On 3 November, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went on an official visit to the United States to hold discussions with US President George W. Bush in the course of the 5 November summit meeting in Washington. The Bush Administration, while promising American support in the fight against the PKK, is urging restraint on Turkey, for fear of destabilising one of the rare regions of relative calm in Iraq. Before the meeting at the White House, the Turkish Prime Minister, who is faced with an angry public opinion after a series of bloody attacks by the PKK, had warned that Turkish patience was “at an end”. Before flying to the United States, he had indicated that he expected “concrete measures” against the PKK from Mr. Bush. “Our visit is taking place at a time that (Turko-American) relations are going through a serious test”, he had declared to journalists at the airport. On 2 November, in Ankara, the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had promised to redouble her country’s efforts to help Turkey to overcome the PKK problem, while urging the Turkish Army not to enter Iraq. She stressed that the United States was under an “obligation” to contribute to the struggle against the PKK and reaffirmed that the organisation, considered to be terrorist by the United States, was as much “the enemy” of Washington and Baghdad as of Turkey. “This will require perseverance. It is a very difficult problem (…) eradicating terrorism is tough”, she added, nevertheless.
At the ends of his discussions with Mr. Erdogan at the White House, Mr. Bush announced a strengthening of military cooperation between the two countries and a new partnership between the United States, Turkey and Iraq to improve the sharing of Intelligence. “Errors of intelligence mean that we cannot resolve the problem. Good intelligence, accurate and delivered in real time using modern technology, would enable” the struggle “to be made much easier”, stressed Mr. Bush. The US President also indicated that the US was ready “to go further” on the issue of the struggle against the PKK, particularly on “questions of airport transit” and “questions of money”.
Shortly before the meeting between Messrs. Bush and Erdogan, some 300 to 400 Kurds demonstrated in front of the White House, the men in traditional dress, the women and children carrying flags of Kurdistan called “Stop the Turkish invasion!”. “We want to sent President Bush a clear message that he must not give the green light to a Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan”, pointed out Isa Shalky, spokesman of the Tennessee Kurdish Community Council, who had come from Nashville. Other Kurds came from Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York respectively.
The Turkish Prime Minister left Washington relieved and said that he was happy after his discussions with Mr. Bush at the White House. “Praise God, we have secured what we wanted”, stated Mr. Erdogan. “No one told us not to carry out (military) operations”, he stated to journalists at his hotel, seeming to see an implicit support for targeted strikes in the PKK hideouts in Mr. Bush’s remarks. “We have decided to carry out some operations (…) We will use this authorisation, the armed forces will decide their form”, he stressed. The Turkish press of 6 November saw in these remarks the sign of coming Turkish attacks on the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan. “A green light for an operation”, headlined the daily Radikal. “It seems that here will be no going back regarding the decision to proceed with military operations”, commented Rusen Cakir, a journalist on the daily paper Vatan. “Ankara should, in a few days time, carry out concrete measures part of which will be supported by Washington and others carried out without its knowledge or even against its wishes”, Ms Cakir considered.
