Abdel Zahra Osman Mohammad, generally known as Ezzedin Salim, Chairman of the month of the Iraqi executive, was killed in a car bomb attack on the morning of 1st May at the entrance to the Baghdad Green Zone. Ten Iraqis were also killed, six others injured, two of them seriously, as well as two US soldiers. Several vehicles were damaged near the entrance in the Harithiya quarter of West Baghdad. US soldiers and police sealed off the area, where ambulances were standing by. The explosion took place at about 9.30 am (4.30 am GMT). Some vehicles were burning near the site of the explosion, about 500 metres from the offices of the National Alliance Party, which is represented on the Interim government Council. A fire-blackened foot was found on some barbed wire about 30 metres away.
Ezzedin Salim is the second member of the 25-person IGC to be killed in Iraq. In September, Mrs. Aqila al-Hachemi, one of the three women members of the IGC and a former Baath regime diplomat, was shot down near her home. Mr. Salim was leader of the Islamic Dawa Party in Basra and editor in Chief of several newspapers and magazines. He was one of the nine members of the IGC who alternate as Chairmen of the Council, each sitting for a month.
On the banks of the Dead Sea, in Jordan, where he was attending a world economic forum, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, declared that Salim’s death made no difference to the process under way. “This shows that our enemies are still present and will do all they can to intimidate the Iraqis so as to derail the political process” he stated. “This only strengthens our determination to pursue this process” he added.
“In the name of the American people, I condemn this brutal terrorist attack on the President of the Interim Government Council, Ezzedin Salim, and several Iraqi citizens. Mr. Salim was a brave man who risked his life for a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq” declared, for his part, the US President, George W. Bush, in communiqué issued during a visit tom Topeka (Kansas). “On 30 June, the flag of a free Iraq will be raised and the new Iraqi government will ensure its sovereignty” added Mr. Bush.
US General Mark Kimmitt considered that the attack bore the “usual hall marks” of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of Al-Qaida locally. A message published on Internet in the name of the “Arab Resistance Movement”, a hitherto unknown group, claimed responsibility for the attack. “Two heroes of the Arab Resistance Movement/Al-Rashid Brigades, Ali Khaled al-Juburi and Mohammad Hassan al-Samarrai, carried out this audacious operation, leading to the death of the traitor and mercenary Ezzedin Salim” read the message. This movement, that has never shown itself before and which gave no indication of its representativity, promised “to the Nation that it would fight till the liberation of our glorious Iraq and our beloved Palestine”.
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stressed in Ankara, that the British troops would not carry out “a rapid departure from Iraq” despite the death of the Chairman of the Iraqi Interim government Council. “What has happened today (… ) stresses this fact: we are not going to carry out what has been called a rapid withdrawal, there will be no hasty departure from Iraq” stated Mr. Blair.
On 16 May, less than two months before the 30 June transfer of sovereignty from the Coalition forces to the Iraqi authorities, the United States, through president George W. Bush’s the national security advisor, Condoleeza Rice, re-affirmed that their troops would remain in Iraq “until the job was finished”. The United States also announced to South Korea that they would be withdrawing 3,600 troops to send them to Iraq.
Furthermore, on 27 May, Mrs. Salama al-Khafaji, escaped an ambush laid for the convoy bringing her to Baghdad after a mediation mission to Najaf. The three-vehicle convoy was fired upon near the town of Yussufiyah. Mrs al-Khafaji survived the attack, but one of her bodyguards was killed and another wounded. Mrs. Al-Khafaji had replaced, on the interim executive, the late Mrs. Aqila al-Hashimi.
Attacks against the coalition forces as well as against police and civil defence forces continued all through the month. At least 62 US soldiers died in Iraq in May 2004, and the assessments for the last two months exceeds 200 victims, according to Pentagon figures. These figures show an increase in losses in the National Guard reservists, who make up a third of the 135,000 US soldiers deployed in Iraq. At least 22 of these troops, who have civilian careers outside this conflict, died in May, that is newly a third of all US losses in the month. In percentage terms, this is twice as many as in previous months.
The US troops are mainly victims of bombs installed on the edge of the main roads. These devices, which explode when convoys or patrols pass by, caused 19 deaths in May. Other US troops have been killed by isolated sharpshooters, suicide bombers, mortars or grenade launcher fire. Accidents, including two electrocutions, are also included in these figures.
