On 8 March, the Interim Government Council of Iraq (IGC) unanimously approved the country’s provisional constitution, unity prevailing over some Shiite reservations, in a crucial stage of the transfer of power, planned for 30 June. The new Iraqi Constitution is a unique document in the Middle East, partly inspired by Canadian Federalism, Egyptian legislation, the British Parliamentary system and the American Bill of Rights.
The fundamental Law of the transition specifies that Islam is one of the bases of the law but not the only one, as the Shiite representatives were demanding, and outlines the main features of the future institutions. Presented as the most liberal Constitution in the Arab world, it will remain in force until the adoption of a definitive Constitution next year. The document was signed in Baghdad by the members of the IGC or their representatives before an assembly of Iraqi and American civilians and soldiers, including the American civil administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer.
“This is a historic and decisive moment in Iraqi history” said the month’s President of the IGC, Mohammed Bahr al-Ulum. His colleague, Massud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) went further: “This document indubitably strengthens Iraqi unity as never before. This is the first time that we, Kurds, feel we are citizens of Iraq”.
However, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, representing the Shiite al-Daawa Party, reading a statement signed by 12 of the 13 Shiites on the IGC (alongside the 5 Kurds, 5 Sunni Arabs, one Christian and one Turkoman) cools the enthusiasm: “Our decision to sign this document is goes side by side with reservations. In reality we had a choice between delaying the Constitution or resolving our objections, in particular with regard to two articles in the appendix” to the document he declared. One of these articles allows the Kurds as well as the Sunni Arabs to have a veto on the adoption of the future and definitive Fundamental Law, even in the event of a majority in its favour in a referendum. In the name of the protection of minorities, the rejection of the final Constitution by a two-thirds majority of the electors in three of the eighteen provinces of Iraq would have the effect of a veto. The other reservation is over the fact that any amendment must be approved by the Head of State, his two Vice-Presidents and three quarters of the Parliament that is to be elected by 31 January 2005.
It remains for the IGC to reach agreement with the American authorities on the method for forming the government that will run the country until the elections, planned to take place before 31 January 2005. The help of the United Nations will probably be necessary for setting up this interim government.
The international community welcomed the adoption of the Provisional Constitution by the Iraqi executive, the only discordant notes coming from Iraq, where the influential Ayatollah Ali Sistani considered it “an obstacle to a permanent Constitution” and from Turkey. The Turkish government declared it was “not satisfied” with the new Constitution and stated that it would lead to further “insecurity” in the country. “The interim constitution does not satisfy us. It accentuates our concerns” declared the Turkish Minister of Justice, Cemil Cicek, who did not at all like the status given to the Kurds in the future Iraqi institutions.
US President G.W. Bush, for his part, congratulated the Iraqis for having adopted the provisional Constitution, which he considered an important step towards the transfer of power on 30 June. “I congratulate the Government Council and the Iraqi people on having signed the administrative law of transition for Iraq” declared Mr. Bush in a communiqué. This document “lays the basis for democratic elections and for a new Constitution that will be drawn up by an Iraqi assembly elected and approved by the Iraqi people” he added.
Iran, Iraq’s other big neighbour, which had suffered from a bloody war launched by Saddam Hussein in 1980, stressed that this document represented an “effective step in the context of the transfer of power to the Iraqis”. However, two Kurdish Members of the Iranian Parliament, including Jalal Jalalizadeh, M.P. for Sanandaj, stated on 10 March that about a hundred Kurds had been arrested in Mahabad, and Marivan, after demonstrations in support of the Iraqi Kurds following the signing of the Iraqi provisional Constitution which granted them autonomous status.
In Saudi Arabia, the Council of Ministers, presided by Crown Prince Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz, “expressed the hope that the signing of the provisional Constitution would lead to the establishment of an independent government, to a return of sovereignty and independence to their Iraqi brother”. Jordan also described it as “a step forward” towards the restitution of sovereignty to the Iraqis.
In London, the Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, also greeted the signing of the fundamental law, considering that it reflected the “strong desire” of the Iraqi people to establish a democratic society. In Paris, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, Hervé Ladsous, expressed the hope that the new Constitution would contribute “to consolidating the process of restoring sovereignty and establishing a State of Laws in Iraq”. Russia, one of the first to react, stressed that it created “a legal basis” for settling the situation in the country.
Here are the principle points of the agreement on the Iraqi Interim Constitution:
- The document provides for the holding of general elections by 31 January 2005 to create a parliamentary assembly that will set up a government and adopt a definitive constitution.
- The executive will consist of a President and two Vice-Presidents who will appoint a Prime Minister and the government. Decisions by the President and his Vice-Presidents must be unanimous.
- An appendix, which will be added to the Interim Constitution, will detail the process for creating the Provisional Government what must sun the country after 30 June.
- The document sets an objective, which is not a formal quota, for a 25% representation of women in the future national assembly.
- The document states that Islam is the official religion and will be a source of the law — but not the only one. No law passed after 30 June may contravene the principles of Islam.
DECLARATION OF RIGHTS
- The agreement includes an exhaustive 13-clause declaration of rights, which specifically guarantees the freedom of expression, of religion, and of assembly.
- The document establishes a federal system and leaves open the possibility for the country’s 18 provinces to unite to form federal regions. It leaves the door open for the creation of a Shiite autonomous region in the South similar to the autonomous region of Kurdistan in the North.
- It recognises the autonomous government of Kurdistan in the country’s three Northern provinces and the fact of Kurdish as an official language of the Iraqi Republic on an equal footing with Arabic.
- The Constitution makes a point that no independent militias will be authorised, except by special dispensation of the government. The Kurdish peshmergas should, normally, be gradually integrated into the security forces and the Army.
Furthermore the Iraqi Kurds announced that they would refuse any changes to the Provisional Constitution. “We will not accept any change” to this fundamental document stated Brusk Shawis, a close associate of KDP chief Massud Barzani on 15 March from his office in Salaheddin. “We have secured satisfaction on some very important points and it is out of the question to question their validity” he added. He considered that all the country’s component parts should accept compromises, as the Kurds had done. He quoted, in this respect, the question of the cities of Mossul and Kirkuk. These two cities, that are located in one of the country’s two oil production regions, are claimed by the Kurds, even if the former Saddam Hussein regime had carried out a policy of massive expulsion of their Kurdish inhabitants and of Arabisation of the population. Mr. Shawis stressed that the KDP and the PUK had accepted that this situation be frozen for the moment and be “peacefully” settled after the situation in the country has been normalised. “Just as we have made concessions, so we expect the Shiites to do the same” he insisted.
In an interview given to Agence France Press, in Salaheddin on 16 March, Massud Barzani welcomed the federalism established by the recently adopted Provisional Constitution while reaffirming “the right of the Kurdish nation to independence”. Mr. Barzani expressed pleasure that “the restoration of democracy” and “the autonomy” of Kurdistan “had led to the federalism of the Provisional Constitution”. “But, as a nation, the Kurds not only had a right to federalism but of all the rights to independence” added Mr. Barzani who, nevertheless, stressed that his was not on the agenda because of “present circumstances and the realities of our times”.
Massud Barzani stated that he would accept no modification to the Provisional Constitution “regarding Kurdistan or the Kurds" as demanded by some Shiite factions which reject several clauses and in particular one — advantageous to the Kurds — that gives two thirds of the electors on three provinces a right of veto on the future definitive Constitution. He considered that the United Nations “could play a significant role” in Iraq after the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis on 30 June on condition that the international organisation acted in coordination with the Americans.
