On Friday 29 November the Paris Kurdish Institute organised an international Conference on “The Future of the Kurds in Iraq” in the Victor Hugo Hall of the French National Assembly.
Over four hundred people, including 112 journalists, diplomats, members of Parliament, research workers, and leading officials of political parties and NGOs took part in this important day of information and reflection which took place at a time when the perspective of a war in Iraq is arousing so much anxiety over the fate of the Kurdish population.
After decades of wars and persecutions, a substantial part of the Iraqi Kurds live in the security zone, an area a great as Switzerland, protected by the Anglo-American Air Forces. Saddam Hussein’s administration is absent from this zone but it still controls part of Iraqi Kurdistan, in particular the oil-rich provinces of Kirkuk and Khanaqin. In free Kurdistan, the Kurds manage their affairs themselves.
After difficult beginings, the experience of self-government has enabled the Kurds to rebuid their devastated country, setting up an elected Parliament, an administration, Universities and institutions that ensure their region an unprecedented economic, cultural and democratic development. This despite the constraints of the sanctions regime applied to the whole of Iraq, of the internal embargo imposed by the Baghdad on Kurdistan and of the hostile behavious of certain neighbouring States. However, the de facto autonomy is only enjoyed by 3.7 of the 6 million Iraqi Kurds. The others, still under the iron fist ofBaghdad’s domination, suffer a policy of forced Arabisation and try by all means possible to flee that repression to seek refuge in Western Europe in ever increasingly tragic conditions.
What will become of Kurdish autonomy in the event of a conflict ? Ist the status quo tenable ? What is the situation of the Kurds and the minorities in Kurdistan ? What role is there for France and for Europe in tomorrow’s Iraq ?
Such were the priciple themes tackled in the Conference’s Round Tables. To discuss them in a pluralist spirit, the Conference brought together Western experts like Alain Gresh, Editor-in-Chief of Le Monde Diplomatique ; Gérard Chalian, a geopolitical expert just back from Kurdistan ; Pierre-Jean Luisard, a specialist on Iraq ; Jonathan Randall, former Near Eastern correspondent of the Washington Post and Hamit Bozarslan, lecturer at the Ecole des Hauts Etudes en Science Sociales but also Arab and Kurish public figures representative of the main political trends of Iraqi society : Adnan Mufti, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, Fuad Hussein, Vice-President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, Dr. Najmattin Karim, President of the Washington Kurdish Institute, Dr. Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, Iraqi Shiite opponent of the Baghdad regime, Mrs Nasrine Berwari, Minister of Reconstruction in the Kurdish Regional Government, Pir Khidir, Director of the Lalesh Yezidi Cultural Centre, Jewdat Najar, Turkoman Minister of State in the Kurdish Regional Government, Albert Yelda, an Assyro-Chaldean political figure, Ghassan Attiya, an Iraqi opponent of the Baghdad regime, Siyamend Othman, an independent Iraqi analyst, Adil Abdul Mahdi, spokesman of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution and Hushyar Zibari, head of the Department of International Relations of the KDP.
In addition, the participation of the two principal Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, gave this conference an altogether exceptional character. A number of Western public figures like Bernard Dorin, French Ambassador, Bernard Kuchner, former French Minister of Health, Peter Galbraith, former American Ambassador to Croatia, François Loncle, Vice-President of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the French Parliament, Aymeri de Montesquiou, French Senator recently returned from Kurdistan and Hubert Vedrinem former French Foreign Minister had accepted to take part in the conference to share their experiences and their vision of the future of Iraq.
In his speech opening the conference, Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, said in particular : “whether one be for or against the war, we cannot spare ourselves the need to think about the post-Saddam Hussein situation” and the situation of the Kurds in it, especially as “with two major Kurdish parties who, together, have administered Kurdistan for eleven years, peace, democracy and a relative degree of prosperity have been established in a region devastated by decades of war”. He stressed that the conference had been entirely organised by the Kurdish Institute and that it had not been at the request of the French government or at the initiative of this or that political party.
Gérard Chaliand, just back brom Kurdistan, pointed out that “the Kurds know what they want and, contrary to what the Turkish leaders think, they position themselves in the framework of an Iraqi State, within which they hope to share power with the other components of the population”. Kurdistan “is an example, unique in the Middle East, of such an open handed treatment of religious and ethnic minorities”, continued Mr. Chaliand before recalling the progress achieved (infrastructures, health, education) in this region. “It remains to be seen where we are going” he asked. Mr. Chaliand also expressed concern that “the United States intends using the weapon of democracy against countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia”. “The objective of the war is infinately easier to achieve than the post-war vision” he remarked.
