The future status of Kurdistan was at the centre of a series of meetings on 7 January between the American administrator, Paul Bremer, and the two principal Kurdish leaders, Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Massud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). “The discussion dealt with the current political process and the future status of Kurdistan” was the headline the next day on the daily paper Al-Ta’akhi (Brotherhood), the Arabic language organ of the KDP, which made the point that the meeting took place near Irbil. The projects of the KDP and the PUK were also raised added the paper, which is published in Baghdad, alluding to the discussions on the setting up of a single Kurdish “Parliament” and “government”.
In the course of a coordination meeting at Dukan on 6 January, before the political committees of both Kurdish parties, Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani had reaffirmed their demand for a federal system. “Praise be to God, our two parties share the same position on federalism and have no differences on this subject” declared the KDP leader after the meeting, which lasted several hours. “Both our parties stand by the choice of federalism, as decided by the Kurdish Parliament in 1992, a federalism on an ethnic and geographic basis” Jalal Talabani had added, stressing their determination to broaden the discussions to include other parties, both Arab and Kurdish, “to convince them of the justice of our views on federalism”. Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani had also been following up a series of meetings with Paul Bremer and the British representative Jeremy Greenstock, on 3 January, near Irbil.
The Kurdish leaders, who are being increasingly insistent in their demand for a federal Iraq, presented a project to this effect at the Interim Government Council (IGC), where they are represented, insisting on a wide degree of autonomy for Kurdistan.
The current President of the IGC, Adnan Pashashi, a Sunni Arab, reaffirmed this body’s support for federalism, but called for patience by the Kurds regarding the city of Kirkuk.
Press reports and comments by American leaders had made those of Iraq’s neighbours which had large Kurdish populations fear that Washington would endorse a policy of wide autonomy for the Iraqi Kurds. According to the New York Times of 5 January, the United States and the present IGC had reached an agreement in principle on a semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq, at least in the short term, after the end of the American administration. On 6 January, Damascus and Ankara jointly warned against any infringement on Iraqi territorial unity, on the first day of the visit by Syrian President, Bachar al-Assad to Turkey. A State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, questioned on the subject, limited himself stating that this question did not depend on the United States. “The structure of a future Iraqi State, including any elements of federalism, is a constitutional subject that depends on the Iraqis” he declared.
The United States “strongly supports the territorial integrity of Iraq” declared the White House’s spokesman on 5 January. “We are strongly committed to maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq” declared Scott McClellan on board Air Force One, carrying George W. Bush to Missouri. He nevertheless pointed out that “it is the Iraqis who will make the decisions” in the framework of the 15 November agreement on the transfer of power to Iraqis and that “questions regarding federalism” would then, no doubt, be raised.
For his part, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, sought to reply to Turkish and Syrian anxieties by stating, on 6 January, that the United States remained committed to a united Iraq, integrating its Kurdish sectors. “The American position, from the start of this crisis, has always been that Iraq should remain a single integrated country” declared the head of the American diplomatic service after meeting his Tunisian opposite number, Habib ben Yahya. “The Kurds wish to preserve their historic identity and link it, in a certain way, to geography. But I think that is quite clear that this part of Iraq must continue to be part of Iraq” he added. Mr. Powell nevertheless indicated that the exact means and status of the Kurdish regions within Iraq and of the future administrative organisation of the country were “something that the Iraqis must define” themselves.
The two principal Iraqi Kurdish leaders, Messrs Jalal Talabani and Massud Barzani, then invited the Arab parties to discuss the sensitive question of federalism at Salaheddin on 8 and 9 January. Four members of the IGC, the Shiites Ahmad Shalabi, President of the Iraqi National Congress and Mouaffak al-Roubai (independent) and the Sunni Arabs Mohsen Abdel Hamid, of the Islamic party and Nasser Chaderji (independent) took part in these meetings. As they were informal discussions, they did not give rise to any official decisions, but “federalism was the principal object of the meetings and there was complete agreement on this subject” declared Mr. Barzani ion the evening of 8 January, while Mr. Talabani assured his hearers that “the participants were agreed on a democratic and federal Iraq”.
Over and above the declarations of principle, concrete concessions were made by all sides, hinted a high official of the KDP who had taken part in these meetings. “These meetings were fruitful because they enabled us to come to agreement on major questions of principle, in particular in respect of the rights of the Kurdish population. The Arab parties recognised the Kurds’ right to decide their future for themselves while the Kurds accepted to postpone the burning questions, such as the defining of the borders of Kurdistan and the question of Kirkuk” added this official.
An independent Kurdish member of the IGC, Dara Nureddin, stated in Baghdad that this body had accepted to include the autonomy at present enjoyed by the three Kurdish provinces in the fundamental law. “In the fundamental law, Kurdistan will have the same legal status as today” declared Mr. Nureddin, referring to the autonomy that the Kurdish provinces have enjoyed since 1991 — the date when they escaped from the Baghdad regime’s control. “When the Constitution is drawn up, and the elections have been held, we will not accept less than that which is in the fundamental law” he warned.
During the discussions at Salaheddin, the participants also discussed the powers that would be granted to the central State, in particular those of defence and diplomatic relations, according to a senior official of the KDP. “There were long discussions on the sharing of oil resources” he also indicated. “Everyone agreed on the principle of federalism. But there was much discussion on the details — and, as everyone knows, the devil lies in the details” stressed, for his part, Arif Rushdi Arif, a senor officer of the PUK.
On the other Moreover, during a meeting of the leading bodies of the KDP and the PUK on 12 and 13 January, the two main Kurdish parties reached full agreement on the mechanics of unifying the administrations they govern preparatory to the transfer of powers to the Iraqis.
Furthermore, the American administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, has postponed to 2005 the finalisation of the status of the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds claim. The status of Kirkuk “must be decided by the elected Iraqi authorities” Mr. Bremer declared, according to an Arabic translation of statements he made to Iraqi journalists, broadcast by the Iraqi television.
The agreement on the transfer of powers, signed on 15 September by the Interim Government Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority, provided for elections not later than 15 March. “I think that the federal system the Kurds want will suit the unity of the country, and there are examples of this in other parts of the world, such as India, Germany and Switzerland” added Mr. Bremer. “I am sure that a formula will be reached that allies a federal system with Iraqi unity” he added, considering, however, that “a federal system cannot be built on an ethnic basi”.
