The 22 July general elections have appreciably altered the political situation in Turkey, with the party in office, born of the Islamist movement, emerging greatly strengthened from the pall as against the Army’s camp, but also the return to parliament of the Turkish ultra-nationalist party, the MHP and of Kurds of the DTP party. The Justice and development Party (AKP) that has been in office for nearly five years, secured 46.6% of the votes — no mean feat. As was pointed out by Prime Minister Erdogan himself, this is only the second time in 50 years that a party in office has improved its score in a fresh lection. In the 2002 elections, his party had only secured 34% of the vote and won 351 seats. Paradoxically, this time the number of seats won is less as a third force, the National Action Party (MHP) with 14.2 % of the vote won 71 seats, and so has returned to Parliament, while some 20 Kurdish Members have been elected to Parliament as “independents”. The principal opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP secular nationalist) won 20.8% of the vote — more or less the same as in 2002 (19%) — and will have 112 seats. In addition, some 50 women will have seats, increasing the proportion of women members to 10% — an unprecedented event according to the daily paper Milliyet. The previous parliament has 24 women members, 4.3% of the total. Ankara is in the 123rd position with respect of women’s representation amongst the members of the Inter-parliamentary Union — a body that includes 140 national parliaments.
Thirteen years after being excluded, Kurdish members have returned to the Turkish Parliament following these elections — despite many obstacles, both administrative and legal. The party for a Democratic Society (DTP, the principal pro-Kurdish party), which enjoys very strong support in the Kurdish provinces, presented 60 candidates at the elections officially listed as “independents”, so as to get round the rule of a threshold of 10% of the overall national vote for a party to have seats in Parliament. As soon as this new election strategy was announced in May, the Turkish Parliament, in a rare demonstration of unanimity, voted an amendment to block it. The names of independent candidates now have to be on the same ballot paper at that listing party candidates, whereas, previously, independents were listed on a separate ballot. Moreover, candidates were forbidden to address their electors in Kurdish, the Turkish language remaining the only one allowed during the campaign. The DTP had to make up curious stencils and strange bits of knotted string to encourage the often illiterate electors to make the “right choice”. By placing the stencil over the ballot paper containing a long list pf names, that of the Kurdish candidate appeared in the middle of the cutout, and the elector just had to stamp that name. In Turkish Kurdistan, 45% of the women and 19% of the men are illiterate — much more than the national average of 20% and 4% respectively. Poverty is also a serious problem in the region, where unemployment can be as high as 70% in the most disadvantaged areas, while many villages still don’t have either running water or electricity.
When the results were announced, hundreds of people throughout Kurdistan celebrated the election victory of their candidates with drumming and singing. “We want to turn over a new page”, stressed Aysel Tugluk, delighted at being one of the twenty Kurdish members of parliament elected. “We want to begin a process of dialogue and reconciliation in Parliament so as to settle the (Kurdish) problem”, stated this new Member for Diyarbekir, the politico-cultural capital of Turkish Kurdistan. “We will not be a source of tension (…), we will act in a spirit of tolerance and understanding”, she added. “Our mission is to contribute to peace and democracy”, declared for his part Ahmet Turk, who will be returning to the Turkish parliament from which he was forcibly expelled in 1994. “We claim to represent a new vision” of the Kurdish problem, he stressed in the CNN-Turk news channel. The elected Kurdish representatives (including Sebahat Tuncel, who was elected for an Istanbul constituency even while serving a nine-month prison sentence for “criminal opinions”) will be able to form an official group in the new parliament. The candidates all campaigned round the theme of reconciliation of Kurds and Turks and, in particular, called on Ankara to abandon the military option for dealing with the PKK and to increase the rights of the Kurds. The DTP wants to secure an amnesty for members of the PKK, whereas Ankara demands that unconditional surrender. The Kurds, who number some 15 to 20 million of the 74 million inhabitants of Turkey, want to be able to study their language in state schools and demand that government officials working their region should be able to speak Kurdish.