With 62 deaths, the month of May has been bloodier than previous ones but, nevertheless less so than April which, with 136 losses remains the bloodiest since the start of the fighting in March 2003. In all, over 800 US soldiers have been killed and nearly 4,700 wounded in Iraq since the start of the war.
Moqtada Sadr’s militia have recently suffered heavy losses and born the brunt of many setbacks. The young radical Shiite chief, Moqtada Sadr, wanted by the Americans for allegedly having eliminated a political rival in 2003, has dug himself in for over a month in Najaf (100 Km South of Baghdad) where his militia, the Mahdi’s Army, is deployed in force. The US Army announced, on 6 May, that it had killed 41 of Moqtada Sadr’s supporters in violent fighting East of Najaf. At least 34 people were killed on 23 May and dozens of others injured during US strikes or in fighting between US forces and his militia near the town of Najaf. US forces are said to have killed about twenty fighters during a raid by tanks and infantry on the town of Kufa. On 27 May US officials in Washington said that Moqtada Sadr had accepted a truce in three Shiite towns of central Iraq, Najaf, Kufa and Kerbala. An official explained that, under this agreement, Moqtada Sadr’s militia agreed to cease all acts of violence, stop attacks on US troops and leave the government buildings in these three towns.
Incidents that occurred throughout Iraq, some of which involved foreigners, expressed the persistence of insecurity in the country as the United States prepared shortly to transfer power to the Iraqis. A convoy of 21 lorries carrying civilian goods was attacked on 11 May by unknown persons between the Jordan border and Baghdad. Several people were reported missing but there are few details available regarding this attack, which took place near Rutba. Russia urged its citizens to leave Iraq after the death of a Russian engineer and the kidnapping of two others near the electric power station where they were working.
An American civil engineer was decapitated by his kidnappers in Iraq, provoking a shock wave of horror in the United States. The American, Nicholas Berg, a 26 year old businessman, disappeared in mid-April in Iraq, where he had come to seek contracts. He was decapitated and the images were broadcast on 11 May on an Internet site considered to be close to Ussama ben Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network.
In Kirkuk, four people were killed and 25 others injured in an explosion in a Kurdish quarter of this oil-producing city. The explosion occurred on 10 May in a densely populated Kurdish quarter at 9.50 am (5.50 am GMT). A fresh act of sabotage on 24 May crippled the oil pipeline connecting the Kirkuk oil fields with the Turkish oil terminal of Ceyhan. According to an official of the North Iraq Oil Company, the ensuing fire was put out but it took 12 days to repair the damage. The Kurdish Civil Defence chief in Kirkuk and his family were killed on 29 May in an armed attack. The assailants, driving a car, opened fire on his vehicle at 8.50 am local time in the town centre. General Saber Mohammad Saber was killed outright. His wife, his sister and his son were taken to hospital where they died. Their driver was seriously injured.
On 24 May, armed men attacked a senior official of the party representing the Turkoman ethnic community in Iraq, as he was leaving his office in Kirkuk. Ahmed Najmeddin, of the Iraqi Turkoman Alliance, was killed on the spot and his aggressors took flight.
In Baaquba, four Kurds were wounded on 6 May in an attack on the premises of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The attack was made with two time bombs that exploded at a few minutes interval. The guard of the premises, who was one of those injured, indicated that he had heard the first explosion at 5.45 am and the second a few minutes later.
In Sadr City, the Shiite quarter of Iraq, clashes between US troops and Shiite militia on the night of 24 May caused 24 deaths and 12 injured amongst the Iraqis, according to the Sadr City hospital records, while the US Army assessment was of 26 militiamen killed.
In Samua, a Dutch soldier was killed and another injured by a grenade on 10 May, announced the Netherlands Defence Ministry, thus confirming the first casualties experienced by the 1,200-man Dutch contingent in Iraq.
