On 7 May, fifteen year after having acquired its autonomy from Baghdad following the first Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan unified its administration thus sealing the reconciliation between the two historic Kurdish parties. On 21 January, Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq and head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Massud Barzani, President of Kurdistan and head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) had signed an agreement to set up a single administration in Kurdistan. Till now, the KDP has administered the Provinces of Irbil; and Dohuk and the PUK the province of Suleimaniyah. This agreement thus puts an end to the existence of two administrations in Kurdistan, which had elected, for a four-year term, a single 111-member Kurdish Parliament on 30 January 2005. The Kurdish Parliament unanimously voted for the formation of a single government for Kurdistan. Twenty-seven Ministries have been created, 11 of which go to the PUK, 11 to the KDP and five others to various political and religious bodies. Nechirvan Barzani, KDP, was appointed the new Prime Minister of this government with Omar Fattah, PUK, as Deputy Prime Minister, at this formal session of the Kurdish Parliament.
“We are going to recover, peacefully and democratically, by virtue of the Iraqi Constitution, the rights that were torn away from us at Mendali, Khanaqin, Kirkuk, Makhmur, Shekhan and Sinjar” declared the Prime Minister in his inaugural speech. The distribution of the four key Ministries in the Kurdish government (Defence, Interior, Finance and Justice) remain subject to discussion between the parties. The Ministers of the Interior, Finance, Justice and of the Peshmergas will be seconded by Secretaries of State for a one-year transitional period during which the various legal, administrative and financial problems linked to the unification of their departments will be settled.
About fifty diplomats and Iraqi and Kurdish public figures attended the official formation of the new Kurdish government, including the US, Russian, British, Chinese, Indian, Polish and Czech Ambassadors, the Iraqi Vice President, Adel Abdul-Mahdi as well as the Iraqi (federal) Minister of Defence, Sa’adun al-Dulaimi, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and representatives of all the Iraqi parties. “This is a historic day, in which Kurdistan is setting us an example of unity and prosperity”, stated the Shiite Iraqi Vice President, Adel Abdul-Mahdi. “To those who are afraid lest Kurdistan become strong I answer that if Kurdistan becomes strong then Iraqi will become strong, if Kurdistan is united then it’s Iraqi that will be united”, he added. The US Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, for his part, declared “I pay tribute to the sacrifices accepted by the Kurdish people, the Iraqi people and the peshmergas in order to create a free state in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime”.
The reunification of the two Kurdish administrations was the occasion for celebrations in Iraqi Kurdistan. It was also welcomed by the principal Kurdish political organisations and public figures in Turkey, Iran and Syria as well as in the diaspora.
Following this major event, the President of Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, made an official visit to Kuwait at the invitation of the Emir, who gave his a very warm welcome. The Press Conference organised following this visit gave rise to some sharp controversy with certain Arab nationalist circles. Questioned about relations that the Kurdistan authorities had with Israel he declared that Kurdistan had no relations with Israel and there was no Israeli presence at the moment in Kurdistan. But, in principle, “it is not a crime to have relations with Israel” since important Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan already had such relations. “Should Baghdad establish diplomatic relations with Israel, we could open a consulate in Irbil”. In a communiqué on 15 May, the Committee of Ulemas (the co-ordinating committee of Sunni clerics) expressed sharp criticisms of this stand. “These statements are very dangerous and they are an attack on the feelings of 1.5 billion Moslems in the world, who have suffered, directly or indirectly from the Hebrew State”, it considered. The Kurdistan President’s office replied the next day in a communiqué. “The Committee has evidently not read Mr. Barzani’s statement. The Kurdish position regarding Israel is dependent on Baghdad’s stand. It is up to Baghdad to decide and its decision will be carried out by Kurdistan”, said the communiqué. “By what right does the Committee claim to speak on behalf of all Moslems? Why has it never reacted to denounce the crime of Halabja and the sufferings of the Kurdish people?” asked Mr. Barzani, who called on the Committee to stop publishing “takfiri (Editor’s Note: extremist Sunni) communiqués”.
Until the 150 Kurdistan was the home of some of the oldest Jewish communities in the world and Judeo-Kurdish relations have always been friendly. The 100,000-strong Kurdistan Jews form a very dynamic and pro-Kurdish community in Israel.
On 20 May, he first permanent post Saddam government in Iraq saw the light of day after five months waiting. The Prime Minister, Nuri Maliki, presented his cabinet to Parliament, pointing out that he and his two Deputy Prime Ministers would temporarily be holding the portfolios of the Interior, Defence and National Security. The announcing of the formation of the new government, the ceremony of which took place in the high-security Green Zone, was welcomed by Washington, London and UNO. US President George Bush congratulated Mr. Maliki and welcomed the formation of the new government, considering that it “opens a new chapter” in Iraqi history and that it creates “an opportunity for progress”. The investiture of the new government represents “a crucial change” in the situation of this country, declared, for his part, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. UN General Secretary Kofi Annan sent his wished “to the new government for success in facing the enormous challenges that must confront Iraq”, while King Abdullah II of Jordan expressed the hope that it would be “a stage towards the building of a new Iraq”. In view of the difficult bargaining between the Sunni and Shiite Arab lists, Mr. Maliki had to resign himself to presenting an incomplete government. “I will assume responsibility for the Ministry of the Interior in the first instance, Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zobai will be interim Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh will be interim Minister of National Security”, announced the Prime Minister. The eleven Sunni Arab Members of Parliament of the Front for dialogue and six of the 44 Members of the Concord Front, the principal Sunni Arab coalition, left the Chamber and refused to vote, to show their dissatisfaction with the presentation of an incomplete government. The key posts of the Interior and Defence are, indeed, most contested. The Sunni Arabs accuse the former holder of the Ministry of the Interior, the Shiite Bayan Jabr Sulagh of allowing the militia interfere in the Ministries forces. M. Maliki, who comes from the Dawa Party, one of the pillars of the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), was under considerable pressure to satisfy the demands of the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, but it was with his fellow Shiites that he had the most trouble. The UIA, which covers 18 different organisations, seemed several times on the verge of imploding. It required the intervention of the Iraqi and Iranian clergy to maintain its cohesion. The Fadhila (Virtue) Party (15 seats) whose influence far exceeds the numbers of its parliamentary representatives, withdrew from the negotiations after losing the Ministry of Oil — a key post in a country whose oil reserves are considered the third largest in the world.
The members of parliament endorsed the Ministers and the two Deputy Prime Ministers in a rapid vote by a show of hands. The new government, most of whom were new, has only three women members, two of whom are Kurds, as against seven in the outgoing team. Mr. Maliki defined his policy in 34 points, the last of which covered the militia, and it was broadly approved by the members present. The government was then sworn in. The Prime Minister had stressed his country’s necessity for setting up “a timetable so that the Iraqi forces may fully take over the tasks of ensuring security and to end the mission of the Multinational Force so that those troops may return to their respective countries”. “I will take in hand three important issues for the Iraqi people: security, the struggle against corruption and public services”, he then assured the public in a Press conference.
The new government consists of thirty ministers, 17 going to the UIA, including the Interior, Oil, and Finance. The Kurdish coalition secured six ministries, including Foreign Affairs and Industry, Ilyad Allawi’s secular Shiite list five (including Defence and Justice) and the Concord Front (Sunni Arab) four (including Planning and Higher Education) and Salah Motlaq’s dissident Shiite list three. The Christians and Turcomen each have one ministry. Amongst the Ministers appointed, the independent Shiite, Hussein Shahristani was given the Oil portfolio and the controversial former Minister of the Interior, Mr. Sulagh, received Finance. Hoshyar Zebari, who kept the Foreign Ministry, judged that it was a historic day. “This is Iraq’s first permanent and consensual government, approved by parliament and supported by the nations in concert” he insisted. “I call on the Iraqi people to give it full support in the face of the important issues that await us: improving security, improving public services an setting up a State of Law”, he concluded.