In the opinion of the London based Iraqi Shiite opponent of the regime, Mouaffaq al Rubai, it was essential that “the Kurds be incorporated into an Iraqi state, united but decentralised, in which the Shiite majority (about 55% of the population) should cease being alienated” from the country’s political life. “To prevent it being dismembered, Iraq should be provided with a federal structure” so as to end the system whereby the Sunnis alone ran Iraq, as they’ve done since the creation of this State in 1921, he pointed out. “Three ills characterise the situation in Iraq — dictatorship, persecution of the Kurds and discrimination against the Shiites. Democracy, federalism and the abolition of discrimination are the solutions to these ills” considered this opponent of the regime.
“Democracy and federalism are like magic words, but it is, above all, up to the Kurds to define their choice” indicated, for his part, Adel Abdul Mahdi, spokesman for the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (ASSRI, the principal Shiite movement, which is based on Iran) rejecting any idea of “trusteeship over the Kurds”.
Mrs. Nasrine Berwari, Minister of Reconstruction, described her experience in the field : “Iraq is a country of divisions, many very ancient but others engended by the present regime. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the development of political institutions and public services contribute to the strengthening of integration and cooperation. A great step forward was taken with free and fair elections in 1992, when a regional Parliament was set up. Determined efforts have been made to include all the members of different religious and ethnic groups in the precess. Procedures to encourage civic participation have been organised, directly linked to the procedures needed for democracy. Last year, for example, free and fair elections, supervised by international observers, were held in a dozen municipalities for the fiorst time since 1957. Moreover, there has been the recent reunification of the Kurdish National Assembly, after a long and regrettable interruption. We assure you that we love and cherish our longstanding diversity in which all the ethnic and religious groups live together and take an active part, in the same manner, in one another’s festivities.
Today, there are over 700,000 boys and girls going to school in 3,000 schools. In 1991, there were only 800 schools built by the Baathist regime in the region. We believe in education (…) Primary and secondary education can be had in Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac or Turkish. We have three Universities… In partnership with the private sector, we have developped unlimited Internet access by sattelite. And now everyone can have Internet access at home without any restrictions. My Ministry of Reconstruction pays particular attention to the situation of people who have been displaced inside the country : this, according to a UNO report, is the case with 23% of the population of Iraqi Kurdistan, for reasons of security, the problem of mines and the policy of Arabisation of Kurdish regions under the present regime’s control. Resettling these people has been very popular over the last 11 years (…) And our effort at population resettlement could be a good example for Iraq as a whole in the event of the regime falling (…) The Kurds and the other minority groups living in Iraqi Kurdistan have their own scools, television chanels, newspapers, political parties and NGOs (…) Women are playing an increasingly important role on the political, social and economic scenes (…).
Since 1990, 25 resolutions have been passed just to solve the humanitarian question in Iraq (…) One of these resolutions was number 896, the Oil for Food programme, which has been carried out for 6 years now (…) An unportant characteristic of this programme is that special funds are reserved for strictly humanitarian projects. They cannot be used for anything else (…) UNO’s administration and management is weak at the moment. For each of its agencies, this programme is the biggest in the world. UNO does not have the most suitable staff in Iraq, most of them are on temporary contracts that rarely exeed 12 months. Many are not professionals. Probably no other UNO programme is better than this one.”
In the view of Siyamend Othman, an Iraqi independent analyst, “There is a great deal of speculation over the Americans’ objectives, but there is little discussion about the aspirations of the Iraqi people.” He concluded by warning against the temptation of “ethnic division”.
The round table devoted to the role in Iraq of Europe and France was evidently keenly expected. Here are some extracts from the contributions of the public figures that spoke :
Bernard Kouchner : “We are just back from Kurdistan. The changes on the spot are exceptional … prodigious … in both the zones. We are glad to see they share similar views and welcome this, as only a short while ago the two zones were in conflict.
In Kurdistan there is now a spirit of unity and not of confrontation. The daily exercise of democracy is visible there. Parliament is working. It is busy, together with all the communities representated, working on a Constitution, that they want to be a federal one, even if this is a bit premature. It is a splendid example of their work— precise, political and militant. Everyday life is reasonably normal for a beseiged country, and not just a country a region. (…) In Kurdistan the infantile mortality rate has dropped from 88/1000 to 62/1000 between 1988, 1994 and 2002. That is to say that the scandal of infant deaths in Baghdad is something that is due to Saddam Hussein’s government … I could tell you that 20 hospitals have been built in this region of Kurdistan with the same money. I could tell you that the hospitals are working, despite the pressures and that , at Suleimaniah, the University, which didn’t even exist six years ago, today has 7,500 students, over half of whom are girls — and I didn’t see any of them wearing a veil … There is a free press and political meetings.
