The October War: Masoud Barzani's Independence Referendum and its Fallout

Nelson posing with a colleague.




Professor of Political Science

Project Summary

I wrote my thesis on the Kurdistan Regional Government’s 2017 referendum to secede from Iraq and create an independent state. My goal was to explain why the referendum occurred, and the subsequent military and political defeat of the independence aspiration. 

I learned a tremendous amount this past year. I immersed myself in the local, national, regional, and international politics of Iraqi Kurdistan. Thanks to the generosity of CURF, the Political Science Department, and the International Affairs Association, I was able to take a highly productive research trip to the Kurdistan Region. I spent nine days traveling around the Region, visiting the cities of Duhok, Erbil, and Sulaimania. I met a diverse array of influential people, including journalists, professors, military officers, and government officials. The interviews I conducted were indispensable to my understanding of this subject, and the trip was truly fascinating. I was shown great hospitality by several different people. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

For the researcher seeking to study another part of the world, there is really no substitute for spending some amount of time in that place, and interacting with people who live there. I am grateful that the university, and my thesis advisor in particular, Professor Brendan O’Leary, helped me turn this research trip into a reality. 

The trip was an amazing opportunity to learn concrete information for use in my thesis, but also an amazing opportunity to develop as a young person. I think that travel is an important part of anyone’s  maturation, and research-led universities such as Penn, which have the means to encourage and facilitate student travel, should continue to do so. This research project, and the trip I was able to take in connection with it, deeply enriched my Penn experience.