Leyla Zana and her three colleagues, former Members of Parliament for the Party for Democracy (DEP — banned in 1994) will be retried for the third time, following the quashing by the Court of Appeals, on 14 July, of their 15 year sentence for “separatism”.
The President of the ninth Chamber of the Court, Hasan Gerceker, announced that the Court had unanimously decided to quash the verdict passed in April by the State Security Court (DGM) on the four Kurdish ex-M.P.s following their retrial, which had been called for by the European Human Rights Court that had ruled their first trial inequitable.
Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak were released by the Court of Appeals in June, after having served ten years of their sentence, pending the hearing of their appeal against their last trial. They had been sentenced in 1994 to 15 years imprisonment for “supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK — recently re-named Kongra-Gel)”. The four had been retried in April, but the new trial had merely confirmed the previous sentence, provoking negative reactions from the European Union.
Mr. Gercerker stressed, in particular, the technical flaws in the trials procedure, indicating that the former M.P.s should, in particular, have been heard after the new charges had been made. He also considered that the fact that witnesses who had testified against the accused during the first trial had not been summoned to testify at the retrial was a flaw in the proceedings.
A lawyer for the former M.P.s welcomed the decision: “It is a just decision. It is also a turning point for Turkey” on the road to joining the E.U. declared Mr. Hamit Geylanim in particular.
The four ex-M.P.s will be tried again before the Ankara Assize Court after the abolition by the Turkish Parliament of the DGM, those State of Emergency kangaroo courts, in the context of reforms to bring the country closer to European standards. But the Turkish press has already announced that it will still be Mr Karadeniz who presides this new court. It was he who directed the hearings of the last trial before the Ankara State Security Court.
Mrs. Zana, whose political courage was hailed by the European Parliament in 1995 by the award of the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, has become a symbolic figure of the peaceful struggle for the recognition of Kurdish rights in Turkey. Since their release from jail, the four ex-M.P.s have visited every corner of Turkish Kurdistan for political meetings, everywhere giving messages of peace — which has not failed to irritate the all-powerful Turkish Army. On 8 July, the General Staff’s N°2, General Ilker Basbug, accused the authorities of laxity in authorising Leyla Zana and her friends to make speeches at rallies while they are still on bail and subject to criminal proceedings. The police then immediately announced it was filing charges against them. The police spokesman, Ramazan Er, did not specify on what grounds the charges were being based, he merely reported that, during these meetings Leyla Zana and her friends had spoken in Turkish and in Kurdish. Now, according to Turkish law, only Turkish is recognised as an official language, and political speeches have to be made in that language.
Turkey is hoping for a green light from the European leaders in December for the start of negotiations for joining the European Union. To push the European leaders to take such a decision, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party government has got Parliament to pass a series of measures aiming at the democratisation of Turkish legislation. The release of Leyla Zana and her colleagues are part of this offensive of………
During a visit to Kurdistan, the Iraqi President, Ghazi al-Yawar stated, on 21 July, that his country would observe the status of autonomy of the Kurdish regions and would not challenge the federal system. “We support this experiment (of autonomy) by all the means at our disposal” declared Mr. Yawar before an audience of Kurdish public figures meeting in the Tourist resort of Salaheddin. “We see, in federalism, an instrument for bringing the regions of the country closer to one another” he declared adding that the provisional constitution, which stresses the federal character of Iraq, “will be applied word for word”.
The Kurds, who have enjoyed a de facto autonomy since the end of the Gulf war in 1991, have expressed fears that their status be challenged in the future even if federalism is embodied in the provisional constitution adopted last March by the now dissolved Government Council.
Mr. Barzani, for his part, welcomed Mr. Yawar’s visit, adding that the Iraqi President “enjoys considerable support from the Kurdish people”.
Regarding relations with neighbouring countries, often accused of not efficiently preventing the infiltration of foreign fighters into Iraq, Mr. Yawar indicated that he expected “good faith from neighbours”. “The instability of Iraq can endanger their own security”, he added. “Iran is a neighbour that is dear to us and which must have a positive role in Iraq” he stressed, declaring, regarding possible Turkish threats against the Kurds of Iraq “We will not accept any attack on any of the components of our people and we will defend all Iraqis in the event of any threat”.
However, the Kurds are far from being reassured, and many of them are beginning to be unsure of their future in Iraq. On 24 July, some 500 intellectuals and students demonstrated in Suleimaniah to demand independence for Iraqi Kurdistan and to claim the oil producing city of Kirkuk. The demonstration occurred despite a ban by officials of Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which controls Suleimaniah Province. The demonstrators assembled in Azadi (Freedom) Square and marched to a local government building, behind two banners: “Independence for Kurdistan” and “Kirkuk, a Kurdish City”.