It seems to me, however, more positive, even in a danerous situation, to achieve or help achieve and note the maturity of a people that is going towards democracy and which would adopt the forms whatever influence it is under thanks to UNO … or the E.U. … In history, it will all the same be spectacularly unfair if we do not let it, if we do not help it or if we do not align ourselves on the side of democracy for a people, the Iraqi people, which would like to go in that direction, because of fear of terrorism when our Kurdish friends, who are a majority here, have never, in all their struggles down the centuries, accepted terrorism as a political tool, who have never placed a bomb amongst innocent people, never assassinated innocent people…”
Hubert Vedrine, former French Foreign Minister, declared for his part : “Even if the disarmament of Iraq has, in fact, taken place, even if all the world is convinced of this, including the Americans, if we are dealing with the same type of regime that, by hypothesis might not have changed … What do we do next ? I say very simply : it seems to me impossible to limit ourselves to ending the sanctions and subervision, it is impossible in reality. So I don’t know what type of vigilence must be maintained afterwards, but if we do not maintain some form of pressure, under one form or another, I do not see how the federalism you are talking about can be made to work. I do not see how we could preserve, for the Kurds, all all the gains, the gains of resolution 688, the gains of recent years, the gains of these Kurdish political and economic achievements…
I think that, without waiting we should imagine an international conference on the future of Iraq, including that of the Kurds, of Northern Iraq, of democracy today. An international conference prepared under the ægis of UNO, with all the Iraqi political forces concerned, including the Kurds, of course, but also other forces to begin to think about the whole of this process. The process of preparing the future must be begun. All the countries potentially concerned, all the political forces potentially concerned must be involved in this, and at one moment or another this should lead to a new Security Council resolution that should provide a framework for the process I have been talking about … committing the permanent members, committing the non-permanent members, committing the regional groupings, committing the major neighbouring countries ; a resolution to define, for tomorrow’s Iraq, and thus also for the Kurds, in thus federal system of which we are all thinking, an international regime of controlled re-insertion of Iraq into the regional environment”.
For his part, the Vice President of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission, François Loncle, declared that he was in favour of “a group with an international purpose, a study group, in this Assembly, on the Kurdish question, that would enable the questions directly concerning the Kurdish people to be treated with all the political organisations present in the National Assembly…
Think, my dear friends, that for several years, I am ashamed to say, thare has not been any study group on the Kurds, but there is a France-North Korea Friendship Group, a France-Bielorussia Friendship Group, and a France-Iraq Group which is not a friendship group but is a goup with an international purpose. It is more than time that we had an ethical attitude, all our political groups combined, that corresponds to the commitment some of us have … Tomorrow’s Iraq needs Kurds who could be a determining factors in a democratic and federal construction … Hubert Vedrine’s idea of an international conference to prepare the future is a idea that could and should make headway”.
Senator Montesquiou, UMP member, just back from Kurdistan, suggested, for his part that “there is a great object lesson in what is happening in this part of Northern Iraq. “Peshmerga” means “those who go to face death” ; the pershmergas have, today, chosen peace … And, in a little less than 10 years, peace has created something extraordinary … one can sometimes drive on two lane highways — I have travelled hundreds of kilometres in this region and I was really surprised. And in the list Bernard Kuchner gave just now he forgot one most important point — 12,000 schools created … I hope soon to bring Afghan friends to tell them “You may be in despair over the state of your country —come and see what the Kurds have succeeded in doing in Northern Iraq”.
The former US Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, for his part, stressed that “at heart each one of them (the Kurds) aspires to an independent state and the political deciders have to take that into account”. He also indicated that “any Turkish military intervention during or after a future war would be a disaster — not only for Iraq but also for Turkey”.
The two leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, closed the conference by expressing themselves clearly in favour of a Federal state in Iraq. They had earlier had meetings with Christian Poncelet, President of the Senate on 26 November, with Renaud Muselier, French Under-secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, (in the absence of the Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who had been urgently called away to the Ivory Coast) on the 27th and with Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior on the 28th.
Greeted by a standing ovation by those in the hall, and holding hands to mark their reconciliation and unity, the two leaders made very similar comments on the future of the Kurds and of Iraq.