The first steps in Parliament by Kurdish Members ended in failure in 1994 when their immunity was lifted. Some of them, including the best known, Leyla Zana, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, served nearly 10 years in prison. Others chose exile. Moreover, on 21 July a Turkish Prosecutor started legal proceedings against Leyla Zana, who argues for a Federal State structure for Turkey that would enable the Kurds to enjoy a degree of autonomy. The opening of this enquiry against the former Kurdish Member of Parliament follows on a complaint from the police after statements by the former Kurdish M.P. at an election meeting in support Kurdish candidates. “It is time to divide Turkey into States”, the ex-M.P. had declared, evoking the setting up of a “State of Kurdistan”. The enquiry by Prosecutor’s Office will have to decide whether Leyla Zana had breached any articles of the Penal Code regarding the unity of the Turkish State.
However, the elections were also marked by a nationalist wind that enabled the National Action Party (MHP — ultra-nationalist) to attack the electorate with a discourse combining xenophobia with militarist overtones and acute Euroscepticism. The MHP has become the third largest party in the Turkish parliament. “It was a very favourable election for the MHP. For the first time it enjoyed considerable middle class support. This reflects frustration over the CHP and anger at the AKP”, commented Ayse Ayata of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. Devlet Bahceli, boss of the MHP, has demanded the restoration of capital punishment for “terrorists”, although he and his party had been in the coalition government that, in 2002, had abolished capital punishment in the context of reforms required by the European Union. The same government had commuted the death sentence passed on Abdullah Ocalan to life imprisonment. In 2002, the MHP had failed to reach the 10% threshold for parliamentary representation. It has a long history of violence. In the 70s, its supporters, particularly its youth organisation, called the Grey Wolves, took part in street fighting against left wing activists. During the life of the current parliament, the MHP will probably try and mobilise public opinion against political reforms and against any possible concessions over Cyprus, two crucial issues I the negotiations for joining the European Union.
This early election, as shown by the high (84%) rate of participation, was intended to resolve a serious crisis in which Mr. Erdogan’s government was opposed by the partisans of an alleged “secularism” — essentially the Army that is, essentially, refusing to give up its political prerogatives. The newspapers stressed that the veiled threat of the Army’s intervention in the crisis had had a boomerang effect, with a sudden surge of “democratic” support amongst the electors that worked to the advantage of the party in office. The results show that the Army “must totally cease to intervene in politics”, stressed the daily paper Aksam. In a first reaction to his victory, Mr. Erdogan committed himself to respecting the “founding principles” of the Republic, including secularism. “The envisaged momentum of transformation and of development (of the country) will be pursued with determination by the 60th government” he assured his listeners on the next day. The Istanbul Stock Exchange, whose index closed with a historic record of 55,625.44 points, welcomed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's victory. Inflation has fallen over the last few years, foreign investments have increased and economic growth has reached the level of 7% a year. The member countries of the European Union, while divided over Turkey’s application to join the Union, have urged Turkey to continue on the road of economic and political reforms to meet the criteria required to join the 27. The head of the British Foreign Office, David Miliband considered it “very important” to “hold out a hand to the new Turkish Government“. His Austrian equivalent, Ursula Plassnik, stressed the interest of having “a modern, dynamic and prosperous Turkey as a partner”, hoping that the government would continue “in an even more ambitious manner”. For his part, the Chairman of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, observed that Mr. Erdogan’s party’s success came “at a most important moment for the Turkish people at a time when the country is advancing with political and economic reforms”.
However, the Turkish Prime Minister also aroused anxiety over his efforts to make adultery a criminal offence and to appoint former Islamists to key posts. This is additional to the concern over his calls to lift restrictions on wearing the Islamic headscarf. As for the Kurdish question, Turkey, a member of NATO, regularly threatens to launch an offensive in Iraqi Kurdistan, on the pretext of fighting the PKK, some units of which are based on the borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
On 31 July, Iran confirmed, for the first time, that two Kurdish journalists had been sentenced to death as “enemies of God”. Abdolvahed Botimar and Adnan Hassanpour “were sentenced to hang for being mohareb”, (which, in Persian, means “enemies of God”) on 16 July by the Marivan court (in Iranian Kurdistan) according to the spokesman of the judicial authorities, Alireza Jamshidi. He did not specify the charges made against the two men. This statement confirms news published by the Paris Kurdish Institute, to warn human rights organisations and Western public authorities in the middle of July. (http://www.institutkurde.org/info/special/iran/).