On 27 May, President Jalal Talabani stressed the necessity of entrusting the still vacant post to independent public figures not connected to any party or armed militia. For its part, on 28 May the session of parliament was marked by differences over the prerogatives of its Speaker, Mahmud Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab. The Sunni Arabs demanded that the Speaker have wide powers whereas the Kurds and Shiites required that his Deputies should also be involved in all decisions, according to a number of members of the house. Mr. Mashhadani is assisted by s Shiite Deputy Speaker, Sheikh Khaled al-Attiya and a Kurdish Deputy, Aref Tayfur.
Moreover, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manushehr Mottaki, met the principal Iraqi Shiite leader, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani at Najaf on 27 May. The day before, he had visited Kerbala, another Shiite holy city in Southern Iraq. On 26 May Mr. Mottaki had had a meeting with leaders of the new Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He set aside any possibility of negotiations with the United States over the future of Iraq, but expressed Teheran’s support for the new Iraqi government. Mr. Mottaki’s visit is the first one to Iraq by a senior Iranian leader since Mahmud Ahmedinjad’s election as President of Iran last June. The Iranian Foreign Minister declared that his country was ready to help Iraq economically, and had set aside for this a package of almost a billion dollars. As a sign of the improvement in relations between Teheran and Iraq after the 1980-88 war, Iran has appointed an Ambassador to Baghdad for the first time in over twenty years. On 9 May, Hassan Kazemi Qomi presented his credentials to the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, who considered that “raising the level of relations between the two countries will turn over a fresh leaf in the history of the links” between the two capitals. Shortly before Iraq’s attack on Iran in 1980, both countries had recalled their ambassadors. Since then, relations have been limited to chargé d’affaires.
On 17 May, the Iraqi Kurdistan government accused the Turkish Army of having shelled a Kurdish village near the border. Dr. Khaled Salih, Minister of State and spokesman for the Kurdistan government, stated that “this afternoon artillery fired by the Turkish Army hit the village of Kafer Sur, near the town of Kani Masi”. The town of Kani Masi is in Dohuk province, near the borders with Turkey and Iran. “Three artillery shells fell on the village, but no one was injured”, added the government’s spokesman. On 30 April and 1 May it was the Iranian armed forces that had shelled positions occupied by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), penetrating 5 Km into Iraqi Kurdistan and forcing dozens of families to flee in Suleimaniyah province (near the mountain villages of Laradu, Rushga and Qalaa Tuka) some 190 Km North of the city of Suleimaniyah.
On this occasion, Cemil Bayik, one of the PKK military chiefs, threatened operations in reprisal to Iranian raids into Iraqi Kurdistan. “We have the right to launch attacks against the Iranian forces. We are being aggressed. If they hadn’t attacked us we would not retaliate”, Cemil Bayik pointed out in an interview with AFP on 6 May. The PKK fighters are convinced that Iran is preparing a new series of shelling attacks and, consequently, are preparing themselves for this eventuality. “We cannot allow ourselves to engage in a frontal battle with the Iranian Army. However, we can hurt them with guerrilla attacks, with out Kalashnikovs, our rocket launchers, our sub-machine guns and our mortars”, declared Cemil Bayik. In his opinion these Iranian attacks must be seen in the context of the nuclear crisis between the Islamic Republic and the United States. “The Iranian authorities are doing everything they can to ensure that Turkey does not side with the Americans in the event of an attack on Iran”, he considered. He also considers that then Iranian attacks must be seen in the context of the struggle for control of the Iraqi city of Kirkuk and its oil-rich region. “If the Kurds have to confront the Arabs over Kirkuk, we will fight on their side (Editor’s Note: on the side of the Kurds)”, declared Mr. Bayik, who considered such a conflict “possible”.
Such an armed brotherhood does not seem to arouse the authorities of autonomous Kurdistan, who, on 5 May, asked the PKK not to use Iraqi territory for launching attacks on neighbouring countries. The Kurdish authorities have warned the PKK against any attack on Turkey or Iran from Iraqi soil. “They (the PKK) are on our soil and we want them to observe the law and not use our territory for launching attacks” against Iran or Turkey, declared Imad Ahmed, Deputy Prime Minister of Suleimaniyah province. “We want them to leave our country peacefully. If they want to remain they must use political means, not arms” to advance their cause, pointed out Mr. Ahmed, who condemned the recent Iranian incursions into Kurdish territory. Meeting on 3 May for their first working session, the Iraqi members of parliament also condemned the recent Iranian incursions. “While you are discussing our internal settlement, Kurdish villages are being shelled by Iranian forces. These attacks must be officially condemned in a communiqué”, cried an M.P. for the Kurdish coalition, Hussein al-Barzanji. The Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, nevertheless asked the Members not to make any official comments for the moment. “It is true that there have been violations of our borders but the Iraqi government is doing what is needed regarding the countries concerned and I do not think there is any real danger in these regions”, he declared to parliament.
Turkey had welcomed the Iranian raids while the PKK, on 3 May threatened Turkey with reprisals if its troops entered Iraq to attack its bases. “If Turkish forces cross the border, the war will spread. The Turkish State and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be responsible for the chaos that will ensue, including inside Turkey”, affirmed Murat Karayilan, a member of the PKK political committee. “We do not want war, but we will defend ourselves against any incursion by Turkish forces. We will repost by waging an overall war on Turkey, everywhere and at all level— military, political, economic and social”, he added. The European-based pro-Kurdish news agency, Firat, moreover reported on 13 May that the PKK chief, Abdullah Ocalan, has threatened the Turkish government to “intensify” his party’s armed struggle if the Turkish Army continued to hunt down its fighters. “The PKK cannot be annihilated by violence, it will be strengthened in numbers, and the struggle will be intensified. We are warning you”, A. Ocalan is said to have declared from his Imrali prison to his lawyers, who visit him regularly every week, according to the news agency.
Abdullah Ocalan urged the Turkish government to put a “democratic project” (of which he gave no details) to work. The PKK leader, who has been serving a life sentence since 1999 Ankara, indicated that if Ankara responded to the demands of his fighters they could be “convinced” to withdraw from Turkish soil to seek refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan and, eventually, abandon arms added the Firat press agency. The Turkish army states that it reserved the right to penetrate into Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish fighters who have set up bases there, but denied that such operations are taking place at present. On 4 May, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, welcomed Iran’s “serious” efforts against Kurdish fighters and predicted that these activists would one day threaten the stability of Iraqi Kurds if they continued to tolerate their presence. Teheran and Ankara has reached an agreement that Iran will fight the PKK and that Turkey will fight the People’s Mujahiddin, an Iraqi-based Iranian opposition armed group. General Bekir Kalyoncu, the Turkish General Staff’s chief of operations, declared on 2 May: “all our activities (…) are taking place on our side of the border”. “If the conditions (for cross-border operations) occur Turkey will use its right, like any other sovereign country”. Since 1997, Turkey has deployed some 1,500 troops on soil of Iraqi Kurdistan, all along its borders. General Kalyonen assured his audience that these troops, charged with protecting the border, had no operational activities, but warned that they would remain in place “so long as terrorist organisations remain in the area”.