Kirkuk has been plagued by troubles between Kurds, on the one hand, and Arabs and Turkomen on the other since 13 December, when Arabs and Turkomen held a rally to protest against the Kurdish claims that this historically Kurdish province be attached to Iraqi Kurdistan. Certain Arabs had come from the Al-Hawija region, in the West, others from Baghdad and even from Nassiriyah and Basrah in the South in response to appeals by the tribes. The demonstration took place in calm until a group of youths left it and went towards the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the principal Kurdish parties. There was a burst of firing, killing four people, Arab and Turkoman, and wounding about thirty others. On the evening of 1 January, two Kurds were found stabbed to death and an Arab was killed in clashes with the police. Some public figures, Kurdish, Arab and Turkoman, had met on 1 January in the presence of Coalition representatives to try and calm the situation in the city and the Kurdish leaders had informed those taking part of the presence in the city of Arabs loyal to Saddam Hussein who had come from other regions of Iraq, and of Turkmen extremists, who were trying to sow discord between the different communities. On 3 January, four Sunni Arabs, one Turkoman and a Kurd were wounded in three separate armed incidents. In the morning, two Sunni Arabs were wounded after trying to attack a police patrol with light arms in a Southern section of the town, the police announced. In another incident, a guard on duty before the premises of the Turkoman National Party was wounded by gunfire and a grenade was thrown at the home of an Arab member of the Governorate Council, Sabah Zidan, without harming him. Finally, in the evening of 3 January, a Kurd was wounded when his car had been targeted by two former members of the Saddam Fedayin militia, according to the police.
Ethnic rivalries have surfaced since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime and the claim by the Kurds of the city that it be part of Kurdistan. “I am in favour of a Kurdistan that includes Kirkuk, but his must be done after the normalisation of the political situation and a fresh census” stated Jalal Jawhar, PUK leader in the city. In his view, this fresh census should take place after the return of some 250,000 Kurds driven out of Kirkuk by the Saddam Hussein regime. He added that some of these Kurds now lived in Iran, in Europe and even in the United States. To achieve the Arabisation of this Kurdish oil-rich province, Saddam Hussein had detached some of its districts to include them in the adjoining provinces of Diyala, Ninivah and Salahaddin and given the homes and land confiscated from Kurds to Arabs he had brought in from other regions of Iraq.
The American Army took control of the city after imposing a curfew on the night of 2 January. In a communiqué, Colonel William Meyville, of the 173 Airborne Brigade, made an appeal for calm assuring the public that the coalition was working “to ensure the equal rights of all the inhabitants, without distinction of race, religion or ethnic origin”. Colonel Meyville assured the city that the recent violence was not the beginning of a civil war. “There are a lot of AK-17s here, and in any country, when tensions increase there are clashes such as have taken place” in Kirkuk, he declared. Searches directed at the offices of the PUK and the KDP took place. The PUK offices had already been the targets of a search on 31 December.
The Turkomen, the third ethnic group in this city of nearly a million inhabitants, which also includes Christians, are supported by Turkey. Kirkuk’s Chief of Police, Turhan Yuddef, himself a Turkoman, has called for a reform of his department, in which 40% of the 2,000 police are Kurdish, and for a greater American role in maintaining security. However, the American army states that its role is to “facilitate” discussions between the different communities. Adnan Pashashi, this months President of the Interim Government Council, stressed in a televised statement on 3 January, that the form of federalism would be defined by the next Constitution. “We have accepted federalism in principle, but there are different forms of federalism throughout the world, and I cannot say, for the moment, what will be the form in Iraq since the IGC is not an elected body” he added. “Ever since the beginnings of the Iraqi State, 80 years ago, everyone has recognised that the Kurds are a distinctly different ethnic group which has led to a special status for the Kurdish regions” insisted the political leader. The acting President of the ICE considered, in a conciliatory manner, that Kirkuk should remain “a model of co-existence and national unity in the future Iraq”.
Furthermore, Barham Saleh, Head of the regional government of Kurdistan (Suleimaniah), declared on 14 December that the future of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk should be decided by its inhabitants, through a referendum or elections. “The people of Kirkuk must decide if it wants to be part of Kurdistan or not or whether it hopes that this question be settled by other means” he declared to the Turkish National TV channel, NTV. “ Are we going to be obliged to fight for another 40 years for a bit of land must we rather find a formula that satisfies everyone” asked Mr. Saleh, who visited Ankara on 16 January for talks with the Turkish leaders. The Kurdish leader indicated that he would welcomed a popular decision in favour of joining Kurdistan, but that “it was not up to (him) to say (…) that Kirkuk was part of Kurdistan”.
On 28 January, President George W. Bush assured the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as to the United States’ determination to maintain the territorial unity of Iraq. “I assured him that the United States’ ambitions were for a peaceful, democratic and territorially intact Iraq” Mr. Bush declared after their meeting at the White House. The American President described his interlocutor as “a straight forward man” with whom he shared an understanding of the terrorist danger and that the latter had welcomed the American decision to maintain, on the list of terrorist organisations, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK — separatist Kurds of Turkey) and KONGRA-GEL.
In a note published by the official Federal Register on 13 January, the State Department had considered that the Congress of the People of Kurdistan (KONGRA-GEL) was just a new incarnation of the PKK and that, consequently, it should remain on this list. During a Press Conference after their meeting, Mr. Erdogan indicated to the Turkish Press that the American authorities had reaffirmed their commitment to punish the PKK, who had entrenched themselves in Iraqi Kurdistan. “They told us that they would give them no respite” he specifically indicated.
According to the Turkish Press, the American President sought to reassure Turkey by affirming that Washington was not in favour of the expansion of the autonomy of the Iraqi Kurds. The fact remains, however, that Washington considers that any decision regarding Iraqi Kurdistan must be taken by the Iraqis themselves, when they had regained their full sovereignty.
They both also dealt with the Cyprus question, divided for 30 years between a Greek part and a Turkish occupied part. Ankara has asked for fresh negotiations on the basis of the plan proposed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Cyprus Republic (the Greek part, which alone has international recognition) is due to join the European Union on 1st May 2004. If Cyprus is not re-united by that date, Turkey’s application for membership of the E.U. is in danger of becoming even more difficult.