Elsewhere, on 19 May 41 Iraqis were killed in an American air raid on a village in western Iraq — the bloodiest operation by the coalition since the fall of the Sadam Hussein regime. The victims of the air raid, in the al-Qaëm region (West), had come to celebrate a wedding in this hamlet near the Syrian border and were just retiring to sleep when the air raid took place, according tom the Arab Television stations Al-Jazira and Al-Arabiya, as well as other witnesses. The deaths of these civilians plunged the US Army in a fresh embarrassment even as it was trying to improve its image after the Abu Gharib prison scandal, revealed by photos published the month be misconduct”. Seven other soldiers have been charged. On 6 May, at a joint Press Conference with the King of Jordan, Abdallah II, at the White House, US President, George W. Bush, said he was “terribly sorry” for the ill-treatment practiced by some American soldiers. In an unprecedented action, President Bush made public, through the media, his dissatisfaction with the way the Ministry of Defence had handled the matter. On 24 May, George W. Bush announced that the Abu Gharib prison would be destroyed, in a speech made shortly after UNO had been presented with a proposed resolution on the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq.
Moreover, in a complete about face, Ahmad Shalabi, the American’s favourite ally at the beginning of the Iraqi war in 2003 and member of the Iraqi Interim Government Council, announced on 20 May his break with the coalition after his house and offices had been searched by the Iraqi police and the US Army and documents and computers had been impounded. The US Assistant Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, and announced, on 18 May that the United States would cease financing his party.
Finally, the last Spanish troops deployed in Iraq left their Diwaniyah base on 21 May. Honduras and the Dominican Republic had also decided, the previous month, to withdraw their troops after Spain's decision to withdraw its 1,432 soldiers from Iraqi territory.
The new Iranian conservative parliamentary majority was sworn into office on 27 May, to cries of “death to America” in response to the speech by the reformist Minister of the Interior, who reminded them that they had been elected after the majority of their adversaries had been disqualified from standing. The 290-odd members of parliament, of whom 200 are conservatives, swore to “defend the values” of their religion, of the Revolution and the “velayat-e faqih” which has set up the political suzerainty of a religious chief, the Guide.
The Minister of the Interior, Abdolvahed Moussavi-Lari, nevertheless aroused the condemnation of this 7th Majlis by recalling the conditions in which it had been elected. The candidature of over 80 outgoing members and of 2,300 other candidates, mostly reformers, had been disqualified before the first round of the elections, on 20 February, by the unelected conservative control bodies, thus enabling the conservatives to win.
The Islamic Republic had then gone through one of the most serious crises of its history in its 25-anniversary year. The Minister of the Interior, responsible for organising the elections, had struggled in vain to secure their postponement, until the Supreme Guide had ordered that they take place on the due date. The reformers, who had had an absolute majority in the outgoing parliament, now only had fifty members of parliament. About forty other members formed an independent group, more or less close to the conservatives.
Several conservative members of parliament, protested at the Interior Minister’s speech. “Death to the occupation forces in Iraq, death to America” shouted those Members in response to Mussavi-Lari’s speech. These slogans “reflect our priorities” declared Mehdi Kushakzadeh, conservative member for Tehran and former member of the Guardians of the Revolution, the regime’s ideological armed force, who had taken the floor to call on the members to reply to the Minister of the Interior.
Despite this incident, the conservative members, confident in their overwhelming majority, seemed relaxed. Twelve women, mainly conservatives, took their seats, as against thirteen in the previous assembly.
In a message read by his chief of staff, the Iranian Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the members to avoid “political and partisan quarrels that could only raise the hopes of the enemy”. “You must concentrate on people’s real needs” in the areas of “employment, inflation, the struggle against corruption and poverty” he added. The Iranian N°1 man also stated that the members should take into account the “sensitive situation” created by “the presence of American and British occupation forces” in Iraq.
Speaking before the members of Parliament, the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, stated that the new Majlis “should above all prepare to cooperate with the future government which would be set up after the presidential election in 2005. He stressed that the new parliament should work to favour “private and foreign investments” so as to reach the objective of an “economic growth of 8%” and limit unemployment. Mr. Khatami also stated that Iran had no other choice than to pursue a policy of detente with the outside world and to “develop its relations with all countries except Israel and the powers that were seeking to overthrow the Islamic regime”.
Furthermore, on 10 May, the Iranian Parliament while it still had a reforming majority, had passed a law giving women the same inheritance rights as men, so as to end one of the most flagrant inequalities between married couples. Under the new law, on the death of one of the partners, in the absence of any other heir, the wife would henceforth inherit, as a man would, all of her dead partner’s possessions. If there are descendants, the woman’s share is no longer limited to furniture, buildings and trees but to the whole of the estate, in particular, land.