In the last few months the PKK has increased its operations against the Turkish Army in Turkish Kurdistan, while Ankara has been massing troops along the length of its borders with Iraqi Kurdistan with the official purpose of preventing PKK infiltration but really as a direct threat to the Iraqi Kurds. On 31 May, in fighting that occurred in the mountain area of Uludere, two Turkish soldiers and three “village guards” (Kurdish militia armed and paid by the Turkish State) were killed. Two soldiers and two Kurdish fighters were killed there the day before. Furthermore, in a rural area of Bingol province, a mine explosion wounded two soldiers. In Sirnak province, two Turkish soldiers and two PKK fighters were killed on 30 May in the course of fighting in the mountain area of Cudi, according to the local security officials. A soldier and two Kurdish fighters were killed in clashes while a second Turkish conscript lost his life in a mine explosion in the same area. Four Turkish soldiers and a Kurdish fighter were killed in clashes, on 12 May, in a locality called Kupelidag, in the same province. On 28 May a warrant officer was killed and three “village guards” were wounded at Hazro, a sub-prefecture of Diyarbekir province.
On 23 May, some PKK fighters carried out a bomb attack on a gas pipeline in a rural area near the town of Dogubayazit, in Agri province, cutting off its delivery. The explosion partly damaged the pipeline and a team from the State BOTAS Company, which operates it, when to the site to repair it and avoid leakage. On 5 May, the national railway company (TCDD) was targeted by a bomb that exploded as a goods train was passing by, without causing any human losses. This explosion, which occurred between two stations in Mus province, derailed two wagons and damaged others. The attack was not clamed. On 22 May, a Turkish soldier was killed and another wounded by two mine explosions. The first incident took place at Lice, in Diyarbekir province, where another mine exploded as an Army vehicle was passing. A similar attack took place near the town of near the town of Baskale, in Van province. Moreover, two boys, aged 6 and 12, lost their lives following a bomb attack on 13 Mayin the town of Ulalar, Erzincan province, without anyone claiming responsibility. The day before, a Turkish soldier was killed by a mine explosion during an operation against the PKK in a rural area near Cukurca, a locality in Hakkari province. In the same on 3 May, a bomb had exploded as an army vehicle, carrying soldiers and their children, was passing by. This caused 17 injured, 11 of them children, and five soldiers in the same province.
Furthermore, several bomb attacks have hit towns in Western Turkey since the beginning of the year. These have been claimed by a new group, the Hawks of Freedom for Kurdistan (TAK) — a group that the Turkish authorities equate with the PKK. This armed group claimed a “sabotage” by its members at Istanbul International Airport where an enormous fire on 24 May caused substantial material damage and slight injuries to three people in a freight handling area. “This sabotage is an answer to the policies of massacre pursued by the Turkish State against the Kurds”, claimed the Hawks of Freedom for Kurdistan in an email to the Firat news agency. The group stresses that its actions will be pursued “so long as the Turkish State’s policies of extermination of the Kurds remain in force”.
Moreover two Kurds, holding dual Turkish and Swedish nationality, have been charged by a Diyarbekir prosecutor, with “propaganda in support of the PKK” according to a report by legal sources dated 31 May. Ibrahim Güçlü and Zeynel Abdin Öxalp face up to three years imprisonment each under the terms of the charges made by the Diyarbekir prosecutor. The facts about which the two men are accused are in a press declaration published on 2 May, which attacked the deploying by the Turkish Army of substantial forces on the Iraqi border to counter the PKK. This statement declared that this vast deployment was, in fact, directed “against the Kurdish people”. A third person, of Turkish nationality, was also charged with the same offence. Messrs. Güçlü and Özalp are members of a Kurdish cultural association that the Turkish authorities banned last month.
On 10 May, the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, announced that over 1,000 people had been victims of sectarian murders in April in the city of Baghdad alone, while the country was still waiting for the announcement of the setting up of a new government of national union. “I have received a report for the Forensic Medicine Institute according to which 1,091 people were assassinated in April in the city of Baghdad alone”, declared Mr. Talabani in a communiqué. “We are shocked, saddened and angry to learn the extent of these murders, sometimes accompanied by cruel torture, which daily are hitting Iraqis solely because of their identity. If we add this to the number of bodies that have not been found, or to the crimes committed in other provinces, then the total number (…) shows that we are facing a situation no less dangerous than the results of terrorist activity”, he added. “Such crimes are contrary to religion, to morality and to humanity”, insisted the Iraqi President.
Despite advances on the institutional level, with the first free elections, a new Constitution and definitive elected parliament, the violence has not diminished. The sectarian conflict has worsened since the bomb attack on the Shiite mosque in Samara on 22 February last, which led to a wave of attacks on Sunni mosques and clerics. A recent report, however, describes 11 of the 18 provinces as being stable. The situation is “serious” in six others and in one, Anbar (which includes Fallujah) is judged “critical”. In the opinion of Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, an eminent member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Commission, “inter-communal violence has outstripped the insurrection as the principal threat to security”. In the New York Times he argued in favour of an institutional solution on Bosnian lines. Following a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Pentagon boss Donald Rumfeld, President Bush recognised, on 1 May, that “there are still difficult times ahead”.
The month of May was particularly blood in Iraq with 1,055 Iraqis killed and 1,423 injured in acts of violence— a 38% increase on April according to an assessment made on 1 June by AFP based on sources at the Ministries of the Interior, Defence and Health. This does not cover insurgent losses. Some 26 car bombs, 65 explosions of home made explosive devices, two suicide bomb attacks and about sixty armed attacks were recorded in May according to security sources. Once again, the overwhelming majority of victims were civilians, 932 civilians were killed and 1,273 injured in May, as against 685 dead and 865 injured in April according to Ministry of Health figures. Ninety-five policemen also died and as many were injured in these attacks in May as against 54 killed and 95 injured in April, according to the Ministry of the Interior. Twenty-eight soldiers were killed and 55 were wounded in May as against 22 killed and 34 injured in April according to the Ministry of Defence. As far as the terrorists are concerned, 345 were killed in May according to the Ministries of the Defence and the Interior, as against 180 in April. Some 1,635 people were arrested by the security forces in May (692 in April). Moreover, on 31 May, a state of emergency was declared for a month in Basra, the capital of Southern Iraq, shaken by an outbreak of violence in the city between Shiite groups fighting to control the lucrative smuggling trade in oil products.
On 31 May, the American media published a Pentagon report that predicted that the violence in Iraq would probably remain “stable” this year. However, this report that the Pentagon is obliged to made to Congress quarterly considers that “the attractiveness and motivation (of the terrorists) should begin to weaken by the beginning of 2007”. However, it recognises the persistence and growth of violence at this time. During the 3-month period from 11 February to 12 May, the report points out, the attacks have averaged about 600 weekly — 13% up on the previous six months. In the last few months the Sunni Arab “terrorists” have joined the al-Qaida branch led by the Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, which has increased the number of attacks, the report acknowledged. “The sectarian struggles are providing a significant contribution to the violence, especially that against civilians”, the report warns. One positive point in the report stresses the progress in training the Iraqi security forces by the United States, although no figures are given of the number of Iraqi troops able to operate without US assistance. According to the Pentagon, the number of Iraqi troops now totals 263,400 — spread over 71 battalions.
