A cargo ship, the East Sea, flying a Cambodgian flag of convenience, ran aground on the Mediterranean coast of France, near Saint-Raphaël, during the night of 16 to 17 February. On board were 908 Kurdish "boat people", including 428 children as well as old people. The refugees, mostly Iraqi refugees, of the Yezidi religion, were freeing from Sinjar, controlled by the Saddam Hussein regime. They stated that their sea voyage had lasted seven days and that they had been squashed into the ship’s holds in horifyingly unhygenic conditions. According to them, the boat left Turkey, probably from the port of Alexandretta with the full connivance of the Turkish authorities. Each of the adult ‘passengers’ had to pay $3,000, the children half that amount, for this singular journey "towards any democratic country in Europe".
Finally, for reasons that have not yet been made clear, the ship was deliberately run aground on the French coast. Was it because the increasingly strict Italian coastguard watch on the Italian coast made that hard to reach, or was it because a country in the region, probably Turkey, wanted to sent a special signal to France? How was it that, on the most closely patrolled seaway in the world a suspicious cargo boat with nearly a thousand refugees on board passed unnoticed? There are many questions raised that need answers.
The arrival of destituit refugees, fleeing Saddam Hussein’s tyranical regime, was fully covered by the the French and international media (see our Press review for a selection of articles on the subject) and aroused a great deal of sympathy and solidarity from the French people. Harrassed by this unforeseen event, the French authorities decided to accomodate these refugees ina barracks near Frejus, which was declared a "holding zone" pending a ruling on their status. After somefumbling at foirst, but under pressure from public opinion, the government finally decided to lift the holding zone rule that hampered the refugees’ freedom of movement, to make them welcome and issue them all with temporary residence permits. It will be up to OFPRA to rule, case by case, on their request for asylum.
The refugees were then spread out over several accomodation centres. Some of them have chosen to join relatives or friends already settled in Germany or the Netherlands. These two countries, together with Gread Britain, have asked Paris to keep the Kurds on French soil.
The debate on the fate of the refugees has gradually widened to the fate of the Kurdish people as a whole. Many voices have been raised to call on France to concern itself with the cause of this Kurdish exodus and to convene a meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers to define a common European policy on the Kurdish question. The Political Committeeof the Socialist Party, the National Secretary of the Communist Party and about a dozen NGOs, Green M.P.s and some Right wing public figures have all, in their own ways called on the French Government to take such an initiative (see the Press Review). The idea, first floated by the President of the Kurdish Institute, seems to be making headway because practically all the countries of the European Union are affected by the flood of Kurdish refugees.
Can the Union, that already hosts nearly a million Kurds, allow itself to absorb several million more fleeing persecution? It is thus urgent for Europe to speak with a single voice to bring the countries of the Near East to grant their Kurdish citizens an acceptable status which, while accepting existing borders, recognises Kurdish identity and culture and allows the Kurds to live in freedom and dignity on their ancestral lands and manage their own affairs.
The violence that affects all sectors of Turkish society has now reached Parliament and the summit of the State. Les than three weeks after the death of an M.P., Fevzi Sihanlioglu, as a result of a violent fight on the floor of the House in full session, comes another virulent altercation between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister. On 19 February, in the course of the monthly meeting of the National Security Council the Prime Minister, accused by the President of not seriously acting against the corruption that affects many of his Ministries, vehemently retorted that he should not meddle in government affairs, which were none of his business. Upon which the President, a leading Constitutional lawyer, is said to have thrown the (Constitutional) book at his – which the Prime Minister did not fair to return to sender… Then, according to the Turkish press, the incident degenerated into a violent altercation under the ironic gaze of the generals present at the meeting. Mr. Ecevit and his Ministers then left the meeting of this all powerful body which brings together the ten most senior ,ilitary and civilian leaders of the country (with a majority for the militarym however…).
The Prime Minister, visibly shaken, appealed to the press, raising the issue of the "serious crisis" between him and the Turkish President. "The President attacked me by making grave accusations and completely ignoring the rules of politeness. It is an unprecedented attitude not in the traditions of the State " Mr. Ecevit added, according to AFP.