The law, however, still has to be approved by the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, the regime’s institutional backbone, whose members are overwhelmingly conservatives. In the past the Council has systematically rejected any law of this kind — it was this same Council that the year before had prevented Iran’s ratification of the International Convention against discrimination against women by ruling that some of its clauses were contrary to the Quran.
The reformers are concerned that the new majority may call into question these gains. The new women members are, indeed, arguing for “freedom in Islam” under the chador.
On 10 May, the Turkish authorities prevented Claudia Roth, the German Human Rights envoy and Vice-President of CILDEKT, from visiting Leyla Zana and here three colleagues imprisoned in the Ankara Central Prison.
Claudia Roth, on a visit to Turkey with a group of German members of Parliament, had asked for the right to meet the four former M.P.s of the Party for Democracy (DEP – banned) before going to Turkey, but her request was rejected on the grounds that only the prisoners’ lawyers and family members could visit them, added Mrs Roth’s spokesperson.
“I only wanted to greet my friend. They did not even let me give her a bouquet of flowers. I find it very hard top understand … Leyla Zana has become a veritable symbol in the process of Turkey’s joining the European Union. All Europe thinks that Leyla and her colleagues must be freed” Mrs Roth later stated. She had met the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul and, on the next day, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to whom she offered a piece of the Berlin Wall. She then visited Diyarbekir and was welcomed by the City’s Mayor, Osman Baydemir. “I go to Diyarbekir every time I visit Turkey because I believe, like Mesut Yilmaz (a former Turkish Prime Minister) that the road to Europe passes through Diyarbekir” she stressed.
Leyla Zana, winner of the 1995 Sakharov Prize, granted by the European Parliament, as well as Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 1994. Following Turkey’s condemnation by the European Human Rights Court and their subsequent “retrial” on appeal, the sentence was confirmed last month by the Turkish Court, provoking indignation in the International Community.
On 13 May, after a long and stormy session, the Turkish parliament passed a Bill proposed by the government, itself born of the islamist movement. This bill encourages religious schools and is opposed by the secularists and by the Army, who see it as a danger to the prevailing secular system. Of the 258 M.P.s present, 254 voted for and 4 against, announced the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Nevzat Pakdil. The sole opposition party in Parliament, the People's Republican Party (CHP) boycotted the vote, which took place on 13 May after 18 hours of a stormy all-night debate.
The Turkish government has taken the risk of an arm-wrestling match with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer by passing this Act. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government aims at allowing those graduating from technical secondary schools to go on to any university course. It would thus allow students from religious secondary schools (Imam Hatip) to have access to the University course of their choice, by playing on the grades obtained in their school leaving examinations (equivalent to UK “A levels” or US High School Graduation).
The existing system excludes pupils from these schools from higher education in courses other than theology. Above all it prevents pupils from such schools, suspected of islamism, from having access to posts in the Civil Service, which require a university degree.
The reform also aims at reducing the influence of the Higher Education Council (YOK), an institution that strictly controls the Universities. The religious secondary schools are considered a breeding ground for islamist activists in Turkey.
The all-powerful Army, that considers itself the guarantor of secularism, reacted against the project, considering that it undermined the secular principles of the regime. In a communiqué made public on 6 May, the Armed Forces General Staff had opposed the Bill, considering that it could provoke “serious problems”.
For Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, himself a former pupil of an “imam hatip”, this Bill that he is supporting forms part of the election promises made by his party before the 2002 General Election that raised him so victoriously to office with an absolute majority in Parliament.
The whole of the University staff condemned the Bill and the Deans threatened collective resignation.
The People’s Republican Party (CHP), whom used all the Parliamentary delaying methods available during the debate accused the government of wanting “to bring the Turkish education system closer to that of Iran or of the Arab countries” by this reform. “It is an attempt to exploit religion. This Bill will undermine the country’s social peace and stability” insisted the CHP leader, Deniz Baykal, in Parliament.
It is generally thought that President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a fervent secularist, will refuse to sign this bill. In that event, the AKP could represent the Bill to Parliament and have it passed unamended. In that case, according to the Constitution, the President will have no right to oppose it. Mr. Sezer could still apply to the Constitutional Court to demand that it be annulled. AKP could also decide to bury its Bill, in view of the criticism, and not present it to the Head of State, some Parliamentary sources state.
