Quebec Experts: Kurds Should Break Away Now By Tessa Manuello

Sovereignty experts in Canada’s Quebec province say Kurds have a chance at independence but need to act now to ensure the strong pro-autonomy sentiment in the Kurdistan Region doesn’t fade.


Quebec Experts: Kurds Should Break Away Now


Tessa Manuello

MONTREAL, Canada — Sovereignty experts in Canada’s Quebec province say Kurds have a chance at independence but need to act now to ensure the strong pro-autonomy sentiment in the Kurdistan Region doesn’t fade.

Despite their decades-long struggle for independence and the refusal by many to assimilate into Canada’s dominant English-speaking culture, many in Quebec’s French-speaking province are apathetic about breaking away from Canada. Although Quebec residents strongly identify with a distinct, Quebecois French-speaking culture and were once ardent supporters of independence, the pro-sovereignty movement has lost steam since two referendums on the question of independence failed in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pro-sovereignists worry that their time may have passed in Quebec but say they see the exact opposite in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region, where many Kurds who have rarely if ever identified with Iraq are hoping the time has come for Kurds to declare their own state given Iraq’s fragility. Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani implied the region might break away, telling CNN earlier this week that “after the recent events in Iraq it has been proven that the Kurdish people should seize the opportunity now.”

Patrick Bourgeois is a French Canadian author, a journalist and the president of an organization promoting an independent Quebec through the publication of pro-sovereignty writers. Bourgeois, whose organization has worked briefly with the Kurds as well as a host of other groups seeking sovereignty, including the Kabyle people in Algeria and the Palestinians, told Rudaw in a phone interview that it’s critical for groups to declare independence when momentum is on their side — even when there is war.

“I encourage the Kurds to deal with it as soon as possible. If the Kurds do not free themselves, then acceptance will become standard,” Bourgeois said.

“It’s easier to achieve liberation in times of violence rather than wait too long. Waiting too long ends up in situations like Corsica (France), Catalonia (Spain), Brittany (France), which are more complex now,” Bourgeois said.

Mario Beaulieu, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, a political party devoted to the protection of Quebec’s interests and the promotion of Quebec sovereignty at the Canadian House of Commons, agreed, saying, “I want to share my solidarity with the Kurdish peoples, and I encourage them to continue working and fighting for their right to self-determination, it is a fundamental right.”

Since the Iraqi army collapsed earlier this month in strategic locations such as key border crossings and major Sunni-dominated cities — leaving the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and local tribes in control of many Sunni Arab areas — speculation is rising that Iraq will break apart. The mayhem in Iraq may well be in favor to the Kurds seeking independence, however.

Even if Iraqi Kurds have managed to establish a semi-autonomous region in which Kurdish interests can be more adequately protected, pro-sovereignty leaders and federalist experts in Quebec warn the Kurds about the weaknesses of a federalist system in taking into account the interests of a minority.

Anne Légaré is an associate professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal’s political science department who has visited Iraqi Kurdistan three times. During her first visit in 2002, she gave a series of lectures focusing on the advantages and disadvantages of federalism, using Quebec’s challenges as an example.

Like Kurds in Iraq, French Canadians enjoy some autonomy under Canada’s federalist system: They use French civil law for civil and commercial matters, and French is recognized as one of the country’s two official languages. But French Canadians remain concerned about their rights, particularly the right to use the French language in English-dominated Canada.

Laws protecting the French language have been flouted many times, including by brand-name international chains in Quebec where private businesses must operate in French. The creeping dominance of English, however, shows that the institutions in Quebec have a limited influence over the enforcement of Quebec’s language law.

Since gaining semi autonomy in 1991 Iraqi Kurds have used their language widely and officially — in government institutions and schools, for example, where Arabic can be hard to come by. Kurdish is recognized as the national language of Iraq along with Arabic, but it is rarely, if ever, used outside of Kurdistan, including on government forms or in state institutions.

Language rights are just one of many issues for the Kurds, however, who suffered persecution and genocide under Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. Given the bloody history in Kurdistan, Légaré said the people of Quebec are “much less fervent” than Kurds about autonomy even though the Quebecois identity is ‘’more fragile’’ than the Kurds.

“The identity of the Quebec people cannot be compared with the Kurdish identity’s strength,” she said. “The Kurdish identity is something that lasted over centuries, that is very strong and that is supported significantly by its past. Quebec identity is more modern, contemporary, and more complicated because of its Northern American belonging, and the fact that it is within Canada that is an Anglo-Saxon country.”

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