The National Assembly, elected on 30 January in the first free election in Iraq for half a century, met on 16 March for the first time. The date of 16 March was chosen to correspond with the anniversary of the chemical attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja, ordered in 1988. This attack caused 5,000 deaths. March was also the month in which the Shiites, in the South, and the Kurds, in the North, revolted against the Saddam Hussein regime in 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, in 1991, until they were savagely repressed.
The 275 Members of Parliament first heard several verses of the Qoran recited, and observed a minute’s silence in memory of Saddam’s victims. They then heard the members of the interim government and leaders of the various political parties, before being sworn in. Welcomed as an important step forward in the democratic process by US President, G.W. Bush, and UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, the session was mainly formal in character. The speeches from the rostrum, in Arabic then translated into Kurdish, the second official language under the provisional Constitution, all stressed that they were meeting two years after the war. “We are at the gates of freedom and democracy”, declared the outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Kurdish leader Jalal Talaabani considered that “Iraq will only enjoy stability if it is built on a consensus between all the components of its people”. For his part, Ashraf Qazi, the UN General Secretary’s special envoy, assured his hearers that his organisation “would stand beside the Iraqi elected representatives in their efforts to lay the foundations of democracy”. For the first time since the creation of modern Iraq in 1920, the Shiites and the Kurds, the two communities that had been excluded from the highest positions in the country’s power structure, are about to gain entrance to them. The Kurds are aiming at the country’s Presidency. Their candidate is the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Jalal Talabani. The Shiite list has put proposed the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party, Ibrahim Jaafari, as candidate for the position of Prime Minister.
The Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni Arab leaders had tried, the day before, to finalise an agreement on the Presidential Council before the inaugural session of Parliament. Leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and the Kurdish list met leading Sunni public figures, including the outgoing President, Ghazi al-Yawar, the liberal, Adnan Pashashi and representatives of the Committee of Ulemas, the main organisation of Sunni clergy in Iraq. Discussions also took place between Kurdish leaders and Iyad Allawi, outgoing Prime Minister who is standing for the same position.
The question of ministerial portfolios, however, is far from settled. The Shiite and Kurdish lists — the main winners in the election — can count on having 146 and 77 seats respectively. But they want to integrate to the organs of the state representatives of the Sunni community, which, for its part is far from showing its satisfaction of the offers made. According to Maryam al-Rayes, one of the negotiators for the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Shiites are claiming 16 to 17 of the portfolios, in particular those of the Interior, Finance, and Councillor for National Security. The Kurds would have seven or eight Ministries, including Foreign Affairs, and are also claiming the Oil Ministry. The Sunni would have between four and six Ministries, the Christians and the Turcomen one each.
On 29 March the transitional Assembly held its second session in Baghdad, strongly guarded by police and troops and over two hours later than announced. But less than half an hour later, the oldest member of the Assembly, Sheikh Dhari al-Fayyad, announced that “the four principal lists had asked for postponement of the vote” to elect the President (Speaker) of the Assembly, “to enable the Sunnis to finish their discussions about choosing their candidate”. A representative on Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi List blamed the Sunni Members of Parliament, who had been unable to agree on their candidate for this delay. The Sunnis, who had, to a great extent, boycotted the General Election, could only count on having about 16 M.P.s, scattered amongst several lists. They claim, however, the Ministry of Defence, the post of President of the President of the State and several important Ministries. Negotiations stalled on appointment of the Ministry of Defence and the Oil Ministry in particular. The Kurds, furthermore, demand that the Shiites guarantee that they will not impose an Islamic State, while Iyad Allawi, a secular Sunni, made it a condition of his joining the government that the latter be “completely independent” of religious authority. The symbolic religious authority of the Iraqi Shiites, the senior Ayatollah Ali Sistani, assured the UN special envoy to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, on 27 March that he would only intervene in politics in case of necessity. In principle, the position of President of the Assembly should be held by a Sunni Arab and one of the Vice-Presidents should be a Shiite, the second being to a Kurd. The most likely candidate for President of the Assembly was the outgoing Head of State, Ghazi al-Yawar, but he declined the offer on 28 March. The Shiite UIA pushed for the Sunni Arab tribal Chief Fawaz al-Jarba, elected on its list. But the Kurdish list argued that it were better to have an independent Sunni Arab than a UIA member. The Kurdish list had put forward several Sunni candidates, including the Minister for Industry, Hajem al-Hassani, former spokesman for the Islamic Party, which is close to the Moslem Brothers, who was elected on President al0Yawar’s list.
The National Assembly has also to elect the Presidential Council of three, which has the duty of nominating the Prime Minister. A two-thirds majority being needed to appoint this council, the Shiite and Kurdish lists have been negotiating this issue. Since the position of President is due to go to Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, the UAI list is due to chose as their candidates for the two Vice Presidents one Shiite and one Sunni Arab.
This laboured start to the first parliament has aroused discontent and bitterness amongst the inhabitants of Baghdad, who watched this display of powerlessness on television. According to Iraqi political leaders, these delays run the danger of postponing till later the adopting of a constitution for the country. The transitional National Assembly is due to draw up a permanent Constitution by 15 August. Thus Constitution should then be ratified by referendum before 15 October. In an opinion poll carried out by an organisation close to the US Republican Party and published on 17 March, the Iraqis are said to set great store by the Moslem identity of their country but do not wish to see the strict application of the Sharia. Questioned on what they did want written into the Constitution, 23.3% wished to see the Moslem identity of the country before Human Rights (13.8%) and a long way before the strict application of the Sharia (3.4%).
Furthermore, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, speaking at the Arab summit that opened on 22 March, called on the Arab countries to abandon “this state of inertia and waiting with regard to Iraq and let them supply us with clear and solid help”. The Arab leaders, meeting in Algiers, responded sluggishly the next day to this appeal for solidarity from Iraq. They “reaffirmed the respect for the unity and sovereignty” of the country “as well as its independence and non-interference in its internal affairs”. According to an expert present in the Algerian capital, Iraq secured “classic stands of support that means very much in practice”. “Iraq needs action, in particular from its neighbours, whose laxity is a serious danger to its security, but no serious discussion of this subject took place at the summit”, commented the expert at the end of the summit.
On 19 March, Jalal Talabanni confirmed that an agreement had been reached with the Shiite list on the status of the oil producing city of Kirkuk. “We agreed on Article 58 of the fundamental law and it will be applied a month after the new government is set up” stated the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) after a meeting with Massud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). According to Article 58, the government must favour the return of Kurds expelled by the Arabisation policy of Saddam Hussein and make proposals for a final status of the city. “A State has been destroyed and we are going to build another as soon as the government is formed” he added at Salaeddin. Mr. Talabani also hoped that the government be as broad as possible. “We want a government of unity. We want the participation of all the parties, as much the Sunni Arabs as Allawi’s list (the list of outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi) he stressed. A leader of the Shiite dominated United Iraqi Alliance announced, for his part, that an agreement had been reached with the Kurds. “We have agreed that the normalisation of the situation in Kirkuk will begin a month after the formation of the government”, declared Ali al-Dabagh, the Alliance’s negotiator.
The status of the Kurdish fighters, the peshmergas, and that of the oil producing city of Kirkuk were a problem in the negotiations with the Shiites to form a government, Jalal Talabani had said on 14 March. The Kurds do not want the total integration of peshmergas, the militia of the two major parties, the PUK and the KDP, into the Iraqi Army. They are demanding the incorporation of Kirkuk into the autonomous Kurdistan, whereas the fundamental law only provides for remedying the effects of the forced Arabisation of the city by the fallen Saddam Hussein regime.
At the beginning of March, Mr. Barzani summed up the Kurdish claims: “The Fundamental law must be the basis of the permanent Constitution, that a solution be found at Kirkuk in the basis of Article 58, that the (oil) wealth be shared out equitably and that the principle of federalism be retained”. The leaders of the UIA had, at that time, considered that the settlement of the question of Kirkuk fell within the competence of the Assembly, without specifically expressing themselves on the issues of the peshmergas and the sharing of resources. The Shiite list’s candidate for Prime Minister, Dr. Ibrahim Jaafari, had net Jalal Talabani on 2 March, after the latter had discussed matters with his partner Massud Barzani near Irbil. “We have struggled together against the dictatorship and the Kurdish people is very optimistic about its future relations with the UIA list, which has a clear position on a federal, parliamentary, united and independent Iraq” declared Mr. Talabani, after discussions with the Shiite candidate for the position of Prime Minister at Qalajulah, North of Suleiman. He has considered that Mr. Jaafari’s co-listers had also “a realistic position on the Kurdish demands”.