His anger is all the greater in so far as it was he who proposed Judge Sezer for the Presidency, hoping to make him a figurehead, merely signing decrees put before him by the government and inaugurating flower shows. And here is this "little judge", once elected President, refusing to play the part of a mere puppet and invoking the need for a State of Laws and resolved to fully use the powers invested in him by the Constitution. His discourse on the State of Laws and the fight against the corruption that is gangrening the whole State apparatus – and indeed, society as a whole – has earned him a real popularity with Turkish public opinion. However, up to new the increasing frequency of these clashes between these two heads of the Turkish executive had not, hitherto, unduly worried Turkish economic and business circles.
It wasm no doubt, the fact that an open conflict broke out in that Holy of Holies of Turkish institutions, the National Security Council, in the presence of the much feared generals, that, this time, convinced the financial deciders of the gravity of the situation and provoked a real panic.
In a few hours, $10 billion had left the country. The Istanbul Stock Exchange collapsed and the overnight money rate reached 6500%. Finally, on 22 February, following a marathon 13 hour meeting, the authorities were obliged to abandon the fixed exchange rate of the Turkish lire against the dollar that hey had adopted, on the IMF’s recommendations, to fight inflation. Allowed to float, the Turkish lire lost 30% of its value against the dollar, dropping from 689,000 LT/$ in mid-February to 991,669 LT/$. This devaluation will result in a 12% additional inflation, which may reach 33.33% by the end of the year, instead of the 12% the government had hoped for, according to experts quoted by AFP.
Moreover, according to the National Institute for Statistics (DIE) Turksey’s trade deficit increased by 89.1% in the year 2000 compared with 1999, to a figure of $26.6 billion. Turkey’s exports for the period were $27.3 billion as against imports of $53.9 billion. Called on for help, the IMF is busy setting up an umpteenth ‘rescure plan’ for the Turkish economy though without any illusions about its likelihood of success since the cash injected into the economy (via a completely corrupt banking system) will, to a large extent, end up in the pockets of the politicians and their the mafia associates. So, while a little minority enriches itself by pillaging the State’s resources, the middle classes are squeezed dry and the great majority of the population sinks into ever more abject poverty.
Henceforth deprived of the spectre of ‘terrorism’ that served as an alibi for all the country’s ills and a rallying cry for forging a semblance of national unity, the Turkish political system is more and more challenged and discredited in the eyes of the population. It is seeking its survival by hoping that each fresh crisis will make people forget the previous one an who was responsible. Bur for how long…
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two principal politico-military organisations of Iraqi Kurdistan, held its second congress from 30 Jamuary to 5 February 2001.
Accoring to the final communiqué published by the organisation on 8 February, 1247 members and delegates from PUK organisations and institutional bodies took part in the congress, After a minute’s silence in memory of "the PUK martyrs", the congress appointed a praesidium to direct its discussions and elected by acclamation Jalal Talabani, General Secretary of the PUK. as Congress Chairman.
He then read a long report, analysing the events that had taken place in the life of the party since the last PUK Congress (27/1 to 11/2/1992). After this report, the congress re-elected J. Talabani as General Secretary and a dozen of his asistants, proposed by him, as members of the Central Committee. Then the Congress Praesidium set up a number of commissions: a commission to eveluated the General Secretary’s report; a commission on the programme of internal organisation; a commission on pershmergas; a finance commission. The reports of these commissions were the subject of debate for two days. Then, for a further two days the delegates discussed draft resolutions and recommendations.
Secretary General J. Talabani’s report was unanimously approved and considered "the basis of the programme, of resolutions and the future policies of the PUK ".
After examining the complaints and the financial report, the Congress poceeded to elections for completing the membership of the Central Committee and party leadership. It then ended its session, described as "a political, cultural and fraternal festival for the development of the PUK and our people’s democratic experiment ".
The Congress’s final communiqué stressed that the PUK "rejects by all means the partition and division of Iraq ", defends its "territorial integrity " and declares itself in favour of a democratic and federal Iraq. The PUK declares that it will not participate in "any foreign plan against Iraq ".
On the subject of the fratricidal conflict between it and the KDP, the communiqué atates: "The PUK should courageously admit its share in the mistakes that led to the flaring up of the conflict (…) It would be unjust to hold the KDP as entirely responsible or for the KDP to hold us as entirely responsible. Both parties have made their portion of mistakes and did not sufficiently deploy the means needed to settle the conflict rapidly nd in a suitable manner. There is no doubt that, in order to reach a just solution we should accept the fact that the quarrels between us are disputes in the ranks of the same people which should be settled through fraternal dialogue, because neither of the parties could be the sole victor or loser and both parties would be considered the losers. This is why we should not have any recourse to arms whatever the circumstances. The PUK reaffirms its commitment to the Washington agreement signed on 27m September 1998. It considers that it is necessary to accelerate the setting up of a transition Council so as to accomplish the other tasks normally with a view to developping cooperation between the two parties and to reducing tension in the political atmosphere of Iraqi Kurdistan ".
