The process of national reconciliation in Iraqi Kurdistan entered a decisive phase with the meeting of the National Assembly in plenary session on 4 October. This assembly, which was elected in 1992 was obliged to interrupt its work during the period of inter-Kurdish fighting of 1994-1996. Since then, because of a boycott by the majority of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) members, it has been meeting at Irbil with only 60 of its 105 members.
The peace agreement signed between the Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani in Washington in September 1998, in the presence of the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, provided for a plenary session of the Parliament for an interim period, to prepare fresh elections and thus complete the reconciliation process and the institutionalisation of democracy.
After a lengthy pseries of meetings and normalisation measures, the leaders of the two principle Kurdish parties finally decided, on the eve of important political events pending in Iraq, that it was time to set the Kurdish house in order.
A summit meeting between Messrs Barzani and Talabani on 8 September had enabled the last obstacles to be smoothed out and the date of the Plenary Session of the Kurdistan Parliament to be set for 4 October. Thsi highly symbolic date marks the tenth anniversary of the proclamation by Parliament of federalism as the solution to the Kurdish problem in Iraq and as the political system for post-Saddam Iraq.
Carefully prepareed, the Plenary Session took place at Irbil on 4 October in the presence of a number of foreign and Kurdish public figuresand a great number of journalists from international media. After an opening speech by Dr. Roj Schawesh, the Speaker of Parliament, a message of congratulation from Colin Powell was read out. Then Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand addressed the Kurdish M.P.s to congratulate thenm on their re-established cohesion aqnd to encourage them to redouble their efforts to build a future of peace and democracy for their people. “If you are united, if you act like democrats, you will have the sympathy and support of international public opinion” she added before going on to praise the remarkable progress acheived by the Kurds in developping their country since her visit in 1992.
Speaking in his turn, KDP President Massoud Barzani recalled the gravity and historic importance of the day, reiterated his commitment to justice and law, stressed the fundamental role of Parliament as the sole area of democratic legitimacy qualified to decide issues of governing the country. In his own name and that of his party, he appologised tom the Kurdish people for the internal clashes of the 1994-96 period. If Parliament and the people do not pardon us I accept, in advance the judgement of an impartial court on the responsibilities for the fratricidal war, he concluded, to applause from the M.P.s.
It was then the turn of the General Secretary of the PUK, Jalal Talabani, to take the floor and also evoke the historic impotance of the day, the confidence finally restored between the two principle Kurdish forces and their leaders. He wanted to thank Mr. Barzani for his “very positive” role in the difficult dialogue that made this reconciliation possible. Appologising in his turn for the fratricidal war, he stated that this black page had now and forever been turned over, that hte Kurds would never again resort to arms to settle their differences.
After the speeches of the two representatives of the High Commission for Peace, who recounted the history of their work, concluding that “a hundred years of negotiations are better than one day of fratricidal war” the Speaker of Parliament proceeded to the swearing in of 29 dputy members to replace those M.P.s who had died, resigned or gone abroad since the last session (28 from the PUK, 1 from the KDP). Thus reconstituted, Parliament now has 51 KDP members, 49 PUK members and 5 Assyro-Chaldeans.
In the course of this historic session, the members ratified the Washington peace agreement and decided to prolong their term of office for a further 9 months. During that time, Parliament would draw up a fresh electoral law, a federal Bill as well as urgent legislation in a number of areas. Elections for a new Parliament should take place before June 2003.
Symbolically, and to seal the new climate of reconciliation, Parliament held a special session on 8 October in Suleimaniyeh in the presence of M. Barzani and J. Talabani. Thereafter it will sit in Irbil, the politico-administrative capital of the region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
This meeting of Parliament aroused great hopes in the Kurdish population of Iraq and neighbouring countries. It was widely reported in the international media. As against that it provoked sharp and hostile reactions in Turkey.