Meeting on 13 March to examine the preliminary agreement concluded with the majority Shiite group on the subject of the formation of the executive in Iraq, the Kurdish leaders had demanded that an amendment to the agreement drawn up by the Shiites for the formation of a government and the involvement of political organisations as a whole in the negotiations. The members of the KDP and PUK Political Committees had met in Salahaddin for consultations with their negotiators. Returning from Baghdad the latter had reported on the agreement in principle reached with the UIA list. “We have secured our claims that we considered most essential: democracy, federalism, Human Rights and women’s rights” the Iraqi Vice President Roj Nuri Shawism one of the negotiators had indicated. The next day the Kurdish and Shiite representatives met to try and “overcome their divergences”.
The Kurds insist on their demands for a federal Iraq, invoking the many injustices suffered under Saddam Hussein. Their history was marked by many exactions, such as the Anfal campaign, launched in 1988 by the old regime, which consisted or razing whole villages or the gassing, in the same year, of thousands of Kurds in Halabja. Under the old regime, tens of thousands of Kurds were robbed of their land and expelled from the oil producing city of Kirkuk and the villages of Ninive, Diyala and Salaheddin provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan. Before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, the Kurds enjoyed a dozen years of autonomy thanks to the air exclusion zone imposed by the Gulf War Allies in 1991.
Elsewhere, on 29 March the Arab and Turcoman elected councillors of the oil producing province of Tamin (the capital of which is Kirkuk) boycotted a session of the Provincial Council to oppose plans by the Kurds to secure, according to them, control of the principal positions in the local administration. This body has 26 Kurds, 15 Arabs and Turcomen. A Kurdish Councillor, Ahmad Askari, considered that “those who want to reach agreement should stay at the meeting to discuss with us”. But his Turcoman opposite number, Tahsin Mohamad, explained that neither his community nor the Arabs “want tot attend meetings so as not to legitimise the claims of the Kurds to secure the positions of Governor and Deputy Governor and head of the Provincial Council”. According to him, “there is no problem about the Kurds having the position of governor, but the Turcomen and Arabs should have the other positions”.
The report of the enquiry into the “Food for Oil” programme in Iraq, handed in on 29 March, criticises the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, but does not accuse him of corruption. Kofi Annan is criticised for not having taken stronger measures to avoid a possible conflict of interests during the granting of a contract to the Cotecna Inspection Company, which employed his son, Kojo, in Africa. The report slammed Koji Annan for having concealed information about his working for Cotecna and for having deceived his father, and criticised the Swiss firm for not having make public the fact that it employed the General Secretary’s son.
Kojo Annan, son of UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, received at least $300,000, from the Cotecna company, which had a contract in the context of the UN “Food for Oil” programme in Iraq. According to the British daily, The Times, and the Italian Financial daily Il Sole 24 of 23 March, the payments “were made in such a way as to hide the source and destination of the money”. The sum of $300,000 represents the double of the amounts mentioned by various media in the past. The two dailies, that conducted a joint enquiry, also reported that the UN General Secretary met senior representatives of the Swiss company, Cotecna Inspection SA, before the contract in the context of the “Food for Oil” programme was signed in December 1998. Another meeting is said to have taken place after the signature, according to the two papers.
The independent commission of enquiry, led by former president of the US Federal Reserve Bank, Paul Volker, also considered that Kofi Annan had failed to detect the flaws in the UN bureaucracy that allowed the problems in the “Food for Oil” programme to last till 2003.
Kofi Annan had suspended the former official in charge of the “Food for Oil” programme, Benon Sevan, as well as the man who managed the contracts, Joseph Stephanides, in February. The enquirers accused the two men of serious conflicts of interest. The United Nations had, however, recognised on 22 March that it had promised to cover the legal expenses of Benon Sevan. Fred Eckhard, the spokesman of the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, indicated that the latter, on the advice of his legal advisors, had taken the decision to cover Mr. Sevan’s legal costs.
This second report of the Commission of Enquiry was submitted a week after Kofi Annan had argued for the most important reform of the United Nations since its creation. Its publication comes at a time when UNO is facing several scandals, in particular accusations of sexual abuse made against Blue Berets as well as allegations of bad management and of sexual harassment directed at senior members of the UNO personnel.
In operation from 1996 to 2003, the programme enabled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to sell oil under UN control to buy essential goods so as to alleviate the sufferings of the Iraqi population caused by the embargo imposed on the regime after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Two years ago, three Anglo-American divisions crossed the Iraqi-Kuwait border. US President George Bush had decided to overthrow the Iraqi regime, accused, in particular, of possessing weapons of mass destruction, and to install a democracy. Two years later, Iraq is a sovereign State and advancing on the road to democracy, but stricken by terrorism. At the moment, 150,000 American troops are deployed in Iraq, 45% of them are reservists and national guardsmen (183,000 are mobilised in total. The coalition forces (25 countries in all) total 23,000 troops, including 8,700 British (another 3,500 are in the Gulf), 3,500 South Koreans, 3,300 Italians, down to 46 Armenians and 10 Norwegians.
Since the intervention in Iraq, 1,526 GIs have been killed and 5,867 seriously injured; moreover 176 allied soldiers have been killed and 528 others wounded. Amongst civilians, 78 American civilians and 133 civilians from coalition countries have been killed and 140 American and 239 coalition civilians have been wounded. It is estimated that 30,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed and 90,000 wounded. According to Iraqi statistics, 3,274 Iraqi civilians were killed between 1 July 2004 and 1 January 2005. Other unofficial estimates vary greatly. According to Body Count, an organisation of academics and pacifists that collects information from media, between 16,231 and 18,509 Iraqis civilians have been killed since the beginning of the war.
As far as the cost of the operation is concerned, $200 billion were spent on military operations and for reconstructing the country. The Pentagon estimates that, in addition, the cost of replacing or rehabilitating army equipment would come to about $35 billion more. The US House of Representatives approved, on 16 March, the release of a further $81.4 billion dollars to cover the war and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 388 votes to 43, the House granted President Bush virtually all the extra for which the White House had asked ($82 billion). The Senate will examine this request in April. If it, in turn, approves this extension, it will bring the combined cost of the Afghani, Iraqi conflicts and the “war against terrorism” to $310 billion.
As far as March is concerned, the number of victims amongst the coalition forces was the lowest for over a year, /of one believes the figures announced by the US and British Defence Ministries on 1st April. In all a total of 39 coalition soldiers, 35 of whom were American, were killed in March. This is the lowest since February 2004, when 23 died. That had been the least bloody month since the beginning of the war — the bloodiest being November 2004 when 141 were killed, mostly during the battle for Fallujah.
On the other hand, one of the most murderous bomb attacks on the Shiite community took place in Mossul, where an attack on 10 March killing 41 Iraqis and wounding 81 others was committed by a suicide bombed who walked into a hall adjoining a Shiite mosque where the funeral of a leader of Moqtada Sadr’s Radical Shiite movement was being celebrated.
Several attacks recently have targeted police forces in Kirkuk. A Turcoman General of the Iraqi Army was shot down on 22 March. Three days earlier three Iraqi policemen were killed by a bomb during the funeral of one of their colleagues, assassinated the day before. In addition, on 29 March a car bomb exploded as a five-vehicle convoy was passing which contained the Director of the water distribution service, Abdelkader Zinganeh who, however, was unharmed. Nine people, including three Iraqi soldiers were killed and seventeen injured, including eight of Mr. Zinganeh’s bodyguard. He was a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
A cameraman of the satellite television network, Kurdistan TV, Hussam Hilal Sarsam, was also shot down by unknown gunmen on 14 March in a North Mossul quarter. The victim, a Christian, had been kidnapped two weeks earlier.
The month of March was also marked by a macabre discovery in Iraq. Two mass graves, containing a total of forty bodies ridded with bullets and decapitated were discovered in Iraq. The police announced on 9 March that 41 bodies had been found in two places in Iraq, Some bodies were riddled with bullets, the others decapitated. The bodies of 26 people who had been shot were found in a field about 20 Km from the town of Kaim (West of Iraq). A similar discovery was made at Latifiya, South of Baghdad where Iraqi soldiers found 15 decapitated bodies. The nature of the murders — execution by shooting or decapitation — seems to indicate that they were perpetrated by terrorists.
Another mass grave containing 81 Kurds killed under the Saddam Hussein regime were discovered near Kirkuk announced the head of the province’s Public Health authority, Dr. Sabah Zanqana. “Information received from the police and expelled Kurdish families (under Saddam Hussein) on the outskirts of Kirkuk show that there was a mass grave of 81 people, including five children” at Rahimawa, 7 Km North of Kurkuk, Dr. Zanaqana pointed out. According to him, “36 families have been able to identify their milling relatives while 45 have not been identified”. The forensic medial examination showed that most of the dead, including eight women and five children, were shot in the 90s he stressed, explaining that the mass grave had been discovered after shepherds had found bones in the ground.