Furthermore, on 9 May, South Korea, which has the third largest contingent in Iraq, began the withdrawal of a thousand of its 3,200 soldiers stationed in Iraqi Kurdistan. South Korea had deployed 3,600 soldiers in 2004, in the context of the US-Led coalition. This contingent, deployed in the Irbil region, took part in the work of reconstruction and in security operations. At the end of 2005 the South Korean Parliament authorised an extension for one more year of its military presence in Iraq — but with a 1,000-man reduction in numbers of the troops. This withdrawal of a thousand soldiers should be completed by the end of the year.
On 9 May, Turkish legal sources stated that thirty-six youths, of less than 18 years of age, had been charged in Diyarbekir for their alleged participation in the violent riots that devastated the city last month. The number people charged for these riots has thus increased to 301, of whom 116 minors, 80 adolescents have already been charged. They face sentences of between nine and a half to 24 years imprisonment. The Public prosecutor who had, initially, seen his charge sheet against 36 new persons charged quashed by a special court responsible for juvenile delinquents, has drawn up a new charge sheet in which he called for sentences going from 6 moths to 18 years imprisonment. He accuses them of offences going from obstruction to membership of an armed organisation.
Turkish law considers children less than 12 years to be criminally responsible. The riots began in Diyarbekir on 28 March during the funerals of PKK fighters shot down by the army and then spread to other towns of the region. Sixteen people, including three small children were killed during the clashes with the security forces, who made full use of their weapons and tear gas grenades to disperse the demonstrators, who retaliated by throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and by ransacking public buildings and shops. Amongst the victims were three women, crushed during an attack with Molotov cocktails on a bus in Istanbul.
On 31 May, Turkish legal sources reported that Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbekir, was charged for having used municipal services to transport the corpse of a Kurdish fighter. He faces up to a year’s imprisonment for this incident, which goes back to March 2005. Mr. Baydemir and three of his assistants chartered a municipal ambulance to transport the corpse of a member of the PKK from Diyarbekir to Gaziantepe, about 320 Km to the Southwest. The man had been killed in fighting against the army, according to the charge sheet. Mr. Baydemir, a member of a pro-Kurdish party, is at the moment being subje3cted to a number of legal enquiries. He is suspected of “having taken sides with the rioters” during the violent incidents that had shaken the city and other neighbouring towns at end March/beginning April, causing 16 deaths, including 3 small children.
During a local congress of his party in Diyarbekir, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called on the Kurds on 7 May, to condemn the violence committed by the PKK. “By uniting, we are going to shut the road to terrorism and will work with all our forces to make this country every day freer, richer happier and more democratic”, declared Mr. Erdogan before several tens of thousands of sympathisers of his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The Prime Minister insisted on the distinction to be made between the Kurds’ democratic demands, which he said would be supported by the government and violent actions that the government would continue to repress. “We are going, on the one hand act, to work actively against terror and on the other to pursue our efforts in favour of democracy and development with determination”, he assured the crown gathered in the Diyarbekir football grounds. The meeting took place under high security measures, in particular ensured by helicopters. Mr. Erdogan advanced as proof of his commitment to the development of the region (one of the poorest in Turkey) the inauguration of 21 factories, which he was due to attend in the course of the day.
On the other hand, the Dutch Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Mr. Joost Lagendjik, Vice-President of the joint Turco-European Parliamentary Commission, speaking in Diyarbekir on 6 May, called on the Kurds to distance themselves from the PKK. “In the 80s and 90s there was considerable sympathy in Europe (…) for the Kurds’ struggle for their rights, in particular when the repression was particularly intense and the whole world closed its eyes a little to the violence” by the PKK, declared the Green MEP to AFP. “Now that Turkey is in the process of joining the European Union, it is becoming a more democratic country”, he continued. “I want, in a way, to warn the Kurds that if they let their politics be dominated by the PKK they will lose more and more sympathy in the E.U.”. Mr. Lagendijk, who came to Diyarbekir to take part in a conference on civil rights in Kurdistan had earlier in the day called on Kurdish civil society and politicians clearly to condemn violence. “Violence has no place in advancing Kurdish rights (…) Violence and all terrorist activity must be condemned”, he declared. The MEP at the same time called on the Turkish government to “accelerate the reforms undertaken to advance the rights” of the Kurds, in particularly encouraging it to extend the right to broadcast Kurdish language television programmes. Questioned about the upsurge of PKK activity and on the recent deployment of Turkish troops along the Iraqi borders, Mr. Lagendijk considered that “these two developments bode no good for the people of the region”.
The trial of two Turkish soldiers and a gendarmerie informer, accused of having committed a bomb attack with the presumed aim of destabilising Turkish Kurdistan, was resumed on 5 May at Van. Several tanks and anti-riot police were deployed round the courthouse. The three accused, two sergeant-majors and a “repentant” activist of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) face sentences of life imprisonment without option of any remission, for “participating in actions aiming to break the unity of the country”, murder and attempted murder. They are accused of having carried out a bomb attack on 9 November last, which caused one death and injured six other people, against a bookshop belonging to a former PKK member at Semdinli. The three men narrowly escaped being lynched by the crowd after the explosion. Weapons, grenades, a layout drawing of the library and a list of names, including that of the bookseller, were found in the car with which they had tried to escape. Warrant officer Ali Kaya, who has started his statement pleading not guilty on his own behalf and that of the security forces as a whole on 4 May, replied the next day to the cross examination of the lawyers of the civil parties (injured private parties associating themselves with the prosecution). The latter were anxious to throw light on the practices of the intelligence services of which he was a member. “Since 1991, in this region of Bingol-Diyarbekir-Hakkari (three Kurdish provinces), there have been over 1,000 murders by “persons unknown”. On how many of them has your work thrown a light?”, thundered Sezgin Tanrikulu, the President of the Diyarbekir Bar.
Repeating virtually work for word the statement of their boss Ali Kaya, sergeant-major Özcan Ildeniz and the informer Veysel Ates also pleaded not guilty and claimed that their present at the bomb attack was just a “coincidence”. The many questions by the civil party lawyers about the practices of the military intelligent services (by which the three were employed) led to violent verbal clashes with the defence lawyers. “It is incorrect to unveil here the missions of the security services responsible for the anti-terrorist struggle (…) The replies to these questions are State secrets”, exploded indignantly Vedat Gülsen before storming out of the audience chamber on 6 May.
Turkey was accused at the height of its clashes with the PKK in the 90s, of practicing summary executions, kidnappings and drug trafficking in Kurdistan. Most of the questions, treated with hostility by the defence lawyers, received only the most laconic replies. In his indictment, the Prosecutor in charge of the case had considered the bomb attack as a provocation aiming at destabilising the Kurdistan, where the PKK and the Turkish Army have been in conflict since 1984, and so ruining the process of Turkey’s joining the European Union. He had also accused General Yasar Büyükanit, Commander in Chief of the land forces, of having created, at the end of the 90s, when he was on duty in the region, a “secret organisation” and of having tried to “influence” the court by comments in favour of the alleged authors of the bomb attack. The Judges’ Council decided, in April, so strike the Van prosecutor off their rolls for having acted outside his jurisdiction. The civil party tried to come back to this alleged involvement of a high-ranking officer by asking one of the accused if he had been “congratulated” by the former for good and loyal services. To which the sergeant major replied once again with a brief “no”. The civil party lawyers, who had asked on 3 May that the Court President, accused of partiality, be replaced, protested at the presence in the already overcrowded court-room, of a dozen plainclothes gendarmes — to ensure the security of the accused, according to the Judge. They also denounced the political turn given to the trial and expressed indignation at the presiding judge’s refusal to read out the full bill of indictment, namely the pages implicating the General Staff.
Put in an embarrassing position, the government promised to throw more light on this case, launched a month after the start of negotiations for membership with the E.U., and which aroused doubts about Ankara’s the real will to reform.