Still with the idea of discussing the situation on the Iraqi Kurdistan borders, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Rome on 6 November to meek the Head of State, Giorgio Napolitano, and then the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi. On 5 November Mr. Erdogan had stated in press interviews that “if the Iraqi Government takes urgent and permanent measures against the PKK on Iraqi territory, the Turkish government might not use this authorisation”. Pope Benedict XVI had, on 4 November, expressed his “anxiety” over the tension on the Kurdish borders, calling for a “peaceful solution” to the problems between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. Mr. Erdogan returned to Turkey on 8 November at the end of his visit to Italy
On 25 November, the Kurdistan Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, declared that Kurdistan “implement” the oil contracts signed with foreign companies, despite the opposition of the central government in Baghdad. “The oil contracts signed by the Kurdistan government will be implemented. No one can cancel contracts signed by Kurdistan”, affirmed Mr. Barzani. “In the event of problems, Iraq has a Federal Court to which Mr. Shahristani can apply”, he added simply. In an interview on a Middle East radio station on 23 November, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Hussein Shahristani had stated that he had cancelled about fifteen oil contracts signed by the Iraqi Kurdistan authorities. “The Iraqi government has warned these companies of the consequences of the signing of these contracts, and the consequences are that they will no longer be able to work in Iraq”, the Minister stated in his radio interview. He assured Iraq’s neighbours that Iraq would not let Kurdistan export oil with out the agreement of the central State. To which Jamal Abdullah, spokesman for the Kurdistan regional government retorted: “There is an agreement between Teheran, Ankara, Damascus and Baghdad (…) He has exceeded his authority (…) his statement will not affect out contracts with the foreign companies (…) these statements remind us of the period before 9 April 2003” he added, alluding to the date of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Jamal Abdullah pointed out that the Kurds were not seeking to export oil but had signed exploration contracts with foreign companies in promising looking areas in their region.
Reacting to previous remarks by Mr. Shahristani during the 15 November summit of the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries, a communiqué from the Kurdistan Regional Government dated 21 November stressed that: “for several years now, Mr. Shahristani has shown himself incapable of carrying through any oil project successfully. He is now trying to dissuade others from doing something for the good of the country. (…) We will not accept any kind of threat, sanctions or punishment from our partners in the Baghdad coalition government”. Iraqi Kurdistan “is a partner in Iraq, not a region that must be threatened or punished because it has exercised its Constitutional rights and wished to contribute to the country’s (…) stability”, the Kurdish authorities had remarked, describing Mr. Shahristani’s reaction as “stupefying”. “We believe that the period of threats against the Kurds of Iraq is long past. It is disappointing to see that Mr. Shahristani has chosen the camp of the anti-Kurdish elements of the Saddam Hussein period (…) We are not impressed (…) Experience has shown that most of the oil companies are now ignoring these declarations (by the Oil Minister) Our contracts are constitutional and legal, as defined by the Kurdish oil and gas laws. Empty chattering and senseless threats will not last”, concluded the Kurdish government. Kurdistan’s future oil production “will benefit all the Iraqis”, insisted the Kurdish Government. Amongst the recently signed contracts is one for collecting and refining natural gas intended to supply electric power stations so as to cure the region’s problem of frequent power cuts.
In a communiqué dated 7 November, the Kurdish Minister of Natural Resources, Dr Ashti Hawrami, announced that the Kurdish Government had signed “seven new oil production sharing contracts”. Seven blocks, spread out between Irbil and Dohuk Provinces, have been allocated to the following companies: OMV Aktiengessellschaft, MOL Hungarian Oil and Gas PLC, Gulf Keystone Petroleum International Limited, Kalegran Limited and Reliance Energy Ltd or to their subsidiaries. “With these new contracts there are about twenty international oil companies that will now be operating in Iraqi Kurdistan”, declared Dr. Hawrami with pleasure. These companies will receive 15% of the income from the oil production and “85% will go to Iraq”. In all, about fifteen blocks have been allocated by the Kurdish Government since the region passed an oil and gas law in August 20007. “Only 17% of the income from Kurdish oil will remain in Kurdistan, the remaining 83% will benefit Iraqis living outside Kurdistan”, the communiqué stated. Dr. Hawrami insisted that the signing of new contracts was “a major stage in towards the objective that the Kurdish region has set itself of producing a million barrels a day”.