Furthermore the US Army announced on 30 March that their forces were detaining some 16,000 prisoners in Iraq in three permanent prison centres and several temporary camps, which is much more than last autumn. According to the Human Rights First (HRF) organisation, the conditions of their detention were harsh and ill treatment frequent in the temporary centres, which were often just a caravan camp surrounded by barbed wire.
In a communiqué published on 31 March, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, acting as Prime Minister in the absence abroad of P.M Iyad Allawi, announced a month’s extension of the State of Emergency in the country except for the autonomous Kurdish zone. “The State of Emergency will be extended for 30 days throughout Iraq except for Kurdistan as from the end of the previous decree”, (promulgated at the end of February) the communiqué indicated. The document explained that this extension had been decided because of the “persistence of conditions that justified the state of emergency”, a reference to the insecurity that continues to reign in the country. The last 30-day extension of the state of emergency was announced on 3 March.
The state of emergency over virtually all the country was decreed by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi on 7 November, on the eve of the assault on the town of Fallujah. It has been continually renewed since.
The state of emergency gives the Prime Minister extensive powers going from imposing a curfew, issuing arrest warrants, dissolving organisations, restricting movements and ordering phone tapping. The Prime Minister can, with the approval of the courts, “issue arrest warrants, searches, and impose restrictions on the freedom of citizens or strangers suspected of crimes” to quote the decree. It can thus restrict “movement of money and freeze assets of people suspected of platting, of armed rebellion or assassinations, of explosions or of those cooperating with the criminals”. It can check mail, “order phone tapping”, “confiscate telecommunications equipment for a stated period” and “limit movements of means of land, air or marine transport in regions for a stated period”. It can also “impose restrictions, supervise the activity and even temporarily close down shops, clubs, associations, trade unions and firms if they have any connection with the above mentioned crimes”. It can also call on the Multinational Force to act alongside the Iraqi forces, after agreement with the Presidential Council, which consists of the Head of State and two Vice Presidents.
On the other hand, the report of an independent Presidential Commission, submitted to US President G.W. Bush on 31 March, slams the US intelligence and their incorrect evaluation of prohibited weapons in Iraq before the launching of the war in March 2003. George W. Bush accepted the criticisms in the report that the intelligence services were “completely wrong” about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This report, drawn up by Congressmen, a former CIA chief, some judges and a university president called for far reaching changes in the US intelligence. “The harm done to the credibility of the United States by the mistakes of our intelligence services in Iraq will take years to correct” the 600-page report said.
However it stresses that there was no proof that these services had manipulated the information they possessed or that they had been under political pressure to do so. “What their leaders told you about Saddam Hussein’s programmes is what they thought. They were simply wrong”, it affirms.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria, Italy and the Ukraine have announced the partial or total withdrawal of their troops from Iraq. Bulgaria confirmed that its 462 soldiers would withdraw on 31 December. Ukraine also confirmed that the departure of its last soldiers from Iraq was set for next October, but without giving a precise date. In Italy, the head of the government, Silvio Berlusconi announced a plan to withdraw 300 troops from Iraq in September it his British and American allies agreed. Italy has had about 3,300 deployed in Southern Iraq since June 2003.
On 23 March, Massud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, stated that he refused to raise the present Iraqi flag in Kurdistan as this was the symbol of “one of the blackest periods in the history of Iraq”. “This flag dates from 1963, and it is since then that all the massacres, collective murders and crimes have been committed”, which is why “it is impossible to raise this flag in Kurdistan as it reflects one of the blackest periods in our history” declared Mr. Barzani, as quoted by the daily paper Al-Taakhi (Brotherhood), his party’s Arabic language official organ, published in Baghdad.
“Unless a new flag be designed for Iraq, let it once again adopt the flag of the monarchy or that of the 14th July Republic, or any other flag that contains a symbol indicating that the Arab and Kurdish communities are the two principal ethnic groups of Iraq. The present flag will not be raised in Kurdistan”, he explained. “In our eyes, the present flag is not the flag of Iraq but that of a dictatorial regime” he stated.
Mr. Barzani stressed that the Kurds did not reject the idea of “re-instating the monarchy’s flag, since it bore two stars, symbolising the Arab and Kurdish communities, nor that of the 14th July (1958) Republic that showed a sun as well as a sword and a dagger”.
The Iraqis had protested against the Transitional Government Council, set up in the summer of 2003 by the coalition in Iraq, when it tried to impose a new banner consisting of two blue bands, symbolising the Tigris and the Euphrates, separated by a yellow band, the emblematic colour of the Kurds topped by a white rectangle containing a crescent, the symbol of Islam. This flag was considered too unrepresentative of Iraqi civilisation and its Arab majority, too pro-Kurdish and too blue, like the Israeli flag.
The Turkish authorities have completed the technical work of defining the conditions in which US planes can use the Incirlik air base, in Adana Province (Southern Turkey), and the final decision now rests with the government. Turkey may be able to authorise the United States to use one of its principal bases as a logistics centre for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, a senior Turkish official indicated on 30 March. Ankara and Washington have been negotiating this access for several months in an atmosphere made tense because of their divergences over the Iraqi question.
By the terms of this draft agreement, US civilian and military may transit via Incirlik on condition that they only carry “non-fatal logistic material”. They would than be expected to inform the Turkish authorities of their flight plans, but not obliged to seek authorisation for every flight. The agreement will not require approval by the Turkish Parliament as it is within the government’s authority to allow the use of this base for logistic and humanitarian transport to Iraq and Afghanistan, pointed out the official. From the end of the Gulf war, in 1991, till 2003, US and British Air force planes had been authorised to use the base for their control flights of the air exclusion zone over Iraqi Kurdistan.
In March 2003, shortly before the Iraqi war, the Turkish Parliament refused to allow passage of United States troops through its territory to open a second front in Iraqi Kurdistan. The traditionally close links between Ankara and Washington, allies in NATO, also slackened because of the Americans’ reluctance to intervene against the Kurdish fighters in Turkey. Ankara is above all worried about the place the Iraqi Kurds might occupy in post-Saddam Iraq.
In this oppressive climate, a sharp anti-American feeling is developing in Turkey, provoking real tensions between Ankara and Washington. A political novel entitled “Metal Storm”, relating an invasion of Turkey by the United States in 2007 has thus become a best seller with over 110.000 copies sold. Anti-Americanism sells these days in Turkey and the Akis publishing house plans to print at least 50,000 copies of a second novel involving the Americans. “America is ours” will be distributed with, on its cover, a picture of the Statue of Liberty wearing a large moustache — a symbol of Turkish machismo — and an American flag embossed with three crescents, the emblem of the Turkish ultra-nationalists. The subject of the novel is fairly scatty: exasperated by American intervention in the world, especially after US battleships secretly sailed up the Bosporus to Istanbul, a young Turkish nationalist, was visited, while praying, by an extra-terrestrial who granted his wish to take over the American superpower thanks to a device than controls peoples’ minds. “The environment is favourable”, explains Adem Ozbay, an executive of the publishing house. “Anti-American feelings are the basis for this novel, but it is not a war book, because no one gets killed”, explained one of the authors of the book, Erdogan Ekmekei. He does not hide the fact that the “situation” is very favourable for the publication of anti-American lampoons, but states that his book is, in fact, a “self-criticism” of the Turks and their way of life.
Furthermore, the US State Department confirmed on 18 March that the American Ambassador to Turkey, Mr. Eric Edelman, was resigning from his post in Ankara. Mr. Edelman intends to resign for personal reasons, stated the official spokesman of the State Department, Adam Ereli, in a communiqué to the press. The Ambassador came to Ankara in 2003, when tension between Ankara and Washington was particularly sharp. During her last visit to Ankara, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice asked him to do more to cool the anti-Americanism of the Turkish press. Recently Mr. Edelman was the target of criticism for expressing his dissatisfaction over the planned visit to Syria, next month, of Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. The Turkish press had not missed the opportunity to highlighting his Jewish origins to attack his stand.
A fresh upsurge of anti-Semitism is also noticeable, with craze for Mein Kampf in the country. Published for the first time in 1939, Hitler’s Mein Kampf has become over the last few weeks, a best seller in Turkish bookshops — a popularity that specialists explain is due as much to its low price as by the upsurge of nationalism. Since January, Mein Kampf has sold nearly 50,000 copies and on 16 March was listed as the fourth highest selling book, according to the D&R bookshop. “Mein Kampf used to be a hidden best seller, we have brought it out of the cupboards for commercial reasons” explained Oguz Tektas, of the Manifesto publishing house, who insisted on making the point that his firm had no other motives than those of “making money”.