Mr. Erdogan states that he has renounced his past islamist commitments and today puts himself forward as a “Moslem Democrat”. But his opponents suspect that he is secretly following a policy of Islamising Turkey.
The Turkish liberal press criticises the government’s insistence on pushing ahead with its Bill. “Turkey’s image (abroad) is worsening” was the headline of the 13 May issue of the mass circulation daily Hurriyet.
On 25 May, the Syrian authorities decided to free 25 Kurds arrested following clashes that took place in March between some Kurds and the security forces or Arab tribes. On 24 May, a juvenile court had freed 27 Kurds arrested in Damascus. On 16 May about 300 Kurds had been freed. These people had all been arrested during the violent incidents between the security forces and Arab tribesmen, on the one hand, and Kurds on the other. These clashes had lasted from 12 to 17 March and caused 40 deaths, according to Kurdish sources (25 according to an officials assessment). At the end of March, the Secretary General of the Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party (banned) Abdel Aziz Daoud, had indicated that over 2,000 Kurds were being detained in Syrian jails following these disturbances. Consequently the majority of these are still in prison.
Kurdish parties in Syria have repeatedly demanded that the Syrian authorities restore to about 300,000 Kurds the identity cards that had been withdrawn from them in 1962. In addition to recognition of their language and culture, the Syria Kurds are claiming political and administrative rights “within the framework of the territorial integrity of the country”.
However, according to General Moustafapha Tlass, former Syrian Minister of Defence, some twenty thousand Kurds will regain their Syrian nationality. President Bachar al-Assad “has promised their nationality to about 20,000 Kurds, because they are authentically Syrian, although not officially registered” he stated in an interview published on 21 May in the Arabic language daily Al-Hayat. “We make not distinction between Arab and Kurd (…) There are a number of Kurds who are Syrians and have the right to Syrian nationality” added General Tlass.
Questioned about the fate of the other Kurds in Syria, he indicated that “tens of thousands of Kurds have come to Syria from Iraq and Turkey. We have told them frankly that those who are Syrian will have that nationality recognised, but not the others”.
General Tlass had met representatives of the Kurdish community after the clashes and President Assad had guaranteed, “the question of Syrian nationality (for the Kurds), which has dragged on for 42 years, shall be resolved”. “The Kurds are Syrian citizens who live amongst us, and Kurdish nationalism is part of Syria’s history” he said in a recent interview.
Moustapha Tlass retired after 32 years as head of the Defence Ministry, on 12 May last, but he remains an active member of the Political Committee of the Baath Party, which is in power in Syria.
Meanwhile, on 11 May, US President George W. Bush, imposed sanctions, essentially economic, on Syria, accusing it of supporting terrorism, of developing weapons of mass destruction, and hindering the stability of Iraq. Damascus immediately reacted, describing the sanctions as “unjust and unjustified” in the words of Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri. They “will, however, have no effect on Syria” he declared, calling on the United States to “reverse its decision and not provoke problems between the two countries”.
The sanctions cover, in particular, the banning of planes owned or controlled by Syria from landing or taking off from US territory. They also ban the exporting of munitions or any other products except food and medicines from the United States. The US Treasury will also freeze the accounts of the Commercial Bank of Syria because of alleged money laundering operations, as well as the assets of “certain Syrian persons and government entities” the communiqué indicates.
According to Washington, Syria has not returned to the Iraqi Development Fund about 200 million dollars of Iraqi assets lying in Syrian banks. Damascus is alleged also to have made a profit of 3 billion dollars through its trade relations with the fallen Saddam Hussein regime, in violation of the UN embargo on Iraq.
The Kurdistan People’s Congress (Kongra-Gel), successor to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has decided to end the truce it unilaterally declared in 1998 as from 1 June, according to the pro-Kurdish news agency Mesopotamia. “The cease fire process (…) decreed in 1998 has lost its political and military significance because of the policy of extermination (of the rebels) launched over the last three months by the Turkish State” declared a communiqué from the organisation, quoted by the German based agency on its Internet site. “Our commitment to a truce will cease to exist as from 1 June” stresses the document, which calls on tourists and foreign investors to avoid Turkey as from that date. “Tourists must not choose Turkey (…) We call on those who want to invest in Turkey not to choose that country, knowing that it is entering into a period of political conflict” Stated Kongra-Gel.