“Our project is designed in the context of a pluralist, Federal state with a central government” declared Jalal Talabani, who specified that the Iraqi Kurds had not the slightest ambition for independence in the event of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and that the Turkish authorities should not worry about this. “Of course the Kurdish people, like many others, has the right to self-determination — but this right can lead either to an independent state, a confederation or yet again to a federation. The Kurdish people has not chosen independence but a federation within the existing borders, and that for several reasons. Firstly, our neighbours are not even in favour of Kurdish autonomy or a Kurdish federation, let alone independence for Kurdistan. The international community, equally, is not in favour of independence … The Iraqi opposition has unanimously accepted a Kurdish federation — but this federal status gives us the right to be a partner of the central government” stated Mr. Talabani, who added : “We have decided to cede certain of our rights to a Federal Iraqi regime (…) We must, tomorrow be a partner in outlining Iraqi policy, in foreign affairs, in defence and in general questions (…) a real partnership with the central government that must be a government of Kurds, Turkomen and both Shiite and Sunni Arabs, united together to govern Iraq (…) The Iraqi regime has done all it could against us. We can’t annihilate it and it couldn’t wipe us out. This is why we are obligeed to negotiate, with a new regime, with a democratic regime in Iraq (…) to secure agreement on Kurdish rights. But we must have guarantees, not only in the Constitution, but in practice”.
Jalal Talabani also hailed the struggle of the Kurdish diaspora, stressing : “We think that they must also eximine closely our achievements and criticise our work inside the country and even, sometimes, putting pressure on Kurdish leaders when they make mistakes ; they must lead us towards an ultimate solution for the Kurdish cause”.
“We want a democratic, unified Iraq and we want to see an end to ethnic cleansing directed against the Kurdish people” declared, in turn Massoud Barzani in his closing address to the conference before adding : “Henceforth we are advancing hand in hand and we hope that the division will not return. We cannot just remain spectators of History — we must play a determining and positive role in tomorrow’s Iraq. We hope to protect peace and democracy but also the ethnic and religious balance. We wish to fight against extremism. It is undeniable that, as a people, we have rights, but we all know that there is a great difference between those we have and those we can secure. That is why, without any qualms nor undue haste, we have elected a Parliament. We have drawn up a project for federalism because we think that there lies the best formula for Iraq. Let those who accuse the Kurds of separatism pay attention to the Iraqi situation and to the fact that the Kurdish people are organising Iraq.
Federalism is not a separation but rather an organisation for Iraqi unity. It is the reinforcing of the unity and fraternity of the Kurds, Arabs and all the other ethnic groupings that live in Iraq. As Kurds, we want a federal, Parliamentary democratic and pluralist Iraq. We do not want the Kurds to be, any more, second class Iraqi citizens. We want the citizens of Iraq to finally have the chance of clarifying their rights and their duties” he added.
He also stressed : “We will not accept any threats from anyone and we will not allow ourselves to resort to them. (…) It is through peace, fraternity and mutual understanding that we will ensure that things move forward. That is why we hold out a friendly hand to our neighbours and living in mutual respect. We do not intend interfering in our neighbours business nor do we represent any threat to them. In the name of our people’s freedom and dignity, we will accept no external pressure in the settlement of our internal affairs, nor any humiliation whatsoever”.
In conclusion, he made a point about his position regarding the city of Kirkuk by declaring : “We say that Kirkuk is a city of Kurdistan — historical reality and geography prove this. The city of Kirkuk is located on Kurdish soil, but that does not mean that the city is reserved to the Kurds alone. Kirkuk can be for Kurds, Arabs, Turkomen or Assyrians (…) — but it is not possible to make any concessions on the Kurdish identity of the city of Kirkuk”.
The conference, for which the hall was packed full, also gave the floor to participants who questioned the speakers on several points. A major part of the contributions can be found in the Institute’s Internet Site (www.institutkurde.org. )The transactions will be published in due course.
The coalition that has governed Turkey since 1999 was massively rejected at the 4 November General Elections. The three parties making up the coalition, which together had scored 53.2% of the votes in 1999 this time only scored a total of 14.6%. The steepest drop was that recorded by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit’s so-called “Democratic Left” Party (DSP) which dropped in three years from 22.1% to 1.1%. The outgoing Premier this ends a long political career, marked by an intolerant Turkish ultra-nationalism and a visceral hostility to minority, especially Kurdish, rights in a humiliating rout. His extrteme Right coalition partner, the National Action Party (MHP – neo-fascist), despite its chauvinist demagogic overbidding, lost half its electorate and all its seats eith 8.3% of the poll. Mesut Yilmaz’s Motherland Party (ANAP), despite his pro-European committments and its more open attitude to certain Kurdish cultural demands, was equally punished for its participation in a Government which had led to to the impoverishment of the great majority of the population and the enrichment of a tiny minority of wheeler-dealers who, with the government’s connivance, has plungered the country’s riches. With a score of 5%, as against 13% in 1999, the ANAP was also eliminated from the new Parliament.