Published by about a dozen publishers, it used to be freely on sale at about 20 new Turkish lire (YTL) or about 11.6 euros. However, the new edition is on sale at 5.90 YTL (3.4 euros). “Those who want to know a person who drenched the world in blood and fire read it” stated Mr. Tektas, whose publishing house was one of the first to offer the work at such a low price and which sold 23,000 copies in two months. Sami Kilic, owner of Emre Publishing, in Istanbul, who has also published Mein Kampf — 31,000 distributed since the end of January, of which 26,000 are already sold — admits that it is mainly the young who buy it. “Events have an impact on sales” he declared, alluding to Turkish aspirations to join the European Union, which nationalist circles consider an abandoning of national values.
“This book, which hasn’t a spark of humanity, seems, unfortunately, to be taken seriously here” deplored, for his part, political analyst Dogu Ergil. “Nazism, which has sunk into historical oblivion in Europe, has started to appear amongst us”, regretted Professor Ergil.
Silvyo Ovadya, head of the Jewish community of Turkey, which has 22,00 members out of a population of 71 million, declared he was “irritated” by this sudden interest for a book that laid the basis for a racist and anti-Semitic policy and expressed astonishment at “the fact that a 500-page book could be published at such a low price”. Mr. Ovadya said he had expressed his concern to the publishing houses, which had not wanted to listen. The majority of Turkish Jews are settled in Istanbul, which has 18 synagogues. In November 2003, two Stambuli synagogues were targeted for islamist bomb attacks, resulting in 25 deaths and hundreds of injured.
Human Rights are a subject of major concern between the European Union and Turkey and the month of March was marked by a number of condemnations of Turkey by the European Court for Human Rights for breaches of Human Rights.
On 30 March, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) found Turkey guilty, in two distinct cases, of having violated the freedom of expression of its citizens of Kurdish origin. The Court ruled that the 1996 sentence on Omer Agin, 57, of 13 months and ten days imprisonment for “propaganda against the integrity of the State” was “disproportionate to the ends intended” and not “necessary in a democratic society”. The petitioner’s critical analysis regarding the government and its policy towards the populations of Kurdish origin had been published in 1993 in the paper Demokrat. The ECHR considered the article painted “a negative picture of the policy of the Turkish State towards its citizens of Kurdish origin” but did not, for all that, exhort the use of force or violence. The ECHR granted the petitioner 4,000 € for material damages, 15,000€ for moral damages and 1,500 € costs.
In the second case, Turkey was found guilty for having seized the book of Mahmut Alinuk. He had written a novel that appeared in 1997, inspired by real events, in which he told of the ill treatment suffered by villagers of Kurdish origin during operations by police forces. The Court considered that “even if the tone of certain passages of the book could appear hostile” they were only “the expression of a profound feeling of helplessness in the face of tragic events and did not constitute a call for violence”. Although a former member of parliament “the petitioner was, at the time of the events a citizen expressing his views in a novel which only reached a small readership, which limited to a considerable extent any potential impact it on public order” it added.
In yet another case, the European Court for Human Rights, on 24 March found Turkey guilty of the deaths of three Kurds, killed during a military operation in 1992. On 10 November 1992, during military operations near Diyarbekir, Mehmet Akkum, Mehmet Akan and Dervis Karadoc, respectively aged 29, 70 and 33, were killed. According to the Turkish government the three men died during an exchange of shots between the army and members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and its soldiers were not responsible. The victims’ families, for their part, assured that he first of them had been shot at point blank range and that the two others had been killed by the security forces. The European Court, noting that Ankara had not supplied it with “essential evidence” firstly condemned Turkey for violation of Article 38 (obligation to facilitate an enquiry of the Court) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Then, considering that Turkey, thus, had “not furnished any explanations for the homicides” of the three men, the judges also found it guilty of violation of Article 2 (the right to life).
Further more the court stressed the “suffering” of the father of Mr. Akkum, whose ears had been cut off after his death, and found Ankara guilty of violation of Article 3 (banning degrading treatment).
Finally, Turkey was found guilty of violating Article 13 (the right to effective recourse) the victims’ families having been unable to denounce their deaths to the courts and of Article 1 (protection of property) since Mr. Karadoc’s horse and dog were also shot. Ankara must therefore pay 57,000 euros in material damages to Mr. Karadoc’s family and 81,000 euros moral damages to the families of the three victims.
On 17 March, the European Court found Turkey guilty of the death of a man taken into detention then killed by shooting during a police operation in 1996. The Court considered that Ankara had violated Articles 2 (right to life) and 13) right to effective recourse) of the European Convention on Human Rights and granted the petitioner, the deceased suspect’s brother, 15,000 euros in moral damages.
Semsettin Gezici was taken in for questioning on 12 August 1996 and placed in detention by the police, the Court recalled in its ruling. Following his statements, a police operation, to which the latter was taken, was conducted on 19 August at the home of a presumed member of the PKK. A shoot-out took place and both Semsettin Gezici and the presumed member of the PKK were killed. “The authorities have the duty of protecting people in detention who, because of this, are in a vulnerable situation” stressed the European Court. “Yet, by placing the man concerned in the presence of the person he had denounced, knowing that he possessed military weapons, the authorities created a potentially dangerous situation and subjected the petitioners brother in an extreme and unjustified danger”. It nevertheless rejected the allegations that the latte had been “victim of an extrajudicial execution after being tortured by the police while he was in detention” as his brother maintained.
Moreover, in another case on the same day, the RCHR also found Turkey guilty of “not conducting an adequate and effective enquiry into the circumstances” of the disappearance of a man who, according to his wife, never returned from a journey in April 1996. It considered that “there was a procedural violation that Article 2 imposes on the State” and granted 10,000 euros to Talat Turkoglu. The Court, on the other hand, considered that “it did not have enough evidence to conclude” as she affirmed, that her husband (who had been several times taken to court before his disappearance for political offences) had been killed by agents of the State or with their complicity.
On 15 March, Turkey was also found guilty by the European Court on for violation of the freedom of expression of five Turkish citizens, sentenced for having written a statement criticising Ankara’s policy towards the Kurds. In March 1992, the petitioners, (two lawyers, a professor and two trade unionists) had published, together with twenty other people including former Members of Parliament Leyla Zana and Hatip Dicle, a statement criticising the management of the Kurdish question by Turkey. In 1997, they were sentenced for incitement to hatred and to between one and eight years imprisonment, sentences that they were later excused from serving. The European Court noted that their condemnation was in pursuit of a “legitimate aim, namely the protection of the territorial integrity” and that the “caustic” remarks and “hostile” tone of the declaration gave “an extremely negative image of the Turkish State”. But the judges also considered that there could be found in these remarks “no incitement to violence, to armed resistance or to insurrection” and thus concluded that the sentencing of the petitioners was “disproportionate to the aims pursued”. The Court thus found Turkey guilty of violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention. It was also found guilty of violating Article 6 para. 1 (equitable trial) because of the presence of Army judges in the State Security Court. Ankara must pay 2,000 euros moral damages to each of the five petitioners.
On 31 March, moreover, the European Human Rights Court found Turkey guilty of shortcomings in the enquiry carried out in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) after the murder of a journalist who was very critical of the TRNC authorities and of the Turkish government. A link between the murder and the victim’s journalistic activity “is far from improbable”, the Strasbourg court considered, expressing its astonishment a the paucity of research into eventual “political motivations” or others linked with the work as a journalist of Kutlu Adali, the author of very critical articles about the Turkish government and the TRNC authorities. The Court regretted that complementary investigations, which could have helped elucidate the murder, were only carried out after his wife petitioned had to the Strasbourg Court.
It thus concluded there was violation of Article 2 regarding “the lack of effective enquiry into the murder” and of Article 13 (the right to effective recourse), since the widow had been unable to initiate any action for damages. Furthermore Turkey was found guilty of violation of freedom of assembly as the widow was refused authorisation to go to the South of the island to take part in a bi-communal meeting. The Court granted Ilkay Adali, wife of Kutlu Adali, killed by a bullet in front of his home in 1996, the sum of 20,000 euros damages and 75,000 euros costs and expenses.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when the Turkish Army invaded the Northern third of the island in reaction to an (unsuccessful) coup d’état by ultra-nationalist Greek Cypriots, backed by the colonels junta in Athens, who wanted to unite Cyprus with Greece.
On 31 March, the Association for Human Rights in Syria (AHRS) welcomed the release, by the Syrian authorities the day before, of 312 Kurdish prisoners and called for the freeing of all political detainees in the country. “The AHRS appreciates the gesture and calls on the Syrian authorities to free all detainees, political or of conscience, some of whom have been in prison for over twenty years” said the association’s communiqué. The movement also called for “the annulment of all the verdicts made by Special Courts in Syria, including those against people in exile”.