The clashes that began on 12 March, in which some Kurds confronted the police and some Arab tribes in the Kurdish regions of Northern Syria, have caused 40 deaths, according to Kurdish sources and 25 deaths according to official Syrian figures. The disturbances began at Qamichli, about 600 Km North of Damascus, before a match that was part of the National Football Championship, when supporters of the Arab team marched through the streets of the town shouting slogans hostile to the Iraqi Kurdish leaders and waving pictures of Saddam Hussein. The clashes than spread to the benches of the football stadium where the Kurds accuse the police of having opened fire on them, killing six people and provoking a panic rush in the course of which three children were trampled underfoot. On 13 March demonstrations of protest at the police behaviour turned into riots at Qamichli and Hassake, the provincial governor’s seat. In Qamichli, wheat warehouses were set on fire and given over to looters. The three-storey customs building was also set alight, government offices sacked and statues of Hafez al-Assad pulled down.
According to Machaal Timo, member of the Political Committee of the Kurdish People’s Union party (banned), some Kurdish villages were then attacked by members of Arab tribes organised by the Baathist intelligence services, which gave themselves over to acts of vendetta. Machaal Timo pointed out that murderous clashes took place on the night of 17 March in Alepo (N-W) and the surrounding region but also at Qamichli. ”Since Friday (21 March) the clashes, which began at Qamichli, have caused 30 Kurdish dead in the governorates of Hassake (N-East) and Alepo” reported Abdel Aziz Daoud, General Secretary of the Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party (banned). Salah Kiddo, another member of the Kurdish People’s Union, confirmed this figure and also mentioned 250 Kurds injured. Five Syrian Arabs were killed, including a police officer, and ten others injured, during the same period, according to the governor of the town of Hassake, Salim Kabbul.
Moreover, clashes between Kurds and Syrian police caused at least 8 deaths in Alepo on 16 March, when the police opened fire on hundreds of Kurds who were demonstrating in a street in the Asharafyah quarter to commemorate the Halabja massacre, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where 5,000 Kurds perished from gas attacks by Saddam Hussein’s armed forces in 1988.
The authorities linked all these disturbances, rare in a country that has been ruled by the Baath Party with an iron fist for over 41 years, to “ideas imported” from abroad. The principal fear of the Syrian officialdom is of a break-up of Iraq, which they fear would have religious and ethnic after-effects in their country. Thus the President, Bachar al-Assad, has recently declared that the creation of a Kurdish State in Iraq would be a point of no return.
During a visit to Damascus on 22 March (the first visit of an Iraqi diplomat to Syria since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime) the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, who had discussions with Bachar al-Assad and with his Syrian opposite number Farouk al-Chareh, brushed aside any Iraqi implication in these clashes. “I categorically deny that the Iraqis have infiltrated (across the Iraqi-Syrian border) or have participated in the regrettable disturbances that have taken place in Syria” Mr. Zebari stated at a Damascus press conference. “We are not intervening in this matter in any way. It is a Syrian internal matter” continued the Iraqi Minister who said he was “confident that the Syrian leaders would handle this matter in such a way as to strengthen Syrian national Unity and equality” between the different components of the Syrian people. The Iraqi Minister indicated that his country “had made its choice in favour of democracy and the application of Human Rights” but that Iraq “was not going to export democracy to its neighbours, (…) nor intervene to stir up trouble” he added.
In a message to President al-Assad, “the Syrian Kurdish political parties as a whole” accused “certain Syrian leaders” of having stirred up clashes between Kurds and Arabs. The Kurds of Syria have been subjected to “provocations” and a campaign of arrests by the Security Services, stated eleven banned organisations on 25 March in a joint communiqué. “The Security Services are continuing provocations, harassment arrests of citizens and of many symbols of the Kurdish national movement” stated the communiqué. It cites in particular “the harassment to which Kheireddin Murad, general secretary of the Kurdish Left Party, has more than once been subjected”. Stressing that the Kurdish organisations have “contributed considerably to the pacification” the communiqué warns: “these deliberate provocations do not help to normalise the situation”.
The Syrian lawyer, Anwar Bunni, who is also a Human Rights activist, declared on 24 March that hundreds of Kurds, detained during the disturbances, were still being kept in detention. Being unable to provide any precise figures, he indicated that “at least a thousand” Kurds are being detained in the prison. “Arrests are continuing in the regions of Qamichli and Hassake” in Northeast Syria directed against the Kurdish population Mr. Bunni also stated. “A tense atmosphere reigns in these regions because the authorities have opted for drastic security measures” he added.
Abdel Aziz Daoud, general secretary of the Kurdish Progressive Democratic party (banned) recently declared that some six hundred Syrian Kurds, arrested during the disturbances had been released on 19 March. He added that “some 1,500 others remain in detention in the Hassake (N-E) and Alepo (N-W) governorates”.
For his part, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Faruk al-Chareh, who was speaking to the press after a meeting with the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, to whom he had given a message from his Syrian opposite number Bachar al-Assad, stated in Cairo that he couldn’t link the disturbances to American pressures and assured his hearers that the crisis was over. “The disturbances have ended and I cannot say that they were due to American threats against Syria, but there were some elements that had infiltrated” the Minister declared in answer to a question from a journalist. “The majority of the Kurds have condemned these actions and the situation at Qamichli, Alepo and Northern Syria is now calm. There is no problem with the Kurds” the Minister assured his hearers.
The Syrian Vice-President, Abdel Halim Khaddam had accused “foreign parties”, which he did not identify, of exploiting the disturbances.
On 14 March, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), one of the two principal Kurdish organisations in Iraq, denounced the violence and recourse to force in Qamichli. “While insisting on the fraternity and peaceful co-existence between Kurds and other peoples, we call on all parties to renounce the use of violence and the recourse to force as a means of settling conflicts” stressed Massud Barzani’s KDP in a communiqué. After offering condolences to the victims’ families, the KDP, in its communiqué that was published in its Baghdad daily paper Al-Taakhi (Brotherhood), called for “strengthening the brotherhood, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect between the Kurds and other peoples to preserve peace and security in the region”.
At Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, several thousands of Kurds called for intervention by UNO and the Americans in Syria. In Washington, the State Department’s assistant spokesman, Adam Ereli, called on Syria to cease its repression of the Kurds. “We have let our concern be known (to Damascus) and we call on the Syrian government to cease repressing the non-violent political demonstrations in Syria (…)” he declared, stating that the Kurds were protesting against “inequality of rights”. He accused the Syrian forces “of having wounded and killed demonstrators” but also of having taken advantage of the events to “spread the repression to towns with a Kurdish majority”.
Kurds in Syria make up about 10% of the country’s 18 million population and are subjected to a policy of discrimination. Other than recognition of their cultural difference from the Arabs, they demand to be treated as full citizens, claiming political rights and those of public employment “in the context of the country’s territorial integrity”. Some 300,000 of them, who have lived in Syria for generations were arbitrarily stripped of their Syrian nationality as part of the Baathist policy of forced Arabisation of the Kurdish province of Jezirah. Their status of stateless persons in their own country deprives them of any civic rights or civil liberties. A State of Emergency and martial law has been in force in Syria for over four decades.
The municipal elections organised in Turkey on 28 March have strengthened the political base of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which should allow it to pursue its economic reforms and political changes needed to favour the country’s admission to the European Union. The party, created less than three years ago, had already won an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary general elections in 2002.
