On 8 May, several months behind its initial timetable, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the Iraqi Parliament, invested six Ministers of the new government to those positions hitherto vacant. A notable fact — four Sunni Arabs politicians are among the new Ministers. In a formal vote, 112 of the 155 members of Parliament present approved the nominations submitted to them by Mr. Jaafari, including those of Shiite Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, as head of the Oil Ministry and of the Sunni Arab Saadun al-Duleimi to the Defence.
No sooner appointed, however, than Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shibli, a Sunni Arab, refused the portfolio of Human Rights Minister. Mr. Shibli explained that he did not want to be chosen solely because of his religion. “Focusing solely on religious identity leads to divisions within society and the State. It is for this reason that I respectfully decline this portfolio”, he declared. He was one of the four Sunni Arabs put forward by Mr. Jaafari, bringing the total number of Sunni Arab ministers to seven. Of the 37 Ministers, there remain now only the Human Rights portfolio and a fourth Deputy Prime Minister to be appointed. Mr. Jaafari expressed the hope that the latter would be a woman.
Furthermore, the members of Ibrahim AL-Jaafari’s government, in taking their oath of office on the occasion of the second meeting of the Council of Ministers, used a new modified oath that mentions a “federal Iraq”. Mr. Jaafari was the first to take part in the ceremony, by swearing the oath with one hand on the Qoran, followed by the other members of his cabinet present. Mrs. Bassema Yussef Boutros, the only Christian Minister, who is responsible for Science and Technology, took the other on a copy of the Bible. “I swear by God, to preserve the independence of Iraq, its sovereignty, to defend the interests of its people, of its waters and natural resources and of its democratic and federal system, and to carry out the law with sincerity and impartiality”, declared each of the members of the Cabinet.
The reference to the democratic and federal system had been dropped in the version used by the members of the still in complete government on 3 May. The Kurdish leader, Massud Barzani, had protested, on 6 May, at the dropping of the mention of the term “federal Iraq” in the oath sworn by the members of the government. “Suppressing mention of a federal Iraq is a violation of the law and a serious threat to our alliance”, (with the list supported by the Shiite clergy) he had declared. “I hope it was not deliberate and I would like to see it restored as soon as possible”, added the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, allied with President Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and with the Shiite Iraqi Unified Alliance list. He called on the Kurds in the National Assembly to “raise the question and find a solution to it”.
During the 4 Mai Parliamentary sitting, Fuad Massum, former Kurdish Prime Minister and PUK Member of the Baghdad Parliament had protested at the dropping of this clause, while the Kurds running the autonomous Kurdish region had always insisted on the federal character of Iraq, which had been written into the interim Constitution.
You will find below that list of Ministers in the transitional Iraqi government, as announced and approved by Parliament on 8 May. It totals 36 Ministers: 18, Shiites, 9 Sunni Arabs, 8 Kurds and one Christian. Seven of these are women.
Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi, a man noted for dialogue and progressive thinking, who defended the Kurdish cause, reported missing since 10 May, died in Damascus Army Hospital as a result of tortures he had suffered, according to the anonymous evidence of a doctor.
A moderate religious public figure, Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi, whose teaching stressed the compatibility of Islam and democracy, enjoyed considerable popularity in Syria, and his influence extended well beyond the Kurdish community. Born into a renowned family of Kurdish theologians, grandson of Sheikh Ahmad Khaznawi, who was particularly famous as the author of a monumental critical edition of the works of the 15th Century Kurdish mystic poet Melayé Ciziri, Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi had passed his secondary school years at Qamichlo, then studied theology in various universities in the Middle East. In 1992, he returned to Syria to take over the function of Imam at Edleb mosque, near Aleppo, then returned to his native region as Imam at Qamichlo. Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi directed the Centre for Islamic Studies at Qamichlo and was assistant director of the same Centre in Damascus. He was also a member of the Jerusalem Foundation in Beirut and of the Committee for dialogue between Moslems and Christians in Damascus. In this capacity he had recently been invited by the Norwegian Foreign Minister to attend a congress on Islam there.
A man for dialogue, Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi was also a man for justice and civic commitment. He regularly expressed his support for the Kurdish cause and denounced the fate of the Kurds who had been deprived of their papers, insisting on the necessity for the Kurdish parties to unite so as to exert a greater influence on the Syrian government.
The news of his kidnapping had aroused a wave of indignation. Defying the ban, some 10,000 Kurds had demonstrated in Qamichlo on 21 May to demand the truth about his fate. The civil rights lawyer, Anouar Bounni, who has defended numerous opponents of the Baathist regime, had declared that he held the authorities “responsible for the life and freedom of Sheikh Khaznawi”.
The death of Sheikh Maachouk Khaznawi is part of the policy of the Syrian government to eliminate independent Kurdish elites. His funeral, celebrated in Qamichlo, was attended by over 100,000 people. There were also demonstrations against the regime where slogans were shouted promising President Assad the same fate as Saddam Hussein.
Furthermore, on 15 May, the State Security Court, a drum head tribunal, sentenced Abdel Rahman Mahmud Ali, a PKK activist, to two years jail on the standard charge of “being member of a secret organisation aiming to annex part of Syrian territory to a foreign country”, according to Mr. Bounni. On the other hand, the court had postponed to 19 June the trial of a young Kurd, Shivan Abdo, arrested over a year ago following the bloody clashes of March 2004. Similarly, the next hearing of the trial of Mahmoud Ali Mohammad, a leader of the Kurdish Yekiti (Unity) Party, arrested over a year ago was also adjourned. “Despite all claims to the contrary, the Syrian authorities continue to repress society and political movements through the security services and the State Security Court, which is an illegal tribunal” Mr. Bounni pointed out. About 300 Syrians, mostly Kurds, gathered before the State Security Court shouting in Kurdish and Arabic “Long Live freedom”, “Freedom, not emergency laws”, “Freedom, we want democracy” and carrying banners demanding “the release of all political detainees”. Several Human Rights activists carried photos of Sheikh Khaznawi.
Many members of Syrian Kurdish parties, that are not legally recognised, have recently been arrested by the police in Syrian Kurdistan, where bloody clashes occurred last year announced, on 12 May, Hassen Saleh, head of the Kurdish Yeiti party on the Arab TV network Al Arabiyah. “This campaign of arrests (…) is taking place despite the Presidential pardon of 30 March, in favour of 312 Kurdish prisoners” arrested after the clashes of March 2004 added the leader of this Syrian Kurdish party. This pardon has not been fully applied “because there remain over 100 Kurds in prison” affirmed Mr. Saleh.
The Kurds in Syria, some 1.5 million people, or about 9% of the country’s population, are essentially settled in the Northern regions, along the Iraqi and Turkish borders. Apart from the recognition of their language and culture, they demand political and administrative rights.
On 4 May, Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schröder left Turkey to return to Berlin after a two-day visit first to Ankara then to Istanbul. Germany, which is the European country in which lives the largest community of Turkish nationality, (2.5 million people, 600,000 of whom are Kurds) is also Turkey’s first economic partner, with a volume of trade of nearly 15 billion euros.
In Ankara, where he arrived on 3 May from Bosnia, Mr. Schröder had discussions with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President of the Republic Ahmet Necdet Sezer on the project of Turkish membership of the European Union.
The German Chancellor urged Turkey to “translate into practice” the reforms adopted to join the E.U., criticising certain deficiencies but saying he was convinced that the timetable for opening negotiations with Ankara would be observed. “The dynamic of reforms must be pursued (…) The amendments to the Constitution and the laws” adopted by the Turkish parliament “must be translated into practice” he declared in Ankara during a joint Press conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr. Schröder excluded any “change in decision” regarding the date for opening discussions on membership with Ankara, set for 3 October 2005 at the last EU summit last December. He also called on Turkey, a country of 71 million inhabitants, 99% Moslem, to broaden the rights of non-Moslems. “I have always worked for the rights of religious minorities. Freedom of worship is a European principle”, he pointed out.