On 6 January the Syrian President, Bachar al-Assad, arrived in Ankara with his wife and two children on an official State visit — the first ever by a Syrian President. He first met with his Turkish opposite number, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, and then, in the evening, with Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan finishing, the next day with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul and the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Hilmi Ozkok before going on to meet the Arab Ambassadors to Ankara.
Syrians and Turks welcomed this visit as “historic”, considering that it contributed to normalising relations between two neighbours and promoting intra-regional dialogue.
The Syrian President stated that his official visit to Turkey had exceeded his expectations. Bachar el-Assad’s arrival marked a spectacular thaw between the two countries that have opposed one another for years over boundary disputes, the sharing of the waters of the Euphrates and Damascus’s support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in its struggle against Turkey.
During his visit, protested with a single voice against the United States apparent green light to the autonomy of the Iraqi Kurds. Both countries fear such a development would incite their own Kurdish populations to demand similar status in their turn. On 6 January, they issued a joint warning against any infringement of the territorial unity of their Iraqi neighbour. “We are agreed on the fact that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be protected and its unity maintained” affirmed Mr. el-Assad after his meeting with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. “We condemn any aims that might endanger the territorial integrity of Iraq” he added. Mr. Sezer also called for a return, as soon as possible, to stability in Iraq. In an interview with the Turkish TV news channel CNN-Turk, broadcast on 5 January on the eve of his visit, the Syrian President declared his opposition to the creation of a Kurdish State in Iraq, stating that such an eventuality would breach his country’s “red lines”. Questioned as to whether Syria, like Turkey, was concerned at the Kurds’ aspirations to widen their autonomy, in Iraqi Kurdistan and to advance towards “a possible independent State”, Mr. el-Assad replied “Obviously we are”. “We are not only opposed to a Kurdish State, but to any action directed against the territorial integrity of Iraq” he declared, considering that a dislocation of Iraq would affect all its neighbours and provoke instability throughout the region. “Iraq’s future is linked to all our futures. For this reason, the breaking up of Iraq would be a red line, not only for Syria but for all the States in this region” he added.
Furthermore, Bachar el-Assad, during his 72-hour visit, again declared himself in favour of a Near East free of all weapons of mass destruction.
In 1998, Syria and Turkey had reached the brink of armed conflict, until Damascus expelled Abdullah Ocalan, boss of the PKK. Ankara had extracted this gesture from Syria by threatening it with war. A gradual warming of relations between Damascus and Ankara has since been observed. Last November, Syria had handed over to Turkey 22 persons suspected of being involved in a series of suicide bomb attacks perpetrated in Istanbul.
During Bachar el-Assad’s visit, the two countries signed a series of agreements regarding duties, investments and tourism.
The Turkish and Syrian media welcomed the improvement in bi-lateral links resulting from Mr. el-Assad’s “historic” visit. “Syrian is, henceforth, an allied country” to Turkey, headlined the Turkish daily Radikal on 7 January, stressing that the two countries had signed three important cooperation agreements that should form the basis of their future economic relations. According to this paper, the two neighbouring countries had turned the page on their mutual suspicions and were advancing towards a “partnership” on matters of common interest, including the preservation of Iraq’s territorial unity and of peace in the Near East.
The Official Syrian Press, for its part, stressed the “solidity” of Syrio-Turkish relations and the “warm welcome” given to Mr. el-Assad. This visit constitutes “a strategic turning point in the process of bi-lateral relations”, traditionally very tense, between the two neighbours, according to Al Baath, the paper of the party in power in Syria. “It will strengthen Turko-Syrian co-ordination on security questions, the peace process, and the Israelo-Arab conflict” according to that paper.
The US State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, considered that the United States and Turkey shared a common approach to the region’s problems and denied that this visit might worry Washington.
For their part, the Arab diplomats who met Mr. el-Assad in Ankara considered that Turkey and Syria had, during this visit, stressed the strengthening of their cooperation, especially economic, and avoided mentioning their differences, particularly Syria’s claims to the Hatay region (formerly known as Alexandretta, annexed by Turkey in 1939).
Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist government, like that of his predecessor Mr. Erbakan, is actively seeking to improve Turkey’s relations with the Arabo-Moslem world. The perspective of an autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq is cementing the entente between Ankara and both Syria and Iran, both of which have substantial Kurdish populations deprived of their cultural and linguistic rights. Despite their many differences, and their very different political and ideological orientations, these countries have always agreed at the expense of the Kurds.
Seven Kurds, were accused of membership of a “secret organisation” and of “trying to attach a part of Syrian territory to a foreign State” at the opening of their trial on 11 January before the Damascus State Security Court, according to the Association for Human Rights in Syria (AHRS) which pointed out that the hearing was held in the presence of more than ten lawyers.
According to the charge sheet, quoted by AHRS, the seven Kurds are accused of “membership of a secret organisation” and of “attempting to amputate a part of Syrian territory to annex it to a foreign State”. “The detainees have rejected the accusations formulated by the court. They state that they have been violently tortured and threatened during their interrogation” adds the communiqué published by the AHRS.
These seven people were arrested on 26 June in Damascus during a demonstration in which they demanded Syrian nationality near the Damascus offices of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) on the occasion of World Child Protection Day. According to AHRS nearly 300 assembled outside the State Security Court, a state of emergency type of court against whose verdicts there is no right of appeal. The AHRS denounces “the continuing use of emergency trials which reflect the depth of the Human Rights crisis in Syria and the absence of any political will to stop these flagrant violations to which citizens are subjected” in Syria.
On this occasion, five Kurdish parties forming the Kurdish Democratic Alliance of Syria, (KDAS) were demanding that the Syrian authorities restore, to about 200,000 Kurds, their identity papers that had been withdrawn from then in 1962, in the context of the so called Arab Belt policy, which consisted of evacuating the Kurdish population living in territories adjoining Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan and depriving them of their citizenship. Arab tribes were then settled in these Kurdish villages destined to be forcibly Arabised. Syria has a Kurdish population of over one and a half million Kurds, mostly living in the Kurdish mountain, to the North of Aleppo, and in the Jezireh at the point where the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Syria meet, near then Iraqi frontier.