Adnan Hassanpour and Abdolvahed alias Hiva Botimar, were editorial assistants on the magazine Aso (Horizons), banned in August 2005. Adnan Hassanpour covered the highly sensitive question of Iranian Kurdistan. During his trial, held in camera, he was “found guilty” of “subversive activities against national security” and of “espionage”. His interviews with foreign-based media, such as the Voice of America, were also charged against him. On 18 July he was transferred to Sanandaj Prison, in the capital of Iranian Kurdistan. Abdolvahed Botimar was also an active member of the environmental NGO Sabzchia. RSF (Reporters without Borders) denounced this sentences as “literally scandalous and shameful” and called on “the international community to demand that Iran go back on its decision and not execute the two men”. A death sentence must imperatively, be approved by the Supreme Court before being carried out. The head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, who is appointed by the Supreme Guide of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can also intervene to prevent the hanging. The organisation for the defence of freedom of the press, Reporters without Borders (RSF), denounced these death sentences on 25 July and called on the international community to intervene with Iran to prevent it.
On 25 July, the French Foreign Ministry, summoned the chargé d’affaires of the Iranian Embassy in Paris to express his “extreme concern” about the capital punishment in Iran. At the request of Mrs. Rama Yade, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, the Paris chargé d’affaires was called to the Ministry. “We expressed to him our extreme concern and recalled our opposition to the death sentence in any circumstance, our commitment in favour of its universal abolition, our attachment to the observance by the Iranian authorities of their 2002 moratorium of stonings and our appeal that no further sentences of stoning be carried out”, stated a communiqué from the Ministry. France condemns the execution of twelve Iranian citizens on 22 July. It points out that with “special concern” that an Iranian official had announced that the sexual orientation of those sentenced was amongst the charges against them, the French Ministry pointed out. These sentences and these executions come on top of the stoning of a man for adultery on 5 July, the communiqué adds.
Iran carries out death sentences widely, even though the execution of a journalist is rare. Iran has a Kurdish population of about 10 million out of a total population of 71 million. The Kurds mainly live in the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Western Azerbaijan and Ilam.
The Members of Parliament of Kurdistan those of Iraq met together for the first time on 10 July in Irbil in the context of a five-day conference for an exchange of views on the question of federalism in Iraq. The conference, called “Federalism in Practice” was organised by two bodies working to defend Human Rights, justice and democracy, No Peace Without Justice and the International Alliance for Justice, supported by the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Kurdistan regional government. Opening the conference, Kosrat Rasul, Vice President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, declared “We can find a solution to the problems in Iraq through dialogue and negotiation… I am certain that federalism is the most viable solution for Iraq, as it has been successful in a number of other countries throughout the world”. This first conference bringing together Members of both Federal and Regional Parliaments gave the members an opportunity for seeing the implications of the separation of powers and responsibilities in government, but also of questions regarding taxation, public expenditure, natural resources, the protection of individual rights and freedoms as well as of education and religious and cultural affairs. Sheikh Khaled al-Attiyah, President of the Iraqi Parliament, declared that the Iraqi people had decided to turn to the future by supporting both federalism and democracy. “The Iraqi people’s bitter experience and the difficulties that we have had to overcome under the Saddam Hussein regime have made us still more determined to achieve this concept for the future. The attempts of the terrorists will fail and can only serve to rally still more of the Iraqi people round the Constitution”, he added.
Adnan Mufti, the Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament, for his part stated that “federalism is the people’s response to the dictatorship and will be able to defeat the terrorists’ racism and chauvinism”. “Having overcome our differences, we have chosen federalism as the only option before us for establishing peace on the basis of freedom and justice”, he added.
Some eminent members of the federal and Kurdistan regional governments also took part in this conference. Moreover, the Italian ambassador to Iraq, Maurizio Melani, the United Nations representative to Iraq, Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, and the former Jordan Foreign Minister, Prince Hassan Bin-Talal, made their contribution to this conference. Members of Parliament from different backgrounds, diverse communities, and of different political parties also were able to discuss the recent report of the Parliamentary Commission for revising the Iraqi Constitution. This Commission had been set up by the Federal Parliament in September 2006 to determine the possibility of revision.