The Chancellor further reminded Ankara of its commitment to signing a protocol extending its customs agreement with the EU to Cyprus, — of which Turkey does not recognise the internationally recognised Greek part — in the absence of which negotiations for membership cannot begin.
But Mr. Erdogan expressed the “deep anxiety and expectations” of his government regarding Germany, whose members of Parliament had, on 21 April, called on Turkey to face up to its past and to the massacres of Armenians in 1915 under the Ottoman Empire. The resolution, proposed by the conservative opposition, did not, however, use the word “genocide” that Turkey categorically rejects.
On this subject, Mr. Schröder welcomed a Turkish initiative of studying these events, which are poisoning relations between Turkey and Armenia, with Armenian historians. He added that Berlin was ready to offer its help to the two countries and to open its own archives.
He then sent on to Istanbul for a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople, the highest religious authority of the Orthodox Church and was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor honoris causa of Marmora University. In a speech made on that occasion, Mr. Schröder declared, with reference to the issues on which Turkey must make greater progress, that “the ill-treatments inflicted by the police and security forces, the restrictions on freedom of expression and discriminations against women are not compatible with our common values”.
Invited to a meeting with Turkish and German businessmen, he evoked the possibility of cooperation in the areas of tourism and agriculture with the Turkish part of Cyprus, militarily occupied by Turkey since 1974. “I am not saying this to play off one party against the other, but to lay the foundations of a new attempt by UNO to reunite the island”, he stressed.
Mr. Schröder and his Social-Democrat/Green coalition, supports Turkey’s joining the EU. But, according to opinion polls, three quarters of the German electors are, today, against full membership of Turkey in the European Union.
In an interview published on 2 May, by the Turkish daily paper Milliyet on the eve of his visit, Gerhard Schröder had stressed that it is “primordial to pursue the path chosen” — “The reforms, in particular in the areas of fundamental freedoms and of human and minority rights, must be applied and it is necessary to ensure that there is no turning back. For this, as Prime Minister Erdogan has said, there must also be a change of attitude. And that will not take place in a single day”. “Negotiations will begin on 3 October. The conditions that Turkey has to fulfil are well known. The negotiations will, undoubtedly be long and hard”, insisted the Chancellor before adding: “the progress achieved by Turkey in the way of reforms will determine, to a considerable extent, the progress it will accomplish in the negotiations”.
Furthermore, the German Minister of the Interior, Otto Schilly, urgently pressed the Turkish authorities to cooperate with Germany on the issue of those holding German and Turkish passports, considering that Ankara should publish the data in its possession. “We demand to be informed” by the Turkish authorities on this subject, Mr. Schilly stressed in an interview with the foreign Press, considering that “a clear agreement with Turkey” had to be found to the question.
To obtain German naturalisation, Turkish nationals must give up their original nationality. However, many of them, after securing German nationality, apply to regain their Turkish nationality. “If they obtain it again, they automatically lose German nationality, even if they are still in possession of a German passport” Mr. Schilly pointed out. “It is a bizarre conception of protecting data” when a country refuses to publish the list of its nationals, he added, “We have no problem about saying who is a German”.
It is estimated that nearly 50,000 Turks, who have become naturalised Germans, have regained their Turkish nationality since the year 2000.
On 24 May, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the appointment of the Turkish Minister for the Economy, Ali Babacan, as chief negotiator in the difficult discussions for Turkey’s membership pf the European Union, which are due to begin on 3 October next. “We have appointed Mr. Ali Babacan as chief negotiator for the discussions with the EU” he indicated in a speech to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). “We will follow the process with our minister (…) This increases his burden but, insh’ Allah, with his youth and dynamism he’ll come through all right” he added. Mr. Babacan, at 38 is the youngest member of the Turkish cabinet. The Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul or his predecessor, Yasar Yakis, a former career diplomat, had been forecast for this position. EU leaders had became increasingly puzzled at Turkey’s leaving this post vacant for five whole months and were questioning Ankara’s real will to conduct negotiations for membership.
Virtually unknown in political and economic circles, this “infant prodigy” had been appointed to take charge of Turkey’s economy after the last general elections in November 2002, which had given a landslide victory to the Justice and Development party, an offshoot of the Islamist movement. Born at Ankara in 1967, Ali Babacan graduated from the prestigious Middle East Technical University (METU) in 1989 as an engineer, passing his exams with without any errors and coming first of all seconds that year. He then continued his studies in the United States, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship. In 1992 he secured a Masters at North Western University and the worked from 1992 to 1994 as consultant for a major private firm of financial consultants in the USA. On returning to Turkey, he went into business ran his family textile business. After the creation of the AKP he took on the post of its co-ordinator in economic affairs and so became part of the party’s resolutely pro-Western and neo-liberal “shop window”. He succeeded in managing the completion of the programme of stand-by credits (negotiated with the IMF in 2001 during the worst economic recession in modern Turkish history). This three-year programme, which has reached its conclusion last February, has recently been replaced by a new 10 billion dollar line of credit.
Mr. Babacan has always limited himself to expressing his views on economic subjects, avoiding “sensitive” issues such as the ban on the Islamic headscarf in Universities and the civil service, although his own wife is veiled.
The Turkish government has gambled its future on European Union membership, an issue that is very popular in the country, where the majority of people make no distinction between future democratisation, economic success and the E.U. Moreover, it is expected that it will be at least a decade before these negotiations bear fruit. For all that, the French NO to the European Constitution is in danger of both bringing grist to the mill of the anti-European forces and providing a cold shower for its enthusiasts in Turkey, where the more nationalist trends are already hesitating about renouncing whole sections of their sovereignty. The Turkish Prime Minister estimated, on 31 May, that the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by France would not have any incidence on his country’s European aspirations and hoped that the European Union would rapidly be able to overcome this crisis. “The result of the referendum in France is not any kind of hindrance to the process of Turkey’s membership”, he stressed before his party’s members of parliament. “Turkey is determined to march forward towards its objective by accomplishing the work incumbent on it (…). It will begin discussions with the European Union on 3 October, let no one think otherwise” he declared.
Furthermore, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, indicated on 31 May that Turkey would “shortly” sign a protocol that extends to the Cyprus Republic the Customs Union agreements that link Ankara with the E.U. Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cypriot) and the Turkish leaders have affirmed that Ankara´s signing the protocol does not mean any recognition of that republic. The EU considers that, failing official recognition, this Turkish signature amounts to de facto recognition of the Nicosia government. But Turkey refutes any interpretation of its extension of the protocol as being any sort of recognition, even implicit.
The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, for his part, affirmed on 30 May that France’s rejection of the European Constitution “of course” did not mean any calling into question of negotiations for membership with Turkey.
On 27 May, US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, warned that failure of Turkish integration into the European Union would have serious consequences. Mrs. Rice declared that it was important that Turkey be admitted once it had fulfilled the conditions required by the European Union “because we cannot allow a trench between Turkey and the rest of Europe”. This “could appear like what has been described as a clash of civilisations between Moslem Turkey and Christian Europe. That would be a terrible thing”, she continued.
Furthermore, on 30 May, during a visit to Manama by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Turkey signed a framework agreement for setting up a free trade zone. The document was signed by The Bahraini Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Ben Mubarrak Al-Khalifa, the General Secretary of the GCC, Abderrahman Al-Attiyah, and Mr. Gul. Bahrain holds the Presidency of the GCC at the moment. The agreement provides a context for “negotiations on setting up a free trade zone” between the six Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) and Turkey, declared Mr. Attiyah.