Finally, some days before the Congress, by Jalal Talibani’s decree N° 9 of 20 January, a new government for the region under PUK control was appointed. Thsi government, led by Dr. Barham Ahmad Salih, former PUK representative in Washington, comprises 19 members, including Adnan R. Musfti, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. Jamal A. Fuad, Minister for Humqanitarian Action and Cooperation, Mrs. Narmeen Usman Hasan, Minister for Social Affairs (see complete list of the regional cabinet on p. 188).
THE PKK AND THE DHKP-C BANNED BY THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the extreme left Turkish organisation DHKP-C have been banned by the British government along with 21 other organisations described as "terrorist ".
The PKK laid down its arms in September 1999, following the deathy sentence on its chief, Abdullah Ocalan by the Turkish courts. The DHKP-C, which emerged following a split in Dev Sol (Revolutionary Left), is already banned in Germany, and proposes a peoples’s revolution. It was the organisation that started the hunger strikes in September 2000 whichwere so forcibly repressed by the Turkish police.
THE EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT FINDS TURKEY GUILTY OF "VOILATIONS OF THE RIGHT TO LIFE ". On 27 February, the European Court for Human Rights, in Strasbourg, found Turkey guilty of "violation of the right to life " following the disappearence of three Kurds in the Diyarbekir region. The two, son and grandson of the petitioner, Mrs. Hamsa Cicek, had disappeared in 1994 after having been arrested, then released, by the Turkish authorities following an identity check in the village of Dernek.
The Court judged that the complete absence of any information for a period of six years allowed the presumption that the two men, aged 44 and 20, had "met their deaths following an unacknowledged detention, at the hands of the security forces ".
Ankara will have to pay a total of £ 70,000 sterling in damages to the petitioner and her son’s heirs, as well as legal costs and expenses.
AKIN BIRDAL BEING SUED FOR HAVING CALLED ON ANKARA TO APOLOGISE TO THE ARMENIANS. On 8 February, the Turkish legal machine started fresh actions against Akin Birdal, Vice-President of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) for "having called for Turkey to apologise " for the harm it had inflicted, in the past, on the Armenians and other minorities.
Akin Birdal is accused of having "openly insulted Turkishness " for remarks made in Germany last year. He risks a maximum penalty of six years imprisonment. "Everyone knows what was done to the Armenians. Turkey must apologise for what it has done to the minorities " he is said to have declared, according to the charges.
According to his lawyer, Akin Birdal was speaking about minorities in general, and not only about Armenians. Birdal was freed in September 2000 after ten months in jail for "incitement to race hatred " – sentenced, in fact for his speeches in support of the rights of the Kurds in 1995 and 1996.
• FRANCE’S LOSS OF CONTRACTS IN TURKEY : POLITICAL SANCTIONS OR ECONOMIC DIFFICULTIES? Three weeks after the French Parliament passed a law recognising the Armenian genocide, Turkish anger has abated and the economic sanctions, for the moment are limited to the exclusion of French firms from invitations to tender. Beyond the media effects of the political declarations, the dammage to French business seems to be very slight.
To date, no contract has been cancelled directly owing to the passing of the law. The only one that seems to be the subject of sanctions is the one for building a spy satellite, made with Alcatel and Astrium, which, in fact, was already experiencing problems of a completely apolitical character leading to legal and administrative sanctions. Moreover, the Turkish Official Gazette of 7 February stated that "The above mentioned companies are banned from participating in any Defence Ministry Tenders for a year as of today ". ``it cites Alcatel Space Industries and Matra Marconi Space, owned by European Aeronautic Defence and Space and the British BAE Systems.
The project of a motorway across the bay of Izmit, cancelled because of the participation of French firms in the consortium, was already uncertain both because of its cost (estimated at abillion dollars) and because of its location in an area struck by a very violent earthquake in 1999, we learn from business sources.
The cancellation of the contract with Thales (ex-Thomson-CFS) for the modernisation of the navigation systems of 80 F16 fighters is still dependent on an official decision which has not yet been announced.