On 21 January, thousands of Kurdish women marched in Suleimaniah against the decision of the Iraqi executive to abrogate the 1959 family code — one of the most advanced in any Moslem country.
The demonstration, called by the Kurdistan Women’s Union, brought together 5,000 women, according to the organisers. “This is a blow against the women of Iraq” declared the President of the KWU, Kafia Suleiman, adding that those who had taken this decision had “ignored the long struggle of this country’s women”. “This decision is unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people. It not only violates Iraqi and Kurdistani women’s rights but also international conventions” stressed, for her part Takhshan Zangala, President of the Kurdistan Women’s League, close to the Communist Party.
The demonstrators marched to the offices of the Regional Government, and were met by some ministers and a representative of the Provisional Coalition Authority (PCA) whom they called upon to cancel this decision.
On 29 December, the Interim Government Council, under the Presidency of the head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Shiite Abdel Aziz el-Hakim, decided to abrogate the family code — a decision that has to be ratified by the American chief administrator, Paul Bremer. This decision, taken almost by burglary, in the absence of about half the Council members, including all the Kurdish representatives, on holiday for the New Year celebrations, led to a series of protests by women in Baghdad, the last of which took place on 20 January. The Kurdistan Parliament passed a resolution stating that it would ignore it and reaffirming that, in Kurdistan, women would enjoy equality with men.
A major political crisis broke out after the announcement, on 11 January, that the Supervision Council had rejected over 3,600 of a total of 8,157 candidates for the 20 February General elections, including 84 reforming sitting members of Parliament. The Commission is a subsidiary body of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, controlled by the conservative clergy.
On 11 January, the Iranian President, Mohammed Khatami, attacked this blow. “I do not consider that these methods are compatible with the principles of religious democracy” declared the Head of State, who is, himself, a reformer. He added that he would discuss this subject with the Council of Guardians of the Revolution, as well as with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution, who has the last word in all matters of State.
Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, declared that, amongst the Governors of the 28 Iranian Provinces, 27 had written to Khatami threatening to resign within a week if the Council of Guardians did not reverse its decision. The 28th Governor has already resigned for other reasons. A short time before, reform Members of Parliament had left the Parliament to protest against the rejection of these candidates by the Guardians of the Revolution. About 70 Members of Parliament have organised a sit-in in Parliament and threatened to boycott the elections. “This situation is as if, in a football match, the referee had expelled one team and invited the other to score” remarked the Vice-President, Mohammad Ali Abtahi.
According to a member of Parliament who is, himself, one of those declared ineligible, Reza Yousefian, over 80 of the 290 members of the Majlis have been disqualified by the electoral commission of the council. “This massive exclusion of candidates is illegal and solely based on political prejudice. It is unacceptable” declared a woman Member, Fatemeh Haqiqatjou.
The election seems likely to put the patience of the reform movement to a tough test. Many young Iranians have already announced their intention not to vote as a protest against the lack of social and economic reforms.
A woman Member of Parliament, Jemileh Kadivar, who herself has been authorised to stand, explained that several other M.P.s in her situation might also boycott the elections. “If the Council of Guardians does not review its decision, those of us whose candidacy has been approved will not stand” she announced.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, most of the candidates were rejected for “failing to respect Islam” and “lack of faithfulness to the Constitution and the principle of Valayat Faghih (the precedence of religion in all political matters)” which is the basis of the extensive powers of the Supreme Guide.
According to reform camp sources, many M.P.s had their candidacy rejected for signing letters, these last few months, addressed to the Supreme Guide of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, calling for the effective application of the many democratic reforms. According to Mr. Yousefian, this was the case for the many outstanding reformers rejected, such as President Khatami’s own brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is also Deputy Speaker of the House. Only two of the sitting M.P.s from his party (the Iranian Front for Islamic Participation (IFIP) have been authorised to stand for the 30 seats in Teheran. An IFIP spokesman indicated that, overall, 60% of the candidates had been rejected, only seven reform candidates having been authorised to stand for the 30 seats at stake in Teheran. According to Mr. Yousefian, the candidacies of Mr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, President of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Commissions and of Behzad Nabavi, an official of the Party of the Moudjhiddin of the Islamic Revolution were also rejected. Mr. Mirdamadi considered that “This kind of disqualification is an illegal coup d’état, a change of regime without Army support” and has not excluded the possibility that a number of M.P.s will resign. The Speaker of the Parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, called for calm but himself regretted the decision of the Council of Guardians. He also declared that he envisaged discussing these bans with then latter as well as with President Khatami.
Mohammed Reza Khatami let it be known that Parliament would oppose this rejection of candidacies. “If it is applied, there will not be any pillar of democracy in this country” he declared.
This movement of protest has been violently attacked by most of the conservative papers. The ultra-conservative daily, Jomhuria Eslami (Islamic Republic) stated that “those who, for the last four years have only had ears for the United States and Great Britain and who have acted against the regime’s interests (…) should not expect that their candidature be approved so as to be able to continue their treachery”.
The daily Siassat-Rouz, for its part considered that “the M.P.s whose candidacies were invalidated should not even be allowed to sit in the present Parliament” — though its term does not come to an end till next June.
On 14 January, the Iranian Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the face of this discontent, ordered the Council of Guardians to re-examine, with less severity, the cases of the reformist candidates rejected after the mass invalidation of candidates for the February General Elections. The declaration of Iran's top man, when he received the 12-man Council, of which six religious dignitaries had been directly appointed by him, took place after the threat of a collective resignation by all the reformers, led by President Mohammad Khatami on 13 January. “We will leave together (or) we will stay together. I consider that we must remain firm (and refuse to accept any rejection of candidates) and, if one day they ask us to leave, we will leave together” he had declared when receiving the 27 Provincial Governors who had threatened to resign if the rejection of candidates was maintained.
The UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, envisages sending a mission to Iraq to discuss elections at the request of the United States, at a time when thousands of Shiites, who make up the majority of the country’s population, have been demonstrating to demand that elections be held rapidly.