Some 46 people were killed and 94 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack against a police recruitment centre in Irbil on 4 May, the day after the Iraqi government was sworn in. A kamikaze mingled with the police recruits in front of the recruiting centre before activating his belt of explosives, according to Governor Nawzad Hadi and Kurdistan Democratic Party sources.
“This kind of cowardly action will not terrorise us. We commit ourselves to pursuing the struggle against terrorism till it is uprooted” declared Mr. Hadi. Hundreds of local inhabitants rushed to the scene and some expressed their anger at such a barbarous action that had bloodied a city that usually enjoyed a clamed in comparison with the Arab zones. “The assassins and killers want to export their campaign of terror to peaceful Kurdistan”, said a student, Karawan Ahmed, indignantly. The public Television station, Iraqia, interrupted its broadcasts to show the scene of the attack live. Pools of blood were visible in the roadway. The attack was claimed by the Ansar al-Sunna group, linked to the al-Qaeda network, in an Internet communiqué. Prior to this communiqué the LDP security had already accused the Ansar al-Sunna of the attack, which, according to them, was very similar to that of 1 February 2004 that had killed 105 people at the KDP and d PUK offices in Irbil. The Committee of Moslem Ulemas, the principal Sunni religious organisation, condemned the attack and recalled its rejection of attacks on “innocent civilians”. For its part, the Turkish Foreign Ministry pointed out, in a communiqué, that 21 of those wounded in this attack had been transferred to Ankara on a plane chartered by the Turkish government. It added that the offer of help had been sent directly by Abdullah Gul, Turkish Foreign Minister to Massud Barzani, head of the KDP.
Furthermore, thirty-nine people were killed and 25 others wounded in an double suicide bomb attack on 23 May at Tall Afar (North), a mainly Turcoman town about 80 Km West of Mossul. The double attack occurred a few minutes after mortar bomb attacks on tow houses in the Muallimin quarter, mainly inhabited by Shiite Kurds and Turcomen. On 1st may, twenty-five people were killed and over 30 wounded in a suicide bomb attack at Tall Afar. A Kamikaze in a car bomb set off his vehicle just as a number of people were gathered to celebrate the funeral of Taleb Sayyed Wahba, a KDP leader.
Moreover, on 23 May, Muhammed Mahmud Jigareti, a senor official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, escaped from a car bomb attack at Tuz Khurmatu, South of Kirkuk. He escaped safe and sound from the explosion, but five people were killed and 18 others were wounded. Still in Kirkuk, General Ahmad Saleh al-Barzanchi, a Kurdish general of the Iraqi police, seriously wounded on 29 May by unknown assailants who had kidnapped him, was later found dead on the roadside. Two Iraqis were killed and nine others wounded in another attack on the same day as an American convoy was passing bye, near the PUK premises at Tuz Khurmatu. On 11 May, at Hawija, 55 Km from Kirkuk, a man set off a belt of explosives hidden beneath his clothing, while he was in a queue waiting before a recruitment centre for security forces, causing 30 deaths and 35 injured, 15 of whom are in a critical state. The next day, two car bombs exploded in Kirkuk, one of which was aimed at a Shiite mosque, causing tow deaths and four injured.
Kirkuk Province, which has a mainly Kurdish population but is outside the Kurdistan regional administration, has become one of the theatre of operations of Sunni terrorist groups, relying on the support of the Baath networks set up amongst the Arabs settled there by the old regime.
A Kurdish film, “Kilometre zero”, was selected for the 2005 edition of the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a Franco-Kurdish production, directed by Hiner Saleem, so that, over twenty years after the great Kurdish film director Yilmaz Gümey won the Gold Palm at Cannes in 1882, Kurdish filmmaking has made a notable return. Kilometre zero, a road movie set in the Iran-Iraq war, features a Kurdish soldier and an Arab driver who have to cross the whole country to take the body of a war martyr to his family.
This fourth film by a young Kurdish film director was shot in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the support of the regional government. A delegation from the Kurdish government led by the Minister of Culture came to attend the Festival. Kilometre zero did not win a prize but, for the young Kurdish director, the mere fact of being in the official competition was a great success and a promising encouragement, especially as his film was the only one from the Moslem world to be selected for the official competition. Moreover, the media gave considerable space to the film and to the fate of the Kurdish people. Hiner Saleem thus went back to the oppression his people had suffered under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. “I didn’t want to show, in this film, how many people Saddam Hussein had killed” the film make explained. “That would have bee too easy, almost opportunist and dishonest, I wanted to recreate an atmosphere, to breath in the smell of the dictatorship”. “The Cannes Film Festival is most important, because it gives one a sort of residential permit, a visa to the whole world for the Kurdish cinema, which for so long was banned in Iraq” he added.
On 16 May, the French Minister of Culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, insisted on awarding the insignia of “Chevalier” (Knight), of the Order of Arts and Letters to Hiner Saleem. The following is the speech made by the Minister on the occasion of a warm and friendly ceremony during the competition.
Dear Hiner Saleem,
I am very happy to honour in you, in the name of France, a filmmaker whose artistic commitment is, above all, a struggle for freedom.
You were born in 1964 in that Kurdistan that was so partitioned by the Lausanne Treaty, in 1923, between four states — Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria — in the Iraqi part. It was in leafing through an illustrated book of poems, then in watching television, that you discovered, at an early age, your passion for pictures. You fled the dictatorship and your country at the age of 17 and found refuge in Europe. Today you live in Paris. Your first land of asylum was Italy.
During the Kuwait war you returned home. And you shot, in 16 mm film, your first film “A bit of a frontier” in which you made your father and brother act. But your shooting was interrupted by air raids and your first experiment remained incomplete. It is exactly like the “uncompleted film”, presented at the Venice Mostra in 1992 by Gillo Pontecorvo. It was what enabled you to move onto your first full-length film “Long live the bride … and the liberation of Kurdistan” in 1997, where you told the story of a Kurdish activist refugee in Paris. This won you, amongst other rewards, the Grand Prize of the best scenario at the Angers film Festival, and the prize of the Best European Film at the Viareggio Festival. Them in 1999, you made an autobiographical film “Dream Smugglers” with actors like Olivier Sitruk, Anémone, and Patrick Bouchitey. Then, in 2003 came “Lemon Vodka” that you shot in Armenia and sometimes, it seems, in Absudia, so humorously you depicted the surrealist and comical events, even while giving a poignant testimony to the situation the Kurds live through in that country. That film won you several awards, including the Prize of the Best Film at the Venice Counter-current Festival and that of the Best Film at the Mons Festival as well as being selected outside competition at the Toronto Festival.
It was thus in Armenia, while filming there, that you heard of the collapse of Saddam Hussein. As soon as you were back in France you decided to go back to Iraq and film your next film in Kurdistan, without waiting to be able to gather the financing, nor knowing whether you would be there for two or for eight weeks. You remained there four months. The action of your road movie takes place in 1988, in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war and present the extreme South to the extreme North of the country, a Kurdish soldier “against his will” and his Arab trench mate and the corpse of a war martyr that they have been assigned to take home. This film is due to be shown in French cinemas next September, you have called it Kilometre Zero, as both the beginning and the end of the long Kurdish march to a destiny that it is trying to find. If you have inherited the sense of humour of your grandfather, who used to say “Our past is sad, our present is tragic but fortunately we have no future” it is clear that for you this is just a beginning. The promising beginning of the journey of a film-maker who has proved himself and who tells us about history even as it is being made. And I’m glad that you were backed by the Fonds Sud (Funds for the South), which was expressly created with the object of allowing films like yours to be made in the best possible conditions and be seen in cinemas and in Festivals. I want to pay tribute to your career and your talent. Hiner Saleem, in the name of the Republic we present you with the insignia of Knight of the Order of the Arts and letters”.