The still semi-official results give the AKP 42% of the votes. The People’s Republican Party (CHP) only won 18%. The AKP, which claims to be a “Moslem-Democratic" party, won 58 of the 81 provinces involved, including the capital, Ankara and the country’s largest city, Istanbul. The AKP’s heartland lies in the provinces, where religious feelings are more deeply rooted but, in Ankara as in Istanbul, the party largely outdistanced its rivals. In Ankara it won more than half the votes cast, scoring 55%, and in Istanbul it won 45.28%. “Turkey has once more voted for stability and development. Our party has broadened its base,” declared Mr. Erdogan to the Press, considering that this victory showed his government was “stable” and “powerful”. Nevertheless, he added, to reassure those who feared religious influence on government policies “this will not turn our heads (…). Our prime objective is to serve our country”. The CHP won 8 provinces with 18% of the national vote, the Social-democratic People’s Party (SHP), a coalition of six parties including the pro-Kurdish DEHAP, with 5.07% of the national vote won 5 provinces. The neo-fascist National Action Party (MHP) won 4 provinces with 3% of the vote and former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s “Denocratic Left” Party (DSP) won 3 provinces with 2% of the national votes (thus doubling its General Election score). Former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s True Path Party, with 10.2% and the Islamist former Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan’s Happiness Party with 3.9% each won a single province. The Happiness party even lost its former bastion, the province of Konya, to the AKP, which scored 63% there.
Sporadic violence marked the election in certain Kurdish districts and the NTV television chain reported that four men had been killed in distinct incidents of political rivalry. Over 100 people were injured in fights. Moreover, nine journalists covering the repression of a demonstration to denounce electoral frauds were beaten by the police in Diyarbekir. Three of them had to be taken to hospital. Reporters sans Frontières protested at the violence perpetrated against the journalists, who were only doing their jobs. At around 11 p.m., after the closing of the polls, activists of the People’s Democratic Party (DEHAP) had assembled outside the Diyarbekir Court House, accusing the police off having faked the local results that had just taken place. In several districts SHP ballot papers had been found in the dustbins. The police began violently to disperse the crowd, then set upon the journalists who were covering the incident. Hakim Cetiner, cameraman for the national networks SKY Turk, Show TV and Saban TV, Saban Boz, a journalist with Show TV, and Besir Ariz, Faysal Karadeniz, Ahmet Bulut and Bayram Bulut, of the local daily Soz and the local Soz TV station, Mehmet Sirin Hatman, cameraman for the pro-Kurdish press agency Dicle Haber Ajansi (DIHA) and Bahire Karatas, reporter for DIHA as well as Firat Suzgun, of the local Gun TV were beaten with batons and chains. Mehmet Sirin Hatman, Saban Boz and Bahire Karatas had to be kept in hospital, Mehmet Sirin Hatman and Bayram Bulut suffering from broken arms. The police also damaged the journalists’ cameras and confiscated their films.
Suleyman Anik, a newly elected Kurdish mayor in Darecit, was arrested on the evening of 30 March “after the discovery of documents of the former PKK (renamed Kongra-Gel) that showed links with the banned separatist organisation” according to the office of the Mardin province Governor. Mr. Anik, who had been Mayor of the town in the early 90s, had sought refuge in Sweden in 1992, when the authorities first accused him of links with the PKK. Stripped of his nationality in 2001, he had regained it the following year and returned to the country.
The AKP, which already has an overwhelming majority in Parliament and dominates the Turkish political scene, should now be encouraged to pursue its reform path by, for example, abolishing the State Security Courts and dismissing the Army representatives on the Higher Educational Council. It should also help in the discussions on the unification of Cyprus, where the Army fears lest Ankara “sell out Turkish interests”. The Turkish Prime Minister must, however, take into account the very influential Army, which distrusts his party because of its Islamic roots. The leaders of the European Union must decide, in December, if Turkey has made enough progress in the area of Human Rights and political freedom to begin negotiations for membership. The AKP government can boast of significant economic growth and the lowest rate of inflation for quarter of a century, which has earned Turkey the backing of its principal creditors, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.
Moreover General Hilmi Ozkok, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces which consider themselves the owners of the State and Guardians of its official ideology, “the immortal principles of Ataturk”, has clearly indicated that the Army remains vigilant in the face of any threat to the secular republic. “We have in the past and will continue to be the guarantors (for Turkey)” declared General Ozkok on the CNN Turk television channel.
Below are the results secured in the Kurdish provinces and major cities of Turkey. The pro-Kurdish DEHAP party, which took part in the election under the banner of an alliance — the Union of Democratic Forces — of six parties under the label of SHP, suffered a set-back, losing the Kurdish provinces of Agri, Bingol, Siirt, and Van to the AKP. Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had not failed to hammer home the message that those municipalities won by his party would enjoy preferential benefits of State subsidies. Many Kurds had also not appreciated the alliance with the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP) whose Ataturkist leaders had abandoned the former Kurdish M.P.s of the Party for Democracy (DEP — banned) and acted as a “democratic” smoke screen for a coalition government that, under Tansu Ciller, had waged a ferocious war in Kurdistan. The alliance of democratic forces had, moreover, won 30 districts and 31 cantons and enabled the election of the only woman at the head of a major municipality, Songül Erol Abdil, at Tunceli (Dersim).
|Diyarbakir||SHP||88 850||58,35||AKP||53 377||35,05||DYP||2 346||1,5|
|Tunceli||SHP||3 812||35,78||Ind.||2 171||20,38||DSP||934||8,7|
|Batman||SHP||47 640||73,64||SP||11 776||18,20||BBP||1 852||2,8|
|Sirnak||SHP||5 614||40,86||AKP||4 100||29,84||Ind.||1 699||12,3|
|Hakkari||SHP||11 043||62,52||AKP||5 619||31,81||GP||297||1,68|
|Adiyaman||AKP||27 187||45,39||SP||15 192||25,36||CHP||6 899||11,5|
|Agri||AKP||10 124||48,96||SHP||6 000||29,02||SP||1 952||9,44|
|Ardahan||Ind.||1 838||25,46||CHP||1 798||24,91||DYP||1 479||20,4|
|Bingol||AKP||8 960||39,89||SHP||6 388||28,44||SP||4 081||18,1|
|Bitlis||AKP||3 728||28,94||SHP||3 503||27,19||SP||1 485||11,5|
|Erzurum||AKP||66 912||61,15||MHP||32 307||29,53||SP||3 922||3,58|
|Erzincan||AKP||16 265||51,44||MHP||9 079||28,71||CHP||5 029||15,9|
|Antep||AKP||175 450||57,30||CHP||103 085||33,67||SP||10 877||3,55|
|Igdir||MHP||9 753||42,19||SHP||7 719||33,39||AKP||4 783||20,6|
|Maras||AKP||67 635||65,50||DYP||14 816||14,35||MHP||9 501||9,20|
|Malatya||AKP||54 363||50,75||MHP||35 636||33,27||CHP||11 705||10,9|
|Mardin||SP||12 288||52,74||SHP||6 282||26,96||DYP||3 417||14,6|
|Mus||AKP||6 807||35,66||SHP||4 792||25,10||DYP||4 656||24,3|
|Siirt||AKP||18 110||53,53||SHP||14 490||42,83||DYP||290||0,86|
|Urfa||AKP||58 392||60,98||SHP||22 794||23,81||SP||8 896||9,29|
|Van||AKP||41 998||54,02||SHP||31 703||40,78||SP||1 047||1,35|
|Istanbul||AKP||1 914 348||45,28||CHP||1 222 579||28,92||SP||230 881||3,64|
|Ankara||AKP||901 116||55,02||SHP||340 629||20,80||CHP||207 033||12,6|
|Izmir||CHP||562 561||47,17||AKP||388 336||32,56||GP||71 671||6,01|
|Adana||AKP||183 360||39,75||CHP||83 110||18,01||DYP||58 885||12,7|
|Mersin||CHP||78 792||34,06||SHP||52 138||22,54||AKP||46 174||19,9|
* SHP: Social-Democratic People’s Party, including the pro-Kurdish DEHAP party. AKP: Justice and Development (in office). CHP: Republican People’s Party, the only opposition party in parliament DYP: Former Prime Minister Tansu Çiller’s True Path Party SP: Happiness Party, led by former Prime Minister N. Erbakan MHP: National Action Party GP: Youth Party Ind: Independent
Since long back into the mists of time, the Kurds and other peoples of the Iranian plateau (Persians, Afghans, Tajiks) have celebrated the Spring Equinox with festivities that can last for several days.
