“Today we will finally be a nation, just like the UK,” Khano Darwesh said as he showed off his ink-stained finger. “Our people have been fighting for more than 100 years for this moment.”
The 77-year-old joined more than three million other residents of Iraqi Kurdistan who went to the polls today for a historic referendum on independence.
Women came dressed in their finest, men wore traditional Kurdish sarwal pants and sashes.
For some of the older votes, emotions got the better of them and they broke down in tears as they walked out of the voting booths in Kurdistan’s capital of Erbil.
For Mr Darwesh, who was not perturbed by the two hour-long queue, it was only the second time he had ever voted in his life. The last time being in Kurdistan’s 2005 leadership election.
“Nobody wanted us to have this but here we are today,” he said, slamming his fist on his chest.
The polls closed at 6pm and while the result is expected within 72 hours, it is a foregone conclusion.
Iraqi Kurds have long dreamed of independence – something the Kurdish people were denied when colonial powers drew the map of the Middle East after the first world war.
But Monday’s vote, called by Masoud Barzani, the president of Kurdistan, has been rejected by just about every world power.
Iraq has called it unconstitutional, with its parliament demanding on Monday that troops be sent to areas contested with the Kurds that were included in the referendum.
Turkey, unsettled at the prospect that the vote might provoke the separatist dreams of its own Kurdish minority, has threatened that Kurdistan will pay “a price” in the event of a yes vote.
The UK and US, which has allied with the Kurds in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) in northern Iraq, had urged Mr Barzani to delay, saying it would only distract from the fight against the jihadists.
Mr Darwesh, who for 45 years fought for independence with Kurdistan’s Peshmerga army, said he believed his people would not be safe until they had a state of their own.
“I have had my home taken from me four times in my life,” he said. “The first was taken by the Persians in Iran, the second was stolen by Saddam’s forces, the third was burnt down by them and the fourth was taken over by Arabs when the Iraqi army invade Erbil in the 1980s.
“Now no one will ever take my house again,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.
While support for Mr…