Since the plenary session of the Kurdistan Parliament on 4 October, organised by the two parties that control Iraqi Kurdistan [the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)] Turkey has been multiplying its threats. Faced with a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, Turkey has been hesitating between its traditional support for its American ‘big brother’ and its even more traditional Kurdish nightmare. “The establishment of an independent Kurdish State near our borders would be unacceptable” thundered Turkish Prime Minister Bùlent Ecevit on 6 October. “We will carefully observe what happens in Northern Iraq and we will take the necessary measures if the slightest negative change appears” he declared during an interview on the TV8 television chanel. In reply to the question whether these measures” might include military operations Mr. Ecevit replied “I hope not, but should it prove necessary, (this option) could, of course, be envisaaged”. Mr. Ecevit also commented circumspectly on the message from the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to the Kurdish Parliament, welcoming the agreement between the KDP and the PUK and calling on them to persevere on the road to peace. “I do not know the intentions behind this message, but if this initiative was taken having in mind an objective of creating an independent Kurdish State we will not welcome it nor consider it as a friendly act. But I do not think that such were his intentions”.
Turkey, that has maintained troops in Iraqi Kurdistan for several years, proclaims its desire to maintain the territorial integrity of its neighbour, but has no hesitations about claiming the right to oversee Iraqi Kurdistan and the right to defend the interests of the Turkoman minority. “Iraq’s natural resources are not resources that can be ceded to any particular element of the Iraqi people” recently stated the Turkish Foreign Minister, Sukru Sina Gurel, according to whom the Kurds must be prevented from appropriating the oil wells of the Kirkuk region. “When the time comes, we will do as we did in Cyprus — take whatever we have a right to in Mossul and Kirkuk” stated even more forcibly the ultra-nationalist Speaker of Parliament, Omer Izgi on 6 October. “Turkey should take the initiative and its armed forces take control of the North of Iraq, more or less up to the 16th Parallel” before any American military operations, opined, for his part, the retired General and geopolitical expert Armagan Kuloglu. This would “dam the flood of refugees, guarantee the security of the Turkomans and prevent the Kurds from becoming economically strong by taking over the Mossul and Kirkuk regions” he added, estimating that 30 to 40 thousand men would be enough for the task. “Turkey will lose a lot if it does not take an active part” in overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was also the opinion of retired General Cevik Bir. He added “Turkey must prepare for an operation that seems inevitable”.
In an interview with the daily paper Milliyet, published on 9 October, Bülent Ecevit again described as “unacceptable” the Kurdish projected Constitution, stating that it “ignored” the central administration. “This project as it stands is unacceptable (…) If this project, that ignores Baghdad, is adopted officially, Turkey will not accept it” he warned. “The projected Constitution envisages a status (for Iraqi Kurdistan) close to independence” according to Mr. Ecevit. The Turkish Prime Minister also showed his irritation on 12 October at the proclamation of a “capital” considering that things were going “too far”. “Things have now gone too far” declared the head of the government “We must discuss these questions with greater precision, greater depth, with those concerned — and firstly with the United States” stressed Mr. Ecevit, who considered that the Kurdish “Constitution” was a “fraud” . “It is a truly worrying situation that we cannot accept” he said again, promising “to get to grips with the subject”. “Up to now, this question has been more a matter of security (for Turkey)” Mr. Ecevit considered “but this is no longer enough — we must discuss it from a political point of view” with the United States. Moreover, in its 13 October issue Milliyet carried this remark by Mr. Ecevit as a front page headline : “We are being pushed into war. Northern Iraq is going beyond the limit. Turkey is being led to war against its will…”.
On 27 October, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer stated that Turkey deserved to start negotiations for membership of the European Union by next year and criticised Brussels’ refusal to set a date.
On 25 October, those taking part in the E.U. Summit in Brussels had welcomed the democratic reforms —that the Fifteen had demanded of it — adopted by Turkey, though mentioning the long road that remains before it in matters of freedom of expression, of religion and of association. “The results (…) have not come up to our expectations” commented President Sezer to journalists, before leaving for Copenhagen to argue in favour of Turkey’s application for membership with the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. While “encouraging” Ankara to “pursue the reform process already begun”, the summit meeting of the Fifteen in fact avoided giving Turkey what it was demanding : a date for the start of negotiations for membership. At once the Turkish Foreign Minister, Sukru Sina Gurel, announced on the same day that his country would “re-evaluate” its relations with the European Union if a date was not set in the course of the coming year. “If the European Union does not take a decision for starting negotiatioons with Turkey in 2003, Turkish-European relations will greatly suffer and Turkey will be obliged to re-evaluate all aspects of its relations with the E.U.” he declared.