In Kurdish tradition, it is also a celebration of the victory of the forces of Light and Good over those of Darkness and Evil. The legend of the blacksmith, Kawa, raising the ordinary people in revolt against the tyrant Dahak and putting an end to his bloody reign on the first day of Spring, gives this traditional festival a content of liberation that has come down the centuries.
It is because of this political content of revolt against oppression that Newroz celebrations had been forbidden in Turkey and Syria until the end of the 90s. Then, with a sudden change of tack, Ankara chose to turn the event to its own advantage, giving it, as in Iran, a traditional folksy content.
This year, hundreds of thousands of Kurds in Turkey celebrated, on 21st March, in an atmosphere of calm, a Newroz that, in the past, was often marked by tension and bloody clashes with the Turkish police forces. The biggest rally, at Diyarbekir, brought together 700,000 people — with nearly 3,000 riot police watching the celebrations. They were also authorised, for the first time in 12 years in Sirnak Province, one of the most disturber. In 1992, a hundred people had been killed by the Turkish forces at Cizre, during the Newroz celebrations. In 2002, the police charged the demonstrators, causing two deaths and dozens of injured.
The Kurds of Syria observed Newroz in mourning because of the bloody clashes that had taken place for six days between the Kurds and some Arab tribes and police. A collective, bringing together eleven Kurdish parties in Syria decided to cancel the celebrations that should have marked Newroz and observe a period of mourning for the victims of the clashes between 12 and 17 March. The collective also asked the Kurds “not to light bonfires, which traditionally mark the new year, in residential quarters”. Despite this, in the evening some young Kurds set fire to tires and heaps of wood at some roadsides. The collective called for “an end to the provocations by security forces, then Army police and militias of the Baath Party (the party in power)” and launched an “urgent appeal to rescue the country from the dangerous situation in which it found itself”.
The Iraqi Kurds, in mourning after the February bomb attacks in Irbil, celebrated Newroz (which coincides with the date of the beginning of the war in Iraq) quietly. They all celebrated their principal civil holiday, but there were no public celebrations after the bloody suicide attacks that cost the lives of 105 people in Irbil last February. However, families pretty well everywhere went to public parks and gardens, or out to the fields, to pick nick on this Iraqi Kurdistan public holiday.
Newroz was also celebrated with concerts, musical evenings, dances and receptions in all the Kurdish communities in Europe, America, Asia, Australia and the Near East. In Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, the Mayor of Paris, Pierre Schapira, Deputy Mayor responsible for international affairs and the French-speaking countries and Mrs. Khedija Bourcart, Deputy Mayor responsible for integration and non-European communities, welcomed the Newroz celebrations at the Paris City Hall for the first time ever. At the initiative of the Kurdish Institute, a celebration was organised for 29 March, bringing together Kurds, Iranians, Afghans and Tajiks in the City Hall’s main reception room where Kurdish, Iranian, Afghan and Azeri musical groups enlivened a festive evening attended by over 700 people. The Mayor of Paris and his two Deputies attended this celebration and made a warm welcoming speech. After the Chinese New Year, the Kurdish New Year is now also part of the festive calendar of the City of Paris.
The 12th hearing of the retrial of the Kurdish former members of parliament of the Party for Democracy (DEP — banned) took place on 12 March but for the first time without Leyla Zana and her colleagues. The former M.P.s refused to appear before the Ankara N°1 State Security Court to protest at this retrial where their fate has been already decided beforehand. The President of the Court, Orhan Karadeniz, after receiving the official document testifying the expressed determination of the former M.P.s, decided to continue the trial.
A delegation of the European Parliament, consisting of Feleknas Uca and Luici Vinci, as well as Philip Kaplan, Chairman of the political department of the US Embassy and of Kurdish political public figures and members of the M.P.s’ families were nevertheless present in the courtroom.
In the course of the hearing, a deposition by one Ali Dursun, jailed in Bursa Prison and obtained by the Bursa Criminal Court, was read out. This witness categorically denied the remarks by his father, Abdullah Dursun, a “village protector” chief, who had accused Leyla Zana of having forced his son to join the PKK. The person concerned declared that he was most upset that his name had been so misused by his own father, that his only knew of Leyla Zana through the press and that in no way had he been forced to join the PKK. He also stated that, during his 21 days in detention, considerable pressure had been brought to bear on him to testify against the former DEP M.P.s.
The principal lawyer for the defence, Mr. Yusuf Alatas, for his part, placed before the Court a statement clarifying the reasons that had driven the ex-M.P.s to refusing to appear before the court. He thus stated that the former M.P.s did not believe this was an equitable and impartial trial, though they had never adopted an offensive attitude towards the judges. He also stated that they had done everything possible to remain within the legal framework and not spill over into the political field in this case.
Yusuf Alatas confirmed that Leyla Zana and her colleagues would no longer attend the future hearings of the court, but that their lawyers would be present to defend them as well as they could, even if they could not fill the gap made by their absence.
The Public Prosecutor, Dilaver Kahveci, once against spoke against any release on bail of the former M.P.s and called for them to be found guilty then and there, claiming that no fresh evidence in their favour had been produced during the previous hearings.
Once again the court, unsurprisingly, rejected the request for them to be released on bail and adjourned the next hearing of the trial to 2 April. The court should then go on to the last hearing for Leyla Zana and her colleagues, who have now spent 10 years in the Ankara Central Jail.
On 2 March, the tenth anniversary of their imprisonment, their families had gone to the Ankara prison with some bouquets of flowers. The prison staff refused to give the bouquets to the prisoners and had “placed the flowers in detention”.
In a draft report presented by MEP Arie Oostlander on 16 March and adopted by the Foreign Affairs and Human Rights Commission, the European Parliament “deplores the manner in which the retrial of Leyla Zana, Sakharov Prize holder, and the three other ex-M.P.s of the DEP, is taking place and see this as a symbol of the rift between the Turkish legal system and that of the European Union”.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, hundreds of Kurds travelled by coach to lay wreaths at the recently built cenotaph at Halabja, over which floats the Kurdish flag. The American civil administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, also made the journey, and the inhabitants of Halabja appreciated his tribute. The American administrator stood in silent tribute before the monument while the Iraqi Executive promised that such a massacre would never happen again. Afterwards, Paul Bremer, Jeremy Greenstock, the British N°2 in the coalition administration, and Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, visited the exhibition on the massacre and spoke to relatives of the victims. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan had announced that the Halabja ceremonies would be reduced to the strict minimum for fear of bomb attacks.
On this occasion the Iraqi Government Council swore that “Halabja will remain in the memory of Iraqis as a symbol of the savagery of the overthrown regime”. “This sort of horrible crime must never be repeated in the future democratic, plural and federated Iraq” the communiqué specified.
The population of Irbil observed five minutes silence in memory of the Halabja victims. However, several dozen students at Irbil’s Salaheddin University, who had come from Halabja, demonstrated before the regional Parliament to demand that those responsible for the bombing be punished, and in particular Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed “Chemical Ali”, Saddam Hussein’s cousin, who was his pro-consul of Kurdistan at the time. They denounced the passivity of the West at the time of the massacre. Traffic was completely at a standstill throughout the town, while passers by stopped in silent memory of the victims — especially the women and children. In a petition, the students called for indemnities to the families of victims and the creation of a medical commission to evaluate the after-effects from which the survivors of the tragedy still suffer.