A delegation handed in a memorandum from the independence campaigners, who were members of no party, to a representative of the Suleimaniah PUK government. This document, entitled “Support the Independence of Kurdistan” demands the Independence of Kurdistan, an International Court to try Saddam Hussein that should contain Kurds and should add the forced Arabisation of the Kurdish provinces amongst the charges against Saddam Hussein.
Moreover, several thousands of Kurds demonstrated on 21 July at Kalar, to the South-East of Suleimaniah, to demand from the new Iraqi authorities the truth about the Anfal operation — the genocidal campaign conducted by the former regime. They marched behind a banner proclaiming “We demand the truth on our children arrested during the Anfal operation”. Another banner demanded a special Iraqi Court to try Saddam Hussein and sentence him to death for this “crime”
The Saddam Hussein regime had, from 1987 to 1990 conducted a campaign named “Anfal” aimed at breaking Kurdish resistance in Northern Iraq. Over 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed during this campaign and hundreds of thousands of people deported. Tens of thousands of Kurds died or disappeared.
Moreover, on 14 July the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed its irritation at the remarks of the Kurds and, especially their preponderance in the oil producing city of Kirkuk, which had undergone a forced Arabisation under the Saddam Hussein regime. A delegation of Turkish diplomats, which had visited this town between 6 and 11 July “observed serious efforts, supported by building work, aimed at altering the demographic distribution of Kirkuk”, stressed the communiqué, with obvious reference to the Iraqi Kurds. “This situation is a source of concern for the different components of the Iraqi people (…) Any fait accompli in this region must absolutely be avoided” stipulates the document. Ankara, that is using the Turkoman minority (a Turkic speaking people) that is settled in and around the town for its own ends, fears that Kurdish control of the oil resources of the region might fan the Iraqi Kurds’ so far vague inclination to independence. The N°2 of the Armed Forces General Staff, General Ilker Basbug, had issued, on 8 July a warning against any attempt to alter the ethnic distribution of the town. “Such a development would arouse in Turkey serious concerns for security” he had indicated. “We expect that the Iraqi interim government prevent this” he added, considering that a failure to find “a just and lasting solution” to the status of Kirkuk would constitute a threat to the territorial and political integrity of Iraq.
A Turkish diplomat had announced on 4 July that Turkey had repatriated from Iraqi Kurdistan a handful of its officers who were deployed there in the context of an international operation aimed at preventing the renewal of clashes between the two principal Iraqi Kurdish parties. “Their mission has been completed. They have not been doing anything over there for quite some time” declared this diplomat, who specified that it involved “less than a dozen (Turkish) Army officers”. Since the war in Iraq in March 2003, the departure of the Turkish observers had been demanded by the Kurdish political parties, which were suspicious of Ankara’s intentions regarding Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey keeps several thousands of troops in the border areas on the grounds that the KONGRA-GE (ex-PKK), which has sought asylum in Iraqi Kurdistan, was a threat to its security.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced on 6 July that it had given up the appointment of a new Prime Minister so as to favour the setting up, with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), a single executive in Iraqi Kurdistan. “Our government has nominated Omar Fattah, former chief of Intelligence, to the post of Deputy Prime Minister and has given up the idea of appointing a Prime Minister in place of Berham Saleh, who has become Deputy Prime Minister in the Central Government in Baghdad” indicated a leading official of Jalal Talabani’s PUK.
“By renouncing to appoint a Prime Minister, we open the way to a reunified government of Iraqi Kurdistan, consisting of the executive of our party and that of Massud Barzani’s KDP” added the official. “The present head of the KDP executive, Nechirvan Barzani, can thus become head of a reunified government of Kurdistan and Mr. Fattah his assistant” he added.
The two organisations had, following the elections of 1992, formed a government of national union and a Kurdistan National Assembly. These democratic institutions were not recognised by the Allies and UNO and the Kurdish experiment, deprived of resources, experienced internal tensions that led to sporadic fratricidal clashes between May 1994 and 1996. Since then, Kurdistan has been living in peace but remained governed by two regional administrations. In October 2002, the Kurdistan Parliament was again reunited in Irbil. Its speaker, Dr. Roj Shaweish, was appointed Vice-President of the Republic of Iraq last June. In accordance with an agreement between the KDP and the PUK, Nechirvan Barzani of the KDP will lead the reunified regional government and the position of Speaker of the Kurdistan National Assembly will be held by Dr. Kamal Fuad of the PUK. The elections planned in January 2005 for the Iraqi Constituent Assembly should also allow the Kurdish electors to renew the Kurdistan Parliament.