On 30 March, Syrian President Bachar al-Assad pardoned “all the 312Kurdish prisoners who had been involved in the Qamichlo disturbances in March 2004” reported the official news agency Sana. From12 to 17 March 2004 there were clashes between Kurds and police forces or Arab tribes at Qamichlo, near Aleppo, causing 40 deaths according to Kurdish sources but only 25 according to the Syrian authorities. Aziz Daoud, General Secretary of the Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party — banned but tolerated — described this measure as “positive” and giving hope that it would be followed by “other similar measures, including all the prisoners of opinion” in Syria.
Similarly, the Syrian Human Rights lawyer Anouar Bounni welcomed the presidential pardon, considering it as “a step towards a settlement of the Kurdish problem”. Mr. Bounni called for “the freeing of all political detainees” and asked the Syrian authorities to “take measures to settle the question of those Kurds whose nationality had been withdrawn”. He also denounced the arrest of over forty Kurds, including seven women, the day after the Newroz festival, the Kurdish New Year celebrated on 21 March.
For its part, the Syrian Organisation for Human Rights (SOHR), in a communiqué, described the freeing of the Kurds as a “positive step”. It asked the Syrian authorities to “decree a general amnesty covering all detainees, political or of conscience (…) so as to consolidate national unity”. The SOHR, Presided by Abdel Karim Rihaoui, consists of a group of Syrian intellectuals, including Sadel Jalal Al-Azem, Tayeb Tizini and Mohammad Charhrour. The SOHR, formed in September 2004, published its first communiqué on 16 March. It has still not obtained official authorisation.
On 5 March, in a communiqué distributed in Damascus, some Kurdish parties had denounced the “chauvinist” policy of Syria regarding its Kurdish population and called on the authorities for a dialogue. “On the occasion of the first anniversary of the bloody events that occurred in the different Kurdish regions, in Damascus and Aleppo (…) we denounce the policy of discrimination practiced by the authorities towards some Kurdish citizens” of Syria affirmed several Kurdish parties. The communiqué, signed by several parties, including the Kurdish Progressive Party in Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Alliance in Syria and the Kurdish Democratic Front in Syria called on “the Syrian democratic forces to a peaceful rally on 12 March next and to consider this date as a day of patriotic and national mourning (…) to denounce the chauvinist practices used by the authorities during those painful events”. “The Kurdish people of Syria is determined to face up to attempts to erase its existence and deny its historic role and calls upon the authorities to assume their responsibilities by responding to the calls for dialogue issued by the Kurdish national movement” the communiqué added.
According to different estimates by Human Rights groups, there are still some 1500 to 2,000 political prisoners in Syria. On 17 March the Association for Human Rights in Syria (AHRS) announced the release of four Syrians accused of being close to the islamist movements and who had been arrested in the company of 31 others in July 2004. About 800 citizens close to the islamist trend are still detained in Syria, according to the Association.
Furthermore, on 15 March the Syrian authorities informed the correspondent of the American Arabic language television, Al-Hurra that he was forbidden to work in Syria. The Ministry of Information confirmed this decision, announced by Anouar Bounni and hitting Ammar Moussareh, a journalist who also works for the American Arabic language radio Sawa that broadcasts from the United Arab Emirates. “We have no hostile position to the Al-Hurra network and to Sawa Radio, but their correspondent does not have official accreditation”, explained a source at the Ministry of Information. Mr. Bounni stated in a communiqué that the journalist did have accreditation that had been withdrawn from him “because of his covering a sit-in of opponents” to Damascus. On 10 March, some opponents and Human Rights activists took part in a sit-in in front of the Central Courts in Damascus to demand the “abrogation of the State of Emergency and the Special Courts”.
Al-Hurra (“free” in Arabic) was started in 2004 to improve America’s image and offset in influence of the two very popular networks in the region, Al-Jazira of Qatar and its competitor Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai. Sawa Radio (“together” in Arabic) began broadcasting in 2002. Both are financed by the US Congress and are managed by the American Broadcasting Bureau (BBG).
Iran and the European Union (EU) will resume negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme on 10 April, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) announced on 30 March. Mohammad Saaidi, Assistant Director of the AEOI, quoted by the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), indicated that the Iranian delegation would meet representatives of Great Britain, France and Germany in Geneva to discuss new proposals presented by Iran. The Iran-EU negotiations have been under way since 23 march, the two parties making efforts to reach a consensus on the problem of uranium enrichment in Iran. It is up to Teheran to decide whether or not to continue negotiations, added Mr. Saaidi.
On the same day, the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, inspected two major nuclear installations in the centre of the country to demonstrate the country’s determination and ability to pursue its efforts to acquire nuclear technology. “Despite pressures from all sides to deprive it of nuclear technology, the Islamic Republic is on the point of producing (nuclear) fuel”, declared Mr. Khatami after his visit to the two centres. He affirmed that in its negotiations with Great Britain, France and Germany, Iran had proposed to limit uranium enrichment in the context of a “pilot phase”, but “we are certainly going to continue enrichment”.
Teheran insists that the sole aim of its nuclear programme is to produce electricity, but the United States affirms that if Iran continues to enrich uranium at any scale whatsoever, it will end up by being capable of equipping itself with an atomic bomb. Iran froze its enrichment activity pending the result of negotiations with the three European states that offered it, if it abandoned enrichment, cooperation in the areas of trade, technology and security. “We will not abandon nuclear activity for any recompense”, stated Mr. Khatami, considering it “intolerable that hundreds of young scientists who have made sacrifices for this technology should abandon their work for a long period”.
It was after the broadcasting of satellite photos of this plant by US television in December 2002 as well as another not far away at Arak, that the international community became aware of this programmes state of advance. Teheran refuses to renounce enrichment definitely and finally, arguing that the Non-Proliferation Treaty authorises it to produce fuel for its nuclear power stations.
Furthermore, on 10 March, the Pakistani government recognised, for the first time, that the Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear programme, “delivered centrifuges to Iran” while stressing that Islamabad was not involved in this transfer of technology.
On another level, Iran is stocking up thousands of high technology weapons and other military equipment, bought thanks to a UN programme of struggle against drug smuggling, according to an internal UN document dated 25 March. In February, Iran received a delivery of hundreds of riffles from an Austrian company, intended for elite sharpshooters, which were capable of piercing armour plate. Wolfgang Fuerlinger, director of Steyr Mannlicher GmbH, who signed the contract for 2,000 rifles with Iran declared that officials of the US Embassy expressed fears about the use of these weapons, evoking the danger that they might fall into the hands of Iraqi insurgents.
The Austrian government approved this sale in November 2004, after deciding that this arms cargo could be used against drug smugglers in Iran. Other European countries have signed similar arms sales contracts with Iran, when they were convinced that Iran would use them for fighting drug smuggling on its own soil, pointed out the Austrian official, off the record.
According to an internal document of the UN programme of struggle against drug smuggling, France and Great Britain have thus supplied Iran with night vision binoculars, GPS systems, computers and bullet-proof equipment to fight drug smuggling in the country.
Iranian officials have confirmed the delivery of this equipment. A diplomat closely concerned with the case considered that there had “probably been hundreds” such deliveries. In London, the Foreign Office confirmed the despatch of 250 night vision binoculars, approved by the British government two years ago for Iranian patrols along the long Afghan border.
Teheran is also, thanks to UN funds, acquiring a satellite network, which it says it needs to track down drug smugglers. Washington, however, fears it might be used to spy on Americans in Iraq or in Afghanistan or even US Army reconnaissance missions on Iranian soil …
Moreover, Austrian officials with access to secret service information who wish to remain anonymous have declared that Iranian diplomats in European capitals are routinely signing weapons purchasing contracts.
A major part of the military equipment being acquired by Iran is hard to hide. The American authorities and NGOs have detailed information about the tank and missile purchases in Byelorussia and China or of helicopters and artillery in Russia. Other weapons may be smuggled into Iran and their presence only discovered by accident, like a cargo of 12 cruise missiles with nuclear capacity, delivered by a Ukrainian arms smuggler to Iran four years ago that was only recently revealed by leaders of the Ukrainian opposition.
Iran says it needs a satellite system and high tech weapons bought on the European market, such as night vision binoculars and advanced communication equipment in the context of the UN programme against drug smuggling in the region, in particular that coming from Afghanistan.
The Swiss Federal Councillor, Micheline Calmy-Rey, started a three-day visit to Turkey this month. On her arrival on 29 March, she was met by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and by Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
The Swiss Minister called on Turkey to undertake a deep-searching historical work on the Armenian genocide perpetrated by that country during the First World War. “We think that it is essential that every country carry out deep-searching study of its own past, particularly regarding such a painful subject” declared Mrs. Calmy-Rey to the press in Ankara after meeting her Turkish opposite number Abdullah Gul. An official visit was due to take place in 2003 but was cancelled after a vote by the national Council, the lower house of the Swiss parliament, recognising the genocide of the Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. Mr. Gul, for his part, repeated that the accusation of genocide by the Armenian diaspora was “unacceptable” for Turkey, while recognising that this question “poisons our relations with other countries”.