The previous hearing of an Iraqi delegation by the Security Council was on 16 December last. It had provided the Iraqi Foreign Minister the opportunity for reproaching UNO for having withdrawn from Iraq after the bomb attacks against its headquarters and to ask it to return quickly.
After a meeting at New York, on 19 January, with leaders of the Iraqi Interim Government Council and Paul Bremer, the American Civil Administrator, Kofi Annan indicated that he wished to have additional information before sending such a delegation. “We have reached agreement on the fact that fuller discussions are needed on a technical level. This should not take long” declared Mr. Annan. UNO, which had not approved the American intervention in Iraq last March, left the country after being targeted by two bomb attacks in August and September. These attacks had caused 23 deaths, including that of its most senior representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
The New York meeting had been requested by Mr. Annan who hoped that UNO’s role be “clarified”, in the perspective of the end of American occupation and the transfer of sovereignty planned for 30 June. But the meeting took on a more urgent character for Washington after the call by a senior Shiite religious leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, for holding elections for a provisional Assembly before the handing over of power to the Interim Government Council. On 15 January, Basrah had been the scene of great demonstrations of support of and opposition to Ayatollah Sistani. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched to support the stand of Ayatollah Sistani, who is the most influential Shiite dignitary in Iraq. The United States declared that they were unworried by these demonstrations, claiming that they were evidence of newfound freedom of expression. “The fact that there could be demonstrations in Iraq is fundamentally a good thing” stated spokesman Richard Boucher. On 19 January thousands of Iraqi Shiites again demonstrated in complete calm, in Baghdad to demand the appointment of an elected government. Some 20,0000 Shiites marched about 5 Km towards the Mustansariyeh University.
Paul Bremer said he was “delighted” that the General Secretary would examine the question. UNO had not been party to the agreement between the Coalition and the Iraqi executive and had not, at any moment, mentioned any role for the international organisation. The Americans judging it impossible to hold elections at short notice had asked the United Nations to send a fact finding mission to Iraq. A senior UN adviser, who has been suggested as UN envoy to Iraq charged with the task of easing the political transition, was in Washington on 22 January for important discussions with American leaders. Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN emissary to Afghanistan, was appointed last week as special advisor to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan for questions of peace and security. At the invitation of the Americans, he met Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice the National Security advisor and Robert Blackwell, Strategy Co-ordinator of the National Security Council (NSC).
It would be up to the mission, should an election be impossible, to “explain why and discuss alternatives” explained Adnan Pashashi, this month’s President of the Iraqi Interim Government Council on 19 January. The question of elections is “legitimate” and “UNO, with all its expertise can contribute perspectives” declared Mr. Bremer.
Several members of the Baghdad executive consider that the conditions are not ripe for holding elections immediately, mainly because of the insecurity that prevails in certain provinces, The Kurdish representatives on the IGC are opposed to the holding of immediate elections, demanded by the Shiite clergy, declared Mahmud Ali Osman. “The Kurdish group is all for the principle of holding elections but, against their being held in the present circumstances because of many obstacles and difficulties” said Mr. Osman, a Kurdish independent and one of the five members of the Kurdish community on the 25-man Council. He cited, amongst these obstacles “the fact that Iraq does not enjoy sovereignty, the deterioration in the security situation in various regions of the country and the lack or any credible population census”. According to him, Saddam Hussein’s overthrown regime had withdrawn their nationality from over a million Iraqis and forced three million others into exile, which still further complicates the holding of honest and trustworthy elections.
On another level, a convoy of army vehicles, transporting about forty soldiers of the Japanese vanguard, arrived on the evening of 19 January from Kuwait at Samawa, about 270 Km South-West of Baghdad. The team is there to lay the groundwork for a humanitarian mission by the Japanese Army, which is being deployed in a war theatre for the first time since 1945. At Mossul, 400 Km North of Baghdad, a policemen was killed by unknown gunmen on 20 January, while the day before the Security Chief of the Provincial Governorate Council narrowly escaped an attempt on his life in which two of his bodyguards were wounded.
Four Iraqis working on an American base, two GIs and two Iraqi policemen were killed in different attacks in the “Sunni Triangle”. Two policemen were killed and three others wounded in an attack on a checkpoint on the highway linking Fallujah and Ramadi. In the same region, also at Fallujah (65 Km West of Baghdad) unknown people opened fire on a minibus carrying a group of Iraqi women to work at a laundry on the American base of Habbaniya, killing four of them and wounding five others. Their driver was also wounded in the leg. On the same day, two American soldiers were killed and a third seriously wounded by a rocket and mortar attack on their camp, not far from Baquba (55 Km North-East of Baghdad). Finally, near Diwaniya (200 Km South of Baghdad), a Spanish Major was hit in the head by a bullet while taking part in an Iraqi police raid on the house of a suspect.
On 8 January, the European Court for Human Rights found Turkey guilty of “inhuman and degrading treatment” inflicted by policemen on three men arrested in 1994 and 1995 on suspicion of membership of the Kurdish PKK organisation.
The Court awarded 12,000 euros damages to Abdullah Colak and Omer Filizer, respectively 34 and 39 years of age, and 5,000 euros damages to Sadik Onder, 34 years old, for violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (forbidding torture and inhuman or degrading treatment).
In the first case, the petitioners, suspected of membership of the PKK, had been placed in detention in April 1995. According to Mr. Colak, during the six days of his detention in the premises of the anti-terrorist section of the Istanbul police Directorate, he was throttled, beaten, kicked and kept hanging by his arms and threatened by the police.
Mr. Filizer, for his part, stated that he was blindfolded and then beaten on the head, stomach and belly, and left hanging by his arms. They also crushed his testicles and he was subjected to electric shocks, on both his genitals and his toes. On 2 May 1995, the two men were forced to sign depositions regarding their activities in the PKK.
On the second case, Mr. Onder had, according to his evidence, been undressed and hung by his arms, subjected to electric shocks threatened and insulted. In this latter case, the Court specified that the violation of Article 3 consisted of the fact that “no effective official enquiry was conducted” following the petitioner’s complaints of ill treatment.