For his part, the Turkish President declared that “Our aim is full membership of the European Union (…) Im would stress that we have established a sufficient basis (…) for discussions in 2003”.For his part, the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country at present holds the rotating Presidency of the E.U. explained that “the final decision regarding Turkey will take place in December” at the Copenhagen Summit.
In August 2002, the Turkish Parliament abolished capital punishment in times of peace, and granted some cultural rights to the Kurdish minority with a view to qualifying for membership of the European Union. However, these refirms have not, so far, been applied in any effective way. The members of parliament hoped thus to meet the criteria that Brussels had long demanded before the December Summit at which the member states were due to decide on the enlargement of the E.U.
According to a report of the Brussells Commission, which was made public on 9 October, Turkey “does not fully meet the political criteria” to start negotiations on membership with the European Union.
Turkey must, to a greater extent, put the reforms into practice before engaging in negotitations for membership of the European Union, states the Commission’s report. The Commission also exhorts Ankara to place its all-powerful military establishment under full civiliam control.
As compensation for setting a date for negotiations, the Commission encouraged Ankara to “advance the cause of its application for membership” by continuing its reforms and proposed that European aid to Turkey (177 million euros a year) be “at least doubled till 2006”.
The United States and their partners on the Security Council continue to work flat out in the wings to eliminate their differences in the proposed American resolution which aims at considerably toughening the terms of weapons inspection in Iraq and which raises the threat of military intervention in the event of an Iraqi refusal fully to cooperate with the UN experts. The sharpest reservations come from France and Russia who refuse to give Mr. Bush a “blank check” for attacking Iraq. France wants to ensure that the resolution passed does not contain any expression that would allow the United States to unleash a war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and then claim that the UN had authorised this operation. However, while Washington agrees to consult members of the Council before acting unilaterally, it does not want to be dependent on a vote that might tie its hands. In its initial version, the American draft, backed by Great Britain, envisaged declaring that Iraq was in breach of the previous UN resolutions and warning Baghdad of the “serious consequences” of any attempt to hinder the work of the inspectors. The amended version is said to indicate that an Iraqi refusal to conform to the new resolution would lead to a fresh examination of the situation by the Security Council. Washington, however, refuses to subject future armed strikes against Iraq to a vote by the Council. Washington, furthermore, has stated that the Iraqi leaders should stand trial for the “atrocities” they have committed. “In a general manner, the regime (in Baghdad) and its leaders have clearly committed atroocities and should account for them to the Iraqi people and the international community” declared Mr. Fleischer, the Presidential spokesman. The US daily, the Washington Post, had, moreover, stated on 30 October that two Pentagon lawyers were at the moment preparing chargesand collecting evidence to enable the trial of Iraqi leaders.
Furthermore, to step up the pressure, the United States was preparing to deploy B-2 “stealth” bombers on the British Diego Garcia base, in the Indian Ocean and also in England, according to leading military official on 30 October. Bringing two B-2s closer to the theatre of operations in Iraq would enable the US forces to carry out 12 times as many strike missions than if the planes were based on Whiteman Field, in Missouri.
In the opinion of American diplomats at UNO, nothing will be decided before the U.S. mid-term elections on 5 November. On the other hand, on 15 October, George Bush signed the resolution adopted the previous week by the US Congress authorising him to wage war on Iraq.
An official Iraqi Kurdish delegation visited Ankara to reassure Turkey that the Iraqi Kurds were not seeking independence but a federal stutus within Iraq. At the end of a meeting with officials of the Turkish Foreign Office, Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the Irbil based Kurdistan regional government declared, on 24 October : “ Our objective is not to set up an independent government or entity. We wish to resolve this problem in the framework of a united and democratic Iraq”. The visit was aimed at dispel the tension that characterised relations between the two parties, examine the future of Iraq, the federal option for Iraq desired by the Kurds and economic exchanges.