On 25 May, the Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinjad stated that Iran’s “enemies” wished to provoke inter-ethnic tensions to fight the Iranian nuclear programme. “With the success we’ve achieved in the field of nuclear technology, the world equation has changed and our country has become an influential power (…) It is natural that enemies conspire (…) but our enemies’ conspiracies have never succeeded”, declared Mr. Ahmedinjad.
In the last few weeks, several towns in North-West Iran (Tabriz, Urmiah, Nagadeh, Ardebil) inhabited by Azeris, have experienced violent demonstrations to protest at a caricature that appeared in the government’s daily paper Iran, which was considered insulting. (The Azeris make up 25% of the 69 million Iranians, forming the largest ethnic minority, followed by the Kurds at 15%.) The cari8cqature, published mid-May showed a young boy repeating the Persian word for “cockroach” in different ways, faced with a cockroach asking “What?” in Azeri. Four people were killed and 43 injured during demonstrations by Azeris at Nagadeh.
“These attempts to provoke ethnic tensions are the enemy’s latest gesture against the Islamic Republic and the Iranian people”, declared the Iranian Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, himself of Azeri origin, on 28 May. “Today they are trying to use the Azeris (…) but that’s again a historic mistake because the Azeris have always played a decisive role in defending the Islamic Republic and territorial integrity”, he added. “Death to America!”, “Death to Israel” shouted the members of parliament as well as crying in Azeri “Azerbaijan and the revolution are inseparable”. According to the region’s commander, 20 people were arrested in Nagadeh and 15 others in Urmiah. He also reported the arrest of 16 members of a network that had secretly brought anti-riot equipment into the region from Turkey. He nevertheless stated that “about fifty (…) local and foreign journalists, coming from European countries and Germany had entered the province”. “These people have specific objectives and we will act against them when they are closer to their objective”, he added without giving any more details. In Teheran some 200 Azeri students tried to demonstrate against the caricature before the Iranian parliament. The demonstrators, who were rapidly dispersed by the anti-riot police, were shouting slogans against the caricatures and for educations in the Azeri language. According to the semi-official agency Ilna, violent demonstrations against the caricature took place in the day before at Ardebil (capital of the province of that name). The demonstrators attacked banks and shops. The Iranian authorities tried to bring calm back to the region by themselves virulently denouncing this caricature. Moreover the government daily Iran was suspended and the caricaturist Mana Neyestani and one of the paper’s editors have been arrested.
For over a year, several non-Persian provinces have experienced disturbances and confrontations. The province of Khuzistan (Arabistan), in which the Arabs form the majority of the population, experienced several bloody bomb attacks, responsibility for which were claimed by Sunni Arab groups. At the other end of the country, in Sistan-Baluchistan (South-Eastern Iran) some Sunnis belonging to the Jundallah (God’s Soldier) group, accused of being linked to al-Qaida twice (in March and early may) killed travellers near the Pakistani border. Finally, for over a year Kurdistan province has been the scene of armed clashes between Iranian troops and activists of Pejak, a Kurdish nationalist group close to the PKK. Moreover, two bombs exploded at a few minutes interval on 8 May in government building at Kermanshah, an economic centre with a marked Kurdish majority. These bombs caused six injured. The two bomb attacks were directed at the offices of the governor of Kermanshah and of the provincial Chamber of Commerce. These attacks occurred a week after the Iranian forces had shelled the border area of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Iranian authorities have often accused the United States and Great Britain of supporting dissident Arab, Kurdish and Baluchi organisations. However, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinjad wrote to the US President to propose “new means” of settling the tensions. This unprecedented gesture — at least since 1980 — was revealed on 8 may and coincides with strong pressure on Iran, called upon to cease its nuclear activities. According to the analyst Hamid Reza Jalaipur “there is some latent discontent, which explains these movements, but I think that foreign intelligence services are also playing a role in supporting these movements”. “The United States is certainly pleased to see disturbances that weaken the Islamic authorities, but I do not think that such movements will endanger the power structure”, since “Iranian nationalism is very strong and could be aroused if it feels it’s in danger. In Tabriz, for example, the authorities rallied 100,000 people after a demonstration of protest at the caricature that had assembled 15,000 people”, he added. The Persians form only 40%of the Iranian population while the various minorities represent more than half. There are the Azeris, with 25%, the Kurds with 15%, the Arabs at 7%,, the Baluchis at 6% and the Turcoman at 3%, all essentially concentrated along the borders of the Iranian empire.
Furthermore the Canadian paper National Post reported in its 19 May issue that the new dress code adopted by the Majlis (Parliament) would have a discriminatory character for other religious groups. This Bill would oblige Jews, Christians and followers of other minority faiths, like the Zoroastrians, to wear clothing of a colour that would enable them to be noticed as different from Moslems. However, according to a member of parliament, Mohsen Yahyavi, the Canadian paper’s information is “completely false”. “The Bill is aimed at inciting fashion creators to design clothes that would be more compatible with Islam. But the wearing of other clothes is not at all forbidden”, he insisted. A member of parliament representing the tiny Jewish minority in Iran, Moris Motamed, was also categorical. “There is not a single work in the Bill describing particular cuts or colours reserved to groups of religious minorities”, he considered. The document adopted by the Majlis comes two years after an invitation by the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Revolution that an Iranian national dress be created. In his appeal, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei invited his compatriots not to be influenced by Western fashions or reviews. The wording of the Bill, voted on in its general principles, has yet to receive the approval of the Council of Guardians, a body formed off clergy responsible for checking the constitutionality of any laws. Since 1979, the Islamic Republic has been endowed with a very strict dress code whereby women should be covered from head to foot whenever they leave their homes. Their hair must be strictly hidden from sight as well as their bodily shape. The regime has created a police force and a militia, the “bassiji”, responsible for checking that these rules are, in fact, observed.
Religious minorities are tolerated in Iran, which theoretically guarantees freedom of worship. However, certain positions in the Armed Forces and the health services are banned to non-Moslems. Recent statements by President Ahmedinjad denying the reality of the Holocaust have sown fears amongst the 25,000 Jews still living in Iran.
On 17 May, the Syrian authorities carried out fresh arrests as part of their campaign against the signatories of a declaration demanding a radical reform of relations with the Lebanon, a well-known journalist or opponent even risking a life sentence. In all, six activists and signatories of the Beirut-Damascus Declaration, including the journalist and opponent Michel Kilo, have been in jail since 14 May. The campaign began with the arrest of the last named, who is a member of Committees for the Renaissance of Civil Society and a signatory of the 2005 Damascus Declaration — the most important ever launched in favour of the democratisation of Syria. On 16 May, Mr. Kilo was brought before the court, according to the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (ONDHS). On the same day, Mahmud Merhi, General Secretary of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, and Nidal Darwish, a member of the Committees for the Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Liberties, were arrested on the same grounds. According to the ONDHS, the Syrian Courts will be indicting Mr. Kilo on charges that could result in his receiving a life sentence. Mr. Kilo is charged, in particular, with “provoking sectarian and racial dissention, with publishing lying and exaggerated information aimed at attacking the prestige of the State and of defaming the Head of State and the courts”, the organisation indicated in a communiqué. According to the president of ONDHS, Ammar al-Qorabi, on 10 May the security services also arrested Safuouane Tayfour, a medical doctor, in Hama (Northern Syria) and Mahmud Issa, a translator, in Homs (North of Damascus). Mr. Issa has already been arrested in 1992 and, again, in 2000 for “membership of the banned Communist Action Party”. A third person was arrested at Deir al-Zour, 432 Km North East of Damascus, because they had the same name as one of the signatories. This was a certain Khaled Khalifa, “a citizen without any political activities”, according to Mr. Qorabi. The ONDHS then published a communiqué announcing the arrest, in Damascus on 17 May, of Khalil Hussein, a Kurdish former political detainee, who was imprisoned for 12 years in Syria. Two other Syrians, Suleiman al-Shamr and Kamal Sheikho, who signed the petition, have been summonsed by the security services.