Furthermore, on the same day, Turkey was sentenced to paying 185,000 euros damaged to five Kurds, whose homes and goods had been burnt down by security forces in October 1993, because, according to them, they were suspected of sympathising with the PKK organisation. The petitioners, aged between 37 and 69 years, were living, at the time of the events, in the town of Lice, in the region of Diyarbekir.
According to their evidence, between 22 and 23 October 1993 their homes and goods were burnt down in the context of an operation, planned by the security forces beforehand, so as to punish the inhabitants of the town for their alleged sympathy with the PKK. They had lost everything and been forced to leave the town of Lice. During the hearing, the Turkish government had stated that the security forces were defending the town against PKK attacks at the time.
The Court granted between 20,100 to 26,200 euros to the five petitioners for material damages and 14,500 euros each for moral damages.
It established that Articles of the European Convention forbidding inhuman and degrading treatment, and protecting the respect of private life, of private property and the right to effective recourse had been violated.
Furthermore, on 19 January, the Turkish Ministry of Justice published a Bill providing for granting compensation to the victims of the bloody clashes between the PKK and the Turkish Army in the country. The Bill is part of the government’s efforts to improve its image on matters of Human Rights so as to gain entry to the European Union.
This Bill is aimed at sparing Turkey the embarrassment of many condemnations from the European Human Rights Court and is part of the government’s efforts to improve its record in matters of Human Rights so as to qualify for membership of the European Union.
Published on the Ministry’s Internet site, the Bill stipulates that compensation may be paid to those who suffered damages or losses “from the actions of terrorist organisations and the measures taken by the State to fight them”.
Over three thousand Kurdish villages were forcibly evacuated and destroyed by the Turkish Army between 1992 and 1999. The villagers were driven away to Kurdish towns, or Turkish industrial metropolitan areas where they live in abject poverty and insecurity.
The petitioners may be able to claim compensation for injuries or loss of lives as well as for material damages or loss of cattle, according to the Bill.
• ANKARA SIGNS PROTOCOL N°13 OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT, INCLUDING IN WARTIME. On 9 January, Turkey signed Protocol N°13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regarding the abolition of capital punishment in all circumstances, including wartime.
The document was signed in Strasbourg by the Turkish Ambassador to the Council of Europe, Numan Hazar. A year ago, Turkey had already signed Protocol N°6, abolishing the death sentence in peacetime, after a vote in the Turkish Parliament in August 2002, abolishing capital punishment except in wartime. The document was ratified last November, in the hope of seeing Turkey come closer to the standards of the European Union.
Protocol N°13 covers the abolition of capital punishment “in all circumstances”, even for “actions committed in times of war or in the imminent danger of war”, passed last July, has, however, still not been signed by Russia, Armenia or Azerbaijan.
• JAMES BAKER’S TOUR OF THE GULF TO SECURE A LIGHTENING OF THE IRAQI DEBT. On 20 January, the American Special Envoy, James Baker, secured from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, a lightening of the Iraqi debt on the occasion of a tour of the Gulf region which also led him to Saudi Arabia.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) informed Mr. Baker that they were inclined to cancel the bulk of the debt owed to them by Iraq, estimated at about 4 billion dollars. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Chief Khalifa ben Zayad al-Nahyan stated that the UAE were going to cancel the bulk of the Iraqi debt following a meeting between Sheikh Kalifa and Mr. Baker. The Emirates are ready to open urgent discussions on this subject (…) with a new Iraqi government. Earlier, a spokesman of the Qatar Foreign Ministry had indicated “Qatar will cancel the bulk of Iraq’s debt and later examine the whole of this debt at an opportune moment”.
The spokesman, who spoke after Mr. Baker had held discussions with the Crown Prince of the Kingdom, Tamim Ben Hamad al-Thani, did not specify the extent of the Iraqi debt to Qatar nor the amount that would be cancelled.
After the Emirates, Mr. Baker visited Saudi Arabia. Last October the Saudi daily Al-Yom, citing a senior Saudi official, had stated that Riyad intended to reschedule the Iraqi debt towards the Kingdom, estimated at about 28 billion dollars. During the conference of donors in Madrid, the Saudi Kingdom had announced its intention of contributing up to a billion dollars to the reconstruction of Iraq.
Mr. Baker recently toured Europe and Asia, which enabled him to secure commitments, in principle, for the reduction of the Iraqi debt, estimated at 120 billion dollars.
The Iraqi debts towards the Gulf kingdoms were mainly contracted during the bloody war between Iraq and Iran from 1980 to 1988.
Kuwait was considered the one of the principle fundraisers for the Saddam Hussein regime during this war. Two years after the end of this conflict, the Iraqi Army invaded the Emirate, which it occupied for seven months before being driven out by a US-led coalition. But the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohamed es-Sabah had recently let it be understood that his government could not renounce the war compensations that Baghdad owes the Emirate. “Kuwait makes a distinction between the debt and the reparations for damage caused during the invasion (1990-91) and which are governed by resolutions of the UN Security Council” the Minister said on 3 January.
About a third of Baghdad’s debt is due to the 19 members of the Paris Club, composed of the principal Western countries.
• THE IRANIAN PRESIDENT, MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, ASKS THE UNITED STATES TO RECOGNISE THEIR RIGHT TO DEVELOP PEACEFUL USES OF NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY. On 11 January, the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, invited the United States to recognise the right of Iran to develop a peaceful nuclear technology if he hoped to improve relations between the two countries.
The Islamic Republic considers that the United States must change their attitude to it before any renewal of dialogue. Mr. Khatami pointed in particular to the American accusations that the Iranian nuclear programme aimed at making an atom bomb. Iran insists on the peaceful character of its programme, which is purely directed at producing power. In December Iran signed the additional protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allowing detailed and unexpected inspections of its installations by UNO. “They have wrongly accused us of possessing atomic weapons” declared Mr. Khatemi after a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Teheran. “We have signed the additional protocol and if the Americans now want to show good faith they should withdraw what they said and also accept our legitimate right to have a peaceful nuclear technology under the supervision of the United nations Atomic Energy Agency” the Iranian President added.
Despite sending humanitarian aid after the Bam earthquake on 26 December, US President George Bush has continued his accusations of Teheran which, in January 2002, led him to class Iran in an “axis of evil” of countries seeking to equip themselves with weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Khatemi nevertheless expressed the hope that the sending of humanitarian aid “might be a strong sign of a fundamental change in American policy and that (the United States) would withdraw the unfounded statements regarding us”.
