Controversial referendums on independence are scheduled in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sept. 25 and the Spanish region of Catalonia on Oct. 1. Both referendums place these secessionist regions on a collision course with their central governments and the international community, increasing the probability of conflict. What is the purpose of these referendums, and what is the strategy behind them?
Secession occurs when a region within a state breaks away to form its own sovereign state. There were 55 active secessionist movements around the world as of 2011, and an average of 52 movements per year since 1945. Most have failed to achieve their goal of independence, sometimes coming to an agreement with their central government or simply fading away. Roughly a third have resulted in violence. Indeed, some claim that secessionism is the chief cause of violence in the world today.