An Iraqi Parliamentary Bill, regarding the respective prerogatives of provinces and central State in this strategic sector, has been under discussion for the last few months but has still not been put on the agenda for debate in full session, despite the insistence of the United States that wants desperately to see it passed. The Bill would widely open the Iraqi Oil sector, which has been nationalised since the 70s, to foreign private companies. It lays down a distribution of oil revenues between the central States and the productive provinces Critics of this law consider that it give too generous a share to foreign companies, that would receive a guaranteed percentage of the income from oil exports to repay their investments. They insist that, as Iraqi oil is one of the cheapest to extract in the world, the investments required could be made by the Iraqi government itself without making any hole in the country’s revenue. At present, 72% of Iraq’s oil comes from three Southern provinces, of which 60% comes from the Basra region alone. The bulk of Iraqi crude is also exported from the Basra terminal. However, new geological research has shown the possibility of deposits in Kurdistan and also in the West, hitherto lacking in operating oilfields. “We have waited five months (…) the members of the Iraqi Parliament have done nothing and there is no sign that they are going to do anything rapidly”, the Kurdish Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, deplored in justification of his government’s choice “in the name of federalism” — and to express his determination “to set an example”.
Iraqi Kurdistan, the sole island of peace in an Iraq extensively plunged into chaos on the strength of the wide autonomy that the Constitution gives it, has been enjoying regained economic prosperity since the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. The Kurdish leaders have repeatedly affirmed their determination to exploit their mineral resources and are thus, with the signature of these new contracts moving into top gear. Thus early in September the regional government announced the signature of a contract with a local subsidiary of the American Hunt Oil company of Dallas and with the Impulse Energy Corporation (IEC) for exploring oilfields in the Dohuk region. According to Kiwan Siwaily, Adviser to the Kurdish Minister of Oil Resources, Ashti Hawrami, “Iraq has over 12% of the worlds oil resources, 5% of which are in our region”. Since the 1920s, for political reasons, Kurdistan has never been allowed to develop them. Saddam Hussein did not even allow Kurdish students to attend courses in oil and gas technology. In the 70s enormous oilfields were found in Iraqi Kurdistan but barely explored. Since the fall of the regime in 2003, they have attracted the covetous appetites of the international oil industry, whose representatives are gathering at Irbil the regional capital. “We have to secure the consent of the central government to export oil but we don’t have to ask anyone permission to supply our own needs”, added Mr. Siwaily, when questioned by journalists on 16 November. “Today we are only producing 20,000 barrels a day and we need 100,000. Its oil, its our right (…) They can discuss the federal Bill for ever in Baghdad (…) It could talk them two or three years. We have lost enough time already. We have here enough oil to supply the whole of the Middle East. Just you see — in two or three years we’ll be self-sufficient”, added Mr. Siwaily. The Kurdish authorities have stated that they would be satisfied with the quota of 17% of the eventual receipts from exports that they would be authorised to receive (under the draft Bill). At Federal level, this 17% is also the proportion of the national Budget granted to the Kurdish region.
The United States and Iraq are making every effort to dissuade Ankara from opening a second front in Iraqi Kurdistan, the only region still spared the chaos and violence reigning in the rest of the country. The American authorities have, however, agreed to supply Turkey with information regarding the PKK’s positions so as to enable the Turkish Army to carry out specific and limited operations. In the course of a meeting in Ankara on 24 November, senior Turkish and American military leaders discussed cooperation in the struggle against the PKK. The Head of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff, General Yasar Buyukanit and the Commander in Chief of US Forces in Europe, General Bantz Craddock discussed “cooperation in the joint struggle against the PKK terrorist organisation, including sharing of Intelligence”, indicated a Turkish Army communiqué. General James Cartwright, Vice President of the US General Staff, and General David Petraeus, Commander in Chief of US Forces in Iraq, had already been welcomed on 20 November by the Turkish General Staff’s number two man, General Ergin Saygun, and had already left Turkey for Iraq for discussions with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish authorities. These meetings between high-ranking officers of both countries followed on a meeting in Washington on 5 November between Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and US President George W. Bush. Some 100,000 Turkish troops have been deployed along the Iraqi Kurdistan border. Mr. Erdogan, nevertheless stated on 20 November that Ankara would not have immediate recourse to cross-border operations, although authorised by parliament.