Commemorative ceremonies also took place in other regions of Kurdistan and Europe. In Turkey carried out a series of arrests including students who wished to mark the anniversary of the Halabja massacre in front of Istanbul University. It intervened very roughly, using tear gas and freely wielding their truncheons, and hauled off for interrogation the many people who were shouting pro-Kurdish slogans.
On 5 March, the Kurdish Institute, in partnership with the France-Libertés Foundation, organised in Paris an international conference round the theme “Where is Iraq going? The economic and political reconstruction process: present situation, problems and perspectives”.
Nearly a year after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, where is Iraq going? What has changed in the daily standard of living of the Iraqis? We are we regarding the reconstruction of infrastructures, the effective working of basic public services: schools, universities, and hospitals? How is the security situation developing? How is civil society managing to get organised despite the bomb attacks and the problem of insecurity? How are the Iraqis using their newly acquired freedoms of association, expression and assembly? What are the problems in the process of transition to a sovereign Iraqi government? Is there a danger of Iraq breaking up or will it succeed in ensuring its unity by setting up federal institutions allowing the Kurds and other long oppressed peoples to manage their own affairs? What is the position regarding the constitutional debate on federalism? What is the fate of the Christian communities and how can their rights and security be guaranteed?
To answer all these questions, as well as many others that are raised regarding Iraq, some eminent Iraqi public figures, fully involved in the reconstruction of their country and its future, came to Paris to contribute to the task of informing the French public.
The Conference was opened by Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand, President of the Fondation France-Libertés with a message of welcome, then presented and introduced by Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute.
Its organisation was hinged round four Round Tables. The first, C haired by Jonathan Randal, a journalist and former Washington Post Near East correspondent, on the subject of “The reconstruction of Iraq: the present situation” brought together Dr. Fuad Hussein, special adviser to the Minister of National Education of the Iraqi Interim Government, who came specially from Iraq, as did Father Rabane Qas, Bishop of Amadia (Kurdistan). The first reviewed the difficulties encountered on the spot in the field of education and the advances, such as the printing of millions of new schoolbooks purged of pictures of Saddam Hussein and references to Baathist ideology. He also evoked, and gave figures in support, of the considerable improvement in the living and working conditions of teachers in the new Iraq. The second, who represented the Christian community in Iraq, reassured public opinion on the situation of Christians in Iraq, and especially in Kurdistan. Speaking in French, in Kurdish and in Aramaic, he invited France to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq and to promoting French language and culture in Kurdistan.
However, Mrs. Nasreen S. Berwari, Minister of Public Works and Local Government in the Interim Iraqi Government, who was due to take part in this debate was held back in Washington but sent the text of her contribution, which was read to the conference.
The Second Round Table of the morning was devoted to the questions of Justice and the Constitution under the question “What Justice for the leaders of the old regime? ” Chaired by Mr. Daniel Jacoby, Honorary President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), this Round Table welcomed two leading public figures who had come specially from Iraq. Firstly, Dr. Dara Nurreddin Bahaaddin, a judge, Chairman of the Commission on Laws of the Interim Government Council of Iraq, the Mrs. Hania Mufti, Director for Iraq of Human Rights Watch. Dr. Bahaaddin, who supervised the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution and the documents setting up a special court to try former Baathists, spoke about the crimes of the regime and the conditions that must be met for their trial in Iraq. He also stressed that “the right of the Kurds to self-determination” is legitimate and imprescriptible, but this right is still compatible with a freely consented union within a democratic and federal Iraq. For her part, Mrs. Mufti highlighted the work done by her organisation in the discovering of mass graves in Iraq and in identifying the bodies found. She listed the conditions and criteria that must prevail for an equitable trial of the leaders of the former regime. For his part, André Poupart, Professor of Law at the University of Montreal analysed the conditions for an equitable trial, its role as a founding event for a legal order in a new State of Laws.
In the afternoon, the first debate was on “The political and institutional future of Iraq”, chaired by Gérard Chaliand, writer and geopolitical expert, who has many times visited Iraq, both before and since the war.
Amongst those taking part, Peter Galbraith, former US Ambassador to Croatia and special advisor to the Regional Government of Kurdistan, highlighted the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurds’ aspirations to independence, the incapacity of the American Administration to take these aspirations into account and set up a credible policy for transition towards democracy. In his view, the Kurds want to remain Kurds, and the State of Iraq is still an artificial one. Dr. Najmaldin O. Karim, President of the Washington Kurdish Institute, then threw his own light on the same subject, stressing the difficulty in arriving at a reasonable compromise with the Arab representatives, Sunni and Shiite. Then he raised the situation in Kirkuk where more than a year after the fall of the Baathist regime, its principle victims, the Kurds were still unable to return home and recover their stolen houses and property.
Moreover, Yonadam Y. Kanna, Chairman of the Social Affairs Commission of the Iraqi Government Council, was represented at the Conference by his assistant on the Council, William Wards, and Dr, Mowaffak al-Rubai, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Interim Government Council, unable to come to Paris because of the bomb attacks in Baghdad and Kerbala in which his relatives had been victims, sent a written contribution in which he stated that “violence and terror have been the cement that maintained Iraq as a centralised country”. Mr. al-Rubai expressed his support for a federal Iraq with five “great regional units”: two in the North, “the Province of Kurdistan and the province of Mossul”, one in the centre, “greater Baghdad” and two in the South, “the province of Kufa” and “the province of Bassrah”.
Finally, the last Round Table had the objective of initiating some collective thinking about the role that France and the European Union could play in the reconstruction of Iraq, given that several countries of the Union, like Great Britain, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark were already making a many-sided contribution. This discussion, introduced and managed by Dominique Moïsi, Assistant Director of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) included Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand and Pascal Bruckner, a French writer and philosopher, who did not hesitate to criticise the French media and Government for their partial treatment of information on Iraq and for defending the status quo in Iraq, and Aymeri de Montesquiou, Senator for the Gers, one of the rare French political personalities to have made several visits to Kurdistan and Iraq before the conflict, who devoted himself to explaining France’s position to those taking part.
The Conference was wound up by Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute. More than 400 people, French, Anglo-American, Kurdish, Turkish, Assyso-chaldean, including many journalists and diplomats took part in the conference, which had simultaneous translation facilities in French and English. The contributions by the main speakers were followed by discussion with the audience so as to deepen understanding of the questions tackled and to favour an exchange of ideas.
The principle contributions to this conference are available on the Kurdish Institute’s Internet site, www.institutkurde.org
The 2003 periodic report on Turkey by the Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and Joint Security and Defence Commissions of the European Parliament on Turkey’s progress towards readiness for membership, drawn up and presented on 19 March by the Member of the European Parliament Arie M. Oostlander, was adopted in plenary session of the European Parliament by 212 votes, with 84 against, on 1 April. The report considered that: “despite strong resistance, courageous initiatives were taken have been taken since the previous resolution, but the reforms and their effective application are still essential in many areas ………”
The European Parliament considers that: “ whereas in spite of the determination of the government, Turkey does not yet meet the Copenhagen political criteria and whereas a clear framework for guaranteeing political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights is not yet established… ”The report notice that “ Turkey has retained a Constitution adopted in 1982 during the military regime, reflecting a largely authoritarian philosophy” and considers that “ a number of countries which will accede to the European Union in May 2004, including Poland, have adopted new constitutions, taking the view that this development is a point of departure for the process of reform and modernisation of their society and state”.
