Denied their own state in reality, Iraq’s Kurds have declared independence, albeit in cyber space.
The autonomous Kurdistan Region now has its own Top-Level Domain, a websites in Kurdistan or in the Kurdish language can choose the .krd suffix at the end of their web addresses, offering a home for the worldwide Kurdish community.
“People do not easily understand what a domain is, how it is operated and how crucial it is to have a TLD. Operating a TLD contributes to national pride,“ said Hiwa Afandi, head of information technology at the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which was behind the initiative.
Afandi received international recognition for the domain that opened this week for private companies, organizations and individuals to use.
“All government agencies have switched to .krd,” Afandi said. “All government e-mail accounts have switched to .krd, as have all universities,” he explained.
Now, the Kurdistan Region is partnering with Internet registration companies around the world, to offer .krd to whoever wants it and qualifies for it.
This new domain also gives Kurds a separate space in the virtual world at a time when they are gaining legitimacy on the ground through their alliance with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.
However, this cyber step has stirred the anger of a neighbor hostile to their aspirations.
Often described as the world’s largest ethnic group without their own state, the Kurds consider themselves victims of a pact that divided their homeland between Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq after World War One.
“Those who imprisoned us within these geographical boundaries do not have the same leverage in cyberspace. In the internet we choose our own borders,” said Afandi.
Afandi confirmed that the Kurds “would rather live in a country called Kurdistan, be it physical or in cyberspace.”
The Kurds were granted the “.krd” domain name in 2013 by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a U.S.-based non-profit organization that manages internet addresses.
It is a “generic” name, not a two-letter “country code” name reserved for sovereign states. The region’s presidency and government already use it for their websites in Kurdish, Arabic and English at www.presidency.krd and www.gov.krd.
OBJECTIONS FROM IRAN
The high ambitions of Kurds have been fiercely fought by Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus throughout history. These countries have banned education in the Kurds’ mother tongue and suppressed uprisings, but that didn’t stop the Kurds from gaining international recognition.
A Kurdish leader in Iraq, where Kurds have achieved the highest degree of autonomy, is vowing to hold a non-binding referendum on independence this year as they battle ISIS militants.
Afandi said he had expected Turkey, which is home to the largest number of Kurds and has a tense relationship with them, to veto the application, but the only country to object so far was Iran.
In an official complaint to ICANN, Iran cited the risk of “serious political conflicts” and “concern … about the problems resulting from creation of the new gTLD (generic top-level domain) ‘.KRD’.”
“Some of the radical Kurdish communities … have recently started a movement pushing for the creation of a Kurdish nation state which is toward separation of Kurdish lands from Iran and Turkey,” it said. “The government of Islamic Republic of Iran is seriously concerned about these movements.”
Afandi said Iran had lodged the complaint too late to prevent the Kurds from obtaining a domain, joining other aspiring states such as Spain’s Catalonia, which had earlier obtained the “.cat” domain name from ICANN.
Catalonia guided Kurdistan through the application process, he said.
Even before the “.krd” domain was registered, few institutions in the Kurdish region used the Iraqi code “.iq”.
Although Kurds now have their own domain name, they still do not qualify for the two-letter country code reserved for members of the U.N. General Assembly. “Once Kurdistan becomes independent, we will work towards that,” Afandi said.