The age of independence

The right to be, and a theory of territory in the era of Kurdistan and Catalonia

On September 25, 2017 voters in Iraq’s Kurdish region went to the polls in a referendum and gave more than 90 percent support to a proposal to make their region an independent country. The Kurds in northern Iraq suffered unspeakably under Saddam Hussein, but since 2005—and thanks to American arm-twisting during the rushed drafting of Iraq’s new constitution—they had emerged with a highly autonomous region in Iraq’s very incomplete federal structure. Their president, Masoud Barzani, had always dreamed of more, and so after the success of the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, in pushing back the Islamic State in Iraq he decided, against wiser counsel, that the time was ripe to push for his longtime dream of full independence. However, this massive expression of democratic support for independence drew reactions from the international community ranging from dead silence to actual threats from Iran and Turkey about any...