Three weeks ago, voters in Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain containing the city of Barcelona, voted 90 to eight percent in favor of separating from Spain and becoming an independent republic, according to the Catalan government. The vote was declared unconstitutional by the Spanish government, which also did not verify the vote count, and efforts by the Spanish police to stop the vote on the polling day ended with more than 750 injuries and several forcefully confiscated ballots.
Since that time, the regional government of Catalonia and the Spanish national government have seen a turbulent relationship. The prime minister of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, had declared that Catalonia would suspend its call for immediate separation in favor of negotiations with the central government, but in the three weeks since that time the Spanish national government has given no indication it would enter into any kind of talks.
Instead, the central government has made strides to curtail the authority and autonomy of the Catalan government. On Monday the BBC reported that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced plans to sack the Catalan government and strip Puigdemont. Puigdemont and his government have continued to push for independence. In response, Rajoy chose to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which gives the national government direct control over an autonomous region in a time of crisis.
Thus far, the Spanish government has technically stripped Puigdemont of his powers. However, Catalonia and its government announced its intent to ignore the national government and continue its push for independence, although they now lack any real power in the national assembly. Experts say the next steps for Spain will be to take control of the Catalan police and its public television broadcast, TV3.
As of press time, it was unclear if or how the European Union (EU) plans to respond to this situation. To this point, the EU has maintained that Catalan independence is a domestic issue to be solved by Spain alone, but as the referendum turns into what The Economist is calling a full blown constitutional crisis they may be unable to remain separated from the situation for long.
Kurdish Independence update:
Another story that began three weeks ago and continues to develop comes from Iraq, where an attempt by the Kurdish ethnic group to create their own state was forcefully shut down by the Iraqi armed forces. The Kurdish people voted on Sept. 25 in a nonbinding resolution that inspired Kurds throughout the Middle East. However, celebrations were short lived. Within a week Iraq deployed its armed forces to the city of Kirkuk, an oil-rich city in Iraqi-Kurdistan that quickly fell to Iraqi forces.
Kirkuk and Iraqi-Kurdistan are home to only a fraction of the Kurdish people, who are scattered across Iran, Turkey and Syria, among other countries. Still, the vote for independence inspired Kurds from all four countries and throughout the region, which made the Iraqi army’s quick and decisive victory in retaking the city incredibly disheartening.
Iraq has reason to maintain control of the northern part of the country. The region is incredibly oil-rich, and the country has little else in terms of a base for an economy. Without Kurdish oil, Iraq would be in serious trouble, a fact reflected by their energetic and efficient retaking of Kirkuk.
Other governments are involved in the conflict as well. The U.S. has pressured Iraq to resolve its differences through peaceful negotiation. Iran, meanwhile, has offered support for paramilitary forces fighting the Kurds in Iraqi-Kurdistan. Even members of the peshmerga, Kurdish fighters loyal to the separate Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) offered support by inaction. The PUK is a rival of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) which is led by Masoud Barzani, who is also the president of the Kurdistan regional government. Salon.com reported that KDP-loyal peshmerga were forced to abandon Kirkuk within hours of Iraq’s announced offensive due to lack of support.
There is more involved in this conflict. Kirkuk is actually outside of Kurdistan and fell under Kurdish control when they retook it from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014. Additionally, the PUK and KDP are bitter rivals and some have suggested the independence referendum was as much a political ploy by Barzani against the PUK as it was about independence.
These stories will continue to develop.