The unquestioned winner of the 3 November poll is the Justice and Development Party, formed by the former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that won 34.3% of the votes. The Turkish electoral system, specially designed for excluding the parties that the Army considered undesirable (Kurdish, Moslem and Left wing) and amplifying the representation of the Turkish Nationalist parties, back-fired and this time enabled the AKP, an offshoot of the Islamic movement, to have a comfortable majority of seats in Parliament (363 out of 550). This party, which claims to be conservative and pro-European, is thus called upon to run the country. It has also managed, in passing, to marginalise its more traditionalist Islamic rival, the Happiness Party (SP) founded by faithful followers of former Islamist Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, which just scraped together 2.2% of the votes. In total, the two parties derived from the old Refah party (banned, as usual) won a total of 36.8% and, in the three years since the last election, have doubled the votes for the Islamic trend. This additional AK vote seems mainly to have been won from voters who traditionally supported ANAP and Tansu Çiller’s DYP (True Path Party). The latter, although it was in opposition for the last three years, also failed to pass the 10% threshold and is thus also absent from Parliament. Its electorate seems to still retain bad memories of the Çiller government’s misrule.
Finally the New Turkey Party, recently created by the former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, with 1.4% of the vote seems doomed to disappear from the political scene. The young GP party, organised by the media magnate Cem Uzan — acting the part of a Turkish Berlusconi, holding free concerts and banquets to attract an electorate — was unable to break the 10% barrier, despite massive support from his TV channels. However his 7.5% score could encourage him to persevere and prepare for future opportunities.
In Kurdistan, the main election battle was between AKP and the pro-Kurdish DEHAP party. The latter arrived first in the Provinces of Agri, Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Hakkari, Mardin, Mus, Kara, Siirt, Dersim, Van, Batman, Sirnak and Igdir. As against that, the AKP led in Adiyman, Bingöl, Elazig, Erzincan, Erzurum, Antep, Maras, Kilis and Malatya.
DEHAP’s score, taking the country as a whole, was 1,953,627 votes, i.e. 6.2% of the votes cast — it thus failed to break the 10% barrier and will have no M.P.s. Whereas AKP won 73 seats in the Kurdish provinces and the CHP, despite its poor score, will have 24 seats.
As a result of a particularly unfair electoral system, nearly half of the voters (45%) will not be represented in the Ankara Parliament. A more equitable system — say one setting the threshold at 5%, would have produced a Parliament with the following composition : AKP 266 seats, CHP 117 seats, DEHAP 51 seats, DYP 43 seats, MHP 33 seats, GP 28 seats, ANAP 8 seats and Independents 4 seats.
On 8 November, the Anglo-American resolution on Iraqi disarmament was passed unanimously in just a few minutes by the 15 members of the United Nations’ Security Council, meeting in open session. This resolution, 1441, tightens the regime for inspecting iraq’s arsenal while offering Baghdad a “last chance” before an eventual military action.
The terms, which had been negotiated, word by word, by the 5 permanent members of the Council, recalls that Iraq has been warned several times of the “serious consequences” to which it is exposing itself if it continued to putobstacles in theway of the work of the disarmament inspectors. The text provides for the Inspection and Verification Commission to begin its work within 45 days, that is before 23 December.
The resolution deplores the fact that “Iraq has failed to supply a final, exhaustive and complete status report, as called for in resolution 687 (1991) of all aspects of its programme developing weapons of mass destruction and of balistic missiles with range of over 150 kilometres and of all its stocks of weapon of this type, of components, sites and production installations as well as anyother nuclear programme, including those that it states are aimed a producing end products that are not associated with materials that could serve to produce nuclear weapons”. Similarly it deplores that : “ the Iraqi government has failed to keep to its commitments under Resolution 687 (1991) with trespect to ending its repression of its civillian population and to authorise the international humanitarian organisations to have access to all persons needing their help under Resolutions 686 and 687 (1991) and 1284 (1999) in respect of identifying nationals of Kuweiti other States being illegally held by Iraq, or of making restitution for Kuweiti property seized illegally by Iraq”.
