WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) salutes Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum on independence and its results, where the people voted for three provinces of northern Iraq to become part of the sovereign Iraqi Kurdistan.
“Iraq has been beset by war for generations now, and this peaceful expression of free will from the people of Iraqi Kurdistan should be respected as a basic human right to help create a better future for the Kurds and all the other groups in the region, including the Christian and other minorities,” Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said. “This type of expression of popular will demands that we respect the process, and democracies should be supporting peaceful exercises of self-determination consistent with universal human rights in and similar to Iraqi Kurdistan,” they added.
The Kurdish people have treated Armenians who reside within its territory in Iraq well throughout the years. “There are just a few of us in Kurdistan. But thanks to God, we have been given most of our rights,” Ishkhan Milko, an Armenian member of the Duhok Provincial Council, told Rudaw, “We have a seat in the Kurdistan parliament as well as a seat in the Duhok Provincial Council.”
Many Armenians ended up in northern Iraq as a result of deportations during the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Even though some Kurdish communities were exploited and encouraged by the Turkish Ottoman regime to attack the caravans of Armenians, many Kurds refused and instead rescued them from death.
Kurdish officials have also issued statements expressing their condolences for the Armenian Genocide. According to journalist Christopher Hitchens’ article in Slate, he wrote that: “In 1991, in northern Iraq, where you could still see and smell the gassed and poisoned towns and villages of Kurdistan, I heard Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan say that Kurds ought to apologize to the Armenians for the role they had played as enforcers for the Ottomans during the time of the genocide. Talabani, who has often repeated that statement, is now  president of Iraq.” Hitchens went on to note: “I would regard his unforced statement as evidence in itself, by the way, in that proud peoples do not generally offer to apologize for revolting crimes that they did not, in fact, commit.”
Some years later, in 1997, Kurdistan Parliament in Exile Executive Committee Chair Zubeyir Aydar stated: “On 24 April 1915, the Ottoman Empire had taken the decision of massacre of the Armenian and Assyrian peoples. The ground for this massacre was prepared in advance. The Kurdish tribes involved in Hamidieh Cavalry took part in the Armenian massacre. Hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Assyrians were slaughtered and as many were forced to migrate during this massacre.” He continued: “Today we wish to share the pain and suffering of our peoples and strongly condemn the Turkish state and any force which is collaborating with it.”
In 2007, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani published his father’s memoirs about the Armenian Genocide and mass deportation of Armenians. In his writings, his father described how his brigade aided the Armenians and accompanied them to the border of Syria while they were confronted by Turkish forces, and ultimately suffered casualties.
Today, Kurds in Turkey recognize the Armenian genocide, commemorate the victims, and often call on the Turkish government to apologize to Armenian people. Selahattin Demirtas, the Kurdish Co-Chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has said that “without hesitation, I recognize the Armenian Genocide.” He added: “Just because some people have covered up such a tragic historical incident by saying that ‘the official history [of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey] is not like that’, I will not bow to it. Whatever happened should be acknowledged.”
In addition to being strong advocates for human rights and standing up against genocide, the Kurdish people in the region have been a bulwark against ISIS and have pledged to protect minorities. The United States sees the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), as its most effective battlefield partner and main ally against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. According to the Pentagon’s Chief Spokeswoman Dana W. White, they are “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future.”