“Aware that meeting the political criteria of Copenhagen is a precondition for opening accession negotiations”, The European Parliament “Welcomes the strong motivation and the political will demonstrated by the AKP Government and by the great majority of the people's elected representatives with regard to making reforms that are revolutionary for Turkey” and “points out that such reforms can only be judged on the basis of their actual implementation in terms of day-to-day practice at all levels of the judicial and security system and of both the civilian and military administration…” The report “regards the restriction of the power enjoyed by the army at a political level and in society as a difficult, but unavoidable, process; considers that Turkey's current position in relation to the Cyprus conflict also reflects the political power of the army… Welcomes the fact that the Government is in the process of bringing defence expenditure under parliamentary control; points, however, with concern, to the influential (formal and informal) army network comprising inter alia think tanks, businesses (OYAK) and funds, which could prove to be an obstacle to the reform of the state…”
“ Urges the Government to transform the existing boards for higher education (YÖK) and audiovisual media (RTÜK), in their capacity as watchdog bodies, into new, completely civilian councils which are not subject to any control by the military, in the same fashion and to the same standard as in the EU countries…”
The European Parliament “stresses the need both to fully respect international law and to accept the primacy of EU law over national law (ambiguity of Article 90 of the Constitution)”. European MPs “requests Turkey again to implement without delay outstanding decisions of the European Court of Human Rights; points out that there is no room for a position of non-commitment and own interpretation”
The report “regrets the progress of the trial reopened against Sakharov Prize winner Leyla Zana and three other former Democracy Party (DEP) MPs; stresses that this case is symbolic of the gulf which exists between the Turkish judicial system and that of the EU; reiterates its call for amnesty for prisoners of conscience (a.o. Leyla Zana and the three other former MPs of Kurdish origin)”, “deplores the political persecution, that in some cases goes as far as prohibition of political parties such as HADEP and DEHAP, constituting an attack on freedom of expression, organisation and assembly”
“ Calls for the electoral system to enable the entire population to be fully democratically represented, with particular reference to the Kurdish people and other minorities”
“Notes that torture practices and mistreatment still continue; points to the Government's zero tolerance policy regarding torture; regrets the fact that little progress has been made in bringing torturers to justice; insists on the need for educational efforts to change the outlook of the police force in order to ensure that the law is strictly respected; Condemns the intimidation and continuing harassment of human rights defenders and of human rights organisations by some authorities”
“Awaits with interest the promised implementation of the right to broadcast in languages other than Turkish; calls on the Audiovisual Council (RTÜK) to take a non-rigid approach to requests to broadcast in the different languages and dialects and not to create additional obstacles or restrictions”
“Calls on the Turkish authorities to put more effort into the quick and thorough implementation of the legislative changes concerning the cultural rights that allow the education in and the use of (traditional) languages other than Turkish in the media, points at the significance of these reforms for the Kurdish population (the largest minority), expects the authorities to provide the necessary means to stimulate the socio-economic development of the Kurdish regions, particularly in South-East Turkey, in order to create the circumstances that enable the Kurdish population to build a peaceful and prosperous future”
“ Expresses the fear that Turkey's reservation in respect of Article 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights significantly restricts the scope of the right of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities to pursue their culture, practise their own religion or use their own language; refers, in this connection, to the remaining restrictions on the right of association; Stresses that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne concerning the position of minorities must not be interpreted in a minimalist way, as such an interpretation is not in accordance with the fundamental rights applying in the EU”
“ Awaits a constructive position of the Turkish authorities concerning the restructuring of the state of Iraq where all ethnic and religious groups can find adequate respect for their political, economic, social and cultural interest”
The Shiite community was hard hit in March by a series of bomb attacks aimed at Shiite sanctuaries in Baghdad and in the holy city of Kerbala, during the Achurah festival 2 March, the most important in the Shiite calendar. The attacks thus caused at least 185 deaths, according to an assessment of the Iraqi Ministry of Heath. Estimates of the wounded vary between 300 and over 400. The American authorities, for their part, report 143 dead while some unofficial assessments put the deaths as high as 230. In Kerbala, simultaneous attacks were made as hundreds of thousands of Shiite worshippers were mourning the death of Hussein, Mohammed’s grandson and son of Ali, at the battle of Kerbala, in the 7th Century — one of the historical events that founded Shiism. In Baghdad, the attack was made by four suicide bombers against the Kazimiya Mosque, one of the Shiite holy places. “One of them blew himself up in the main entrance to the Mosque, one in the central court and two others in side entrances” stated them Ministry of Health.
US Vice-President and General Mark Kimmitt, Assistant Commander of military operations in Iraq, designated a Jordanian, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, suspected of having links with then al-Qaida network, as the principal suspect.
The Interim government Council of Iraq (IGC) decreed three days national mourning and postponed the signing of the Provisional Constitution, originally planned for 4 March.
Elsewhere, the new Coalition-backed police forces have been regularly targeted by the guerrilla, whose attacks have caused hundreds of deaths amongst the police in recent months. Thus on 23 March, fourteen Iraqis, including eight trainee police, were killed in attacks at Mahawil, about sixty Km South of Baghdad. Two other police were killed in an attack in Kirkuk. Some 350 Iraqi police, trained by the American forces, were killed in the course of the last year. About 200,000 Iraqis are in the country’s security forces, including the army, the police, the border guards and the Iraqi Civil Defence Force (ICDF).
The situation, thus remains fragile and violence continues. A municipal councillor was shot down and another wounded in Mossul on 8 March, the Khaldiya (centre) Chief of Police escaped an assassination attempt and, at Baghdad, mortar bombs fell on two police stations in the town centre just before the signing of the Provisional Constitution. On 14 March, also at Mossul, three Americans, working for a Baptist Church, were killed by unknown assailants who then fled. A fourth died from his injuries the next day. In addition, a civilian was killed and four people were injured on 20 March by a mortar bomb attack on the offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Mossul. Two Iraqi women, employed by Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) a subsidiary of the American oil group Halliburton were killed by persons unknown on 11 March in Basra, in Southern Iraq. On 18 March, 29 persons were killed and 45 injured, including two Britons, in a car bomb attack near a hotel in the centre of Baghdad, on the eve of the first anniversary of the war …
• NESSRIN BARWARI ESCAPES AN ATTACK. On 28 March, the only woman Minister in the Iraqi Interim Government, Nesrin Barwari, a Kurd, escaped an attack near Mossul, which caused three deaths and seven injured, including two Westerners. Mrs Barwari, 37 years of age, who is Minister of Public Works, escaped this attempted assassination at al-Karama, East of Mossul.
Mrs. Barwari was recently seen in public during a ceremony in Baghdad attended by the American Civil Administrator, Paul Bremer, a hundred days before the transfer of power to the Iraqis, planned for 30 June. She had announced that four Iraqi Ministries, including her own and the Ministries of Health, Education, and Water Resources, would be independent of the Coalition as from 1 April.
Elsewhere, on 2 March, two Kurdish leaders escaped an assassination attempt by unknown persons, who opened fire on their convoy. Five bodyguards were slightly injured by the shots fired at the convoy, which was transporting Jalal Jawhar, a senor PUK official at Kirkuk and the Suleimaniah chief of public security, Dana Majid. The two men were going from Mossul to Suleimaniah.