Ankara and the KDP, which have controled Iraqi Kurdistan since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, jointly with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have recently had sharply critical exchages following an orchestrated press campaign claiming that the KDP was aiming at independence. Since the reconciliation between the KDP and the PUK early in October, and the effective resumption of the Kurdish “unified parliament” in Irbil, the KDP and PUK have been striving to reassure their Turkish neighbour that they had no intention of proclaiming an independent Kurdish state in the event of American action in Iraq. The two Kurdish parties had, nevertheless, published a proposed constitution in which the capital of the Kurdish federal region would be in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, at present under the control of Baghdad. This provoked the ire of Ankara which considered this to be a step towards independence. Mr. Barzani explained that this was just “a project proposal” which had yet to be discussed with the other Iraqi opposition groups. He nevertheless stressed that “from a geographical point of view, Kirkuk well know to be part of Iraqi Kurdistan”. The Kurdish Prime Minister stressed that during their discussions with the Turkish diplomats, the two parties had managed to “clarify a number of questions” provoked by “confusions” and “misunderstandings” and welcomed the mutual will to “put bilateral links back on the right road”. At the same time, moreover, a PUK delegation made a similar visit to Damascus.
Turkish nationalist leaders had suggested that the Turkish Army should seize Kirkuk and the neighbouring city of Mossoul before the Kurds could do so. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Sukru Sina Gurel, had accused the United States of wanting to push Turkey into military intervention in Iraq before any American operations by reviving the Kurdish question. “In all our meetings, the American leaders affirmed that they did not want an independent Kurdish State in Northern Iraq, but events there show that such a de facto state exists” the Minister is quoted as saying in the Turkish daily Milliyet. “We can well ask ourselves whether the United States are not trying to provoke Ankara by encouraging such a situation. For example, do they (the American leaders) wançt Turkey to invade Northern Iraq before they intervene ? It may well be their aim” he added. Mr. Gurel hastened to make the point that Ankara would not intervene there because of “outside provokations or encouragements” but only in the event of a threat to Turkey.
• THE TURKISH COURTS START PROCEEDINGS AGAINST FIVE GERMAN FOUNDATIONS THAT HAVE BRANCHES IN TURKEY. On 25 October, the Turkish Press announced that the Ankara State Security Court had decided tp start proceedings against five German FoundatIons with branches in Turkey, accused of conducting “clandestine activities aimed at undermining the Turkish State” and of “spying” at the very moment when the Turkish Foreign Minister was visiting his opposite number in Berlin and when the European Union was holding a summit on its enlargement in Brussels. The German ambassador in Ankara described the accusation as “nonsensical, improper and unfounded” while the Public Prosecutor Nuh Mete Yuksel maintained that the foundations had made “a secret alliance” with ethnic and religious groups aimed at dividing the country and demanded 15 years imprisonment for the accused.
The foundations accused are the Konrad Adenauer, Heinrich Boell, Friedrich Ebert and the Friedrich Naumann Foundations and the Oriental Institute — which enjoy considerable prestige in Germany.
• HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH DENOUNCES TURKISH POLICY TOWARDS THE DISPLACED OR FORCIBLY EXPELLED PEOPLE WHO ASK TO BE ABLE TO RETURN. On 30 October the human rights defence organisation, Human Rights Watch, called on Turkey to help families expelled from their villages during the years of intense fighting to return home. “There has been very little fighting since the PKK’s unilateral cease fire declaration in 1999” writes Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its published report “but only a thin trickle of villages has been able to return” home.
