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More than nine of every ten ballots dropped into ballot boxes scattered across Iraqi Kurdistan in late September affirmed a national desire for independence. The referendum was denounced by regional and global actors alike, and the central government in Baghdad quickly moved to weaken and silence the Kurdish separatist movement. How are we to understand the 2017 referendum, and how might this moment be contextualized within the broader trajectory of Kurdish ethnonationalism? Far from an outlier, the referendum was the most recent effort to create an independent homeland for Kurds – a singular point along a timeline dotted with ethnonational developments. Separatism has waxed and waned throughout the Kurdistan region, with state responses to Kurdish ethnonationalism varying in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Considering relationship dynamics between ethnonationalist groups, separatist groups, and central governments, I ask the following: how do state attempts at political inclusion or exclusion influence the form and goals of ethnonationalist mobilization? I find support for a correlation between political exclusion and both ethnonationalist identity salience and collective goal coherence. The internal variation evident in the cases I examine support a causal relationship: salience and coherence are reactions to state policies. In brief, ethnonationalism has been strengthened and prioritized by Kurds when they have been politically excluded from state power structures.