Mrs. Calmy-Rey welcomed as a “good idea” Ankara’s recent proposal to commission historians for a deep study of this question. She pointed out her proposal to Mr. Gul to have international experts take part to make this work more credible.
On the second day or her journey to Turkey, Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Diyarbekir. There she met local authorities and representatives of NGOs. The Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (DFAE) supports four NGOs in this region. It devotes 3.7 million Swiss franks (SF) spread over several years to them. These organisations are principally active in the areas of domestic violence, women’s education or the ill treatment of children. Mrs. Calmy-Rey visited one of them, KA-MER, which struggles against violence against women. Berne supported it with 38,000 SF in 2004 according to the DFAE. In the course of an interview that appeared on 29 March in the Turkish paper Turkiye, the Federal Councillor had indicated that she wanted to see for herself “living conditions on the spot”. “Turkey does not just consist of Istanbul or Ankara”, she added. Mrs. Calmy-Rey thus argued for observance of women’s rights and those of minorities. The Swiss Foreign Minister recognised that the application of the reforms in this area still leave a lot to be desired. “Over the last few years the Turkish government has made considerable efforts and passed a number of reforms, particularly in the areas of human rights” remarked the Swiss foreign minister after having met with officials of a local NGO, KA-MER. But “I hear from all sides that they actual application is not taking place smoothly”, she stressed. Mrs. Calmy-Rey added that applying these new laws could well take time, since “attitudes will have to change”. She hoped for “the extension and consolidation” of reforms, particularly in the areas of freedom of expression and women’s rights.
Moreover, “as a Swiss woman, born in a multicultural and multilingual country” she said she was particularly interested in the rights of minorities. In Switzerland, “experience has shown us that it is essential for national cohesion that the minorities have the means of defending their cultural rights”, she pointed out. She insisted on the progress achieved in the areas of education and the media. The Foreign Minister thus judged as positive the fact that Televisions could broadcast in several languages and that education could be given in Kurdish.
However, in contradiction to these remarks, only a single private school gives Kurdish language courses in Diyarbekir, local journalists pointed out. Similarly only one private TV network, Gün-TV offers programmes in this language, and that only for the last year. Before that, it could not even broadcast music or advertising in Kurdish. As for the public television, it only offers two and a half hours a week in Kurdish. And these are devoted to the previous weeks national news, translated into Kurdish.
On her arrival in Diyarbekir, Micheline Calmy-Rey paid a courtesy visit to the local governor, Efkon Ala. She then met Osman Baydemir, the mayor of that city of a million inhabitants, and members of the moderate Kurdish DEHAP party. After having talked to the two local leaders, she said she “saw clearly the necessity to act” in favour of economic development of this poor and rural region. This zone “has an important economic back log to fill” she considered.
This part of her visit had caused irritation in Ankara during the planning of the Minister’s previous journey in 2003. Shortly after the Turkish authorities had accused Mrs. Calmy-Rey of partiality towards the Kurdish cause because she had talked to a representative of that community during a conference in Lausanne. In 1993, relations between Berne and Ankara had experienced their first cold spell, when a Kurdish demonstrator was shot down in front of the Turkish embassy in Berne. The day before he had asked that the Kurdistan workers Party (PKK) be listed as a terrorist organisation in Switzerland and was refused. Switzerland does not list any organisation as terrorist except for al-Qaida, which is so listed by the United Nations, according to Mrs. Calmy-Rey’s diplomatic advisor, Roberto Balzaretti.
Finally, on the last day or her visit, Federal Councillor Micheline Calmy-Rey took advantage of her trip to Turkey to look after Swiss trade relations. She spoke before the Switzerland-Turkey Chamber of Commerce in Istanbul. Turkey, Switzerland’s principal trade partner in the Middle East, represents an important outlet for Swiss exports. In 2004, they reached 1.9 billion SF — a 17% increase on the year before. Switzerland is Turkey’s fourth largest supplier. The trade balance is slightly in Ankara’s favour. Swiss investments, for their part, reached 1.1 billion SF in 2003 an increase of 84 million over the year before, according to the Swiss National Bank. Switzerland ranks sixth amongst foreign investors in Turkey.
Furthermore, the Swiss Federal Council decided on 23 March that export requests for war material to Turkey will again be treated by normal authorisation procedures. Following the warlike conditions in the Kurdish provinces, the Federal Council had decided in 1992 that any demands for the export of war material to Turkey should be submitted to it for vetting. Since then, only a few exports of arms intended for private individuals and used for personal defence or target shooting sports have been authorised. Gradually a number of EU countries have lifted their restrictions on the delivery of war material to Turkey. They thus authorised, in 2003, arms exports arms exports to Turkey amounting to some 780 million euros. Hence the Federal Council has no longer any reason to maintain the special procedures set up in 1992. Hence it has authorised the State Secretariat for the economy (SECO) to again apply the normal procedure with regard to Turkey. According to the latter, SECO decides on export demands in agreement with the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs.
A local incident, presented in the media as “an outrage to the national symbol”, provoked a vast demonstration of patriotism throughout Turkey, with flag-waving and a rallies. On 20 March, some Kurdish teenagers took it out on the Turkish flag during a rally I n Mersin until a plainclothes policeman intervened. Three of them, aged between 12 and 1 years, were taken into custody and held in the anti-terrorist section of the Turkish police and in all thirty people were arrested in the town. The pictures broadcast by the television networks provoked sporadic demonstrations in reaction, particularly at Erzurum, in which Turkish flags were waved. The press and authorities called it a scandal and a provocation, despite the youth of the suspects.
On 22 March, the Turkish Army sharply attacked the “authors”, considering that their act was “treason”. “The Turkish people (…) has never been confronted with such an act of treason by its own alleged citizens”, stressed a particularly virulent communiqué from the Armed Forces General Staff. “It’s an act of treason”, the statement continued. The Turkish Army also called on all “those who want to test the love of the Armed Forces for their country and their flag to look at the pages of history”. There is a strict law on respect for the flag and any contravention is punishable by a fine or a period in prison. It may not be placed anywhere where people could sit or walk on it. No one may insult, burn tear or throw it in the ground.
The government and the whole political caste, including the principal pro-Kurdish organisation, DEHAP, condemned the event. A fever of nationalism swept the country and the national symbol became omnipresent in the streets. Thousands of flags were freely distributed in the streets and the television channels all put the flag as a vignette in the corner of the screens. Balconies, terraces, municipal buses, taxis and shops were decorated with the national symbol. Istanbul’s historic Grand Bazaar, a tourist highlight was not spared.
Some journalists however, launched appeals to the population to show some restraint so as to avoid the possibility of incidents between Kurds and Turks, but nationalist touchiness is always near the surface. Some analysts are worried about this situation in a country that is due to start negotiations in October for membership of the European Union “There is a feeling of “I’ve had enough” in the population that defines its national identity as Turkish” regarding the aspirations of the Kurds, considered an editorial writer in the daily Radikal. She states that an anti-Kurdish “racism” is resurging in Turkey and that it must henceforth be discussed openly to remedy it.
The Kurds, who are between 15 and 18 million strong in Turkey, take advantage of Newroz, their traditional New Year that announces the beginning of spring, to claim their rights. About a million people took part in the festivities this year in the various Kurdish provinces and the Turkish cities with a large Kurdish population. In Diyarbekir, 700,000 gathered to celebrate Newroz, which, in the past, has been a source of tension and bloody clashes with the Turkish police. Kurdish leaders who took part in the celebrations in Diyarbekir urged Ankara to extend Kurdish rights and put an end to the conflict that has caused some 36,500 deaths. “We do not expect a solution from the European Union, nor from the United States but from those who govern Turkey”, declared Tuncer Bakirhan, President of the People’s Democratic Party (DEHAP). “If you decide, the Kurdish people is ready with its projects and the problems can be solved in three months” he added.
A large police presence — 4,000 strong according to CNN-Turk television Ø was deployed in Diyarbekir to ensure that the celebrations went off smoothly. The City’s exhibition park was full of men and women dancing and singing around bonfires. For many years the Turkish authorities banned Newroz celebrations, which are also celebrated in Iran, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
In Istanbul, a crowd of men and women took part in this demonstration closely watched by hundreds of police and gendarmes in full riot gear. The crowds began to gather as from the early hours of 20 March, in a square of a suburb of this metropolis, for this ancient festival to celebrate the Spring Equinox, which goes back to Zoroastrian times or earlier. Folk songs were sung, and circles formed round a bonfire over which the demonstrators jumped.