Furthermore, on 11 April, the Kurdish film director Bahman Ghobadi won the Audience’s Prize for his film “Turtles can fly”, which takes place in Iraq, at the end of the 16th International Film Festival (Natfilm) in Copenhagen. In this film the 36-year, old director originally from Baneh, a small town in Iranian Kurdistan, shows a groups of children left to their own devices, living in a camp for Kurdish refugees in Iraq, shortly before the American invasion of the country in 2003. “Turtles can fly” which also won the First prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2004, is Bahman Ghobadi’s third film, after “A Time for the intoxication of horses” and “Marooned in Iraq”, both filmed in free Iraqi Kurdistan during the Saddam Hussein dictatorship.
On 12 May, the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg gave its definitive verdict in the case of Abdullah Ocalan, founder of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) by considering that he has not had an equitable trial. Ocalan’s death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment on 3 October 2002, following the abolition of capital punishment in Turkey — one of the democratic reforms adopted by the country in the context of its European aspirations.
The ruling of the Court’s Grand Chamber confirms an earlier decision of a seven-Judge Court on 12 March and finds Turkey guilty of violation of three articles of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Strasbourg Court, by 11 votes against six, challenged the trial’s equity (Art. 6) because the State Security Court that had sentenced him lacked impartiality and independence because of the presence of an Army Judge on the bench. Considering the trial inequitable, the Court recommended that the Turkish authorities organise retrial of the PKK leader. Moreover, it unanimously considered that the rights of the defence had not been observed throughout the proceedings. “When, an individual, as in this case, has not been sentenced by a Court that fulfils the conditions of independence and impartiality required by the Convention, a new trial or a reopening of the proceedings, at the request of the person concerned represents, in principle, an appropriate means of correcting the breach observed” it affirmed.
The European Court for Human Rights also condemned the conditions surrounding the detention of the Kurdish leader (Art. 5), in particular its excessive duration. The Grand Chamber finally concluded that the death sentence passed on Abdullah Ocalan as the result of an inequitable trial, constituted torture and thus a violation of Article 3 (forbidding torture).
“I am very satisfied at this ruling. Our principal complaint was that he had not enjoyed an equitable trial. In these circumstances, the court opens the way to a fresh trial”, considered Mr. Mark Muller, one of Abdullah Ocalan’s lawyers. “Article 90 of the Turkish Constitution obliges the government to apply the rulings of this Court. The remedy is clear — it is a fresh trial”, added Kerim Yildiz, another of the PKK President’s defence lawyers. At Budapest on 12 May, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured his hearers that “the Turkish Courts will follow the decision” of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Ocalan. “The ruling of the European Court, as you know, must still be endorsed by the Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe, which after evaluation, will take a decision. The Turkish Courts must observe that decision”, he declared to journalists. The Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe has the responsibility of executing the judgements of the ECHR. “Turkey is a State of Law and any new decision (that may be taken) by the Turkish Courts will be irrevocable”, Mr. Edogan added.
The European Commission indicated that it expected the Turkish authorities to observe the ruling of the European Court for human Rights. “The EU expects that Turkey will observe the Court\s ruling”, declared a spokesman for the Commission when asked whether a failure to observe this decision could have an impact on the beginning of negotiations with Turkey, due in October, for membership. “Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and thus us obliged to carry out all the decisions of the Court”, added the spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj. The European Commission nevertheless welcomed the “prompt reaction” of the Turkish leaders, indicating that Ankara intended “to observe the principles of the State of law”.
On the other hand, the Vice-President of the People’s Republican Party, the principal social democratic opposition party in the parliament, accused the Government of having adopted a “very premature attitude by announcing that it was ready to organise a retrial before even the ruling (of the ECHR) had been announced”. Mr. Onur Oymen saw there a “serious error by the government” and “proof of its great inexperience”.
Furthermore, Abdullah Ocalan has been cited to appear as a witness in the trial of fourteen activists accused of “criminal activities” in Holland, according to a report by the ANP news agency dated 30 May, quoting legal sources. According to the judge of the Court of Bois-le-Duc (centre), the fact that Mr. Ocalan was at the moment in prison did not justify his rejecting the petition of the defence to cite him to appear. The fourteen men are accused of having set up or taken part in a PKK training camp in a camping site in Southern Holland. They were arrested last November, The date for their trial has not yet, however, been set, and a fresh hearing of the proceedings is due to be held on 11 July.
Turkish Kurdistan has experienced a resurgence of tension in the last few months. Two soldiers and two village guards were killed on 25 May in a rural area of Batman Province when an Army vehicle carrying them was blown up by a mine set by PKK rebels, according to local security sources. In the neighbouring province of Diyarbekir, a Kurdish activist of Syrian nationality was killed in the course of a clash between Turkish soldiers and a group of PKK fighters, near the town of Dicle, according to an official source.
On 18 May, two Kurdish activists and a Turkish soldier were killed in separate incidents in Turkish Kurdistan. In the province of Erzincan (South) two men suspected of belonging to the PKK were gunned down by troops. According to the NTV television network, the two men had their bodies bedecked with explosives. The local officials refused to make any comments. In Diyarbekir province, a skirmish between PKK activists and Turkish troops carrying out mopping up operations near the locality of Sivan caused the death of one of the latter, according to official sources. Already the day before, four soldiers had been killed by a mine on Mount Gaber while two others and two Kurdish activists found their deaths in a shoot-out in Hakkari province.
On 14 May, the Turkish Army killed nine PKK activists, including two women, in a rural area in Dersim province. The day before, three Turkish soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack by a PKK group near a village in Bingol province, according to the Turkish authorities. Three PKK fighters were killed in clashes with the Turkish army on 10 May near a hamlet in Dersim province.
On 20, May, Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, met his Turkish opposite number, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for discussions on bi-lateral economic relations and security. The meeting took place in Ankara, to which he made his first official visit abroad since taking office the month before. The new Prime Minister arrived on 19 May in a private aeroplane belonging to Mr. Erdigan, which the latter had sent to Baghdad for him. This is Mr. Jaafari’s second visit to Turkey since the beginning of the year — he had made a visit there in January when he was Deputy Prime Minister. Ibrahim al-Jaafari met Turkish businessmen during the day, before having dinner with Mr. Erdogan, then met the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Bulent Arinc the next day before returning home. “There is a common destiny, a partnership of interests, between Iraq and its friend Turkey regarding oil, power and water resources” declared Mr. Jaafari on his arrival at Ankara, accompanied by an important delegation including the Ministers of Oil, of Finance, of Trade, of Electricity, Industry and of Water Resources, Latif Rashid.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, repeated in Ankara that his country attached great importance to the Territorial integrity and political unity of Iraq. Mr. Erdogan made this remark during a joint Press Conference with his Iraqi compare, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. “The international community is obliged to support the government of Iraq and its people in its present transition period”, declared Mr. Erdogan. “The success of Iraq in its present transition period is of great importance for peace in the region. Turkey is ready to provide political, economic and trade support to Iraq”, he added.
Describing the 30 January General Elections in Iraq as a most important stage, Mr. Erdogan said he was convinced that the preparatory process for drawing up a new Iraqi constitution would also be accomplished with success. Questioned on the role of Turkey in Iraq and the Middle East, the Turkish Prime Minister declared “We aim at ensuring peace and security in the region and as a country that has greatly suffered from terrorism, we are concerned by terrorism in all its forms”.
The Turkish daily, Hurriyet, reported on 18 May that Iraq’s debt to Turkish firms, in connection with the oil sales since the occupation of the country by coalition forces in March 2003, which is estimated at 1.7 billion dollars, could be the subject of intense negotiations.
