear: the referendum was an excuse for Baghdad. This was Baghdad’s plan even before the referendum. They had prepared themselves a longtime ago. I wasn’t surprised that the Iraqi forces attacked Kurdistan; but what surprised me a great deal was the people whom America listed them as terrorists attacked us with American weapons under the eyes of the American officers and officials.
Amanpour: Mr. Barzani, you have been a Kurdish leader for most of your life and most of your political career. You know better than anybody what America, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Baghdad think about Kurdistan and an independent Kurdistan. I guess, I’m wondering why gambled everything at the end, and did you give them an excuse even though you said they were preparing to use military force?
Barzani: To be honest, the people of Kurdistan cannot wait forever until this and that country will agree. This is our natural right, we practiced our right in a democratic and peaceful way. We didn’t say we will declare independence the day after; we said allow the people of Kurdistan to express their views, we will conduct negotiations no matter how much time it will take, we will create better relations with Baghdad through understanding and far from violence. I don’t know how but the human rights, democracy and freedom [have perished], what happened to these principles? This was our natural right, we are practicing our right. Let them do whatever they want to do against us.
Amanpour: You said you did what was right; but, you know, you’ve now lost territory, you’ve lost power and influence, and you’ve lost the prestige of the Kurdish autonomous region there. Again, was it worth it? Did you expect it to end up like this?
Barzani: If we would have lost our will it would have been much bigger than losing some areas temporarily. But if we had to choose between losing our will and losing the hope of our nation or to have some losses, we chose not to lose our people’s will and honour. We chose to lose other things.
Amanpour: I am curious as to who advises you? Because as you know, the Americans were advising you very strongly and very publicly not to hold this referendum and not to declare independence.
Barzani: That’s right. They said that this is not the time for a referendum, they said to postpone it for two or three years, and then, if you do that, we will respect the result of the referendum. Then we said instead of “respect” write “support”, and we will postpone it. But they didn’t say “support”, and they didn’t promise us support. For this reason, we were not convinced and we thought that delaying would do more harm.
Amanpour: So, what is next for the Kurdish people and Kurdistan itself?
Barzani: Now the Kurdistan Regional Government has asked to negotiate with Baghdad, and the case is with them now. War and violence were not our choice at any time unless it was forced upon us.
Amanpour: I’m sure you’ve been looking at Spain, and you’ve seen the results of Catalonia referendum, and you’ve seen what has happened to the leadership there. He had to escape because he was accused of rebellion. The world is not in the mood for more independence referendums, what do you think of that?
Barzani: This has become clear that the suppressed nations have to depend on themselves. And the claims about human rights, the rights of nations, freedom and democracy, they are all baseless.
Amanpour: Mr. Barzani, you look very sad, you look very tired, and you look quite fed up. Am I right?
Barzani: No unfortunately, this is not true. I am very normal, I am very calm, but for sure was disappointed. We thought that after the Peshmerga fought bravely and diminished ISIS, the people of Kurdistan demolished the myth of ISIS, we thought that people who were verbally telling us that they were our friends and would support, they would [actually] support us or if not, would stay silent. It was clear that we were alone with our mountains. But unfortunately they didn’t just not support the Peshmerga, but the Peshmergas are being martyred with their weapons and they are looking without doing anything. This is what upsets me, Christiane.
Amanpour: What message do you have for Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq?
Barzani: My message is: last year we helped you a lot in Mosul. If it wasn’t for the Peshmerga, you would have not been able to liberate Mosul. Go back to logic and wisdom, and solve the problems with the KRG through negotiations because war results in bloodshed and destruction for all the people of Iraq and nothing else.
Amanpour: Well, outgoing president Masoud Barzani, thank you very much for joining me.
Barzani: Thank you, Christiane, thank you very much.