The organisation recalls that, according to official statistics, 380,000 people were forces to leave their homes. According to various non-governmental organisations, this figure is really to “at least” one and ahalf million people. These expulsions, accompanied by violence, wanton destruction and even “disappearences” were docuimented in 1995 by a Turkish Parliamentary report which attributed the responsibility to the gendarmerie, but its recommendations were ignored, according to HRW. The European Human Rights Court has several times condemned this policy of Turkey’s, but the plaintiffs, although paid dammages, have never been allowed to return home, stresses HRW. As for the Turkish government’s “Rehabilitation and Return to the Village Project”, it was limited to a “feasibility study” without any written report or budget and is based on figures “of doubtful credibility ” HRW says accusingly.
The international organisation thus calls on the Turkish government to reveal the real statistics on actual returns, to announce precise targets for this programme and to put an end to the system of “village guardians” — a militia paid and armed by the government to control the villages. Human Rights Watch also calls on all international organisations specialised in the problems of reugees to intervene and offer their expertise, and calls on the World Bank, the European Union and the U.S. Government to put pressure on Turkey to find a solution to this displacement of “hundreds of thousands of people”.
THE DEATH SENTENCE ON ABDULLAH OCALAN COMMUTED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT. On 3 October, the Ankara State Security Court commuted the death sentence passed in June 1999 for “treason and separatism” on the chief of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan. The next day, the Council of Europe welcomed the Ankara State Security Court’s decision in a communiqué : “This most important legal decision, of the greatest political importance, is the logical consequence of the legal and constitutional changes consisting in the recent abolition of the death sentence in times of peace and of aligning several fundamental aspects of Turkish legislation with the standards of the Council of Europe” declared the Chairman of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, Peter Schieder.
The Ankara State Security Court’s decision follows the abolition of the death sentence last August by the Turkish authorities in order to conform with European criteria regarding Human Rights. A total of about twenty people under sentence of death should have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. But the State Security Court’s decision, even if it is just a formality, holds great symbolic importance in the country.
• A MAJOR POLICE OPERATION IN SULEIMANIYEH UNCOVERS FORGERS AND TERRORISTS. According to the satellite TV channel, KurdSat on 15 October, the Suleimaniya Security Department, in its most important operation, has uncovered a major network of forgers of banknotes but also of terrorists who have been involved in various attacks. The security department forces “seized four sacks of gunpowder, more than 16,900 TNT electric capsules, some lengths of cortex cable used in bombing and terrorist action.”
KurdSat quoted “informed sources” as saying that “the terrorist gang's equipment and material had been brought into the Kurdistan region from the areas under the Iraqi government's control”.
• AN INDEPENDENT KURDISH CANDIDATE IN THE ELECTIONS WAS DETAINED FOR QUESTIONING FOR HAVING SPOKEN IN KURDISH, WHILE HIS PARTY IS IN DANGER OF BEING BANNED. A Kurdish candidate for the General Election to be held on 3 November was briefly pulled in for questioning by the police in the Kurdish town of Lice for having spoken in Kurdish during an election meeting. Abdulmelik Firat, President of the pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedom Party (HAK-PAR) and independent election candidate was taken to the police station and detained for five hours after making an election speech duriong a meeting in a cafe in the town.
The Public Prosecutor demanded that he be arrested for having broken election laws which ban the use of any other language than Turkish during election campaigns, but the court before which he was taken rejected this demand and freed him. The HAK-PAR Party’s Vice-President, Fehmi Demir, denounced the hostile campaign being waged agtainst them by the authorities. “We will continue to speak in Kurdish during our campaign” he said.
Mr. Firat is the grandson of the leader of one of the greatest Kurdish insurrections (1925) which followed the proclamation of the Republic in 1923. Sheikh Said’s movement was repressed with difficulty by the security forces and its leaders, including their chief, were all hanged.
On 31 October, the Turkish Constitutional Court is due to hear the closing speach of Public Prosecutor Sabih Kanadoglu, who accuses HAK-PAR of “separatism” because its Constitution defines it as the party “of Kurds and Turks” — which, he claims, is “an attack on the territorial integrity” of the country …
In another, less serious incident, the local authorities started a police enquiry into a Turkish folk singer who had sung a song in Spanish during an election meeting of the social-democratic People’s Republican Party (CHP) in Trabzon (the ancient Trebizond, on the Black Sea coast of North-East Turkey) according to a report in the press dated 23 October. “I do not know a word of Spanish” remarked Volkan Konak to the popular daily Vatan, stating that he had “improvised” the song, whose words had “no particular significance”.