• THE AMERICAN AUTHORITIES ANNOUNCE THAT THEY MAY FIND UP TO 260 MASS GRAVES IN IRAQ. On 6 January a senior Pentagon official announced that the American forces had discovered a new mass grave Near Baghdad, in which were found the bodies of 800 Shiites, victims of the Bathes regimes savage repression after the Gulf War in 1991.
The American authorities estimate that nearly 260 mass graves, containing the bodies of 300,000 people killed under Saddam Hussein’s reign, could be scattered throughout Iraq. Only forty have been discovered so far.
• ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM, A SHIITE LEADER AND MEMBER OF THE IRAQI INTERIM GOVERNMENT COUNCIL, VISITS TURKEY. On 13 January, a Shiite leader and member of the Iraqi IGC insisted, while in Turkey, on the necessity of preserving the territorial integrity of his country and expressed the hope for elections in Iraq as soon as possible. “The most important principle, to which we are very attached (…) is the preservation of territorial unity” stated Mr. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) during a joint Press Conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
Insistently questioned by the journalists on the federalist aspirations of the Iraqi Kurds, Mr. al-Hakim stressed that the discussions on this question had been “postponed” for the moment to some future date when there would be an “elected Parliament”, empowered to draw up a constitution, to which this problem would be referred. Meanwhile, he pointed out that, all the ethnic groups in Iraq should be able to express themselves on the country’s future. “A federation must be accepted by all the groups of Iraq (…) within a united Iraq” added this Iraqi leader, who considered that elections should be held as soon as possible.
However, a week before this visit, the IGC had accepted the principle of a federal structure in Iraq, guaranteeing wide autonomy to the Kurds in the five Kurdish provinces of Iraq.
Turkey is following developments very closely. Thus Mr. Gul sent a fresh warning to the Iraqi Kurdish leaders “We hope to avoid a false step” he stated in particular. The Shiite leader also met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 14 January.
• POPE JOHN PAUL II CALLS ON THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO TAKE PART IN BUILDING A DEMOCRATIC REGIME IN IRAQ. Setting aside his opposition to the war in Iraq, on 12 January Pope John Paul II called on the international community to participate in building a democratic regime in that country. “The numerous initiatives take by the Holy See to avoid the painful conflict which broke out in Iraq are already well known” stressed the sovereign pontiff in his annual speech to the Ambassadors accredited to the Vatican. “The important thing today is that the international community help the Iraqis so that they may be in a position to take back the reins of their country”.
John Paul II had opposed the war in Iraq that was launched without UN approval. He reaffirmed his opinion that “war does not resolve the conflicts between peoples”. He stressed that the Iraqis should be helped “democratically to determine a political and economic system that conforms to their aspirations and (…) again to become a credible partner within the international community”.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Vatican has sought to bypass its opposition to the war in Iraq to incite the international community to engage in the reconstruction of the country. During his speech, the Pope also deplored the continuing Israelo-Palestinian conflict, which “continues to be a permanent factor of destabilisation for the whole region”. “I will never tire of saying to the leaders of both these peoples that the choice of violence (…) never produces results”.
• A PURGE DESIGNED TO ELIMINATE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF BAATHISTS FROM IRAQI PUBLIC LIFE. On 11 January, the Iraqi Government Council announced it had launched a vast purge, designed to eliminate tens of thousands of members of the former Baathist Party from public life. Some 28,000 Baathists have already lost their government jobs and an equivalent number are due to follow them. Ahmed Shalabi, a member of the IGC and president of the “Supreme National de-Baathification Commission” used the occasion of the announcement to exclude any idea of reconciliation. “How can one reconcile those who are lying dead in mass graves with those who killed them” he declared at a Press Conference.
Ahmed Shalabi nevertheless assured his hearers that this purge was not inspired by a spirit of revenge and would not be conducted on the basis of rumours. According to him, the new Iraqi leaders were ready to do without the experience of certain members of the Baath Party if this was necessary to get rid of the Baathist influence in the country. “It is a civilised operation designed to clean the country of the ideology of the Baathist Party and its effects on the State organs” explained Ahmed Shalabi. “The price that we, Iraqis, have to pay to exclude experienced Baathists is a reasonable price. We cannot conduct a normal life in Iraq if the Baath Party continues to exist”.
Rejecting criticisms of the priority given to this purge at a time when violence was still shaking the country, Mr. Shalabi stated that documents found on Saddam Hussein when he was captured showed that senior Bathist leaders were behind these attacks against the coalition forces and against Iraqis.
As from May 2003, that is a month after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government, Paul Bremer had dissolved and banned the Baathist Party, putting an end to that party’s 35 year reign over the country. About 1.5 million Iraqis (out of a population of 25 million) were, willingly or under pressure, members of the Baath Party on the eve of Saddam Hussein’s fall. But only some tens of thousands of there were full and active members, and it is these that are the targets of the de-Baathisation policy.
• TURKISH, AMERICAN AND UNO LEADERS DISCUSS THE RETURN OF KURDS FROM TURKEY WHO HAVE BEEN REFUGEES IN IRAQ FOR OVER 5 YEARS. On 21 January, discussions took place in Ankara between Turkish, American and High Commission for Refugees (HCR) officials on the return of the thousands of Kurdish refugees Turkey in Iraq. The discussions were around the drawing up of a common document on the “voluntary repatriation, in safety and dignity” of Kurds of Turkish nationality who had sought refuge in Iraq in the early 90s because of the fighting between the PKK and the Turkish Army, stressed the spokesman of the HCR in Turkey, Metin Corabatir. The American Assistant Secretary of State for populations, refugees and migration, Arthur Dewey, took part in these discussions, according to the spokesman, who nevertheless mentioned “divergences” between the different parties, without being more specific.