The controversial Iraqi Oil Bill has undergone substantial alterations and threatens the interests of Iraqi Kurdistan. On 3 July, the Iraqi Council of Ministers approved an amendment to the Bill, which has to be later examined by the Iraqi Parliament. The law was amended by a government consultative committee, which altered the mechanism for the redistribution of the country’s oil revenues. However, only 24 of the 37 Ministers were present for the vote, because of the boycott by certain Sunni and Shiite ministers. Its presentation to parliament may be postponed to September, after the parliamentary recess, despite the extension of the current session to the end of July. The Bill had already been approved once by the Council of Ministers in February, but was due to be re-examined because of reservations of some communities. On 6 July, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussein Shahristani, declared that oil contracts concluded by the Kurdistan regional government should conform to the new Oil Bill. In his opinion, once reviewed, the contracts should be presented to an Oil and Gas Council to be set up under this Bill. The Kurdish Member of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmud Othman, has already stated that the Kurdish block in this Parliament would vote “against the Bill if such a clause was included in it”. On 4 July, he Kurds and Sunni Arabs complained that they had not been informed. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) “a key party in the negotiations on the Oil Bill, has neither seen nor approved the final text of the Bill” it deplored in a communiqué. The KRG said it was “satisfied with improvements in the formulations of the Bill” but it warned against any changes in its “substance”. The principal Sunni Arab block in Parliament regretted that it had not been consulted: “we know nothing about the latest version adopted by the Council of Ministers”, affirmed an M.P. of the Concord Front, Ala Maki. The parliamentary group of the movement led by the radical Shiite, Moqtada Sadr, also protested against the Bill, for other reasons.
During a sitting on 11 July, of the Kurdistan Parliament in Irbil, the Kurdistan Minister of natural resources, Ashti Hawrami, declared that “the most significant change is the addition of a clause stipulating that oil exploration contracts shall fall within the competence of the central government”. “This would reduce Kurdistan’s prerogatives”, he stressed. Considered by Washington as an element essential to national reconciliation in Iraq, this law, which envisages an equitable sharing of crude oil revenues amongst the 18 provinces, is a particularly sensitive question in this country that straddles the third largest “black gold” reserves in the world. The reserves so far proven in Iraqi Kurdistan only represent 2.9% of the 115 billion barrels buried under the feet of the Iraqis. However, unlike the rest of the country, this region, spared the violence reigning elsewhere, is attracting foreign investors. Although Iraq possesses the third largest oil reserves in the world, it is still obliged to import refined products, like petrol, since its production has still not reached the level of before the 2003 American invasion, due to faulty infrastructures and frequent sabotage. It is at present about two million barrels a day of crude, mainly controlled by the Iraqi National Oil Company.
In the inaugural speech before Parliament for his second term of office 0n 17 July, the Syrian President, Bachar al-Assad announced that concrete measures would be taken to grant Syrian nationality to Syrian Kurds who were deprived of it. “There is a consensus in Syria on the necessity of settling the issue of the 1962 census”, declared Mr. Assad, with reference to the stateless Kurds who had been stripped of their Syrian citizenship by an arbitrary decision of the Baathist regime. The Syrian President promised to settle this problem, evoking “a Bill being drawn up”.
The Baath Congress, when it met in June 2005, had “affirmed the necessity of settling the problem of the census organised in 1962 at Hassake and working for the development of the region” where the majority of the 1.5 million Syrian Kurds live. According to leaders of the Syrian Kurdish parties, 225,000 Kurds have been deprived of Syrian nationality since this census, which has not covered them. The Syrian Kurdish leaders deny any secessionist aims and insist that they only want the recognition of their language and culture as well as their civic and political rights.
Bachar al-Assad, son of former President Hafez al-Assad, was re-elected president of the Syrian Republic for a fresh 7-year term of office on 29 May, with 97.62% of the vote in a referendum where he was the only candidate. In his speech, which lasted over an hour and was focussed on domestic policy, Mr. Assad insisted on his government’s determination to pursue economic reforms, which “are a priority”. “Political reforms will be made gradually”, he added, declaring that he envisaged a law on a multiparty system. “We envisage a series of approaches, including a law on parties to consolidate democracy”.