• LEGAL HARASSMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN TURKEY. The Diyarbekir Public Prosecutor has started a legal investigations against Selahattin Demirtas, President of the Diyarbekir Branch of the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD), Ali Öncü, spokesman of the Diyarbekir Democratic Platform, Emir Ali Simsek, General Secretary of the Teachers Union (SES) and Bülent Kaya, President of the Clerical Workers Union (BES) on the basis of Article 312/2 of the Penal Code incriminating actions “inciting hatred and animosity in the heart of the people on the grounds of differences of class, race, religion or region”. The speakers had only spoken in support of a peaceful and democratic resolution on the Kurdish question in Turkey as well as in favour of a general amnesty, during a demonstration and concert organised on 21 June last in Diyarbekir. A first hearing of the Diyarbekir State Security Court on 17 February last had postponed the trial to 27 April to hear the defence of Selahattin Demirtas.
Article 312 is an integral part of the legal panoply used in the past for repression against defenders of Human Rights, political activists, writers and journalists and all those who expressed their criticisms or called for a solution to the Kurdish problem in the country. The first harmonisation package adopted on 6 February 2002 had added an additional clause to this measure stipulating that such speeches were henceforth punishable if made “in such a way as to endanger public order”. Another amendment to Article 312 allows the incrimination of “whosoever insults a section of the public in a way considered degrading or liable to undermine human dignity”.
Despite these amendments, the Human Rights Association (IHD) remains very concerned that the retention of imprecise terminology in Article 312 allows Turkey to incriminate the legitimate exercise of internationally recognised and protected rights — such as the right to peaceful assembly, the right to take part in public affairs — and to violate the right of peaceful expression of non-violent opinions.
Furthermore, on 17 March the Diyarbekir N°1 and N°2 Criminal Courts conducted hearing of several Human Rights defenders. Sezgin Tanrikulu, President of the Diyarbekir Human Rights Foundation, Eren Keskin, President of the Istanbul Human Rights Association, and Pinar Selek, a sociologist are thus being charged for statements made in the course of a symposium organised in 2001 on the basis of Article 159/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (insults to the Armed Forces). The hearing was postponed to 31 March because of the absence of the sociologist, Pinar Selek (victim of a serious motor accident last year, and still convalescent).
Selahattin Demirtas, President of the local IHD Committee, Firat Anli, a representative of the pro-Kurdish DEHAP party and at present candidate for the Sur quarter of Diyarbekir, Edip Yasar, spokesman of the KESK Trade Union, and Mehmet Ata, President of the Özgür Parti, as well as three other Trade Union and political activists, are also be charged in the context of another case, initiated on the basis of Article 28/2 of Law 2911, regarding meetings and demonstrations. These latter had organised a demonstration in Diyarbekir on 1 September 2003, for World Peace Day, which spontaneously turned into a concert. The authorities accuse them of not having authorisation for their meeting continuing until 8.30 p.m. …
• A POST-WAR CONFERENCE OF RECONCILLIATION BETWEEN THE KDP AND THE PUK AT IRBIL. The Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massud Barzani and Jalal Talabani called for all to work together for an new united Iraq during a post-war conference of reconciliation on 26 March in Irbil entitled “National reconciliation is the only road to social peace and reconstruction in Iraq”. “The only method for us now is to draw up a democratic programme of national reconciliation based on order, dialogue, understand and respect for others” indicated Mr. Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in opening the conference.
The meeting, organised on Mr. Barzani’s initiative, was held in Irbil and lasted three days. “On the occasion of the first anniversary of the war and the fall of the (Saddam Hussein) regime, we can state that the new Iraq is totally different from the old one: socially, politically and constitutionally” declared Mr. Barzani. “Iraq will never return to what it was before. Everyone must know this, the supported of the new regime like those of the old (Baathist) regime” he added.
Mr. Barzani insisted on the fact that the way of national reconciliation must be through “respect for Human Rights” and the setting up of “honest courts” to try members of the old regime guilty of war crimes. “If we can settle our problems in a democratic manner, we will be helping ourselves as well as the coalition to put an end to the occupation as quickly as possible and to establish balanced relations that will guarantee our national interests” he added.
For his part, Mr. Talabani stressed that the Iraqis should speak with a single voice to turn over a new leaf. “The new Iraq that we want to build must be for all Iraqis (…) without discrimination, without dictatorship or provocations” he stressed. “The old slogan of Iraqi unity has collapsed and to build a new country we must understand that the old regime has died, with its Ministries, its organisations and its legal and political bases” he indicated. “The new Iraq must be a democratic, federal, plural and united Iraq (…) whose principal components are the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arabs ” he concluded.
Dr. Mahmud Ali Osman, an independent public figure and a member of the Interim Government Council, has stated, on 23 March: “We will not join a united Iraq again without securing constitutional and international guarantees”. “In the event of violations of the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people to chose its own destiny, we will turn to the United Nations” he added. Mahmud Ali Osman proposed that “parliamentary elections be organised in Kurdistan before the elections in Iraq (planned at the latest for 31 January 2005) so as to unify the Irbil and Suleimaniah administrations”. Uniting these two regions would “help the Kurds to regain their lost lands” according to Mr. Osman.
• ARTICLE 8 OF THE ANTI-TERRORIST ACT, WHILE REPEALED ON PAPER CONTINUES TO BE APPLIED: THE BOOKS OF TURKISH SOCIOLOGIST ISMAIL BESIKCI CONTINUE TO BE BANNED. While Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorist Act has been officially repealed in Turkey as part of the harmonisation package to secure membership of the European Union, it remains, in effect, still applied by the Turkish Courts. Thus the 23 books of the Turkish sociologist Ismail Besikci, condemned and banned under Article 8 are still being sanctioned by the spirit of this Article, even after its repeal, according to N°1 State Security Court. The Turkish publishing house Yurt Kitap Yayin having applied to N°1 State Security Court for permission to republish these books after the repeal of the law, was refused permission by this court. Ankara N°2 State Security Court, applied to in turn, ruled by lifting the ban on only eight of the books, maintaining the ban on the other 15, stating that the latter still contained breaches of current legislation. The condemned books mostly deal with the Kurdish question. The Court accuses the incriminated books of either undermining the memory of Ataturk (Ed. Note: for example in the book “An intellectual, an organisation and the Kurdish question”) or of conducting separatist propaganda (Ed. Note: for example in a book on the Kurdish playwright Musa Anter, assassinated by Death Squads at the age of 80).
• AN OPINION POLL ASSESSES THAT LIFE HAS IMPROVED SINCE THE FALL OF THE SADDAM HUSSEIN REGIME. According to an opinion poll carried out for several international media and made public on 16 March, a majority of Iraqis consider that life has improved since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, but a similar proportion is opposed to the continued presence of foreign forces in Iraq.
According to this enquiry, which is not free from contradictions, carried out by the Oxford Research International on a sample of 2,500 Iraqis, 49% of the Iraqis consider that the war waged by the US and Great Britain was a good thing against 39 who had the opposite view.
51% expressed hostility to the continued presence of Foreign troops in Iraq against 39% who held an opposite view. Moreover, one Iraqi in five found the attacks against foreign troops justified.
The Iraqis often complained of insecurity, of unemployment and their fears for the future.
However, if one believes the enquiry, seven Iraqis out of ten consider that their daily life today is “very good” or “fairly good” against 15% who considered that it was “very bad”. And 71% expect an improvement in their living conditions in the coming year.
Moreover 57% consider that their life is better than under the old regime. 19%, on the contrary think that life has got worse, 23% see no change.
More than four out of ten Iraqis declare that they have no confidence in the American or British for establishing security, which remains the N°1 priority for 85% of those questioned.
Amongst the other priorities, the holding of elections to appoint a national government is demanded by 30% of Iraqis and 28% give priority to an economic revival.
Overall, the Iraqis have more confidence in the Iraqi religious leaders than in the local police or the United Nations.