Berham Saleh, on an official visit to Syria, was met by the Syrian Prime Minister, Naji al-Otari on 10 July and by President Bashar el-Assad the following day. This is the first visit to Syria by an Iraqi leader since the transfer of sovereignty on 28 June last. Iraq and Syria must work together to prevent the “foreign fighters” from entering Iraq through Syria, declared the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister responsible for national security on 10 July in Damascus. “We have a mutual interest in controlling and preventing these infiltrations, because the instability of Iraq would have dangerous repercussions on the security of the region and of neighbouring countries” warned the Iraqi leader.
The United States accuse Syria of allowing Islamist fighters to pass through its territory and pass through a porous border to join the rebellion in Iraq as well as of supporting terrorist organisations and seeking to endow itself with weapons of mass destruction. Washington has imposed an embargo in its exports to Syria, apart from food and medicines.
Berham Saleh, who brought a message from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to the Syrian leaders, pointed out that his visit was “part of an Iraqi initiative aiming at creating a regional environment suitable for stability in Iraq and the whole of the region”. Speaking about Iran, which has a Shiite majority, he described it as an “important neighbour” with which Iraq has every interest to maintain “stable and prosperous relations”.
A week before, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, had declared in the Sunday Times of London that his country had information on the financial, logistic and training support provided by neighbouring countries to the rebellion in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The countries were not identified, but Iran and Syria were implied.
France and Iraq have decided to re-establish diplomatic relations as from 12 July, announced the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The government of the French Republic and the government of the Republic of Iraq (…) have decided to re-establish their diplomatic relations as from 12 July 2004, and to exchange ambassadors as soon as possible” declared the French foreign Ministry’s spokesman in a communiqué.
“The two governments are convinced that this decision will contribute to the strengthening of the links between France and Iraq as well as to the intensification of their exchanges to the greater benefit of both countries” it added.
The French flag was raised on the building of the French interests section in Baghdad, which hitherto had been placed under the Rumanian flag. France had accepted to open this interests section in 1995, after Baghdad had accepted a UN resolution on its borders with Kuwait.
For his part, the Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, had expressed the hope, on 5 July, of opening a “new chapter” with France. But it was up to the Iraqis to make the first formal steps for re-opening bi-lateral relations since it was Baghdad that had broken with France in February 19911, after beginning of the Gulf War. Mr. Barnier had declared, on 8 July that he had received a letter from his Iraqi opposite number, Hoshyar Zebari, formally announcing that his country was “ready” to resume diplomatic relations with France.
Furthermore, on 19 July the head of Iraqi diplomacy appointed 43 new Ambassadors, so as to normalise relations with countries abroad, especially with Iraq’s Arab neighbours. Amongst the 43 future ambassadors are career diplomats, as well as public figures coming from different political parties. “We want (these appointments) to be totally representative of the new Iraq” declared, on 11 July, the Minister whose department no longer has any foreign advisors since the transfer of sovereignty on 28 June. As well as sending ambassadors abroad, the new government welcomed some new Ambassadors, including the American John Negroponte. Seven ambassadors have presented their credentials, Mr. Zebari indicated.
On 29 July, Saudi Arabia decided to normalise its diplomatic relations with Iraq, to whom it renewed its promise of €1 billion grants for reconstruction and has assured of cooperation in security matters. In a communiqué published at the end of a 3-day official visit by the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi to Saudi Arabia, the two countries announced that they “had agreed to re-establish their diplomatic representations”.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, paid an official visit to France as from 19 July, aimed at convincing political circles of the rightfulness of his country’s eventual membership of the European Union. “We wish that all support that France has given us, mainly through President Chirac, in this case should continue in the future” explained Mr. Erdogan after a one-hour discussion with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin at the Matignon Palace.
The European Commission is due to make its report evaluating the progress made by turkey in the areas of Human Rights and public liberties. On this basis, the 25 member states must decide, in December, whether or not to set a date for beginning negotiations on membership, which could last many years. Promoted to an official candidate at the 1999 Helsinki summit, Turkey ihas been engaged in a continuous process of integration since 1963. The Turkish government has made considerable efforts to conform to the “Copenhagen criteria”, for example by abolishing capital punishment. But its case is hindered by breachesmof Human Rights and minority rights and the institutional preponderence of the Turkish Army, considered excessive, and the question of its recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915.
During the NATO summit in Istanbul at the end of June, Jacques Chirac had considered “irreversible” Turkey’s eventual membership of the European Union, even if it did not take place for another 10 or 15 years. An opinion that is not shared by his parliamentary majority: the UMP, like the UDF are resolutely hostile to Ankara’s membership, while the Left supports it. Prudently, Jacques Chirac declared he was waiting for the Commission’s conclusions.
“We will study with the greatest attention Commission’s report this autumn and we hope that the December Council will take a stand on this important subject” Mr. Raffarin simply declared on 19 July. For his part, Mr. Erdogan insisted to his French opposite number on “all the steps we have taken to be able to conform to the Copenhagen criteria”. The two men also raised bilateral issues, in particular cooperation in industrial, aeronautical, transport, power and cultural questions. “We have examioned several projects of industrial cooperation which are on the way to finalisation” explained Mr. Raffarin.