“We will reply to the attacks which are aimed at our bases with arms (…) We will engage in various sorts of activity aimed at the Turkish forces” the organisation stressed.
The present truce was decreed in 1998, after the capture, in Kenya, of the PKK chief, Abdullah Ocalan, by a commando. Ocalan had been brought to Turkey where he was tried and sentenced to death the following year. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after the abolition of the death penalty. He is now kept in solitary confinement in the Imrali island prison.
According tom the Kongra-Gel communiqué, about 500 of the organisation’s “guerrillas” have been killed by the Turkish forces over the last six years.
A recent upsurge of violence in Kurdistan is tangible after four years suspension. “The situation could get worse” considered Selahattin Demirtas, Human Rights Association official for the city of Diyarbekir. “Twenty-six people have been killed in clashes over the last two months” he stated. Springtime, after the snows have thawed, is generally the time chosen by the Turkish Army for combing the countryside to hunt down the fighters in the rural areas, which partly explains the increase in the number of clashes.
Moreover, eight Kurdish fighters, allegedly members of the former PKK, renamed Kongra-Gel, were killed in the course of the 5th and 6th May according to security forces sources in the region. Six fighters were killed on the 6th, near Mount Caci, not far from Eruh, in Siirt Province, where another fighter had been killed the day before, according to local officials. Another fighter was killed on the 6 May in the rural district of Gercus, in the neighbouring province of Batman. A Turkish Army auxiliary was killed and four others wounded on 5 May during clashes with PKK fighters in the near-bye province of Bingol.
Furthermore, two Turkish soldiers were killed when the vehicle they were driving hit a mine in the region of Diyarbekir. The explosion, which occurred near the locality of Lice, took place on 9 May as the soldiers were carrying out a routine patrol. On 12 May, two Turkish soldiers were killed and three others injured when their vehicle hit a mine near Cukurca. On 23 May, three Turkish police were wounded during an attack on the Yuksekova police station, near the Iranian border, while on 26 May a Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded in an attack attributed to the PKK in the mountainous district of Cemisgerek.
In addition, on 7 May, the Netherlands Supreme Court, the highest judiciary authority in the Netherlands, authorised the extradition to Turkey of Nuriye Kesbir, a leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. “The final decision (on the extradition) lies with the Ministry of Justice, which will give its ruling in a few weeks” stated a Ministry spokesman, Ivo Hhommes.
According to the Turkish authorities, Mrs Kesbir is responsible for 25 attacks on military objectives in Turkish Kurdistan between 1993 and 1995. Mrs Kesbir was a member of the PKK (now Kongra-Gel) Presidential Council, and held many important positions in that organisation, being particularly close to Osman Ocalan, Abdullah Ocalan’s bother. However, she has always denied having been implicated in these attacks and states that she has only ever concerned herself with women’s issues.
This upper court decision quashes that of the Amsterdam court that had ruled, in 2002, that Turkey had not sufficiently defined the alleged role of Mrs. Kesbir in the attacks.
Nuriye Kesbir, who fears to face torture and an inequitable trial in Turkey, immediately announced that she would begin a hunger strike in protest at the Supreme Court’s decision. Her lawyer, Victor Koppe, said he was determined to use all available recourses to prevent her extradition, including appealing to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Mrs. Kesbir was arrested at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport in September 2001. She had applied for political asylum in the Netherlands, which had been refused.
• JOHN NEGROPONTE APPOINTED US AMBASSADOR TO BAGHDAD. President Bush’s appointment of the present US Ambassador to UNO as Ambassador to Baghdad was confirmed by the Senate on 6 May by 53 votes to 3 against. During the vote the Democrats set aside their rejection of the Bush Administration’s Iraqi policy to back his choice for this sensitive post.
After the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, planned for 30 June, John Negroponte, at present on duty at UNO will be in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad, which will become the largest US Embassy in the world.
• “GOOD-BYE” AND “THANK YOU”, IF SAID IN KURDISH, ARE ACTIONABLE IN TURKEY AND KURDISH FIRST NAMES STILL CONTINUE TO BE FORBIDDEN. On 13 May, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the town of Nusaybin began legal enquiries against Tuncer Bakirhan, President of the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP — pro-Kurdish). The Turkish authorities accuse him of having said “Good-bye” (Xatira we) and “Thank you” (spas) in Kurdish at the end of a political meeting in Nusaybin on 26 March, and are suing him under Article 81/C of law N° 2820 on political parties, which forbids the use of any other language than Turkish in political debate. Mr. Bakirhan finds himself obliged to argue that he had not broken the law because he had made his speech in Turkish, and only thanked and said good-bye to his audience in Kurdish, which was not part of the political debate …
Tuncer Bakirhan is already being subjected to 29 summonses because of his political commitments.