Theresolution recalls that the February 1991 cease fire that ended the Gulf War was conditional on “Iraqi’s acceptance” of resolution 687 demanding that it eliminate its weapons of mass destruction under UNO supervision and thus “decides that Iraq is and remains in flagrant breach of its obligations”. The resolution stresses that Iraqshould allow the inspectors “to have immediate access, without hinderance , to all the zones, installations and means of transport that they might wish to inspect, including underground, and have access to the officials and other persons that the AIEA or the Commission, in the exercise of all aspects of their respective mandates, might decide ; furthermore that the could, at their discretion, conduct these interviews within the country of outside and that they could facillitate the travel abroad of the persons questionned and members of their family, and that when the Commission or the AIEA wished, these interviews could take place without Iraki government observers being present” and that the inspectors “will have the right to enter and leave Iraq without restriction and to move freely, without restriction(…) and the right to inspect any site and building, including (…) presidential (…) despite the clauses of resolutions 1154 (of 1998, more favourable to Iraqin respect of the sites).
The resolution specifies that : “the Commission and the AIEA will have the right, in order to freeze a site to be inspected, to declare exclusion zones, neighbouring zones and transit corridors included, in which Iraq shall interruptany air or land movementsto ensure that nothing has been changed in a site being inspeced or removed from that site”.
Furthermore, the Security Council decided that “presenting false information or ommissions in statements submitted by Iraq in respect of this resolutionand the fact of not conforming at all times to the present resolution, and of not fully cooperating in its application will constitute a fresh and flagrant breach of Iraq’s obligationsand will be reported to the Council for evaluation”.
Moreover, Baghdad has 30 days in which to make a full and exact declaration of its programmes to develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons as well as its balistic missile programme. France and Russia also secured from the United States that the resolution explicitly provide that, in the event of any breach, the Security Council would immediately meet to discuss what action to take.
On 16 November, Abdullah Gul, Vice-President of the Justice and Development Party (AK) was nominated Prime Minister in place of the head of the party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was unable to claim this position because of his parliamentary ineligibility. Mr. Gul, who immediately promised reforms to refloat the economy and promote democratic standards, was nominated by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, but selected by the charismatic Erdogan, who remains head of the AK party. Indeed, Mr. Erdogan virtually stole the limelight from Mr. Gul by calling a press conference on his party’s political objectives, an hour before the latter’s nomination, as his arrival at the Presidency was almost eclipsed on the televison channels. “We will introduce measures to fight the use of torture, and human rights and freedoms will be raised to international standards in the process of joining the European Union” Mr. Erdogan said in particular, before leaving the country for a short visit to the Turkish Cypriot community of Northern Cyprus. “All obstacles to education will be lifted” he also stated, raising the problem of the Islamic head-scarf, wearing of which is forbidden in the Universities and public administration because of its association with political Islam. Mr. Gul, 52 years of age, who is an economist with a pro-Western discourse, stated he was prepared to accept the challenges with which the country is faced, particularly those of the state of the economy, prime cause of the defeat of Bülent Ecevit’s coalition government.
This 58th Turkish government was formed on 18 November. With three deputy Prime Ministers, the government has 24 members, including one woman.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, President of the Euopean Convention charged with the preparation of a Constitution for the enlarged Europem has set the cat amongst the pigeons with a vengence during an interview published to the French daily Le Monde on 8 November at a time when the 105 members of the convention were finishing their plenary session devoted, in particular, to a social Europe. “Turkey is a country close to Europe, an important country, which has a real elite, but it is not a European country” he declared in an interview with four journalists, including one from Le Monde. “Its capital is not in Europe, 95% of its population lives outside Europe”. Its membership would represent “the end of the European Union” since it would then become impossible to say “No” to a number of other countries, like Morocco, that are nursing the idea of joining.
The reactions to his statements were not long in coming, even if the subject was not discussed in the Convention. The representatives of the Turkish Parliament did not hide their anger at being treated by “their” president as second class members who had no say in the matter. “He is like the Moslem fundamentalists” declared Ali Terkin, an M.P. of the Motherland Party (ANAP) who represents his country at the Convention but will soon loose his seat following the victory of the moderate Moslem party. “He is a Christan fundamentalist. He thinks the Union is a Christian club”. The Vice-President of the Convention, Jean-Luc Dehaene (Belgium) implicitly citicised this contribution which, he said, was certainly “made in his personal capacity” though Valery Giscard d’Estaing did not specify this.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing does, indeed, take a stand opposed to the official position of the E.U. which declared in 1999, at the Helsinki Summit, that Turkey “is a candidate country that is due to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria as those applying to other candidates”.
On 30 November, the State of Emergency, imposed for the last fifteen years on Turkish Kurdistan as part of thier repression by the Armed forces, was officially lifted on the last two Kurdish provinces of Diyarbekir and Sirnak, in accordance with the decision of parliament voted in June 2002 and welcomed at the time by the European Union. The European Union calls for deep-reaching political reforms and an improvement in the Human Rights situationin Turkey as preconditions for the opening of negotiations for the membership for which Ankara hopes. “A new, normal, period is begining for the region” declared Minister of the Interior Abdulkadir Aksu in Diyarbekir.