For his part, on 21 November the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, welcomed the measures taken by the Iraqi Kurds but warned that the option of military intervention had not been ruled out. The Baghdad authorities and the Kurds have announced measures to restrict the movements of PKK fighters. “We see that common sense has, littler by little, started to prevail in Northern Iraq”, declared Mr. Gul to journalists in Tbilisi, shortly before a ceremony starting the building of a railway line connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Mr. Gul’s statements coincided with the threats of a PKK leader stating that his troops would create a reign of terror in Iraqi Kurdistan if the United States and the Iraqi Kurds started to help Turkey against the PKK. “If we wish we can create instability and endanger their interests”, declared Cemil Bayik, quoted by the Firat News press agency. On 6 November, Murat Karayilan, another PKK leader, for his part called on Turkey to negotiate with his organisation, stating that dialogue, not armed confrontation, was the key to ending 23 years of struggle. “These operations and attacks will never put an end to the guerrilla (…) Do not darken the new century by confronting the Kurds”, he had declared to the Firat News agency. “You (Ankara) insist on our leaving Iraq. Would that really be a solution? (…) Our forces are everywhere (…) We are also present on Turkish soil”, the PKK leader had concluded.
In the course of a press conference on 20 November, at the end of a meeting with European leaders in Brussels, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan declared for his part: “When the time has come and when it will be necessary, we will use all the instruments we have in our struggle with the PKK (…) Turkey possesses a certain number of tools to fight terrorism and will continue to use them. These include political dialogue, diplomatic and military tools”. The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who was also in Brussels nevertheless considered that the danger of military intervention had diminished. Questioned about these statements, Mr. Babacan welcomed the political commitment of the Iraqi Central Government.
Since the increase of tension between the two countries, a first air raid on Kurdistan is said to have taken place on 13 November. Some Turkish helicopters are said to have attacked localities in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Colonel Hussein Tamir, an officer of the Iraqi border guards, the bombardments took place just before dawn near Zakho, but there were no victims. “It was only against abandoned villages, the PKK had no advanced posts”, added Colonel Tamir. Jamal Abdullah, spokesman of the Kurdistan regional government stated, for his part “some Turkish planes launched flares along the border area near Zakho but there was no strike or raid”. The Commander of the Turkish Air Force denied any involvement of Turkish fighter planes in any cross-border operation. “At the moment, our security forces are carrying out their operations inside our borders (…) there is no kind of cross-border operation”, declared Mr. Erdogan the next day.
However, four Turkish soldiers were killed on 13 November by Kurdish fighters during a clash in Turkish Kurdistan, according to the Turkish Defence Minister, Vecdi Gonul. The Turkish media also reported on 12 November that the PKK had kidnapped seven people, including two members of an army auxiliary militia, near the village of Ogulveren, in Van province. On 21 October the PKK had attacked a Turkish position close to the border, killing 12 soldiers and taking prisoner eight others, who they released on 4 November in Iraqi Kurdistan. On their return to Turkey, the eight soldiers were accused buy an Army court of having refused to obey orders and of having crossed the Iraqi border without authorisation — and were jailed.
On the other hand, heavy goods vehicle drivers who provide virtually all of Iraqi Kurdistan’s supplies have implored their government not to have recourse to economic sanctions, insisting that they would be the first to suffer from this. Ankara has threatened the Kurdistan government with economic sanctions. According to the Turkish press this could involve restrictions in trade with Iraqi Kurdistan and power cuts. The Halil Ibrahim border post, the crossing point between Turkey and Kurdistan, considered its gateway to the world, is also the safest — even Baghdad prefers to be supplied through this border post, where there is no danger of convoys being attacked or goods stolen. About 700 lorries enter Iraq through it and Iraq is a very lucrative market for Turkey, and the only one with which it has a positive balance of trade. Turkey exported there 1.7 billion dollars worth in the first eighth months of the year and 2.5 billion in 2006, according to official figures. At Zakho, the first town reached, some 9 Km inside Iraq, the shops are full of Turkish goods and the Turkish brand names are better known than those of their international competitors. The hotels are always full putting up Turkish drivers overnight. The restaurants and hotels have had to translate their nameplates and menus into Turkish. The regional government of Kurdistan’s Trade Director, Aziz Ibrahim, estimates that about 300 Turkish firms trade with the region. “In the event of sanctions against our region, it will be all Iraq that will suffer punishment because the goods passing through here are destined for the whole of the country”, Mr. Ibrahim considered.