Elsewhere, on 10 May, the Beyoglu N° 2 High Court rejected requests by two officials of the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD) Mrs. Eren Keskin and Kiraz Biçici who were petitioning the court for the right to bear the first names of Xezal (gazelle) and Xecê (diminutive of Khadija, Mohamed’s first wife). The court accepted the argument of the Public Prosecutor that the petitioners use the letter H as the letter X is not in the Turkish alphabet.
• ASSESSMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN THE KURDISH REGIONS FOR THE MONTH OF APRIL. On 13 May, the Diyarbekir branch of the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD) made public its assessment of Human Rights violations in the Kurdish regions during the month of April 2004. Here is the assessment published by IHD:
• THE IRANIAN DISSIDENT HASHEM AGHAJARI STILL RISKS THE DEATH SENTENCE FOR “APOSTASY”. The Iranian dissident, Hashem Aghajari, again defied the courts on 4 May after confirmation of the death sentence, leaving it to him to lodge an appeal against this new ruling and seek to have one of its judges disowned. On the same day, this intellectual had learnt that the sole judge of the Hamadan (Western Iran) court who had decreed the death sentence against him in November 2002, had “maintained his verdict” justified by the “fact” of apostasy.
The national judicial authority hastened to declare that the sentence was still not final, concerned to prevent a sudden upsurge such as that provoked by the initial sentence. Even so, the case needs to be put before the Supreme Court. “If Mr. Aghajari persists in his refusal to lodge an appeal, only the head of the judicial authority can use his prerogatives” to do this, declared the defence lawyer.
The Aghajari case is thus back to the same point as it was a little more than a year ago. The academic had then refused to lodge an appeal, emphasising that it was up to the judiciary to resolve the crisis that it had created for itself. The judiciary had resisted to the end, despite the orders to review the sentence given by the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The academic Aghajari, who has since become a symbolic figure, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in 2002 and to death, despite his role in the 1979 revolution and as a fighter in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). In the opinion of the judge, he had questioned the bases of the Islamic religion and republic by publicly arguing in favour of a sort of Islamic protestantism and by stating that Moslems were not “monkeys” who had to “blindly follow a clerical leader”. This sentence had provoked a serious political crisis, mobilising even many amongst the conservatives and, in particular, turning the students against it. The sentence had been quashed by the Supreme Court and the prison sentence reduced to four years on appeal before Hashem Aghajari received free pardon for this part of the charge. But the accusation of apostasy and the death sentence for this remained unresolved, and this part of the case sent back to the Hamadan judge.
The fresh sentence by this judge must now be “lodged before three judges” of the Supreme Court. The office of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Shirin Ebadi, considered it was “unacceptable to sentence someone to death simply for expressing an opinion”. Hashem Aghajari is still in detention at the Evin Prison in Teheran.
• A MAY DAY UNDER STRICT POLICE CONTROL IN THE KURDISH PROVINCES, WHERE CLASHES ARE INTENSIFYING. On the 1st of May, some 110 people were pulled in for questioning in Diyarbekir by the anti-riot police as they were trying to bye-pass a ban on demonstrations in the city. In the course of a short confrontation at least one of the demonstrators was injured. About a hundred members of Trade Unions, political parties and voluntary bodies tried to organise a demonstration in Dagkapi Square, defying a ban by the local authorities, who had only authorised a rally about a dozen kilometres outside the city. They were detained by the police for refusing to leave the square. Furthermore, a second group, of about a dozen people, were detained while trying to reach the square. Furthermore, on 2 May, the Diyarbekir police announced the arrest of 41 persons suspected of links with the PKK and of preparing attacks on government buildings. The police also claimed to have seized 25 Molotov cocktails and “forbidden” flags, according to a communiqué from the municipal police.
The police had strengthened security measures in the country’s principal towns for May Day, so as to prevent any incidents. May Day demonstrations in Turkey have, in the past, frequently led to bloody clashes between demonstrators and security forces.