The Iraqi and Turkish authorities also raised the question of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party fighters, some 5,000 of whom are said to have found refuge in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. The issue of the PKK was at the heart of a tripartite Turco-Americano-Iraqi meeting in January 2005, which evoked taking measures against these fighters but which had never been followed up. In particular, according to a high ranking diplomat, Osman Koruturk, responsible for relations with Iraq, Turkey asked Mr. Jaafari to hand over to it PKK leaders, a list of which was sent to Baghdad as well as to the US forces in Iraq. “We have waited till the new (Iraqi) government take office for same action to be taken regarding this list (…) We hope now that it shall establish details about these people, arrest them and extradite them”, declared Mr. Koruturk on 18 May, on the NTV television network.
Ankara is also worried about the oil producing city of Kirkuk, claimed by the Kurds as well as by some of the Turkomenians, those of the Turcoman Front, whereas the majority of Turcomen consider themselves citizens of Kurdistan, which respects their identity and recognises their cultural rights.
On the economic front, the two parties are due to discuss the eventual sale of electricity to Iraq and the opening of a second border post between the two countries, which should, according to Ankara, encourage bi-lateral trade.
On 24 May, Syria announced the ending of its military and strategic collaboration with the United States because of “unjust” American accusations about its role in the passing into Iraq of foreign fighters. The
Syrian Ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustapha, declared that Syria wished to cooperate with the United States at all levels, including military and strategic ones, but not if it was the target of accusations. This declaration reveals a fresh degradation in the difficult diplomatic relations between Damascus and Washington.
The US State Department’s spokesman, Richard Boucher, described Mr. Mustapha’s remarks as being “certainly a step in the wrong direction”. He also stressed that Syria’s cooperation had, hitherto been “minimal and sporadic”. “I would not say that Syria is putting an end to real and continuous cooperation, because so far there has never been any real and continuous cooperation”, he added.
On 5 May, US President G.W. Bush had renewed economic sanctions decided against Syria the year before, affirming that Damascus continued to support terrorism and was undermining efforts of stabilisation in Iraq. On 11 May 2004, the US Administration had decided on a battery of sanctions against President Bachar al-Assad’s regime: banning of American exportations except for food and medicines, suspension of air connections, authorisation of the Treasury Department to freeze the assets in the United States of Syrian citizens and organisations involved in terrorist activities and restrictions on banking activities between the two countries. Since that date, relations between Washington and Damascus have gone from bad to worse. The United States, in particular, recalled their Ambassador to Damascus in February as a protest against the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
On the other hand, on 29 May, Russia accepted to cancel nearly three quarters of Syria’s debt, which amounts to some 13 billion dollars so as to encourage economic relations between the two countries. The agreement was signed in Damascus. The decision was taken during President Bachar al-Assad’s visit to Moscow in January. The bulk of this debt goes back to the Soviet period, when bi-lateral trade had reached almost a billion dollars and when Damascus had been a crucial ally of the USSR in the Middle East. Syria should henceforth only owe about 3.6 billion dollars to Moscow. Other agreements should follow.
The Iraqi government has decided to transfer 3,100 Iranian Kurdish refugees from the Al Tash camp, West of Baghdad, to a safer region in Iraqi Kurdistan, according to the UN High Commission for Refugees (HCR). “We have just been informed that the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Services have approved a proposal to move the refugees living at Al Tash to a much safer site near Suleimaniah” in Iraqi Kurdistan, declared a spokesperson for the HCR, Jennifer Pagonis.
Nearly 3,200 refugees have already fled from the Al Tash camp in recent months, many of them going to Suleimaniah, where the local authorities have supplied help, the spokeswoman recalled. The Al Tash camp is located to the West of Baghdad, between the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah, in one of the most unstable regions of Iraq. Refugees had started to flee the camp last November, after an attack against a police post in the camp.
Furthermore, several hundreds of refugees, including Iranian Kurds, who have been in a refugee camp near the Jordanian border since 2003, have been transferred to a camp in Jordanian territory pending their transfer to a host country. In all, 743 refugees were transferred to the Rueishad camp on 29 May “for reasons of humanity and security”, pointed out a spokesman for a Hashemite (semi-state) charitable organisation. For his part, Omar Abdel Aziz, a spokesman for the Iranian Kurds, indicated that the UN High Commission for Refugees was trying to find a host country for these refugees. In December 2004, 185 Iranian Kurds, blocked at the Iraqi-Jordanian border for over 18 months, were accepted by Sweden, where they received political refugee status.
Several Iranian refugees had started a hunger strike to protest against the “the world’s silence” about their ordeal, Omar Abdel Aziz recalled on 18 May, criticising the HCR “which is ignoring the sufferings of refugees in this camp located in a dangerous desert area”.
On 31 May, the European Human Rights Court, petitioned by the families of six Kurds who “disappeared” or died in doubtful circumstances in 1994 and 1995, found, in these six separate cases, Turkey guilty of “violation of the right to life”, amongst other charges. In five of the sic cases before the European Judges, the families affirmed that their relatives had been killed by Turkish police of gendarmes after being arrested. The Turkish authorities, on the contrary assured that they had played no role and denied that these people had been arrested.
The Court considered that in three of these cases the victims had, indeed, been killed while placed under the State’s jurisdiction and responsibility. In the other two cases, the judges indicated that they had not been able to determine precisely what had happened but, nevertheless, found Ankara guilty of failing to conduct any enquiry into the cases and, in one case of having “failed to protect” the life of the victim. In the sixth case, it was not denied that the victim had been arrested and had died while in detention, but the government denied that its agents had tortured and deliberately killed the prisoner. The judges ruled that the government was responsible for this death and that the victim had suffered “inhuman or degrading” treatment. In all these cases, the judges found an “absence of effective enquiry” by the authorities into these disappearances or deaths. All six families of the victims will receive a total of between 13,500 and 83,500 euros for moral and/or material damages, and 8,000 to 15,000 for costs.
On the same day, the European Court for Human Rights found Turkey guilty for having dissolved, in 1997, the Turkish Emek Partisi party (EP — Party of Labour) founded a year earlier and accused of “attacking the territorial integrity of the State”. The Court considered that Turkey had violated Article 11 (Freedom of meeting and association) of the European Convention on Human Rights and awarded 15,000 euros for “moral damages” jointly to the petitioners, the EP party and Osman Nuri Senol, the President of this organisation at the time it was dissolved.
Founded in 1996, this party was dissolved on 14 February 1997by the Turkish Constitutional Court “on the grounds that its programme was an attack on the territorial integrity and unity of the nation”, the European judges recalled in their ruling. “According to the Constitutional Court, the party’s constitution, under cover of promoting the development of the Kurdish language, aimed at creating minorities to the detriment of Turkish territorial integrity and national unity, thus encouraging separatism and the division of the Turkish nation” they pointed out. “The party was dissolved solely on the basis of its programme, before even having been able to start its activities” the European judges observed, stressing that “the litigious parts of its programme could be summed up as an analysis of the development of the working class in Turkey and the whole world and a criticism of the way the (Turkish) government was fighting separatist activity”. Thus dissolution “cannot reasonably be considered as answering any imperious social need or as being necessary in a democratic society” they added.
Furthermore, on 31 May, the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) found Ankara guilty of “inhuman treatment” of three men and a woman taken into detention in 1996, then sentenced to various terms of imprisonment in 1998. Erol Giltekin, Sait Oral Uyan, Karim Gundogan and Mrs. Nezahat Tyrjhan “suspected of being members of the illegal KTP/ML-TIKKO organisation (Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist-Army of peasant and worker liberation in Turkey)”, were arrested and taken into detention on 19 and 20 April 1996, the ECHR recalled in its ruling. “At the end of their detention, on 3 May, the petitioners appeared before the Public Prosecutor of the Istanbul State Security Court, to whom they affirmed they had been tortured. On the same day they were examined by a forensic doctor who noted that their bodies bore various lesions”, the ECHR noted. A year later, three policemen were tried for ill-treating the petitioners, before finally being acquitted.