The Beirut-Damascus Declaration, published on 11 May in Beirut, with the signatures of 300 Syrian and Lebanese intellectuals, called for the “respecting and consolidation of the sovereignty and independence of the Lebanon and of Syria on the context of transparent and institutionalised relations”. It insists on “the necessity of a definitive Syrian recognition of Lebanon’s independence. The first steps in this direction consist of defining the borders and an exchange of ambassadors”.
On 3 May, on the occasion of the 16th International Day for Freedom of the Press, the lawyer and Human Rights activist Annouar Bounni, demanded for his part the release of three Syrian journalists detained by that country’s authorities. “Today we remember some Kurdish journalists — Massud Hamid, detained for the last three years, Ali Abdallah and Mohammad Ghaneem, incarcerated for the last month”, Mr. Bounni pointed out in a communiqué. He called on the Syrian authorities to “observe the freedom of expression and of the press and cease the pressures and to free the detainees”, at the same time deploring the “threats” and harassment to which Syrian journalists like Hakam al-Baba, Michel Kilo and Abdel Razzaq Id are subjected and the closing down (by the authorities) of opposition Internet sites. “Freedom of the Press and of expression are (necessary) for denouncing violations and for fighting against corruption”, continued Mr. Bounni, who is spokesman of the National Centre for the Defence of Press Freedom and Journalists in Syria.
Furthermore, on 14 May, a Syrian lawyer, Hossam ad-Din Babash announced that Syria has requested the French Interpol services to hand over to it the former Syrian Vice President, Abdul-Halim Khaddam, charged in his country with treason and corruption. The writ, sent through the Interpol offices in Damascus, asks that he be handed to the Syrian authorities for having, in particular, encouraged a foreign attack on Syria. The lawyer who has started proceedings against Abdul-Halim Khaddam revealed that if he does not return to Syria he would be tried in absentia. The writ is unlikely to produce any results, even if the lawyer says he is confident of a positive response from France. The former Vice President, who has exercised many important role for nearly 30 years, provoked an uproar among the Syrian leaders in December when he accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of having threatened the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri a few months before le latter was assassinated in February 2005. Bachar al-Assad has denied these accusations. Abdul-Halim Khaddam is, today, living in France with his family, after resigning his position and leaving Syria last year.
On 8 May, US President, George W. Bush, extended the embargo on exports to Syria of military or sensitive equipment as well as the freeze of Syrian assets that might contribute to interference in the Lebanon or support for terrorist organisations. Mr. Bush ordered the extension of the sanctions decreed on 11 May 2004, the White House announced from Fort Lauderdale, where the President was on a visit. “The actions of the Syrian government in supporting terrorism, intervention in the Lebanon, the search for weapons of mass destruction and the pursuit of ballistic programmes, its efforts to undermine the efforts of the United States and international efforts regarding the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq, represent a continuing and extraordinary threat to (American) national security” explained Mr. Bush in a decree addressed to Congress.
On 17 May, Alparslan Arslan, a 29-year old nationalist lawyer, burst into the State Council, the highest administrative organ of the judiciary, and shouted “I am a soldier of God” before opening fire on five judges, killing the oldest and wounding the three others. He declared that by firing on the judges he wanted to punish them for having decreed the banning of the Islamic headscarf in public institutions and universities. The attacker was overpowered by the police, still in possession of his weapon — a Glock automatic pistol that, according to the authorities, can pass metal detectors unnoticed. On 21 May he was incarcerated with three other men, suspected of being his accomplices, after being seen by the Public Prosecutor. Interrogated by the anti-terrorist section, he claimed to have acted alone and not to be a member of any organisation. Nevertheless, the police took in for questioning two people thought likely to have links with the Killer. According to the newspapers, the man, who is based in Istanbul, is known to be a practicing Moslem and close to Islamo-nationalist circles. His three sisters wear the Islamic veil, according to the daily paper Vatan. The assailant stated that he wanted to “punish” this institution, and particularly the Judges of the 2nd Chamber, for its decisions against wearing the veil.
In February the 2nd Chamber of the State Council ruled against wearing the headscarf by the head of an Ankara nursery school either inside or outside the establishment. The islamist paper Vakit, had published, on its front page, photos of the Judges who were members of this Chamber who thus became the targets of islamist circles. A. Arslan and his three accomplices were accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order (a charge punishable by life imprisonment), of premeditated murder, of attempted murder with premeditation, of using explosive and of breach of the law regarding firearms. Five other men arrested in the context of this case have been released. On 20 May, a former army officer, Muzaffer Tekin, was sent to hospital following an attempted suicide. Being treated under police supervision, he is suspected of having exchanged several phone calls with the alleged murderer just before the attack. Questioner in hospital by the press, he admitted knowing the alleged murderer but denied being the brains behind to attack on the judges.
Fingers are being pointed at Mr. Erdogan’s government in connection with this attack, since the Prime Minister is an active islamist whose wife and two daughters are veiled and who had publicly criticised the State Council’s decision on wearing the veil. On 18 May, the liberal press accused the government of having implicitly encouraged this attack through the remarks by government authorities about wearing the veil. “A shot fired against secularism” was the headline of the major daily Milliyet that published an open forum in which the government was urged to give up “provoking tension” in Turkish society. In an interview he gave on 19 May, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan considered that this murder was part of a plot aimed at discrediting the government. The press is also wondering whether this attack is linked to three recent grenade attacks aimed at the head offices of the pro-secular daily Cumhurriyet.
On 18 May, some 25,000 people demonstrated before the mausoleum of the founder of the Turkish Republic, Kemal “Ataturk”, shouting slogans like “Turkey is secular and will remain so”. The demonstration was led by the heads of the country’s principal judicial organs — the Constitutional Court, the State Council and the Court of Appeals — with long solemn faces, and observed a minutes silence, with all the Prosecutors and lawyers in full judicial dress and a dense crowd of men, women and children gathered, officially, to defend “secularism”. A number of questions remain, such as the ease with which the murderer was able to enter such a strict protected body without attracting any suspicion and the fact that, according to the press, the metal detectors just happened to have broken down that day…
On 16 May, the trial in Istanbul of a Turkish journalist, of Armenian origin Hrant Dink, accused of “attempting to influence the course of justice” by commenting on his own problems with the law, was suspend after nationalists had provoked incidents. The hearing was seriously disturbed by a group of nationalist lawyers, who had initiated the proceedings — to such an extent that the court was obliged to postpone the trial to 4 July, stated Fethiye Cetin, a defence lawyer. “Kemal Kerinçsiz (President of the Union of Nationalist Lawyers) and his team came in force and attacked us physically as well as verbally”, declared Ms. Cetin, who was unable to give fuller details explaining that she was under police protection.
“When I entered they attacked me crying “clear out of this country” and spat at me”, explained Mr. Dink, adding that he had to leave the court escorted by the police. The police also had to intervene at the request of the court to prevent nationalist activists from entering the courtroom. Outside the courthouse, about fifty extreme right demonstrators fought against about fifteen left activists who had come to support Mr. Dink with cries of “they are our intellectuals, our peoples are brothers”.