On the diplomatic side, the tone is one of apeasement, Turkey being aware that France is an important supporter of its application for membership of the European Union. In any case it was more a matter of making a strong point to discourage other countries from following the French example, particularly the United States, where a simular resolution, placed before Congress and only withdrawn at the last minute under pressure from President Clinton, is liable to crop up again.
The sulks continue, however, and the Turkish Ambassador to Paris, Sonmez Koksal, recalled for consultations as soon as the law was passed, on January 18, has still not returned.
It is , undoubtedly, on the part of the Turkish Army that the coldness is sharpest. All mi,itary cooperation has been frozen since the vote, and the Turkish media echo alleged instructions of the General Staff (not officially confirmed) to all officers to boycott any activity involving their French opposite numbers – including social ones. For their part, the French have received no official notification of these instructions, but the military mission in Ankara is virtually at a standstill.
A QUEER PRESS AND A QUEER JUSTICE. The Turkish journalist Melih Asik, in his column of 2 February, under the headline "A translation error…!" denounced the campaign of denigration being waged against the Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) in Turkey, showing up the close collaboration between the Turkish press and Public Prosecutor’s Office. Here is the whole of his article:
On 20 January the Turkish Press Agency, Anadolu, published an interesting news item: "Greece has revealed the NGOs to which it provides financial help. In Turkey the Human Rights Association (IHD) appears on the list".
After that comes the whole scenario …
First scene … The Anadolu, Press Agency, just after this news item (an hour later) published a second item on the same subject saying: "The Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman declared that the NGOs enjoying financial help are all based in Greece and indicated their support for these organisdations’ projects abroad".
Second scene… The next day the press, tqaking into account only the first news item published, announces that IHD enjoys the support of Greece.
Third scene… The Ankara police searches the IHD offices and seizes a number of documents and diskettes. The enquiry into "the links" between Greece and the Association begins…
The Anadolu Press Agency publishes "an erratum due to translation" a week later. It is already too late – police investigations are already under way.
Informed of the Anadolu Agency’s erratum the Public prosecutor replies: "Investigations have begun, they will not stop ".
The Police Directorate continues to declare: "We have found some evidence that we are sending to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Conclusion: Someone in Ankara is working to prove that that IHD is right in denoucing that "in Turkey there are no rights or Justice".
In his editorial of 4 February, Umur Talu, Editor-in-Chief of the Turkish daily Milliyet , deals with the mysterious disappearence of two officials of the HADEP party, at the same time denoucing the silence of the Turkish media regarding the case. Here are extensive extracts from his article entitled "But who are they? "
Have you ever been lost? I don’t mean getting lost in a strange town, an unfamiliar quarter of your own town or in a shopping mall or even, what is worse, a loss of memory, a vegetable existance or death.
To exist, while not being dead, or more exactly not being officially declared or found dead, to be seen at a specific place and then, suddenly to disappear.
Have you found yourself in the position of a close relative searching for someone who has disappeared, not knowing where or to whom to make enquiries, or, having made them, not to receive any answers.
Whatever the situation, Serdar Tanis and Ebubekir Denis have been missing for over a week.
Who are they?
You don’t know them.
You have probably never heard of them. And would you have been concerned if you had heard of them? It’s just another "unsolved" case. And, after all, you would not have been wrong!
The newspapers that report these cases are not allowed to travel in the region "where missing people have disappeared".
As for the any papers or TV programmes that can appear, they give no more information than just "missing people have disapeared".
If, while or after writing these line, their bodies are not found "dead or alive" …
The missing persons are Tanis, Chairman of the Silopi section of HADEP; Deniz, the secretary if the surrounding district.
On 25 January,they are known to be and were seen going to the gendarmerie.
The rest remains unknown.
According to witnesses they went "of their own free will".
The gendarmerie, the Sirnak prefecture, the OHAL Super-Prefecture who, at first retorted "nothing of the sort has happened", have changed their stories after the intervention of Salih Yilderim, Assistant Chairman of the Motherland Party (ANAP) and now say "They came and then left".
Moreover it is now said that even the gendarmerie is atarting to look for them – by putting up posters.
Their families declare that they have been threatened and that the regional commander had told them to "resign from the party"…
Who are they? They are not famous, they are not relatives of mine. They are complete strangers. Where are those who were seen crying "Brotherhood and Peace, calmness, union and unity" at Okkan’s funeral (Editor’s Note: The Diyarbekir Police Chief assassinated on 24 January 2001) ?
Fortunately you are, yourself, not missing !
If you were…
Would you have wanted your people to have news of you …
Or that I should write about you?