“A State is responsible for any person in detention since the latter, in the hands of police officials, is in a vulnerable situation and the authorities have the duty of protecting him” remarks the Court, considering that Turkey bore “the responsibility for the injuries observed on the bodies of the petitioners”. The ECHR concluded that Ankara had, in particular, violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Hyman Rights (forbidding torture and inhuman and degrading treatment). It awarded a total of 50,000 euros for moral damages to the four petitioners, three of whom are still incarcerated for “membership of an illegal organisation and endangering the constitutional regime”.
Again, the ECHR found Turkey guilty, on 24 May, for its responsibility in the death of the President of the Health Workers Union, Necati Aydin. The union official, of Kurdish origin, died in 1994. He Council of Europe’s judiciary also condemned Turkey for “inhuman treatment” inflicted on the trade unionist during his detention and for having refused fully to cooperate with it, as the European Convention on human Rights required.
The body of Necati Aydin, killed by a bullet in the back of the head, was found in a ditch five days after he had been freed by the Diyarbekir State Security Court, two weeks after his arrest. No one saw him leave the courthouse, which, indeed, had not recorded his departure.
“The government has an obligation to explain how Mr. Aydin was killed, when he was in the hands of State agents. In the absence of any such explanation provided by the government, the Court must conclude that it is in default of providing an account of the murder of Mr. Aydin”. The Court considered that the lesions observed on the body confirmed the declarations of the victim’ wife, placed in detention at the same time as him, that she had heard her husband screaming under torture. Turkey will have to pay 55,000 euros to the dead man’s family for material and moral damages.
In another case on the same day, the European Court found Turkey guilty of violation of the right to life, following the deaths of six people, shot down by “village guards” who also wounded ten others. The events occurred on 22 April 1992, just outside the village of Calpinar, in Kurdistan, when a group of inhabitants who were travelling in a truck and a minibus in the region of Midyat were stopped by a group of armed men. The latter, a group of village guards according to the petitioners (parents of those killed and the survivors), made everyone get down, lined them up along the side of the road and opened fire on the, before taking flight, the Court summed up in its ruling. Following ballistic examinations, 27 village guards were charged with murder and attempted murder in July 1992, before being finally acquitted in 2000. The Turkish Court considered, indeed, that it was “highly probable that the bullets had been left on the spot after the attack provoked by persons unknown”. Legal proceeding were, however, renewed in 2003 against ten of the village guards who were sentenced to life imprisonment The European Court — a sentence quashed by the Court of Appeals.
The European Court judged that the “Turkish authorities had to assume responsibility” for these deaths and injuries since the village guards, although civilians, were operating “under the authority of the gendarmerie command”. The Court also found Turkey guilty of violating the right to effective recourse because of different “acts of negligence” in the investigations. It awarded 352,338 euros damages to the ten petitioners, who will receive from 4,000 to 54,000 euros depending on their case.
On 19 May, the European Court found Turkey guilty of violating freedom of expression in two distinct cases. The European Court found in favour of Teslim Töre, sentenced in November 1996 to one year, one month and 10 days imprisonment for alleged separatist propaganda. Teslim Töre had written an article entitled “The socialists of Kurdistan must seize the moment”, published in July 1994 in the revue Medya Günesi (The Medya Sun). The Court considered that the verdict had infringed Teslim Töre’s freedom of expression by passing a sentence “disproportionate and unnecessary in a democratic society”. It also ruled that the sentencing court could not be “considered and independent and impartial court”. Turkey must pay Teslim Töre 310 euros material damages, 6,500 euros moral damages and 3,000 euros costs.
In another case the ECHR had found in favour of Talat Turhan against the Turkish State. The plaintiff, author of a book entitled “Extraordinary war, terrorism and counter-terrorism” had been sentenced by the Turkish Courts to pay damages to a Secretary of State for “defamatory remarks” contained in this book. The European Court considered that Teslim Töre’s right to freedom of expression had not been respected, since the offending remarks constituted a value judgement. But “a value judgement does not lend itself to exact demonstrations of proof” according to the ECHR. The Court sentenced the Turkish State to pay the plaintiff 600 euros material damages, 1,000 euros moral damages and 1,500 euros costs.
Moreover, on 18 May, Turkey criticised the opening of legal proceeding by a Greek Cypriot to obtain damages for the occupation of his property in the North of the island, stating that this action would not help efforts being made in view of a resolution of the Cyprus problem. For the first time since the partition of the island in 1974, proceedings are being opening in a Greek Cypriot court by a Greek Cypriot accusing a Turkish Cypriot of illegally exploiting his property in North Cyprus, The plaintiff, Panos Ioannides, is asking for 250,000 Cyprus pounds (about 550,000 US dollars) damages.
Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots were obliged to flee their homes in the Northern third of the island after the 1974 invasion by Turkish troops, in alleged riposte against a failed coup d’état by ultra-nationalist Greeks attempting to unite the island to Greece. Some tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots were obliged, for their part, to fly to the Turkish occupied Northern part of the island.
On 17 May, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, arrived in Baghdad for a visit described as a first ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The head of Iranian diplomacy, who, like all in authority in Iran is a Shiite, met the Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, as well as his opposite number Hoshyar Zebari. “I have no doubt that this visit will open new horizons in the cooperation between the two countries”, stated Mr. Zebari in a Press Conference with his Iranian opposite number in Baghdad. He stressed that Iran had been “one of the first countries to recognise the new government” after the Iraqi elections in January and emphasised that “post-Saddam Iraqis a peaceful and not a belligerent country”. “We must turn the page on the past and build our relations in all areas on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference” he continued. According to Mr. Zebari, the political message of this visit is important. “It is the first visit by the Foreign Minister of an Arab or Islamic country since the free and democratic elections” in January. “And, it is a sign of respect by the Iranian leaders to the Iraqi people” he insisted, stressing the regional importance of Iran.
Iraq and Iran, enemies yesterday and today both run by Shiite elites, undertook to open a new chapter in their relations despite foreign presence on Iraqi soil.
“Iraq is responsible for its own affairs. Any interference would be an insult to the Iraqi people”, declared for his part Mr. Kharazi, adding that his country had no intention of settling its differences with the United States on Iraqi territory. “Our cooperation with Iraq is not linked to our relations with the United States and we want to strengthen the historic relations between the two countries. The help we can give to the Iraqi people serves the regional interests of the Islamic Republic”, he added.
After discussions with Mr. Zebari, the Iranian Foreign Minister had talks with Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who leads the Shiite-led Iraqi government and who had spent many years in Iran, a country with a considerable Shiite majority.
The Iranian authorities had welcomed with unconcealed satisfaction the fall, in 2003, of Saddam Hussein, who had waged an eight-year war against Iran from 1980 to 1988. It had favourably viewed the 30 January victory of the Shiites, who are also the majority in Iraq, whereas the Sunni Arabs like King Abdullah of Jordan expressed their fear of seeing a Shiite axis emerge in the region.
However, the military and civil differences remain considerable. Iran and Iraq has still not signed the peace treaty and the Islamic Republic maintains a cult of the “martyrs” who died in the eight years of war. According to a generally accepted estimate, 500,000 Iraqi and Iranian fighters perished — but these figures ignore the civilian deaths. The total human losses is often estimated at over one and a half million. Iranians continue to this day, to succumb to the effects of the chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussein’s army.
On 13 May, the new Iraqi government, confronted with a fresh upsurge of violence, announced a prolongation of the State of Emergency throughout the country except for the three provinces of autonomous Kurdistan. “The Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has decided to prolong the State of Emergency throughout the country with the exception of Kurdistan, for 30 additional days as from today” indicated an official communiqué. The document explains that this extension was decided because of the “persistence of the conditions that justified the state of emergency”.