The future of the Makhmour refugee camp, run by the HCR, was also on the discussion agenda. This camp has been sheltering over 9,000 Kurds from Turkey since 1997. Ankara has long wished to see it dismantled, claiming that PKK activists there are holding “hostage” the Kurdish families that wish to return to their villages in Turkey. Between 1984 and 1999, the Turkish Army had forcibly evacuated thousands of Kurdish villages to isolate the PKK fighters and uproot the Kurdish peasantry. Other families, close to the PKK had also taken the road to exile in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurds of Turkey are the third largest refugee community in US administered Iraq, numbering 12,700 people, just after the Iranians (18,700) and the Palestinians (80,000), according to the HCR. Apart from the one at Makhmour, there are camps at Dohuk and Irbil, sheltering 3,700 Kurds from Turkey. Thanks to the help of the HCR, over 2,200 refugees have been repatriated to Turkey since 1997.
• TURKISH FARCES: TWO LOCAL LEADERS OF THE DEHAP PARTY SUED FOR HAVING SAID “Mr. OCALAN” AND ANOTHER KURD CHARGED BECAUSE HE HAD PAINTED HIS HOUSE IN FORBIDDEN COLOURS. On 5 January, two local leaders of a pro-Kurdish party were charged and incarcerated by the Diyarbekir State Security Court for having called the chief of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, “Mr. Ocalan”. Edim Bicer and Sadiye Surer, local leaders of the People’s Democratic Party (DEHAP) in the small town of Bismil, about fifty Kilometres East of Diyarbekir, were charged and incarcerated under an Article of the Anti-Terrorist Act which forbids “terrorist propaganda”. They had referred to “Mr. Ocalan”, using the Turkish word “sayin”, which can carry a shade of meaning implying respect, during a press conference to denounce the lack of Human Rights in Turkish prisons.
Furthermore, according to the Turkish daily Milliyet of 6 January, an inhabitant of Hakkari was placed in detention on 12 December by the province’s Gendarmerie commander and is being charge before the Van State Security Court for having painted his house red, green and yellow …
• TONY BLAIR ON A SURPRISE VISIT TO THE TROOPS IN BASRAH. On 4 January the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, America’s principle ally in Iraq, paid a surprise visit to Basrah, principle city in Southern Iraq, to thank the British troops for their part in the war. Tony Blair arrive in Basrah, the country’s second largest city, on an air force plane from the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm esh-Sheikh where he had been holidaying with his family. The Prime Minister described Iraq as a “test” country in the international struggle against terrorism and repression. He stated that the countries that manufacture weapons of mass destruction have “an enormous responsibility for world security”.
“This conflict was a conflict of enormous importance because Iraq ” is a “test” country, he stated before some 10,000 troops based in and around Basrah, about 550 Km South of Baghdad.
According to Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq symbolised two threats, which the world is facing: that of an “incredibly dangerous” terrorism which is “a perversion of the real faith of Islam” and that of brutal and repressive regimes that use weapons of mass destruction. These threats produce “chaos” and “the collapse of the whole world political and economic system”, he added.
A little later, on board the plane, the Prime Minister declared to the Press that the invasion of Iraq served as a warning to other “repressive rogue states that are developing weapons of mass destruction”. “It is important to tell countries that might engage in such (arms) programmes: look, there is another way of managing this” asserted Mr. Blair.
In the course of this visit, which lasted one day, Tony Blair also met some Iraqi policemen, as well as British, Danish, Czech and Italian Army chiefs. Tony Blair had already met British soldiers in Basrah the previous May. This fresh visit came after the surprise visit by US President G.W. Bush to Baghdad on 27 November and a visit by the Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar on 20 December. Great Britain has sent some 46,000 British troops to the Arabo-Persian Gulf region and has, to date, recorded some 52 dead in the Iraqi conflict.
PRODI AND ZANA ON THE SAME DAY! As Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, prepares to visit Turkey on an official visit, some journalist are expressing surprise that this visit is planned to take place on the same day as the 10th hearing of the trial of Leyla Zana and her colleagues of the Party for Democracy (DEP). Yalçin Dogan, a journalist on the daily Hurriyet, expressed, under the headline “Prodi and Zana on the same day! ”, his doubts about this coincidence in timetabling. Moreover, during a visit to Berlin on 11 January, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had not hesitated to compare his three months imprisonment with Leyla Zana’s situation, declaring “Where was the European Union when I was imprisoned for reading a poem?”. Was the Turkish Prime Minister, who seemed to forget the 9 years in prison of the Kurdish M.P.s, seeking revenge on the E.U. in this way? Here are extensive extracts from Yalçin Dogan’s article of 13 January:
“ … The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, will be in Ankara on Friday (Ed. Note: the 16th January). To tell the truth, this visit is symbolic: the messages he intends to deliver are almost entirely known already. Having said this, like Verheugen (Ed. Note: the European Commissioner responsible for the enlargement of the Union) he makes positive statements one minute and then rather negative ones the next. However, Brussels’ views and expectations are, this time more favourable. Prodi intends to use the European thesis supporting Turkey’s European destiny, and thus deliver a message giving it the green light. The most outstanding issue is, undoubtedly, the Cyprus question…
Nevertheless, the date of this visit is not normal! There is a curious coincidence. On Friday 16 January, the hearing of Leyla Zana’s trial is taking place in Ankara.
After the democratisation package, the former members of Parliament of the Party for Democracy (DEP — dissolved) will again appear before the Court. And this is not very important (Ed. Note: 16 January will see the 10th hearing of this retrial, which began in March 2003).
The most important thing is that seven or eight Members of the European Parliament are coming to attend the trial as observers (Ed. Note: So far, MEPs have attended several hearing of the trial). The MEPs who are due to come are members of the mixed Turkish-European Union Parliamentary commission. That is observers who know Turkey.
It is not their visit that is important, but its reason, because Turkey is used to receiving this sort of observer at this sort of trial. But this time there is more.
Last year Leyla Zana received the Sakharov Prize (Ed. Note: in fact she was awarded this Prize in 1995) and the European Members of Parliament want to come to Ankara to give her her prize in prison, but Turkey does not see things this way. Thus they are coming to the hearing to see Leyla Zana. Will they want to give her the Prize in the courtroom? Can they do this? Will they do it? No one yet knows.
This intriguing situation is putting Ankara’s hair on end. Yet another problem, suddenly springing up from nowhere!…
On the same day as Prodi’s visit — Friday 16 January!…
There is no coincidence as suspect as this!
There will be fireworks on Friday!…