• IN DIYARBEKIR THERE ARE ALREADY SIGNS OF ELECTORAL FRAUD. According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet of 30 October, the Kurdish province of Diyarbekir is facing major complications and incidents of all kinds, just a few days before the 3 November elections. Thus a large number of voters cards have not been delivered either because of incorrect addressing or lack of postmen. Abdulkadir Aydinlar, mayor of the Kooperatifler quarter, which has 27,000 electors, states “We have only four postmen to deliver the cards … when there find an incorrect address they just leave the card with any building janitor, who returns the undelivered cards to us or to the provincial election supervisory committee”. The mayor of Baglar’s 5 nisan quarter, Zulkuf Kurt, states, for his part, that almost 100,000 electors will be unable to vote in Diyarbekir on 3 November, and stresses, suspiciously, that the only electoral registers to be rechecked by Ankara are those for Diyarbekir and Bingol. “The electoral registers arrived at Diyarbekir just a week before polling day … In our quarter there are 32,000 electors, but on the new list 2,500 have been deleted, allegedly because they are doubles. Whereas, in fact, this is not so. The voting cards are full of mistakes — absence of addresses, names mixed up, first names altered. Most of them will be unuseable on polling day — they won’t be accepted. It is a great injustice” Mr. Kurt declared.
The daily published a reproduction of a typical voters card received by an elector at Diyarbekir, containing a number of obvious errors in the surname and first name — but also in the date of birth, which is shown as “00-00-1900”, and the place of birth which is shown as “Europe” !
In this context, of fraud and manipulation aimed at reducing as far as possible the score of the pro-Kurdish candidates, the honesty of the coming poll already seems seriously compromised.
• WHEREAS SADDAM HUSSEIN OFFICIALLY RECEIVED 100% OF THE VOTES IN BAGHDAD -CONTROLLED AREAS OF IRAQ, IN FREE IRAQI KURDISTAN 94.5% VOTE AGAINST HIM. In an opinion poll organized in the Kurdish administered Northern Iraq, 94.5 per cent of the voters said “No” to the question “Do you want Saddam Hussein as President of Iraq?”
The poll was organized by the Iraq Institute for Democracy (a local NGO which was established in 1999, with the view at promoting democratic culture and civil society inside Iraq and is based in the Kurdistan regional capital, Arbil) and the independent Arabic language daily Al-Ahali. The poll was carried out in the three Kurdish governorates of Duhik, Irbil and Suleimaniyeh.
The poll was conducted on 3.500 people taken at random and from different gender, age, professional, religion and community groups, said a statement issued by Iraq Institute for Democracy on 15 October.
This opinion poll was conducted in Iraqi Kurdistan on the same day as the referendum held in the rest of Iraq (except the Kurdish-administered region) to extend Saddam Hussein’s presidency for a further seven-year term. On 16 October the Iraqi administration declared Saddam Hussein the winner with “100 percent” of the votes — a score unequalled even in the most totalitarian states…
• CLASHES BETWEEN TURKISH ARMED FORCES AND PKK FIGHTERS IN TURKISH KURDISTAN. On 28 October, it was learnt, from local and official sources, that the Turkish Security forces had killed a fighter of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and that five soldiers and one civilian had been killed in two separate clashes in Turkish Kurdistan.
One fighter was killed in the course of a clash in Dersim Province and a hunter, who had strayed into the area where the fighting took place, was wounded, according to the provincial governor, Tuncel Erkal. Moreover, according to local sources who prefer to remain anonymous, five Turkish soldiers were also wounded in a clash with fighters near the town of Nazimiye, in the same province of Dersim.
On 22 October, another clash betweenTurkish troops and Kurdish fighters had resulted in three deaths — two fighters and one soldier, in a locality called Yayladere, in Bingöl province. One soldier had also been wounded.