Over six months after the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist who campaigned for reconciliation of Turks and Armenians, the trial of the 18 suspects began in Turkey on 2 July. This is a test case for the Turkish legal system. The death of this journalist, who was being prosecuted for “denigrating Turkish identity” and thus become a target for radical nationalists because of his work on the mass murder, has aroused international criticism and reopened discussion on freedom of expression in Turkey. The trial opened nearly two hours late, and was surrounded by the strictest security measures by the police who had cordoned off the road leading to the Besiktas courthouse, in the centre of Istanbul. Some 2,500 demonstrators, mostly dressed in black, gathered in a nearby square round a banner, which reads: “We are all witnesses. We want justice”. The civil action lawyers had let it be known at a press conference on 29 June, that the proceedings were likely to leave unresolved some crucial issues in the case since other protagonists, particularly members of the police forces, were not being charged. The principal accused is Ogun Samast, a 17-year old unemployed youth from Trabzon (North-East) and close to the ultra-nationalist groups in that town, from which come most of the other 17 accused. According to his own admission, it was he who shot down Hrant Dink with three shots, on 19 January, in Istanbul, in front of the offices of the Turkish-Armenian bi-lingual weekly, Agos that the journalist ran. The Public Prosecutor has called for 18 to 24 years imprisonment for murder as well as 8,5 to 18 years for possessing an illegal weapon and membership of a terrorist organisation. The case is to be heard in camera because of his age.
Alongside this unemployed underling, the two leaders of the organisation that — according to the prosecution — sponsored the assassination, Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, who both affirmed during their interrogation, that they were working for the security forces, face life imprisonment, to be served in full. Yasin Hayal, who has already spent several months in prison for a bomb attack that caused six injured, aimed at a McDonalds restaurant in Trabzon in 2004, is also being charged with threatening Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, who is well known for his anti-establishment stand on the Armenian question.
However, the civil action participants consider that other protagonists should have been charged. The authorities had not reacted to premonitory signs of a plot against Hrank Dink, who was shot down in front of his paper’s offices in Istanbul. “The security forces active in Trabzon, where the murder was planned, and in Istanbul, where it was carried out, and in Ankara where the information was collected, are not included in the case, although their links with the suspects, their failure to do their duty, and their concealment of evidence and even of justifying the crime are well established”, declared Mrs. Fethiye Cetin. The Human Rights defence organisation, Human Rights Watch, has described the case, in a communiqué, as “a crucial test of the independence of the Turkish courts”. It urges the judges to “consider as criminally responsible any security force member found guilty of negligence or collusion” with the criminals.
The daily average of attacks in Iraq reached a fresh record in June. US Defence Department statistics indicate that, in June, there were an average of 177 attacks a day against Iraqi and coalition soldiers serving under American command as well as against civilians and infrastructures. The previous record goes back to October 2006, when 176 attacks a day were recorded. June’s daily total is the highest since George Bush declared the end of major military operations in May 2003.
Moreover, at least 1,652 civilians were killed in July, a 33% increase on June, according to the Iraqi ministries of Defence and Health. As against that, the number of deaths among the police dropped by 24% in July (144), after a very great increase the month before (191), according to the same source. The Iraqi army, on the other hand lost 79 soldiers as against 31 in June — more than twice as many. At least 1,241 civilians had been killed in June, which experience a considerable drop (-36%). The number of civilians injured in July also rose: 1,691 as against 1,561 in June (+8.3%) Still according to Iraqi statistics, the number of “terrorists” killed was 426 in July as against 417 the month before (+1.9%). The number of arrests, on the other hand, dropped by 3.2% (2,191 as against 2,265) compared with the month before. In June the downward trend in sectarian violence was interpreted as a possible effect of the gradual deployment of additional US and Iraqi soldiers, in the context of the new Baghdad security plan launched mid-February. However, many terrorists seem to have fled the security operation zones and continued launching spectacular bomb attacks in other, more isolated, regions of the country. Thus, on 7 July, at least 150 people were killed and 250 injured by the explosion of a lorry by a suicide bomber in the little village of Emerli, in Northern Iraq. Another particularly bloody suicide bomb attack occurred on 16 July in the Kurdish town of Kirkuk. Forty-nine people were killed and at least 185 injured in the explosion of a lorry aimed at premises of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s party, in the oil producing city of Kirkuk. The building targeted also housed some local Non-Governmental Organisations, including the local Olympic Committee. The explosion made a 7-metre wide crater.