Having said that, the people questioned seem to hope for the maintenance of foreign troops so long as security has not been restored and an Iraqi government set up. Only 15 % demand the immediate departure of the occupation forces.
To the question of whether the attacks on coalition forces were justified, 17% of the Iraqis answered, “Yes”.
Another contradiction marks the general feeling of Iraqis towards the Anglo-American invasion — 41% say they felt liberated, but the same number said they felt humiliated.
• THE BUILDING OF TWO REFINERIES IN IRBIL AND IN SULEIMANIAH. On 20 March, this month’s President of the Interim government Council, Mohammad Bahr al-Ulum, attended the start of the construction of two refineries in the Kurdish regions of Irbil and Suleimaniah.
He laid the first stone in the village of Koysanjaq, near Suleimaniah, governed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) one of the two main Kurdish parties. He then carried out an identical ceremony on the same day on the site of another refinery in the suburbs of Irbil, which is rum by the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
His son, the Minister for Oil, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum stated that the two refineries will produce a total of 30,000 barrels a day and that, eventually, they could reach 300,000. “A few days ago we also started the construction of a refinery at Najaf” the holy city South of Baghdad he declared. “This proves that the Iraqi leaders do not discriminate between Arabs and Kurds and that the oil is for all Iraqis” he added.
• THE PATRIOTIC UNION OF KURDISTAN HAS INDICATED THAT JALAL TALABANI HAS HANDED BACK HIS SYRIAN, TURKISH AND IRANIAN PASSPORTS. On 1 March, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan indicated that its leader, Jalal Talabani, had, several months earlier, handed back the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian passports, which he had previously used. “The liberation of Iraq has allowed many Iraqis to use Iraqi passports, of which they had been deprived by the dictatorship” of the fallen President Saddam Hussein, according to a PUK communiqué. “Mr. Talabani has handed back his Syrian passport to Syria with thanks and gratitude for the support that country had given to the Iraqi opposition” continued the PUK. Mr. Talabani has also handed back his Turkish and Iranian passports, the communiqué added.
Relations between Syria and Mr. Talabani had cooled after the Kurdish leader’s criticisms of Damascus for its “erroneous reading of the situation in Iraq”. Mr. Talabani had, nevertheless, stated that this incident “will not affect relations” between Iraq and Syria. Mr. Talabani’s last visit to Syria goes back to July 2003.
• STRASBOURG: THE EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT FINDS TURKEY GUILTY OF “VIOLATION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION”. On 9 March, the European Court for Human Rights found Turkey guilty of violation of freedom of expression following its sentencing of a man of Kurdish origins for a political speech in 1996. The Court sentenced Turkey to paying 10,000 euros damages and 3,000 euros costs to Abdullah Aydin.
On 1st September 1996, during a rally to celebrate World Peace Day, he had made a speech as representative of the Ankara Democratic Platform. On 21 October 1997 the Ankara State Security Court sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment for “incitement to hatred and hostility on the basis of social, ethnic and regional differences”.
It accused him of having made a distinction between the Kurdish people and the Turkish people and of not having given an account of the damage caused in the State of Emergency Region by the PKK.
The Court stressed that the petitioner “was expressing himself as the representative of a democratic platform that was not inciting either the use of violence nor armed resistance nor an uprising”.
• THE FORMER DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE IRAQI NUCLEAR PROGRAMME STATES THAT IRAQ WAS WITHIN THREE YEARS OF PRODUCING A NUCLEAR BOMB. On 9 March, Noman Saadeddin al-Noaimi, former Director General of the Iraqi nuclear programme and N° 2 in the scientific team involved in that secret programme, declared to the Associated Press that Iraq had been within three years of producing a nuclear bomb before the 1991 Gulf War.
Noman Saadeddin al-Noaimi made the point that at the moment when the work had been stopped, the Iraqis could have produced at least one kilogram of highly enriched uranium. It is estimated that at least 10 Kg are needed for a bomb. “producing an adequate quantity would have taken at least two more years under normal circumstances. Embodying this substance in a weapon would have taken another year,” declared Noman Saadeddin al-Noaimi on the fringe of a meeting in Beirut on the repercussions of the invasion of Iraq. “This is a personal estimate” stressed the scientist, who has been retired since 1990.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) notes on its Web site that there were “indications (suggesting) that Iraq had not got past all the stages for the production of a nuclear weapon”. Nothing proved that Iraq had produced or secretly acquired the nuclear material needed but it had “passed several important stages on the way towards a nuclear weapon”, according to the Vienna-based UN Agency.
In a communication drafted with Jafar Dhia Jafar, the father of the Iraqi nuclear bomb and presented on 8 March, Mr. Al-Noaimi stated that most of the Iraqi nuclear installations were damaged or destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War, that the scientists, engineers and technicians on the programme had dispersed after the conflict and that the programme had been dismantled on Saddam Hussein’s orders.
A British Secret Service report, made public in September 2002 stated that Iraq could develop a nuclear weapon in one or two years if the UN sanctions were lifted, but the IAEA considers that the Iraqi nuclear programme had been abandoned before the 2003 war and probably could not have been used to make nuclear weapons.
• THE IRANIAN PRESIDENT ACKNOWLEDGES HIS DEFEAT AND ABANDONS HIS REFORMS. On 17 March, the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, acknowledged his defeat and announced that he was dropping from his reform plans two laws aimed at limiting the power of the regime’s hard liners. One of these Bills aimed at increasing the powers of the President in the event of violation of the Constitution by the regime’s hard liners. The other sought to prevent the Council of Guardians from vetting candidates to the parliamentary and presidential elections.
The Council of Guardians of the Revolution, which has the right to vet all elections, had rejected these two Bills several months ago, declaring them unconstitutional and opposed to Islam. “I withdraw these two projects to avoid that the last few powers possessed by the President be taken away from him” declared Mr. Khatami on 14 March.
• KIRKUK: THE TURCOMEN LEAVE THE MUNICIPAL COUNCIL, FOLLOWING THEIR ARAB COLLEAGUES. On 28 March, six Turcoman members suspended their participation in the municipal council of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, one week after an identical decision by their Arab colleagues, because they considered that the Kurds carried too much weight in the city. Turcoman councillor Mustafa Yaishi stated that the city was in the process of being “Kurdified” and demanded the departure of the Kurdish governor and American intervention to “drive the Kurdish militia from the town”. There remain, therefore, only 15 Kurds and 7 Christians on the council that originally had 40 members.
Kirkuk has been the scene of tension between Kurds, Arabs and Turcomen since the end of the Saddam Hussein regime in April 2003. According to estimates that are hard to verify accurately, there are about 200,000 Turkomen in this city of a million people, making then the third largest community after the Kurds and Arabs (Shiite and Sunni combined). Nationally, according to various sources, they make up about 2% of Iraq’s 25 million population. They are represented on the Iraqi Interim Government Council by a woman, Mrs. Songul Shapuk and on the cabinet by the Minister of Reconstruction and Housing, Bayan Baqer Sulagh.
According to the city’s officials, some 300,000 Kurds were step by step driven out of Kirkuk after the collapse of the Kurdish armed resistance in March 1975, when Iraq abandoned them following the Algiers agreement with Iraq over its borders. The city, which originally had a Kurdish majority, was taken by the Kurds during their 1991 uprising before being brutally reconquered by Saddam Hussein’s forces following the cease-fire with the Americans. Saddam Hussein had no intention of losing control of this important oil centre, which became the scene of a campaign of forced Arabisation to alter its ethnic composition. Kirkuk, where the first oil deposits were developed in 1927 is build over a vast oil reservoir — until 1949 all Iraqi oil came from this province, which still produces over a third of the country’s oil.