Mr. Dink, chief editor of the bi-lingual Turkish-Armenian daily Agos and three other members of the editorial board, face up to three years jail for having questioned, in their columns, the workings of Turkish justice. The article in question followed Mr. Dink being sentenced to six months jail for an article that appeared in his paper in 2004, devoted to “the collective memory of the massacres” of Armenians, committed in Anatolia between 1915 and 1917. The Armenian question is a very sensitive one in Turkey, which refuses to recognise the Armenian genocide.
In France, the Socialists are tabling a Bill, due to be discussed in parliament after the summer recess that would penalise negation of the 1915 Armenian genocide. France has already passed such a law against any negation of the Jewish Holocaust. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told some French business leaders who were visiting Turkey that a law making the negation of the Armenian genocide an offence would damage Franco-Turkish relations. “We expect executives of French firms to react against this proposed law”, declared the Prime Minister, adding that if it were passed it would harm bi-lateral relations. He moreover considered that it would not be compatible with freedom of thought and expression… On 8 May Turkey recalled its Ambassadors to Canada and France “for a short period of consultation on the latest development of unfounded allegations on the Armenian genocide in Canada and France”, pointed out the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, recently supported the comparison of these massacres with genocide. The Turkish authorities invariably state that the number of deaths put forward by the Armenians is exaggerated and insist on the fact that they were killed or displaced at a time when the Ottoman Empire wastry6ing to make its borders with Russia more secure and to put an end to the attacks of Armenian activists. Turkey had already cancelled defence contracts with French companies worth several millions of euros after the adoption of a law recognising the Armenian genocide.
Nevertheless, on 10 May the Turkish courts acquitted the authors of a report on minorities ordered by the government, who were charged with “inciting hatred” because they had written that Turkey should grant more rights to minorities like the Kurds. Professors Ibrahim Kaboglu and Baskin Orhan would have faced up to five years jail if found guilty. Their 2004 report had unleashed the fury of nationalists, who feared that any recognition of minority rights would lead to the ethnic partition of the country.
Moreover, on 4 May, Ridvan Kizgin, President of the Bingol branch of the Turkish Association for Human Rights was charged under Article 301mof the Penal Code for “denigrating the Turkish State”. The Turkish courts accuse him of having sent the Turkish authorities a letter regarding the word Cewlik, the Kurdish name for Bingol.
Despite the legislative and constitutional reforms, the authorities continue to harass Human Rights defenders.
RUSSIA AND TURKEY GET TOGETHER TO BUILD NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS. On 16 May, the Atomstroiexport Company, that is responsible for building Atomic power stations abroad, announced that Russia was ready to build nuclear power stations in Turkey. The building of a first power station is due to begin in 2007 as start operating in 2012. Following the announcement of Russia’s willingness to build nuclear power stations in Turkey, the Turkish authorities explained, in the course of a meeting of the Russo-Turkish Commission on Power that took place in Moscow last week, that Russian firms could “invest in Turkish power and fuel in the context of Turkish legislation”.
Worried at the possibility of a shortage of power and wishing to reduce its dependence on existing source, particularly on the natural gas supplied by Russia and Iran, Turkey is envisaging the construction of three nuclear power stations with a total output of 5,000 megawatts to come into operation in 2012. The construction of the first one at Sinop, on the Black sea coast is due to begin in 2007 to start operating in 2012.
Some 4,000 people demonstrated in Sinop t6o demand that the government abandon its project of a nuclear power station in the region and seek alternative solutions. Turkey had already envisaged the building of a nuclear power station before, but had had to abandon the project in July 2000 because of the financial difficulties it was experiencing at the time and of the protests of ecologist in Turkey and amongst its Greek and Cypriot neighbours.
On 15 May, the first private Iranian Kurdish television channel, Rojhelat-TV, announced that it had started broadcasting to the Near East by satellite from an unspecified location near Stockholm. “This is the first independent Kurdish television channel aimed at all Kurds and the first to broadcast in both Kurdish and Persian”, declared a spokesman for the channel, Kurdo Baksi.
The channel broadcasts two hours of international news daily, with an emphasis on the near East and Iran. The Majority of the 20 people working on it are Kurds from Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The locality from which it is broadcasting is not specified for security reason.
Three years after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the country’s reconstruction, for which the United States has invested $20 billion (15.95 billion euros), has difficulty in getting under way. It’s true that schools have been rebuilt, electric power stations have been repaired and some dams have been improved. But the oil industry, the favourite target of the insurrection, is going from bad to worse. Production has fallen to 2 million barrels a day (mb/d) last year, as against 3.5 mb/d in 1990. Power cuts remain a constant source of irritation. And only 19% of Iraqis are connected to any sewage system as against 24% before the war, according to US government sources. In its latest report, the inspector general responsible for checking the accounts of the country’s reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, reports that 80% of the projects for rehabilitating then ports, railways, main roads, bridges and airports have not been completed. However, he adds, only 4% of the trains runs every day. A report of a Pentagon enquiry, published on 1 May, states for its part that the reconstruction of Iraq has made “significant” progress in the last few months, despite setbacks and shortcomings, particularly in the fuel and power sector. Oil production remains below the pre-war levels and of the targets set by the Oil Ministry even though the US has invested $1.7 billion in that sector. “The Iraqis do not fully benefit from their enormous oil reserves”, stressed the report, raising “great difficulties of security and infrastructure”, which “have not changed much in the last quarter”. This sector is also one on the most hit by corruption, which is particularly encouraged by the absence of reliable measures of comparing the quantities of oil produced and sold. “Moreover, the insurrection is partly financed by the corruption in Iraq and by a share levied on the profits of the black market”.
This quarterly report is published three years after the end of “the principal combat operations” proclaimed b y president Bush. In all, it stresses that 67% of the $21 billion allocated to the reconstruction has already been spent and that there remain only $2 billion to be committed. The US Congress is at the moment debating a supplementary $3.2 billion grant for reconstruction as part of the overall budget.
On 8 May, at the opening of the 3rd Rebuild Iraq 2006 conference, which was attended by 1,000 companies from 50 countries, the Kurdistan Deputy Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Rizgar Jiawok, called on the international community to help in the reconstruction of Iraq. “We must not just limit expenditure on machines, vehicles and equipment”, stated Mr. Jiawok. “Machines can easily be bought but it take time for people to be qualified”, he remarked. “Technology is developing rapidly and Iraq has lagged far behind for many years”, he added. He was speaking at the opening of this 4-day conference initiated by the American Agency for International Development (USAID) jointly with the Iraqi Information and Communication Technology Alliance (ICTA), an organisation that seeks to develop private initiative. “There is a very lively spirit of enterprise in Iraq”, said the Baghdad Director of USAID, Dawn Liberi encouragingly. The conference was described by experts as an opportunity for the business world to participate in the reconstruction of an Iraq, devastated by the war. “Rebuild Iraq 2006” is the third conference of this kind to be organised since 2004. The aim is to supply international firms with the means of doing business in Iraq, which the experts consider needs $60 billion to re-establish its infrastructure. Corruption, as well as insecurity in the country, is the major challenges before the effort of reconstruction, the experts consider.
Furthermore, on 15 May, a Calgary firm, Western Oil Sands, concluded an agreement with the government of Kurdistan to exploit fuel and power resources. The firm wants to explore the province’s oil and gas deposits. According to American studies, Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, with about 112 barrels.