Some 400,000 Turkish citizens live in France, according to Mr. Erdogan, and some 480,000 french tourists visited Turkey last year. This may amount to 600,000 this year.
The next day the Turkish Prime Minister had lunch with Jacques Chirac before successively meeting the M.P.s of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission, the former President of the UMP, Alain Juppé, then the Socialist Party’s First Secretary, François Hollande and UDF President François Bayrou on the 21st July. The French President had judged Turkey’s membership of the European Union “desirable” “as soon as possible”. Messrs Chirac and Erdogan also evoked international questions, in particular the situation in Iran, in the Near East, in Iraq and international terrorism. “We had a very positive discussion” declared Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with a visibly satisfied air after his working lunch with Jacques Chirac, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and Claudie Haignerie, Minister for European Affairs.
The 18 June European Council had stressed that more progress was needed in Turkey in matters of Human Rights, Freedom of Association and Expression and Justice. Over the last few years the Turkish parliament has adopted dozens of new laws and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in office since November 2002 is multiplying initiatives to improve the country’s chances in preparation for the decision in December. The Turkish Prime Minister, who was accompanied by a large delegation of Turkish businessmen, also raised the purchase of Airbus planes by the national air carrier Turkish Airlines (THY). The next day the Turkish national company announced in a communiqué its intention of acquiring 36 Airbus and 15 Boeing airplanes. Mr. Erdogan would like to use this 1.6 billion euro contract, which, in principle would be divided between the two constructors, to “induce” the French to give their approval to negotiations for membership with Ankara. Trade between the two countries for 2003 ran at about 6 billion euros. France is Turkey’s second largest trading partner and its fourth largest supplier.
Great Britain, Germany, Italy and its old rival Greece have supported Turkey’s entry into the Union. There are fairly good chances of negotiations beginning next year, but actual membership is unlikely to take place for about ten years.
The meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers of countries bordering on Iraq took place on 21 July in Cairo for the first time since the transfer of sovereignty by the Americans to the interim Iraqi government at the end of June. The meeting assembled Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria Iran as well as Egypt, the host country that does not share a border with Iraq. Iraq was represented by its Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, while Lakhdar Brahimi represented the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan.
“This is an opportunity for Iraq to ask its neighbours to help in the current process of security and stability. We expect our neighbours to stand by the Iraqi people and help it re-establish its sovereignty for a peaceful Iraq, and not only with words”. declared Mr. Zebari shortly before the meeting. “Iraq has ideas to put forward to the Arab and Islamic countries regarding the questions of security, particularly the infiltrations across the borders and common cooperation for security and control of the borders. We will ask them to work in good faith with the new Iraq”, added the Minister.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, took part in a lunch with the Ministers taking part in this meeting, to which was also invited the High representative for Foreign policy of the European Union, Javier Solana, who was visiting Cairo. Opening the meeting, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abu Gheit called for the “the condemning of acts of terrorism against Iraqi civilians, the taking of hostages, bomb attacks against government and religious organisations as well as diplomatic missions”. “These acts will not make the international community or the neighbouring countries renounce their support for the reconstruction of Iraq” he stressed.
Mr. Abu Gheib also appealed for “non-interference in Iraqi internal affairs” and affirmed the necessity for a “major role by the United Nations in the next stage of establishing security and stability in Iraq”. The Egyptian Minister stressed the necessity for Iraq to “recover its full sovereignty” and called on Iraqis to “prevent all actions that favour division”. “Iraq has before it a long and painful road, bordered by dangers and challenges. Dangers for the return to peace and stability and the challenges of reconstruction” he added. The first meeting of Iraq’s neighbours had taken place in Istanbul in January 2003, on the eve of the war. It was followed by four more, respectively at Riyad, Teheran, Damascus and Kuwait.
Furthermore, the first meeting of the Arab “troika” on Iraq was held at Ministerial level on 29 July in Tunis. On its agenda was the sending of Arab troops to Baghdad to protect the UN mission. The Ministers, including the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, examined the security situation in Iraq and the reconstruction of that country in the sixteen months since the American operations.
The “troika” consists of Tunisia, the currently serving as President of the Arab League, Bahrain and Algeria, which is due to host the next summit in 2005. It meets at the Foreign Minister level presided by the Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia. The Ministers were received in audience by the Tunisian President, Zin el-Abidin Ben Ali.
The first meeting of this body, formed at the last summit in Tunis, was held in Cairo at the level of Arab League delegations. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi asked Egypt on 21 July to contact the member countries of the League to ask them to send troops to ensure the security of the UNO representation in Baghdad, the target of several bomb attacks since the beginning of the American offensive. “We have asked Egypt to take the lead in making the necessary contacts with the other Arab countries to send forces to Baghdad with a view to protecting the UNO mission” declared the Iraqi Prime Minister.