The State of Emergency had been initially decreed, by former Prime Minster, Iyad Allawi, on 7 November 2004, on the eve of the American assault on the rebel town of Fallujah. It had been renewed since then. It gives the government very extensive powers, going from imposing curfews to issuing arrest warrants, passing by the power to dissolve associations, restricting displacement of people and telephone tapping.
In an interview in the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo, President Jallal Talabani considered that “this wave of violence is a sign of these terrorists’ weakness. Note that the only means left to them is that of car bombs”, stated Mr. Talabani, who took part, on 10 and 11 May, in the first Summit of Arab and South American countries — his first sortie into the international field since he took the oath of office on 7 April.
On 1 June the Iraqi authorities a particularly bloody month of May: an increase in attacks by the insurrection, mainly Sunni Arab, cost the lives of 672 Iraqis, 1,174 others being wounded, that is nearly 200 more deaths than the month before, or 19% more than in April, according to statistics provided by three Iraqi Ministries. For its part, the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior reported 150 of its personnel killed in May in 59 car bomb attacks and armed assault. The Ministry of Defence, for its part reported 88 soldiers killed and 79 others wounded. On the insurgent side, 287 rebels were killed in May as against 64 in April, still according to the Ministry. In April, already, the assessment of Iraqis killed by this violence was 50% up on March.
According to another assessment, made by Associated Press since 28 April and the announcement of the new government, the increasing violence caused at least 765 deaths, including the US forces. And, according to AFP, about a hundred suicide-bomb attacks were made in May.
In its annual, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported that an American action of “increasing efficiency” has allowed a certain improvement in the situation in Iraq. This finds “positive signs” in the region as a whole and a more dispersed terrorist threat. The “despair” that the explosion of the Iraqi insurrection in the spring of 2004 had aroused, has given way to “prudent hope” for peace and stability in the country, according to the analyses of the IISS experts, whose works are published in London. “Even if the policy (of US President Bush) was rash, controversial and lead to divisions, his aggressive world programme of promoting peace, freedom and democracy has appeared of an increasing efficiency” the IISS affirms.
The Institute notes a “substantial diminution” in attacks against ht e coalition and suggests that “the Iraqi population is becoming more and more intolerant” of this violence. It also classes amongst the positive signs the rate of participation in the January elections. “The war in Iraq was nevertheless a risky means of promoting the changes wanted by Washington and it remains to be seen if a net gain will result”, the Institute hedges. The IISS considers that the US commitment in Iraq has provoked, by ricochet, a positive development in the Lebanon. On the other hand, Washington was not effective in its fight against islamist terrorism, for which “an improved relation between the Islamic world and the West is necessary”, according to the IISS. The al-Qaeda network is nevertheless more dispersed than a year earlier, “dependent on local groups and subject to centrifugal influences”.
Furthermore the UN Security Council has accepted to extend the mandate of the American-led multinational force in Iraq, the Iraqi Foreign Minister having let it be known that his government was in favour. The mandate for this force of 160,000 men does not expires before the end of the year and the formation of a permanent government. But Baghdad has, nevertheless the possibility of calling for its departure before this date.
On 31 May, the Security Council, called upon to express an opinion on the subject, considered that the mandate of the multinational force — 28 countries are represented in it — should continue till “the conclusion of the political process”, as stipulated in its Resolution 1546 of May 2003, declared the Danish Ambassador to the UN, Ellen Loj, who is currently the Council’s Chairperson.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, stated to the Council that Iraqi security needed this force because the “campaign of destruction and intimidation” being waged by the insurgents had intensified since the formation of the Iraqi government on 28 April and would continue, in his opinion, during the drafting of the new constitution over the next few months.
Russia delayed the Council’s decision for several hours by demanding the inclusion of a reference to the May 2003 resolution that sets a limit to the presence of foreign forces in Iraq. Anne Patterson, present US representative to UNO, considered, however, that no “precise timetable” had been established for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. These would not remain longer than necessary, she assured her hearers, while judging that they could not be withdrawn “so long as the Iraqi government is not is a position to answer to the important challenges regarding security with which they are faced”.
• THE TURKISH PARLIAMENT PASSES A CONTROVERSIAL PENAL CODE THAT CRIMINALISES ANY PERSON WHO ACTS AGAINST “FUNDAMENTAL NATIONAL INTERESTS”.
On 27 May, the Turkish Parliament voted a package of amendments to the new controversial Penal Code, whose coming into force, originally planned for March, was postponed because of the many criticisms regarding the restrictions it imposed on freedom of the press as well as its technical imperfections. The adoption of this code, first passed last September, was one of the conditions imposed by the European Union on Turkey for it to secure a firm date for beginning negotiations for membership, finally set to begin on 3 October at last December’s European summit.
The new code, that repeals 78 old laws originally borrowed from fascist Italy, was welcomed as establishing a more liberal penal system. In particular, it increases the penalties laid down for torturers and other guilty of breaches of human rights, and improves the protection of women and children.
The amendments touched up a number of articles on the rights of the press, which had already been criticised by the media that observed that journalists could still be jailed. In particular they suppress the increases in sentences for certain offences — like insulting the President or incitement to war — when committed by the press.
The members of parliament also reduced the field of application of an article providing up to ten years jail for people having received from abroad for acting against “fundamental national interests”. A provision that the penalty would increase from10 to 15 years if the accused had committed his crime through the press was removed. This article had aroused considerable anxiety when it appeared, in the explanatory notes attached to the Bill, that the persons targeted were, amongst others, those who argued for the withdrawal of troops from North Cyprus or for the recognition of the genocidal character of the Armenian massacres of 1915.
Other articles that were denounced by the media as being too restrictive and imposing a threat to investigative journalism concerned the protection of privacy and the secrecy of pre-trial investigations.
The new penal code, with the amendments, is due to come into force on 1 June, after approval by the President of the Republic.
The Parliamentary debate was marked by the departure of the CHP members of parliament (the principal opposition party) in protest at a last-minute change introduced by the government. The amendment approved, thanks to the block vote of the Justice and Development Party members (AKP) in office, allows the officials of illegal scholastic institutions, like the Qoranic schools, to escape imprisonment. The secular elite is categorically opposed to any measure that eases the opening of private schools on the grounds that such schools would enable the islamist movements to set up their own teaching centres.
Moreover, on 10 May, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mehmet Ali Sahin announced the preparation of a new Bill responding to the European Union’s requirements and aiming at improving the regulations covering the property of non-Moslem foundations. “From time to time there have been complaints from (non-Moslem) community foundations as well as from European Union leaders … This law eliminates the need for such complaints” pointed out Mr. Sahin after a meeting of the Council of Ministers.
Turkey harbours some small Christian communities, particularly Greek Orthodox and Armenian, as well as a Jewish community, concentrated in Istanbul. In a report on the progress of democracy in Turkey, the EU stressed that the non-Moslem communities “have no legal status, suffer from restrictions to their property rights and that their foundations are exposed to interference in their management and cannot train their clergy” even it, in other respects, this does not affect their freedom of religious practice. “Their existing properties are constantly threatened with confiscation and attempts to recover them by legal channels encounter numerous difficulties” the report concluded.
• ANKARA AUTHORISES THE USE OF THE INCIRLIK MILITARY BASE BY GREAT BRITAIN AND SOUTH KOREA AND RENEWS THE AUTHORISATION TO THE AMERICANS.