For its part, on 31 May the Jordan national airline, Royal Jordanian, announced that, as from June, it would be running two flights a week to the Kurdish city of Suleumaniyah. The return flights would begin on 5 June and would take place on Mondays and Friday. These connections bring number of Royal Jordanian’s flights to Iraq to 25 a week, 16 of which are to Baghdad, three to the Southern city of Basra and four to Irbil. The Jordanian company and the Iraqi national company Iraqi Airways as well as the Kurdish Kurdistan Airlines are the only ones providing regular commercial flights to and from Iraq.
Work on the building of a free zone in the sector of Yaarubia (1,000 Km North-East of Damascus) near the Iraqi border, began on 28 May. This Free zone, located in the Kurdish province of Hassake is due to cost nearly $20 million dollars and will cover an area of 60,000 m2. It aims at developing the region in accordance with the government’s plans. The Yaarubia free zone, closer to the Iraqi and Turkish borders, “will be one of the largest in Syria”, according to the General Director of Free Zones, Adnan Suleiman.
Thousands of Iranian Kurds, driven out of Iran at the beginning of the 80s and settling in a camp in Iraqi Kurdistan are demanding the status of refugees from UNO declared, Mahmud Azizi, one of their representatives, on 13 May. “We want to return home under UN supervision but Iran refuses to accept us. Yet we have no status, according to UNO”, stated Mahmud Azizi, who represents 221 Iranian Kurdish families from the Qawa camp at Irbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
These Kurds had been driven out of the Kurdish town of Qasri Shirin at the beginning of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988). Once in Iraq they were settled in Al-Anbar Province (West of Baghdad), today overwhelmingly Sunni Arab. But they had to flee this province in 2005 because they were being harassed and attacked by terrorists. They then left for Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Mansur al-Abdallah, a 21-year old resident of the camp, 25 families were still living in Al-Anbar. “Our situation has worsened. Here most of the young people are unemployed. We lack essential materials”, stated Mr. Abdallah. “These people want to return to Iran”, explained Dindar Zebari, responsible for relations between the Kurdish government and UNO, “but they would be satisfied with political asylum in Iraq”. According to Mr. Zebari the Kurdish government would be prepared to build them houses if they received the official status of refugees from UNO.
On 5 May, an Ankara court rejected a petition from Abdullah Ocalan who asked to be retried. It thus went against the ruling of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR). “This is not a surprise, were expecting this decision”, remarked Hatice Korkut, one of Ocalan’s lawyers. She pointed out that an appeal was possible, but that the team of jurists would first study the content of the decision before deciding what further operations should follow.
The boss of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), incarcerated since 1999 on the island prison of Imrali (North-West Turkey) demanded, in January, to be retried in accordance with the ruling of the to this effect by the ECHR. The European Court had recommended a retrial of Ocalan in May 2005considering that the one in which he was sentenced to death in 1999 was “inequitable”. The death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment in 2002 after the abolition of the death penalty in Turkey. Turkey has indicated that it would observe recommendations of the ECHR, but it must first amend its legislation. A law passed in 2003 does permit the retrial of prisoners whose sentences have been invalidated by the European Court, but it is not retroactive, which excludes the case of A. Ocalan and about a hundred other people from this right. “Parliament must amend this measure as it clearly runs counter to the principle of legality”, commented Ms. Korkut. There is no sign of any initiative to put forward such an amendment.
On 2 May Turkey was found guilty by the European Court for Human Rights of violating the freedom of expression of an author punished for a book denouncing the correlation between Islam and social injustice. The petitioner, Aydin Tatlav, a journalist, had published a book in 1992 entitled Islamiyet Gerçegi (The reality of Islam). In this book he put forward the idea that religion had the effect of legitimising social injustices by passing them off as “God’s Will”. In October 1996 he published a fifth edition of this work. Following a denunciation the author was then charged with “having written a publication aimed at profaning one of the religions” and sentenced to a year in jail, which was then commuted to a fine.
The Strasbourg judges noted that, while certain passages contained sharp criticisms of religion on socio-political grounds and formed a caustic commentary of Islam, it was not directly aimed at believers nor was it an attack on sacred symbols. It considered, in addition, that penal condemnation could have the effect of dissuading authors and publishers from publishing opinions on religion that were non-conformist, this creating an obstacle to the “protection of pluralism that is indispensable to the healthy evolution of a democratic society”. The legal intervention was not “proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued”. They concluded, in consequence that there had been a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court granted Mr. Tatlav 3,000 euros damages.
Moreover, according to the Turkish press of 10 May, the Justice and Development Party (AKP — in office) in Turkey has started legal proceedings against an eighty-year-old man who denounced the government’s policy as a drift towards islamism in Turkey. The AKP party’s anger was aroused by a two-page letter stuck into the Golden Book in the house where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born in Salonika. This document, particularly critical of the AKP, was found and torn out of the book by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan who visited this Greek city for the annual Summit of the Process of South-East European Cooperation. The letter, by Mehmet Fethi Dördüncü, an 82-year-old retired worker, accuses the AKP of being made up of “unbelievers” wanting to “use Islam as a shield” and of “exploiting the religious feelings” of the Turks, according to extracts published by the papers. He particularly attacks Mr. Erdogan, who he accuses of being a “slave” of the United States and the European Union.
Following a meeting of the Council of Ministers on 8 May, the government spokesman, the Minister of Justice, Cemil Cicek, implicitly called on the members of parliament and the ministers to sue the author of this much discussed letter, affirming that it was “a sort of communiqué from an illegal organisation”. Questioner by the papers, several ministers said that they were determined to start penal proceedings for libel. “Of course I’m going to complain to the courts”, indicated in particular the Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, quoted by the daily Sabah. Another member of parliament Mahmut Durdu was not content with taking him to court — he promised to spit in his face.
On 10 May, nearly 200 asylum seekers, mostly Syrian Kurds, camped in the main square of square of Niciosia, demanding state aid, better living conditions and work permits. “No right to work, no social security— how are we going to live?” could be read on one placard. Some women and children had sought shelter in tents set up in Elefteria Square, while the men collected in the entrance to a building in front of the Nicosia City Hall, from the top of which four of them threatened to throw themselves. After nearly six hours in the building, the four Kurds came out to applause and cries of “Kurdistan! Kurdistan!”
The Cyprus government authorises asylum seekers only to work in the sectors of agriculture and cattle rearing, which are short of labour. Their demands are backed by the NGO Kisa, which has called on the government to put an end to its policy of expelling asylum seekers and to provide them with better housing. Kisa also calls for the liberation of some asylum seekers being held by the police and are subject to imminent expulsion orders. “We have been obliged to flee Syria because we were victims of discrimination, but it isn’t any better here (…). In Syria we were considered foreigners — we were treated like cattle. And in Cyprus we are throw out into the street”, stated Baran, a 26-year-old Syrian Kurd, whom has been in Cyprus for three months. Damascus has deprived some 300,000 Kurds of citizenship since 1963. “What sickens me is that people here have forgotten that they, too, were refugees in 1974”, stressed a young man from the Cameroon who refused to give his name, referring to the exodus of Greek Cypriots who had to settle in the South after the invasion of the North of the island by Turkish troops.
On 4 May, about sixty foreign detainees, including Iranians, mutinied in Nicosia central prison. The demonstrators indicated that they would end their movement were their demand for financial aid satisfied.
Cyprus is the industrialised country that receives the largest number of demands for political asylum in proportion to its population. There are some 10,000 demands for asylum at present being examined on the island, which joined the European Union in May 2004. Just in the year 2005, Cyprus handled 7,770 new applications.