The task of this Arab contingent will be limited to protecting the UN diplomatic mission. It will not include any troops from neighbouring countries (Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan). The Iraqi leaders have several times indicated to the press that they did not wish to repeat the experiment of the Arab “dissuasion force” (in fact Syrian) that has settled itself in the Lebanon since 1976.
Egypt, for its part, has announced that it was ready to train Iraqi police on its own soil, with a view to their assuming responsibility for security in the country, and has started studying the means of this cooperation with the Iraqi officials concerned. The President´s spokesman, Magued Abdel Fattah, however announced on 28 July that Egypt did not wish to take part in an international force to protect the UN mission in Baghdad and that it had not been asked to do so.
No sooner back from his visit to France than the Turkish Prime Minister went to Teheran on July 28 for a 2-day official visit. Arriving in the Iranian capital in the evening of the 27th at the head of a high level delegation of economic and political leaders, including 130 businessmen, he held discussions the next day with the former Head of State, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the leader of the Parliament, then on the last day of his visit with the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.
This 20-day visit comes took place at a time when the two countries are drawing closer on both economic and political levels after their relations had gone through a number of crises. Shortly before leaving for Teheran, Mr. Erdogan had declared that he would ask Iran to place Kongra-Gel (ex-PKK) on its list of terrorist groups; The two neighbours have recently reinforced their cooperation in security matters, including in the fight against the ex-PKK.
“I think that the security cooperation between two countries is bearing fruit”, Mr. Erdogan declared. Turkey expected the Teheran authorities to commit themselves officially to fighting the KONGRA-GEL organisation and place it on their list of terrorist groups. The Iranian deputy Minister of the Interior, Ali Achgar Ahmadi declared that Iran had accepted this request. In return, Turkey would act in the same way towards the People’s Mujahaddin, the principal armed opposition to the Teheran regime. “Both Iran and Turkey have agreed to consider the PKK and the Mujhaddin as terrorist groups” added Mr. Ahmadi.
On 6 July, the Iranian deputy Minister of the Interior, Ali Achgar Ahmadi, confirmed that violent clashes between fighters of the ex-PKK and the Iranian Army had caused 10 deaths. “The clashes between the Iranian forces and members of Kongra-Gel (ex-PKK), which caused two deaths among our forces and eight among members of this group occurred on 28 June”, declared Mr. Ahmadi. “Since then there have been no clashes between members of this party and Iranian forces” headed. The pro-Kurdish Mesopotamia Press Agency, based in Germany had stated, on 6 July that the Iranian Army had launched a vast operation against PKK activists in the Sehidan region, followed three days later by violent fighting, which lasted several days. According to this Agency, which quotes PKK military sources, sixteen Iranian soldiers and four PKK fighters were killed and five other soldiers were wounded in the fighting, in the course of which the Iranian Army used helicopters.
Mr. Erdogan, furthermore indicated that they had discussed the situation in Iraq, a case about which “Iran shares the same positions as Turkey”. “They agree with us on the territorial integrity of Iraq, they are against the domination of ethnic groups on others and they share our position that the underground resources of Iraq belong to the Iraqi people” he added. To sum up, the two countries will co-ordinate their efforts to prevent the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and even to reduce as much as they can, the importance of the Kurds in the Iraqi regime.
As against that, none of the trade agreements planned were signed, the two countries having failed to agree. The principal dispute was over an agreement reached in 1996 on the sale of natural gas to Ankara. Turkey had decided to stop its imports in June 2002, after a little more than six months after they had started to complain about the poor quality of the gas it was receiving and demanded that Iran lower the price. Neither was any agreement reached over a contract to operate the new Teheran airport (AKIA) by a consortium led by a Turkish company. On 8 May, the regular Army and the Guardians of the Revolution, the regime’s ideological army, closed AKIA, accusing the Turkish company TAV of being linked “to Zionists”. The third agreement should have covered the granting of the first private network of mobile phones to the Turkish company Turkcell, for a sum of some 3 billion dollars. But no sign of progress was recorded on the question. The volume of bi-lateral trade with Teheran is at present 2.5 billion dollars.
On 23 July, Amnesty International called on the Syrian authorities to free five political prisoners, including Atkham Nayasseh, President of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Freedoms and Human Rights in Syria (CDDS). Amnesty indicated, in a communiqué, that Mr. Nayasseh, under arrest since 13 April, was due to be tried on 26 July before a State Security Court, whose verdict is not subject to appeal. According to his lawyer, he is charged with “carrying out activities contrary to the socialist system” and of “opposing the objectives of the revolution”. He was arrested because of the publication, by CDDS, of an annual report denouncing the flagrant violations of Human Rights in Syria.
