ERBIL, Kurdistan – The Kurdish people are the largest ethnic group in the world without a country. Millions live throughout the Middle East, inside Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Now, despite international pressure, the Kurdish regional government representing of Iraqi Kurds plan to hold an historic vote for independence on Monday. While the referendum could fulfill the dreams of the Kurdish people, it could also upset an already fragile region.
Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Yet today's Kurds are looking at Monday's referendum as their long-awaited opportunity to establish a free and independent Kurdistan.
"This is a good opportunity for all Kurdish people to go on the box and say 'yes' for referendum, one Kurdish man named Bashdn told CBN News.
"It's our right to get like the other countries, to have own state," another named Madjid said.
"If we will not do the referendum now, when will we do it?" a third man anmed Mohammed asked. "I feel great because this is the dream from our grand grandfather…this is the dream for all Kurdish – [that] we have our own country."
Despite the enthusiasm, neighbors that include Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Iraqi government in Baghdad see an independent Kurdistan as a threat to their own governments. Even the U.S. called the vote "provocative and destabilizing" and said it would distract from the fight against ISIS.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the first and so far the only world leader to support "the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of their own."
Kurdish analyst Ceng Sagnic says the Kurdish government has something to prove.
"It is very important for the Kurds to show to the world that their independence will not cause instability," Sagnic told CBN News. "And they have been trying to show this – that they're not going to wage any war, be it proxy or be it conventional, to Turkey or Iran or whatever or any neighboring country."
Norwegian Pastor Per Ove Berg, who's serving as an international observer, believes this could be a significant moment for the Middle East.
"Personally I think it's extremely important," Berg said. "You can read in the Bible that at certain periods of history, God will allow changes to happen. He will redraw borders actually. In Acts 17 it says so – that the people might seek Him."
That's why he has a message for Christians on the eve of the referendum.
"Please pray. These days are extremely crucial for this area," Berg said.