For the first time in American history, the US President G.W. Bush sent his greetings for the Newroz festival. “Newroz marks the arrival of the New Year and the celebration of life. For a long time it has been an occasion for a family gathering with some friends and to enjoy the beauty of nature”, wrote Mr. Bush in a communiqué. “Many Americans whose origins are in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey of Central Asia celebrate this festival to preserve their ancient heritage and to ensure that their values and traditions are passed down through the generations” he added.
Newroz was celebrated by various events in all the Kurdish communities of Europe and the Near East, including France, where François Hollande, First Secretary of the Socialist Party, sent a message to the Kurds.
Seventeen years after the murderous gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, a Dutchman, Frans van Anraat, accused of complicity of genocide for having supplied chemical products to Saddam Hussein, appeared in court on 18 March to answer for his crimes. Frans van Anraat, a 62-year-old trader, is the first Dutchman accused of genocide, the most serious crime in international law. He was arrested on 7 December in Holland, as he was about to flee. His lawyers state that he was protected by the Ministry of the Interior and the Dutch Intelligence Services (AIVD). If found guilty of complicity with genocide and war crimes, he faces a life sentence.
The hearing, which took place before The Hague Court, met exceptionally in a high security courtroom in Rotterdam, was concerned with establishing the evidence collected in the enquiry. The trial itself is not due to start until 21 November. “There is sufficient evidence to show that van Anraat was fully aware of the fact that the ingredients he was supplying) to the Saddam Hussein regime) were being used for chemical attacks” stressed the Public Prosecutor, Fred Teeven.
Apart from the Halabja attack, which caused 5,000 deaths in one day, the prosecutor accuses him of complicity in several gas attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan, but also in Iran, in the town of Sardasht, in 1987 and 1988. Dozens of Iraqi, Turkish or Iranian Kurds made the journey to attend this first hearing. Four Kurds residing in Holland came forward as victims of Saddam chemical weapons and associated themselves with the prosecution, each claiming 10,000 euros damages. “For me, van Anraat’s arrest is nearly as important as that of Saddam Hussein” one of these survivors, Karwan Abdullah admitted. His village, Shanagse, suffered a gas attack on 22 March 1988. Mr. Abdullah still suffers from lesions of the eyes and skin. “If van Anraat hadn’t delivered those chemical products, Saddam Hussein would not have been able to go as far as he did against the Kurdish people” he added. “We are here to see this fellow who did so much harm to our people” declared Sherzad Rozbayani, a Kurd from Iraq now living in Holland and a member of the Union of Kurdish Students. “He helped Saddam to secure arms to kill the Kurds” he added. “It is not just the trial of a single person but also of the responsibility of the Dutch State, because van Anraat worked with the AIVD” explained, for his part, a Kurd from Turkey.
The businessman, who has not spoken himself during the hearing, does no deny the sale of these chemical products but insists that he did not know their final use. “It was simply a side line, not the heart of my business”, he had stated in the Dutch television broadcast that made his case publicly known. The Prosecutor cast doubt on these arguments by stating that Mr. van Anraat had “continued delivering these products even after the Halabja attack”.
According to the prosecution, the businessman was at the head of eleven companies, based on different countries, which supplied ingredients, coming from the United States and Japan, which went into the making of mustard gas. Targeted by an American enquiry, Mr. van Anraat was arrested in Italy in 1989 but escaped to Iraq where he remained till the American-led coalition attack in 2003, at which date he sought refuge in Holland. According to the prosecution, the US customs opened an enquiry on Mr. van Anraat several years ago. The United States concluded that he was implicated in the supply of four deliveries of thiodiglycol, a basic chemical in the production of mustard gas, from the United States to Europe. For unexplained reasons, the US withdrew their demand for the trader’s extradition in the year 2000. Consequently the Dutch authorities, who were aware of his presence in the kingdom ever since 2003, had no legal grounds for arresting him. It required the charges of genocide and war crimes for them to act.
According to several Dutch media, Frans van Anraat lived for a while, after his flight from Iraq, in accommodation provided by the Dutch government to protect certain people. The Minister of the Interior, Johan Remkes, has refused to comment on this information, arguing that any indications regarding these “safe houses” were confidential. On 27 December last, the Hague Court of Appeal ordered Mr. van Anraat’s release, without giving any grounds for this decision, thereby strengthening speculations on the links between the accused and the AVID. The prosecutor had appealed against this decision and the release was quashed on 2 February.
His lawyer, Jan Willem van Schalk, insisted that the Minister of the Interior and the AVID had protected him, providing accommodation and a mobile phone, on his arrival from Iraq in 2003. He stated that these services had encouraged him to grant the television interview that had started the enquiry on 6 November 2003.
At the end of the hearing, the judges rejected a demand for release on bail, a decision greeted with loud applause from the public benches. A further technical hearing is due on 10 June.
On 16 March 1988, in the middle of the war against Iran, Saddam Hussein’s armed forces spread military type gases on Halabja, 250 Km North of Baghdad and 11 Km from the Iranian border, the day after the town was taken by fighters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, at that time supported by Teheran. The artillery and Air Force began by bombing this large rural township of over 40,000 inhabitants. The fighters and most of the men retreated to the hills around, leaving the old and the women and children in the town when, soon after noon, the planes dropped chemical bombs.
The Iraqi forces were under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid, the first cousin of dictator Saddam Hussein, since then nicknamed “Chemical Ali”. Arrested by the coalition forces on 21 August 2003, he is one of the 11 former leaders of the overthrown regime being tried by the Iraqi Special Court on capital charges.
There were about 5,000 killed, 75% of whom were women and children, and some 7,000 injured according to the assessment made by the Kurdish authorities. According to experts, this was the biggest ever attack with war gasses against civilians. The massacre was rapidly known because the fighters, coming down from the hills sounded the alarm and foreign journalists rapidly came to the scene and filmed and photographed the dozens of Kurds lying lifeless in front of their houses, fallen trying to flee, often with their respiratory tracts full of blood.
The experts consider that the planes had dropped a range of different chemicals, including mustard gas, tear gas and Agent VX, which is a nerve gas. Iraq, at that time was being supplied and armed by the Western powers, in particular France, the United States and Great Britain. Even today, people affected are dying of cancer and leukaemia, are suffering from asthma or sterility and women are having premature or abortive births. Mustard gas affects the genes and its effects can still be felt for several generations, according to doctors.
In 1998 the US State Department, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the attack on Halabja stated that the massacre “was not the only time that the Baghdad regime used chemical weapons. It is estimated that 20,000 Iranian soldiers were killed by this sort of attack between 1983 and 88, during the war”. Giving evidence before the US Senate, Christine Gosden, a specialist in genetic medicine from Liverpool (UK) who visited Halabja in 1998, revealed that the number of cancers and leukaemia cases were three to four times the average as well as the number of deformities amongst new born babies. “The genetic mutations and cancers amongst this population are comparable with those amongst the victims of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki who were one or two km from point zero” she said.
• A CALL FOR AN AUTONOMOUS SHIITE REGION IN IRAQ. On 10 March, an Iraqi tribal chief and member of parliament, Abdel Karim al-Mohammadawi issued a call for the setting up of an autonomous Shiite region in the South, following the example of Iraqi Kurdistan. “An autonomous Shiite region must be recognised in the next Constitution” declared Mr. Mohammadawi, elected on the Shiite list that has a majority in the new Parliament and nicknamed “prince of the marshes” because of his opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime in the marshy region of South-East Iraq. He launched this call during a meeting of co-ordination at Nassiriyah, 375 Km Southeast of Baghdad, assembling political and religious public figures of the Shiite South and central provinces. “Such a zone would give the Shiites the possibility f organising themselves better and of enjoying the natural resources of the country that must be better shared” he added with reference to the oil riches of the South.
Mr. Mohammadawi, who leads the Iraqi Hezbollah, withdrew from the Shiite parliamentary group on 4 March in protest at the slowness of the negotiations for forming the executive. The meeting only brought together representatives of the Southern provinces of Zi Qar, of which Nassiriyah is the capital, Missane and Basra.
On 6 December, 600 representatives and public figures of five Shiite provinces of the Centre of Iraq had announced their intention of forming joint institutions, laying the foundations of an autonomous region comparable to that of the Kurds. After a congress of several hours in the holy city of Najaf, South of Baghdad, those taking part had indicated the intention of setting up a security commission for these provinces. They had also decided to create a regional Council charged with the task of reviving economic activity in this relatively disadvantaged region that is the heartland of Shiite Iraq.
The Fundamental Law, or provisional Constitution, recognises the federal character of Iraq, in which the majority of the Kurdish population lives in three Kurdish provinces that already enjoy a wide degree of autonomy. Article 53 states that a maximum of three provinces can form an autonomous region.