Furthermore, on 12 July the US House of Representatives passed a Bill requiring that US combat units be withdrawn from Iraq by 1 April 2008 at the latest. The House, with its Democratic Party majority, passed the Bill by 223 votes, 201 voting against. President Bush has already vetoed a Bill proposing a similar timetable for the withdrawal of the 160,000 US soldiers at present in Iraq. On Thursday the President has also threatened again to veto any Bill that set a date to the withdrawal of troops. Four Republicans voted in favour of the Bill while ten democrats voted against. This vote took place at a time when an official American report estimated that the progress achieved in Iraq was “unsatisfactory”. This interim 25-page report shows that, out of a total of 18 objectives, progress was “unsatisfactory” for 8, “satisfactory” for 8 and the results were not particularly good for two others. The document is meant to be a first evaluation of the situation in Iraq since the announcement of a new American strategy for the country, involving sending 30,000 more men as reinforcements, which is very unpopular in the United States. The full report is expected mid-September.
Drawn up by the presidential National Security Council, the report criticises the lack of effort of “the Iraqi government in developing a programme of effective disarmament of the militia”. It also points out that the Iraqi Parliament has failed to adopt a decisive law for the country’s oil industry, which could ease the hostility between the Shiites and the country’s Sunni Arab minority. It is also critical of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government that has not succeeded in securing a law easing access to public office for former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. On the diplomatic front, the report accuses Iran and Syria of contributing to attacks against the Iraqi and US forces in Iraq. Baghdad considers that Damascus is not acting effectively to prevent the passage of men and arms to Iraq. Thus, on 11 July the Iraqi security forces seized 200 explosive belts at the Syria border, according to the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. The belts were discovered while searching a lorry that had entered Iraq from Syria through the Walid border post. General Kevin Bergner, US Army spokesman, for his part affirmed that between 60 and 80 foreign fighters infiltrated into Iraq every month, 70% of them through Syria.
Moreover, on 11 July the US Army stated that 4,000 people had been killed or wounded in suicide bomb attacks perpetrated in the last six months by Al-Qaida in Iraq. The bulk of these attacks had been committed by a “relatively small” number of foreign fighters, but that their effects were “very, very devastating for the Iraqi population”, stressed General Bergner.
On 13 July, the Turkish Association for human Rights (IHD) announced that 225 people had been killed in Kurdistan in violent actions between the security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which have increased in Kurdistan since the beginning of the year. “We note a serious increase in the number of daily clashes” pointed out Mehdi Perinçek, responsible for the Diyarbekir region. “We are worried by the fact that these clashes are spread over a wide area”, he stressed. According to IHD’s figures, using both official and independent sources, 111 members of the security forces, 109 PKK fighters and five civilians have been killed in the region between the beginning of January and the end of June. On its Internet site, the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff has announced that 100 Kurdish fighters had been killed between April and June, without saying how many troops had lost their lives in that period.
According to security circles, Ankara has increased the strength of its forces deployed in Turkish Kurdistan by 200,000 men as part of its operations against the PKK. On 6 July the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, affirmed that detailed plans for incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan were ready at a time when, with the elections approaching, the nationalist one-upmanship was at its peak and the Armed Forces General Staff was urging the government to authorise an operation into Iraqi Kurdistan. The increase in PKK attacks since the beginning of the year was one of the themes of the election campaign, the opposition accusing the Justice and Development Party of not carrying out a tough enough policy against the PKK.