The Human Rights defence organisations have long criticised this State of Emergency, which grants wide powers of arrest and detention to the security forces. It had been imposed in 1987, three years after the Turkistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had launched its campaign of armed struggle which has led to 30,000 deaths — predominately Kurdish. The clashes have dropped substancially since the capture of the PKK chief, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999, and his orders to his followers to switch their struggle to the political and cultural fields.
The Kurdish inhabitants of Diyarbekir welcomed the lifting of this State of Emergency as a first step, hoping that it will enable the restoration of peace and improve the economic situation. According to a report of the Council of Europe dated July 2002, the Diyarbekir are even much more backward in matters of Human Rights than in the rest of the country. Detainees are often prevented from having access to lwyers and torture is prevalent.
The State of Emergency gave increased powers to the civil and military authorities, in particualr allowing them to limit press freedomand civil liberties. Clashes in Kurdistan have given rise to many violations of Human Rights by the authorities. For business circles, the end of this “abnormal” situation should increase investment in the region — the most disadvantaged region of the country, especially compared with the industrialised West of Turkey.
However, the Kurdish press reports that some 400 villagers of the Andaç district of Sirnak Province left their village on 6 Decemberfor the Iraqi border, after being threatened and humiliated by the gendarmerie commander, who does not seem to be bothered by the return to a normal regime in the area. The villagers have threatened to ask for political asylum in Iraqi Kurdistan if the police brutalities did not stop.
• MASS’UD BARZANI RECEIVED BY BASHAR AL-ASAD IN DAMASCUS. Mas’ud Barzani, the head of Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), visited Damascus on 16 November, at the invitation of the Syrian Government. After meetings with Abdal-Halim Khaddam, the Syrian Vice-President, Abdallah al-Ahmar, Assistant General Secretary of the Baas Party and European and American officials in Damascus, Mass’ud Barzani was received on Wednesday, 20 November, by the Syrian president Bashar Al-Asad.
Talks during the meeting focused on issues related to the situation in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan region, said KDP newspaper, Brayati, on 21 November. The Kurdish leader then left for Paris to take part in the international conference to hold talks with French officials, jointly with the leader of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani.
Barzani and Talabani are also expected to attend the “International Conference on Future of Kurds in Iraqi”, organised by the Kurdish Institute of Paris on 29 November.
• THE EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT DECLARES IRRECEIVABLE TURKEY’S APPEAL AGAINST BEING FOUND GUILTY IN THE CASE OF THE DEP MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT. On 6 November the Upper Chamber of the European Human Rights Court declared irreceivable the Appeal by Turkey against the European Court’s decision of 11 June 2002 finding Ankara guilty in the case of the 13 Kurdish Members of Parliament of the Party for Democracy (DEP). The European Human Rights Court had found Turkey guilty of having “violated the right to free parliamentary elections by stripping the 13 M.P.s of their seats” and set their compensation at 50,000 euros for each of the 13 M.P.s. Turkey also has to pay 19,500 euros legal costs.
• THE TURKISH ARMED FORCES CHIEF OF STAFF VISITS WASHINGTON. The Chief of the Turkish General Staff, Hilmi Ozkok, visited the United States on 4 November, at the invitation of the American authorities, so as to meet the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State for Defence, his assistant, Paul Wolfowitz, and Mrs. Condolezza Rice, head of national security. The real boss of Turkey, General Ozkok, negociated with Washington on the conditions for Turkish collaboration in theevent of American military action against Iraq, without bothering wait for the formation of the newly elected government or taking into accounts its political orientations … The results of General Ozokok’s discussions were not made public …
• THREE NEW VICTIMS OF THE HUNGER STRIKE IN THE TURKISH PRISONS. Two new detainees on hunger strike died on 30 November, bringing the number of prisoners who have died of starvation since the start of the hunger strike to at least 60. The strike is against a protest against the “reform” of penitentiary conditions. Another detainee, Serkan Karabulut, 32, died on 8 November in an Ankara hospital after fasting for 400 days, only taking vitamins and sugared water.
The reforms provide for the transfer of prisoners to more modern jails having individual cells. The reforms’ opponents consider that this exposes detainees to police brutality. The government considers that the reforms conform to European standards and consider them necessary to break the hold of criminal gangs and movements of political activists in the large prison dormitories.
