ARBIL, Iraq - The Kurdish people have a right to self-determination and statehood, but this will not be accomplished through violence, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani told AFP.
It is "a natural right for there to be a state for the Kurdish people, but this will not be achieved by violence, and must be done in a natural way," Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, said in an exclusive interview with AFP.
This "age is the age of understanding, and we encourage dialogue between the Kurds and... the states" where Kurdish populations live, he said.
Four countries - Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran - host major Kurdish populations, which have faced decades of discrimination.
In Iraq, the Kurds now have a three-province autonomous region in the country's north with its own government, security forces, flag and borders. Although Kurdistan and Baghdad moved to reduce high tensions earlier this year, they are still at odds over a number of issues.
Iraqi Kurdistan has sought to establish a pipeline that would give it access to international energy markets, sent crude across the border to neighbouring Turkey, and signed deals with foreign energy firms.
It has also capitalised on its reputation for greater safety and stability, as well as a faster-growing economy than the rest of Iraq, to solicit investment independent of the federal government.
All this has angered Baghdad, and the two sides are also locked in a protracted dispute over the Kurds' longstanding demands for the incorporation of other traditionally Kurdish-majority areas into their autonomous region.