On 3 July, General Perry Wiggins, Assistant Director of operations of the US Armed Forces Joint Staff, warned Ankara against any incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan. The US Army “has good relations with the Turkish armed forces” but “as the Secretary of Defence (Robert Gates) has said, any upheaval in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) would be unwelcome at this moment”, he declared. As for the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, on 9 July he declared “the PKK and terrorist organisations are certainly subjects of concern for us (…) But it is equally important to recognise the sovereignty of Iraq”. The Turkish Chief of Staff, Yasar Buyukanit has been calling for the launching of an operation against the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan while the US Army has transferred responsibility for the security of the three Kurdish Provinces of Iraq to the Kurdistan regional government.
During the last year, the Turkish and Iranian armies have shelled Kurdish territory on several occasions. Thus about thirty shells were fired in the direction of Zakho, a town close to the Turkish border, according to Jabar Yawar, second in command of Kurdish security. On 19 July the Iraqi government exposed the shelling by the Turkish Army of sectors of the Kurdistan region and urged Ankara to accept dialogue to settle the issue of the presence of the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some Kurdish leaders, however, have denied news of air raids by the Turkish Air Force. Without specifically evoking the latest shelling, the Iraqi authorities “regret Turkish military operations using artillery and aeroplanes to bomb Iraqi border villages and towns in Dohuk province … The Iraqi government asks Turkey to put an end to these operations and return to dialogue and understanding”, added Baghdad in a communiqué. Moreover, on 12 July Iranian forces shelled the region of Pishder, 100 Km North of Suleimaniyah. “There has been fighting between PEJAK and Iranian forces and the latter have began to shell the Sardul sector in the region of Pishdar”, stated Bashir Ahmed, a Pishdar region official. Jabar Yawar confirmed Iran’s attack in the Pishdar region and declared: “We are opposed to the use of Kurdish territory to attack any other country and also demand that our regions be not attacked”.
The Human Rights defence organisation, Amnesty International, considers that Turkish police and gendarmes continue enjoy an unacceptable impunity and accuses them of using torture, ill treatment and homicide. On the occasion of a report on Turkey, on 6 July, the organisation exposed the fact that “enquiries and legal proceedings into serious violations of Human Rights by police and gendarmes are botched and this is made worse by the erratic decisions of the judges and Public Prosecutors”. The organisation adds, in its communiqué, that “the result is that victims of such violations of Human Rights receive justice either very late or not at all”. “The Turkish penal system must be reformed. It must firmly place the protection of Human Rights of citizens above what is perceived as the interests of institutions or State officials”, stressed Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Director of Amnesty, in a communiqué.
The report, called “Turkey, the deep-rooted culture of impunity must end”, examines the factors contributing to the impunity enjoyed by the forces of public order, in particular the administrative delays, the legal proceedings and the intimidation used against human rights defenders or journalists. The report listed cases or torture and ill-treatment inflicted on people arbitrarily detained during or after demonstrations and also in prison. It also denounces trials in which statements obtained under torture are the prosecution’s principal source of evidence and are accepted in the proceedings.
On 31 July Turkey was found guilty at Strasbourg of having inflicted the falaka (beating on the soles of the feet) on a prisoner in the year 2000 as a punishment and of having tortured Kurds to extract confessions from them in 1999. Sabri Diri, detained in an Istanbul high security prison in 2000 for “membership of an illegal organisation” had taken part in the hunger strike organised in that prison to protest against the severity of their regime, which was repressed in blood by the authorities.
Scintigraphy carried out at the express demand of the European Court for Human Rights proved the existence of traumatisms caused by the falaka, which Turkey had denied or attributed to other causes. In its ruling, the European Court considered that Mr. Diri had been tortured “intentionally and with the aim of punishing him and breaking his physical and moral resistance to the prison authorities”. It awarded the petitioner, who is now living in Switzerland, 15,000 euros damages.
In another ruling, the Court awarded sums of 5,500 to 12,700 to 12 Kurdish petitioners residing in Sirnak, arrested by the gendarmes in September 1999 for “membership of the illegal terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)”. The petitioners affirmed that they had been deprived of food, beaten, hanged and subjected to electric shocks or high-pressure jets and to extremely loud music or shouts to force them to confess. The European judges found that five of them had indeed been tortured and that the seven others had suffered an excessively long period of detention. “The authorities do not have carte blanche to arrest suspects and place them in detention, without any effective control by the courts, every time there has been a terrorist offence” the Court recalled in its ruling.