On 23 November, he Turkish Constitutional Court announced that it had not found any procedural error in the charge sheet demanding the banning of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party, the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP), and that it would hear the case. The charge sheet will now be sent to the DTP, which will have 30 days to present its defence to the Court in writing. On 16 November, the Turkish Court began legal proceedings that may result in the banning of the party. The request filed with the Constitutional Court was against the DTP, founded in 2005 on the ashes of the DEHAP, another of a series of pro-Kurdish parties dissolved the Courts. The Court of Appeals Public Prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalçinkaya, affirmed that “the party has become the seat of activities harmful to the independence of the State and its indivisible unity”. The prosecutor also demands that the organisation’s leaders be banned from any political activity for five years. One DTP member of Parliament, Sabhat Tuncel, is at present on trial — despite his parliamentary immunity — “on presumption of support for the PKK” while the media are making capital over the news that the husband of one of the DTP’s Kurdish women M.P.s, Fatma Kurtulan, is said to have joined the PKK in the 1990s. On 7 November, the Minister of Justice, Ali Sahin, had pointed out that “public opinion thinks that they (the DTP) have links” with the PKK and affirmed that the organisation might be banned. “If they insist on serving the PKK’s objectives in the political field (…) then they will suffer the consequences”, Mr. Sahin had warned. The nationalist M.P.s recently demanded the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of their DTP colleagues but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had opposed this. In a televised speech made to a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) at Kizilcahamam, near Ankara, on 24 November Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan considered that the improvements in the Kurds’ democratic rights will diminish support for separatism and put an end to the PKK. He pointed out that his country had reached a “critical stage” in its struggle against the PKK and that the Kurdish fighters were “besieged on all sides” thanks to international support. “A climate of freedom is the enemy of violence and terrorism”, added the Prime Minister. “Let us thus maintain democratic pluralism and strengthen the climate of freedom so as to secure a decisive result in the struggle against terrorism”, Mr. Erdogan further stated. “Let us seek, together, the means of winning the population instead of alienating it”, he proposed.
During a Congress in Ankara on 8 November, the DTP strongly opposed the government’s “militarist” policy and its threats of cross-border military operations against Iraqi Kurdistan. This second DTP Congress, surrounded by the strictest security measures, elected Nurettin Demirtas to the head of the party. It was held against the background of Turkish threats of intervention into Iraqi Kurdistan, where a few thousand PKK fighters have dug themselves in. In a speech made a few hours before his election to the party leadership, Nurettin Demirtas stated that: “the AKP’s militarist policy is unacceptable. (…) Instead of spending time and energy on cross-border operations, let us spend them on establishing peace in the interior”. Mr. Demirtas, who was jailed in his youth for “separatism” was loudly applauded for his remarks made before a hall full of several hundreds of activists. The delegates, who arrived from all four corners of Turkey, welcomed the “insufficient” reforms but, on the other hand, were very critical of the operations against Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2005, Turkey began difficult negotiations for membership of the European Union, after carrying out a wide programme of democratic reforms, in particular regarding the Kurdish population. “There have been 20 military incursions in the past and they have not put an end to the PKK’s existence. Why launch another one?” stressed Abdullah Ayham, a delegate from Iskenderun, the ancient city of Antioch.