Mr. Nayasseh, 53 years of age, has been on hunger strike for nearly a month and has been taken to hospital. Seventeen opposition parties and associations have reported that he “is suffering serious after-effects from his earlier incarcerations” and hold the authorities responsible for his state of health. He was recently honoured by the Institute for Human Rights of the Bordeaux Bar (France) that awarded him the “Ludovic-Trarieux” Prize.
As well as Mr. Nayasseh, four other activists are due to be tried. They include the brothers Muhammad and Hatham Kutaïche, Yahyia al-Aous and Massud Hamid. They are charged with having transmitted abroad, via Internet, “false information that damages Syria and its relations with a Foreign State”. According to Amnesty, this furnished information and photos about the repression of the Kurdish protest movements in Syria in 'arch 2004.
The international organisation calls for “the freeing of five conscientious objectors” and recalls that the State Security Court “takes into account confessions extorted under torture”.
President Bashar al-Assad recently amnestied or commuted the sentences of several dozens of common law prisoners but has hardened its attitude to the opposition, according to the Syrian Human Rights Defence organisations.
The Syrian authorities have freed about a hundred of the Kurds arrested following the March clashes, as well as many political detainees, mostly Islamists, reported the lawyer Anwar Bounni on 20 July. “About a hundred Kurds, arrested after the events at Qamichli (North East Syria) have been released since 17 July. They have benefited from a (presidential) amnesty” issued the day before for prisoners sentenced for certain crimes and offences, stated Mr. Bounni.
The Syrian President issued a decree stipulating a general amnesty for crimes committed before 15 July 2004. In addition, “dozens of political detainees have been released” since, in particular those affiliated (or close) to the Moslem Brotherhood and the Hizb al-Tahrir (Freedom Party) — both banned in Syria — according to Mr.Bounni, a Human Rights Defender. Three former Air Force officers, sentenced in the 80s for attempting a coup d’état (against the now deceased President Hafez) are amongst those freed. They are Mohammad Rafic Hammami, Bachar Achi and Mahmud Kiki.
Imad Shiha, the most long serving political prisoner in Syria, is also expected to be released, according to Mr. Bounni. Shiha, member of the Arab Communist Organisation, has been incarcerated for the last thirty years. According to Mr. Bounni, some 257 political prisoners will shortly be released “in stages”.
On the other hand the lawyer excluded the freeing of detainees of the “Damascus spring”, including the two members of Parliament Riad Seif and Maamoun Homsi and the economist Aref Dalila, arrested in 2001. The lawyer called on the authorities to “rapidly close the issue of political prisoners by freeing them”.
No official reaction has been expressed about these releases, which coincide with the 4th anniversary of President Bachar al-Assad’s taking office on 17 July 2000. Since November 2000, President Assad has granted pardon to over 800 political prisoners.
On 27 July, Turkey was found guilty by the European Human Rights court of the death, in 1993 of an assumed PKK activist, killed by a bullet the day after his arrest, and of torture on another Kurdish activist during his preliminary detention. The death, on 23 November 1993, of Mehmet Sih Ikincisoy, killed by a bullet in the back “in circumstances involving the responsibility of Turkey, when nothing shows that this attack on his were made necessary” constitutes a “violation of the right to life”, considered the Human Rights judges. The father and brother of the victim, today aged 71 and 30 years of age, will receive 36,000 euros in total for damages 15,000 for costs.
The two petitioners had been arrested on 22 November 1993 at the same time as Mehmet Sih Akincisoy. Freed after 3 and 11 days detention respectively, they were informed that their son and brother had been killed in a shoot out with the police and that he had already been buried. Despite their repeated demands, the petitioners had never succeeded in obtaining the restitution of their relative’s body.
Furthermore, on the same day, the European judges also found Turkey guilty of torture in another case concerming an assumed PKK activist who died in August 1994 while in detention. According to the Court, there is no real evidence that the detainee died as a result of torture or that he committed suicide by hanging, as the authorities stated. However, in view of the signs of blows found on the deceased body, the Court ruled that “the Turkish State bears the responsibility for the observed wounds”. The four members of his family who had filed the petition will jointly receive 25,000 euros damages.
In yet another case, on 15 July, Turkey was found guilty by the European Human Rights Court of violations of the freedom of expression of three men judged politically guilty of “incitement to hatred” in a document criticising the condition of the Kurds. On 1 September 1996, during demonstrations on the occasion of World Peace Day, the three petitioners, members of the Party for Freedom and Solidarity, had been found in possession of an internal Bulletin of their Party containing an article entitlede “Peace! Right away!”