• THE NEW TURKISH PENAL CODE POSTPONED TO 1 JUNE AFTER THE STORM OF PROTEST FROM JOURNALISTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS ATTACKING THE PENALTIES IT PROVIDES FOR THOSE WHO “INSULT” THE STATE. On 31 March the Turkish parliament adopted a law postponing the entering into effect of the new “pro-European” Penal Code till 1 June (originally planned for 1 April) but the government insists that this is for purely technical reasons. The reason put forward by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in office, is that certain articles could, amongst other, create failings in the struggle against smuggling.
The reform, that profoundly alters the 78-year-old Penal Code, borrowed from Fascist Italy, was adopted in September 2004 so as to align the country on the standards of the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join. It was welcomed mainly for strengthening penalties against people guilty of violations of human rights and for measures improving women’s rights. It had been considered the last major modification of Turkish legislation needed for Turkey to secure a date for stating negotiations for membership of the E.U. These negotiations are due to begin on 3 October next, in line with the decision taken at the European summit in December 2004.
The part of the new Penal Code that aroused the storm of protest amongst journalists and human rights defenders it that which provides prison sentences for those who “insult” the Turkish state, publish confidential information and keep silent about cases of rape and euthanasia. The new code could result in “a number of arbitrary legal proceedings (…) and fill the prisons with journalists” stated several press groups in a letter sent to the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 16 March. “The major media groups were bewitched by the campaign to join the E.U. and did not see, or want to see, the dangers in this law” stated Oral Calislar, a leading member of the Turkish Journalists Association. Recent attacks on the press by Prime Minister Erdogan, however, have led the journalists to examine more closely the new code. “The Musa Kart incident was the spark that inflamed suspicions”, declared Mr. Calislar, with reference to a caricaturist sued by Mr. Erdogan for having draw the Prime Minster as a cat entangled in a ball of wool.
An article provides for up to 15 years imprisonment for persons who spread, through media and in exchange for any material benefits coming from abroad, any propaganda running counter to “fundamental national interests”. This article in particular is sowing anxiety — explanatory notes attached to the Bill reveal that it could be aimed at those who ague in favour of the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Northern Cyprus or favour recognition of the genocidal character of the massacres perpetrated on the Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Empire. “What would happen, for example, to an institution that receives E.U. funds and criticises Turkey’s Cyprus policy?” asked Mr. Calislar. Adem Sozuer, a jurist who had taken art in the drafting of the Penal Code, recognised that certain measures should be amended, but maintained that the document guaranteed freedom of the press and opinion. The government has rejected the possibility of suspending the application of the new penal code, considering that amendments could be adopted later if serious problems arose in practice. “I do not think that the journalists’ suspicions will be confirmed once the law has come into force”, declared Koksal Toptan, head of the parliamentary legal commission. According to experts, the measures regarding the media contain sufficiently vague terms to enable judges or prosecutors arbitrarily to start proceedings and to re-introduce prison sentences for journalists, writers and intellectuals, although abolished by an earlier reform. Hundreds of journalists, writers and intellectuals have been jailed in Turkey for having expressed their opinions.
Even if it is not openly raised by members of the government, the vast campaign led by the media would have an effect on the government’s decision. Abdullah Gul, for his part, wanting to reassure the E.U., indicated that this postponement was “purely for technical reasons”. “There is no question of not honouring our commitments (towards the E.U.). We are pursuing the reform process”, he stressed to a group of journalists.
The Minister of Justice, Cemil Cisek, was opposed to the postponement, considering that a fresh delay would change nothing. “Everyone, including the press, has had time to think about the code”, he said in the NTV private network. “It would be a waste of time”.
• A WOMAN CORRESPONDENT OF AN AUSTRIAN RADIO, WHO HAS BEEN IN DETENTION FOR A MONTH AND A HALF, RELEASED ON BAIL BY A TURKISH COURT. On 30 March, a Turkish Court released on bail an Austrian woman accused of being a member of an illegal extreme left Turkish group, pending her trial. Sanda Bakutz, correspondent of the Austrian radio Orange 94.0 and of the German weekly Junge Welt, had been arrested by the police on 10 February on her arrival in Turkey. She had gone to Istanbul to cover the trial of 82 activists arrested last year in the context of an international police operation against the People’s Revolutionary Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). This extreme left movement is classed by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organisation.
Mrs. Bakutz had been locked up the next day on the basis of a warrant for her arrest issued by an Ankara court in 2000. The warrant was based on information by a Turkish paper, which had reported that the journalist had helped a group of DHKP-C activists during a demonstration in Brussels against the visit of the former Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.
The journalist was released during her first hearing. The trial was adjourned till 1 June, declared one of the lawyers, Behic Asci. “We are insisting on her acquittal. The evidence against her is really extremely weak”, he added. Sandra Bakutz should be able to return home in the course of the week, according to the lawyer.
The journalist denied belonging to DHKP-C and denied having played any role whatsoever in the demonstration against the Turkish Minister. She pointed out that she was a human rights activist and had supported the campaign against the conditions of detention in Turkish prisons, which this movement had supported.
Reporters sans Frontières expressed its relief at the decision to release her on bail. “We are glad at this decision, but expect of the Turkish authorities that they continue this route by abandoning all charges against this young Austrian journalist. She has already served enough days in prison for nothing. This release must not just be on bail but final, because the Turkish authorities have been unable to show Sandra Bakutz’s responsibility for any of the things with which she has been charged” declared the organisation. According to Reporters sans Frontières she still faces the danger of a 10 to 15 year sentence.
• NEW FOREIGN ACQUISITIONS OF TV NETWORKS AND REAL ESTATE BLOCKED IN TURKEY. On 31 March, the Turkish President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, vetoed a law authorising the complete sale of a private TV network to foreign investors, considering that this would be contrary to “national interests”, his press service announced.
The law, passed by the National Assembly on 16 March, amended an earlier law stipulating that foreign companies could only own 25% of the shares in a television network. By the new law, foreign companies could own all the shares of a TV network. “This situation is incompatible with national and public interests”, the Head of State considered in a twelve page statement detailing his opposition to this law proposed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in office.
During the debate on the Bill, some of the AKP members of parliament had voted against it, arguing that the acquisition of the totality of the shares of a TV network by one or more foreign companies could cause problems.
The government pushed this law through mainly to enable the sale of the Star network, which belonged to the Uzan family, which was involved in a major financial scandal. This network, which has a national coverage, is today under State stewardship. Magic Box, renamed Star, had been the first Turkish private network.
The President of the Republic can only veto a law that has been presented to him once. If Parliament then passes the law again in the same terms, Mr. Sezer will then be obliged to sign it though he may submit the case to the Constitutional Court
Moreover, on 14 March, the Vice-President of the Constitutional Court annulled measures in a law allowing foreigners to acquire land and buildings in Turkey. The Court judged unsatisfactory the restrictions and guarantees provided by the law, which was adopted by parliament in July 2003, he declared to journalists.
The principal opposition party in the Turkish Assembly, the Republican People’s Party (CHP — social democratic) had referred the case to the Constitutional Court, demanding cancellation of certain measures that provided, in particular, that foreign individuals or firms could buy property in Turkey, that aspires to join the European Union.
The legislation will remain in force for three months, giving the members of parliament time to adopt new measures to fill the “legal vacuum” due to transactions in process, stressed Mr. Kilic. He affirmed that the decision of the Court did not mean that “strangers cannot buy anything in Turkey”.
The Turkish press had highlighted the increase in the number of foreigners buying land or houses in Turkey. Information about Israeli companies buying property, particularly in the water-rich Kurdish provinces, had provoked sharp reaction in nationalist circles.
• IRAQ GOES BACK ON ITS ADHERENCE TO THE ROME TREATY SETTING UP THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (ICC). On 3 March the public television announced that the Iraqi government had gone back on its decision, announced on 17 February, to adhere to the Rome treaty setting up the International Criminal Court (ICC). The latte r did not explain this about turn. In a brief news item, the Channel indicated that the Council of Ministers, presided by the outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, had decided to “annul its decision to adhere to the Rome treaty”.
In a legal decree published on 17 February, the government had announced Iraq’s adherence to this treaty, stressing that the measures of this treaty “represent the common values of humanity as a whole”. The ICC is the first permanent Court charged with the curbing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide throughout the world. Although Iraq has not ratified the Rome statutes, which seal its recognition of the ICC’s jurisdiction, the Court’s statutes allow it, like all the countries that have not ratified the treaty, to submit cases to the Court.
The Rome Treaty allows signatory States themselves to start legal proceedings against people involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity. Iraq is preparing the trial of Saddam Hussein and eleven former senior leaders of the old regime in detention, on charges of crimes against humanity. The United States has been waging a vast diplomatic campaign for the last two years to shield its citizens, and particularly its soldiers engaged in operations overseas, from the eventuality of any possible charges before the ICC. It has signed bilateral agreements in this sense with about a hundred countries.