On 12 May, the Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister announced that Turkey had authorised Great Britain and South Korea to use the Turkish Air Force base at Incirlik to carry out activities linked to Iraq. The Turkish President, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, after months of discussions, endorsed the decree, dated 18 April, authorising the United States to use the Incirlik base (South Turkey) for logistic purposes for their troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authorisation granted to Great Britain and South Korea is in the context of the same decree,
Great Britain had asked to be able to use the base’s facilities for refuelling its planes. For its part, South Korea hoped to be able to evacuate wounded soldiers via Incirlik in case of emergency. The 3m500-odd South Korean soldiers are all based in Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and none of them has been killed or wounded to date.
The Turkish ministry also specified the authorisations to the Americans to use the Turkish base. American planes will not be authorised to carry arms, ammunition or troops. They may only have on board supplies, for example tents, food or spares parts. Washington will have to apply for authorisation one month before the flight.
The Americans intend to use the base for logistic purposes for their troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They will use civil aircraft to go to Turkey and military planes to transport the supplies to Iraq or Afghanistan.
During the Cold War Incirlik was used as a base for the American U2 spy planes that flew over the Soviet Union. During the Gulf War it served as a base for British and American fighters and bombers and, after that war was used in the context of the “Provide Comfort” operation, then “Northern Watch” which ended in April 2003, just before the beginning of the Americano-British offensive against the Baghdad regime. Only a little contingent of US soldiers is still deployed on this base, used for the rotation of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. A member of NATO, Turkey has, since February, been assuming its six-month period in command of the General Staff of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
• THE BEGINNING OF THE BAKU-TBILISSI-CEYHAN (BTC) OIL PIPELINE INTENDED TO CONVEY OIL FROM THE CASPIAN TO THE WEST.
On 25 May, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey celebrated the beginning of the Baku-Tibilissi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC). This is a giant American inspired project intended to convey oil from the Caspian Sea to the West and to favour their economic and political cooperation. Meeting for the ceremony at the Sangachal oil terminal about fifty kilometres South of Baku, the three Presidents, Ilham Aliev of Azerbijan, Mikhail Saakachvili of Georgia and Ahmet Necdet Sezer of Turkey, symbolically opened the valves of a replica of the pipeline, placed in a tent a few metres away from the real BTC. They were imitated by the American Secretary for Fuel and Power, Samuel Bodman and the boss of the British oil group BP, Lord John Browne, whose group is the main contractor of this 4 billion dollar project. The pipeline will run 1,765 Kilometres across three countries.
As their leaders explained, the BTC will be the backbone of the “East-West power corridor” that the three countries intend opening up and in which Kazakhstan, also very rich in oil and gas, has confirmed its future participation. Additional infrastructures such as a new rail link connecting Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan are envisaged. “Some people did not believe that this project would become a reality”, stressed Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev. “Some tried to disturb it but the support of the United States and the activity deployed by BP have helped implement it” he added. “The pipeline plays a great role in terms of stability and security in the region. It is a good example of regional economic cooperation”, he continued.
The British BP Group has a 30% share in the consortium running the pipeline. The other shareholders are the Azerbaijani national oil company Socar, Ameralda Hess, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Inpex, Itochu, Statoil, TPAO, Total and Unocal. The Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbaiev and the European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs also took part in the ceremony.
The pipeline enjoyed a strong financial and logistic support from the Americans who are seeking both to reduce their fuel dependence on the Middle East and to affirm their influence in Azerbaijan and Georgia, where they are competing with Russia. The latter, hitherto, has been the only one able to transport Caspian crude oil, thanks to its network of pipelines. However Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special representative, in charge of international fuel and power cooperation, Igor Iussutiev, was absent from the ceremony because of illness and had not been replaced.
The BTC will transport to the Mediterranean up to 1 million barrels of oil per day (mbd) of the 84 mbd the planet is expected to consume this year. A very modest figure compared with the 9.5 mbd that Saudi Arabia alone produces. It will enable Caspian oil to avoid being moved by tankers through the overcrowded Turkish straights. The oil producing countries hope, moreover, for a further inflow of investments to their countries.
The idea of the BTC was launched about eleven years ago, following Azerbaijan’s opening up its oil industry to the major foreign groups and has aroused great expectations in the countries it passes through. Up to 10 million barrels will be needed just to fill it, which will take six months: delivery of the first load at Ceyhan is thus envisaged for the fourth quarter of 2005.
• MILLIONS OF DOLLARS INTENDED FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF IRAQ HAVE DISAPPEARED.
An American report published on 4 May reveals the disappearance some 100 million dollars of a fund intended for reconstruction in Iraq. The officials of the former Provisional Iraqi Authority are unable to justify this hole. The US Inspector General charged with overseeing Iraqi reconstruction has indicated that he had found “potential indications of fraud” and subtitled then for legal investigation. Three reports published on 4 May call into question the supervision, by the Provisional Authority led by America’s Paul Bremer, of Iraqi reconstruction contracts between 2003 and June 2004. “These reports paint a picture of a disorganised and neglectful management of funds coming from the US tax-payers and the Iraqi people itself”, denounced US Senator Russ Feingold. “Billions of dollars, the success of the stabilisation mission and American credibility are at stake”, he added. “These reports inspire very little confidence in the competence and the transparency that the United States have shown so far” he pointed out. Already, on 31 January, the magazine Time had affirmed that the Provisional Authority had lost all trace of nearly nine billion dollars. Bremer’s team had protested at this report and stressed the difficulty of producing receipt for expenses in a disturbed post-war situation.
Moreover, on 5 May, the House of Representatives of the US Congress passed a budgetary supplement of some 83 billion dollars to finance military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which also includes civilian assistance for the Palestinians and the victims of the Asian tsunami. This resolution envisages a supplementary 75.9 billion dollars envelope to finance operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in top of the 2005 budget. These sums are in addition to the 200 billion or so dollars already spent by the Bush Administration for these operations.
• THE IMF GRANTS A FRESH LINE OF CREDIT TO TURKEY, AMOUNTING TO 10 BILLION DOLLARS.
On 11 May, he International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Turkey a fresh line of credit amounting to 10 billion dollars to support its economic programme. During an audio Press conference, the IMF official responsible for Turkey, Reza Moghadam, announced that the Fund’s Board had agreed to “this new line of credit that aims to create the conditions for sustained growth and create jobs”. This fresh credit of 10 billion dollars was granted over three years and Ankara will immediately be able to draw on the first instalment of 837.5 million dollars, the official added.
The IMF’s last credit, of 16 billion dollars, was granted in 2002 after the serious economic crisis that had struck the country the year before. It expired in February. The granting of this stand-bye credit goes hand inn hand with a new programme of economic and financial reforms to which the Turkish government committed itself by a letter of intent. It aims at a rate of growth of about 5% and a reduction in current account deficits to 4.4% of the GNP, while inflation should be reduced to 8% in 2005.
The IMF Director General, Roderigo Rato, who presided the Board meeting, rejoiced at “Turkey’s economic performance, which was the best in a generation” according to an IMF communiqué, which quotes his remarks. He recalled that “growth reached 8% in the average over the last three years, while inflation has dropped to less than 10%m its lowest level for over 30 years”. According to him, “the substantial application of the policy (of reforms) during the previous programme with the IMF has been translated into impressive performance”. “With the European Union’s decision to open negotiations for membership, this signals a total change in Turkey’s economic perspectives”.
The commitments given by the Turkish government for the next three years such as maintaining the objective of primary surplus (apart from servicing the debt) of 6.5% of the GNP “will considerably reduce the debt and help to contain the current account deficit” he added. Moreover, observing the independence of the Central Bank an the introduction, next year, of an inflation objective, “will help consolidate the reduction of inflation” according to Mr. Rato, who stresses that these “macroeconomic policies should facilitate fresh reductions in interest rates and generate sustained growth”. In the same way, the application, planned for this year, of reforms in the banking system and social security should contribute to a better investment climate, according to the IMF.