“The pressure of injustice with which the Kurdish people is confronted in the South-East region of Turkey is impossible to describe. Every day their villages are bombed, every day in village squares there are acts of torture and execution without trial. They are forced to leave their environment. They have reached a point where every day is limited to a struggle for life and against death (…)” the document wrote in particular.
In 1997 the three men were condemned to two years imprisonment for “having incited the people to hatred and hostility on the basis of a distinction founded on membership of a social class, a race or a religion”.
The European Court considered that the petitioners, who were expressing themselves “in their capacity of political men”, had not incited to the use of violence.
“This is not a discourse of hatred" the Court considered, judging their sentencing “disproportionate” and “not necessary in a democratic society”. The judges thus found Turkey guilty of violating Article 10 (Freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Turkey must pay 15,000 euros to the petitioners in damages.
Furthermore, on 13 July Turkey was found guilty in two distinct cases: the first of not having conducted an efficient enquiry into the disappearance of a Kurd, the second for having forbidden the publication of a book criticising its policy in Kurdistan. In December 1992, Namik Erkek was arrested for being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK, banned and renamed Kongra-Gel). According to the Turkish authorities he is said to have escaped the next day. But his brother maintained before the European Court that he had died from the after-effects of tortures inflicted on him by the police in detention.
The European judges considered that the petitioner’s allegations were not corroborated “by any deposition by a witness or any element of evidence”. On the other hand, the Court judged that the enquiry conducted by the authorities was" incomplete” and thus found Turkey guilty of not having conducted “an adequate enquiry on the circumstances of the disappearance of the person concerned” (Art. 2 of the Human Rights Convention.
The second case concerned the banning of a book relating the murder of a journalist and denouncing the violation of Human Rights in Kurdistan. The petitioner, Aysènur Zarakolu, who had published this book and, in particular, had used the word Kurdistan, was also sentenced to five-month imprisonment, commuted to a fine, for “separatist propaganda”. Noting that the account did “paint a very negative picture of the Turkish state” the European Court stressed that, nevertheless in did not exhort the use of violence nor any uprising.
The judges thus considered that the seizure of the book and the sentence were “disproportionate” and “not necessary in a democratic society” and so found Turkey guilty of violation of Art. 10 (freedom of expression).
• AT THE REQUEST OF UNO, THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT POSTPONES THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE. On 29 July, the new Iraqi authority was constrained, by request of the UN, to postpone for 15 days the calling of the national Conference which was presented as the first democratic post-Saddam Hussein experiment, in a climate of great insecurity and political confusion. “We received a letter from the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in which he asks us to postpone the National Conference”, which was due to begin on 31 July, declared the spokesman of the conference preparatory commission, Abdel Halim Alrouhaaimi. “In his letter, he observed that certain parties have stated that they did not wish to take part in this process, and he asked for time to persuade these parties” he added, assuring his hearers “We have decided to postpone this conference by two weeks, not more”.
The announcing of this postponement takes place in a climate of great tension in which bomb attacks are almost daily. On 28 July, 70 people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack in Baaquba (60 Km North of Baghdad), one of the bloodiest since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. The Head of the Conference Preparatory Commission, Fuad Maasum, stated, however, that the postponement was not due to security reasons. In a communiqué, the Preparatory Commission indicated that the decision to postpone was taken after consultation with President Ghazi al-Yawar and the head of the government Iyad Allawi. According to this communiqué, the next two weeks will enable the “achieving of a dialogue with all the (political) families, to launch an information campaign and to throw light on the questions that will be discussed at the conference”.
This conference, which is due to bring together in Baghdad 1,000 delegates from all over the country, is the first stage in a political process which shall lead to general elections in January 2005 at the latest. It will also have to appoint a consultative and control council, the “National Interim Council”. This body, that will have between 75 and 125 members and will have the task of approving the 2005 budget, could have the power to veto government decisions, by a two thirds majority, to question government Ministers and will be consulted on the organisation of the general elections. Supporters of the Shiite chief, Moqtada Sadr, who claims to represent a large part of the Shiite population, have decided to boycott the assembly and the process of selection of delegates has been marked by a number of protests across the country.
On 21 July, six weeks after the Security Council had authorised the creation of an independent security force to protect UN personnel in Iraq, Kofi Annan deplored the fact that no country had firmly committed itself to sending troops. Kofi Annan stressed that the members of UNO must ensure sufficient security to UN employees if they wanted it to provide significant help to Iraq in preparing elections, drawing up a draft constitution and rebuilding the country. A new special UN envoy to Iraq, the Pakistani Ashraf Jehangir Qazi was appointed on 12 July.
A 4,000-man force should, theoretically, ensure the protection of the UN and its equipment, but so far it only exists on paper, which would lead to the American-led multinational force having to play the part of guarding the UN staff, so long as it has not been set up.