Whereas the bulk of the hunger strikers, who are all from Left-wing groups, have ended their hunger strike, there are still about twenty who are continuing to fast, according to estimates by the Human Rights defence movements. They keep alive for hundreds of days by drinking sugared or salty water and taking vitamins.
• THERE HAVE BEEN CLASHES BETWEEK KADEK AND TURKISH SOLDIERS IN IRAQI KURDISTAN, ACCORDING TO THE KURDISH PAPER JAMAWAR. Two Turks were killed and three others wounded in an ambush at the end of November in Iraqi Kurdistan by members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK — renamed KADEK), according to a report of 2 December in the independent Kurdish paper Jamawar. According to the paper, published in Irbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) the five people were, at that moment of the attack, in a Turkish security forces’ vehicle near Sarsang, in the Kurdish province of Dohuk, near the Turkish border, where Turkish Army units are deployed. “Three occupants of the car were killed and two others seriously wounded in an ambush at the end of November near Sarsang” the paper indicated. The Sarsang region is 100 Km from the Turko-Iraqi border.
• THE KURDISH PRESS DENOUNCES TURKISH INTERFERENCE IN THE AFFAIRS OF IRAQI KURDISTAN. Acording to the Kurdish independent newspaper, Hawlati of 11 November, a Turkish official of the Peace Monitoring Force, PMF, deployed in Iraqi Kurdish-governed region since 1997, was appointed as the official in charge of the Koy-Sinjaq branch of the Iraqi Turkoman Front. reported “The official whose, name is Walid Ali, is of Turkish origin and is set to replace Muwaffaq Muhammad, an Iraqi Turkoman” said the newspaper.
The Peace Monitoring Force, was established and deployed in Iraqi Kurdistan in April 1997, following the US-Turkish sponsored Ankara agreements between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, to monitor the ceasefire lines between the PUK and KDP armed forces.
This force, founded by the Clinton Administration, is essentially composed of Iraqi Turkomans, but commanded by Turkish Army officers. The PMF Turkoman members belong to the Iraqi Turkoman Front, a coalition organisation which is believed to enjoy direct Turkish political and financial backing.
Furthermore, on 5 November, 5 Turkoman political parties announced, at a Press Conference in Irbil, the setting up of a new Turkoman National Association. These 5 parties do not share the political line of the Iraqi Turkoman Front, ounded in 1994, which does not recognise the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Administration.
The new Turkoman organisation brings together the Turkoman Cultural Organisation, the Iraqi Turkoman Fraternity Party, the Turkoman National Libedration Party, the Iraqi Turkoman Union Party and the Turkoman Democratic Party of Kurdistan. The new coalition has adopted as its objective the promotion of the cultural, political and educational rights of the Turkoman minority of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Turkomen gradually settled in Northern Iraq during the 16th Century along the military and commercial routes linking Constantinople and Baghdad. In the absence of reliable statistics, the number of Turkomen in Iraq is estimated at between 300,000 and 350,000 people. The great majority of them live in the region controlled by Baghdad government, where, like the Kurds, they are subject to forced displacements by the Iraqi authorities.
• DEFECTIONS AND POVERTY IN THE IRAQI ARMY. According to the November edition of the Iraqi Communist Party newspaper, Tariq Al-Sha’b (The People’s Voice), the military units of the Iraqi Fifth Army Corps which are deployed along the border with the Kurdish-administered region in Iraq, suffer increasingly from a breakdown of moral and live in a miserable situation, while corruption is wide-spread among its officers.
The soldiers of the various units of the Fifth Army Corps “walk around in tattered cloths and torn shoes. A large number of them assemble outside the gates of mosques and markets in Mosul every Friday, begging for some money in order to be able to eat a proper meal or to be able to pay the transport fares to their governorates, particularly since most of the soldiers and non-commissioned officers are from southern governorates.”
The newspaper said that this situation concerns particularly the First Regiment of 606 Brigade, Battalion 16, deployed in Shekhan sector, in Mosul Governorate. “Actually, the real presence of four companies of this regiment does not exceed 150 soldiers, while it is supposed to comprise between 400 and 500 soldiers …”
The newspaper also pointed out that the security officer forbids the soldiers to listen to the radio. “Those who have a radio would be imprisoned for one month and have their radio confiscated, to prevent soldiers and non-commissioned officers in this regiment from listening to radio stations of the opposition parties broadcast from the liberated region of Iraqi Kurdistan”
Corruption and misery were reported to be wide spread in the Iraqi regular army, while the Iraqi paramilitary forces like Saddam’s Fidayeen, and other military forces such as the Republican Guards and Special Republican Guards receive a completely different treatment.