For decades, Kurds have been stateless and scattered among four Middle Eastern states: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. On Monday, they voted on a referendum that calls for the creation of an independent Kurdistan, the pinnacle of what they've fought for since the division of the Ottoman Empire by colonial powers in the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916.
Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), proceeded with a referendum that allowed Kurds to vote to stay in Iraq or to form an autonomous state.
The referendum quickly garnered criticism, with Iraq's Supreme Court deeming it unconstitutional and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, promising to cut off oil supplies to Iraq if the referendum passed.
Despite her support for an autonomous Kurdistan, USC alum Evin Cheikosman still maintains her reservations on the referendum and the meaning of its outcome.
"This is a bad time for the referendum," Cheikosman said. "I think the referendum is a buffer for Barzani. He has mentioned time and again…that he was going to stand up for Kurdish independence and that has given way to many minimal results."
Established in 1992, the KRG served to give a form of independence to Kurds within the northern region of Iraq. The leading party of the KRG is the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), led by Barzani's, which has been accused of corruption.
Cheikosman says that the government is in so much debt it hasn't paid Kurdish soldiers, teachers, or employees, and that building projects around the city are left incomplete. Yet despite the inefficiencies, there are Kurds whose faith in the KRG remains unwavered.
According to Cheikosman, both Barzani, who is already extended his Presidential term, and the KRG are viewed without any middle ground.
"If you're Kurdish, you either love [the KRG] or you hate them; there is no in between," Cheikosman said. "The reason why they're not very well-liked is because of the current state of affairs in the country. They haven't really done a lot of good for the country. But on the other hand, there are people who say that because of him, we now have an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan; a sense of stability, and a place on the international stage."
However, Sinan Birdal, a professor of International Relations at USC, thinks the referendum was always Barzani's main claim to leadership.
"This is his survival politics," he said. "If you check members of the Kurdish parliament who voted for the referendum to take place you'll see there [are] a lot of absentees. Until the referendum deadline, Barzani was trying to maintain good relations with Erdogan. It's very hard for Barzani to be the leader of the Kurds when they're being oppressed by one of his regional allies."
However, to Kurds like Cheikosman, the referendum must have a bigger impact beyond politics and must bring about real change. For her, Barzani's call for referendum is just telling Kurds what they want to hear and steering the population away from the real problems.
"The KRG is exceeding almost $20 million in debt and this is only growing," Cheikosman said. "Construction projects have stalled— there are half finished skyscrapers in the area and only almost ten hours of electricity. It just doesn't make sense. I don't want Kurdistan to be another failed state."
Cheikosman will continue to follow as the events of the referendum unfold, but continues to worry about the maintenance of state.
The chances of the newfound state achieving recognition from the Iraqi government and much of the international community are low. Erdogan promised that he will take action, with the promise of cutting the region of oil and with military action. Threats have also been made against Israel by Turkey of freezing the normalization process for its vocal support of the referendum and of a Kurdish state.
"But one thing remains: Kurds have all the right, like all people, to self-determination," Birdal said.