Some diplomats have expressed consternation that the European Union, which had so much demanded that the United Nations be more involved in Iraq, did not seem disposed to supply the men to guarantee its security. On 12 July, in Brussels, the heads of the E.U. foreign ministries had met their Iraqi opposite number, Hoshyar Zebari, come to ask for “concrete help” after the transfer of sovereignty on 28 June. The E.U. “agrees on the need firmly to support the interim Iraqi government” declared the Dutch Foreign Minister, Bernard Bot, whose country has been presiding the E.U. since 1 July. But the E.U. leaders have also clearly recalled their opposition to the death sentence that Iraq intends to re-establish, he indicated.
Moreover, Russia let it be known, on 24 July, that it had no intention of sending troops to the American-led multinational force in Iraq, but that it was ready to help Baghdad by developing trade relations between the two countries and by lightening the debt. The Russian Foreign Minister, Serguei Lavrov, promised to continue to consolidate the links between Iraq and Russia after discussions with his Iraqi opposite number, Hoshyar Zebari, during the latter's visit to Russia.
• THE IRANIAN REGIME BANS ANY COMMEMORATION OF THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE STUDENT DEMONSTRATIONS. On 6 July, the Iranian media announced that the Iranian authorities had banned any commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the student demonstrations of 9 July 1999. “In accordance with a decision of the National Security Council, the request by the Islamic Association of Teheran Students (to organise a rally before the principal entrance to the University) has been rejected” announced the director for political and security affairs of the Teheran governorate, Ali Taala. An identical decision was announced by the governor of Ispahan (Central Iran), according to the press.
In a communiqué, the Islamic Association Student criticised this decision and also the closing of the University campus, officially for “an operation of disinfestations against cockroaches”.
On 5 July, representatives of the principals Student Associations were received by General Morteza Talai, Teheran Chief of Police, and Hojatolislam Mohsen Gomi, an official of the Office of the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to the Universities.
On 9 July 1999, a little nighttime demonstration of 200 students in front of the entrance to the Amir Abd University Campus of Teheran had provoked the intervention of the police and of Islamist extremists. Several of the University buildings were sacked and hundreds of students wounded. Officially one person was killed by shooting. In any case, the massive presence throughout the city of the police and of members of the Special Forces, in battle dress, over the last month — officially to control the chaotic traffic — had a dissuasive effect. In June 2003, over 4,000 people were arrested after ten days of demonstrations against the authorities in the University campus quarter. This year, because of the gap between the Persian and Gregorian calendars, the anniversary of the demonstrations falls on the 8th of July.
Furthermore, the Iranian Courts have “suspended” publication of the reformist monthly Aftab (Sun) for “insults to the Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeiny, according to the Iranian newspapers.
Aftab has been published since 2000 by a group of religious and reformist intellectuals, including the religious dissident Mohsen Kadivar. The Court also criticises the monthly for its writings on Islam.
The monthly’s director, the journalist and leading reformist Issa Saharkhiz, was arrested in 2003 for “propaganda against the regime” after having distributed an open letter signed by 350 reformers asking the Supreme Guide for profound reforms in the Islamic regime’s institutions. A dozen Iranian journalists are, at the moment, in prison.
Over the last few years, the Iranian Courts, controlled by the conservatives, have suspended “provisionally” over 100 publications. Hardly any of them have reappeared…
• BULENT ECEVIT, THE FORMER PRIME TURKISH MINISTER, HAS RETIRED POLITICALLY. On 25 July, after a political career that spans nearly half a century, former Turkish Prime Minister, Bulent Ecevit, left the leadership of his party, the “Democratic Left” Party, so as to leave the field clear for a younger leader.
Seventy-nine years of age, Mr. Ecevit addressed the delegates of his party, meeting in congress, for a whole hour, criticising the policy of the present government and wishing good luck, at the end of his speech, to the leader who would be called upon to succeed him.
The delegates would have to choose between six candidates in the course of the day. Bulent Ecevit will remain a member of the party, but will no longer be part of the organisation’s leadership.
Five times Prime Minister, (his last period in office was from 1999 to 2002) Bulent Ecevit suffered a stinging defeat at the 2002 elections, won by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by the present Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The electors help Mr. Ecevit responsible for the 2001 economic crisis, which led to millions of sackings. His failing health did not contribute to effective government or to winning the confidence of the electorate.
In the course of his long career, Bulent Ecevit, an ultra-nationalist (“Left” in name only) was particularly famous for ordering the Army to invade Cyprus — an action that led to the division of the island. More recently he took credit for the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan (in fact the work of American secret services). Considering himself Ataturk’s political heir, Ecevit was fiercely opposed to any of the Kurds’ cultural claims — this going so far as to colluding with Saddam Hussein and envisaging Turkish military intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan to crush the Kurdish autonomous region.