Regarding the proceedings started against it, the DTP denounced them as an attack on democracy. Sirri Sakik, a Member of Parliament and an influential figure in the DTP, declared that: “this is a backward step for democracy as well as for membership of the European Union”. “Turkey has become a graveyard of banned political parties. Closing down a political organisation does not resolve the problem”, added Mr. Sakik. The DTP is the successor of a whole lineage of banned pro-Kurdish parties, of which the best known abroad is the Democratic Party (DEP). Four DEP Members of Parliament serve a ten-year prison sentence from 1994 to 2004 “for links with the PKK”. One of them is Mrs. Layla Zana who received the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights in 1995. The DTP succeeded in sending 20 Members to the Turkish Parliament (550 seats in all) in the last elections last July — a first ever for struggling in the very difficult political and legal context of Kurdish rights. The spotlights were again focussed on the party in the last few days after an ambush on 21 October that cost the lives of 12 Turkish soldiers. The attack, attributed to PKK fighters who had infiltrated into Turkey from the Iraqi mountains, increased the possibility of Turkish intervention into Iraqi Kurdistan. The AKP had succeeded in getting the National Assembly to authorise, by an overwhelming majority, the conduct of military operation beyond Turkey’s borders. “The SKP stole Kurdish votes during the last elections by saying that they were in favour of peace. Now the voting is over, all it can talk about is a across-border operation”, stressed Nursel Aydogan, a DTP leader. Pro-Kurdish parties have never managed to cross the 10% threshold needed to have seats in Parliament. At the last poll, the DTP chose to bye-pass this obstacle by supporting independent candidates who then formed a parliamentary group under its banner. Several demonstrations were organised in Kurdistan in protest at the proceedings against the DTP. In Diyarbekir, nearly 50,000 people protested on 25 November and the police dispersed the crowds with tear gas grenades and detained several people. In Van, 2,000 people held a rally on 17 November at the call of the DTP and the Turkish police arrested ten of them. The police fired into the air and threw tear gas grenades at the demonstrators, who reposted by throwing stones. A journalist, hit by a stone, suffered head injuries.
The Iranian Supreme Court has confirmed the death sentence passed on the Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpur, accused of “espionage” and quashed the death sentence passed on a second reporter, Hiva Botimar, announced their lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht on 9 November. As well as the sentence for espionage, Mr. Hassanpur was found guilty of having “divulged information on military sites” and of having “entered into contact with an individual of the US State Department”. These crimes made him a “mohareb (enemy of God)” in the eyes of the court, which is what earned him the death sentence. His lawyer, Mr. Nikbakht, has contested this interpretation and promises to continue to struggle to save his client from the gallows. He announced that, as the death sentence on Hiva Botimar has been quashed, he will be retried by the Marivan court, in Kurdistan Province.
The death sentence passed on the two journalists on 16 July, have aroused indignation in Western capitals. The Iranian court had stated that the two men were not on trial for being journalists but for having taken up arms against the Islamic Republic. However, “none of the actions (of Adnan Hassanpur) constituted a real commitment in movements opposed to the Islamic Republic” according to their lawyer. According to the organisation for the defence of journalists, Reporters sans Frontières, Adnan Hassanpur and Hiva Botimar worked on the magazine Aso (Horizons), banned in 2005. Adnan Hassanpur dealt with the very sensitive question of Iranian Kurdistan.
Furthermore, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry announced that its forces had arrested eleven members of PEJAK, accused of “having committed several attacks and armed actions”, according to an official communiqué published by the semi-official Mehr news agency on 25 November. The members of the group had “committed a bomb attack during an exhibition on the sacred defence (i.e. the Iran-Iraq war), attacked and set fire to a police station at Sanandaj (capital of the Iranian province of Kurdistan) and caused several bomb explosions”, the communiqué added. PEJAK, the acronym for the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On 8 November, the government daily Iran had also announced the death of three Kurdish fighters in the province of Kurdistan. For the last two years, PEJAK fighters have been multiplying their armed activities in the Kurdish provinces of Iran. The province of Kurdistan, like the provinces of Kermanshah to its South and of Western Azerbaijan to the North, is mainly inhabited by Kurds.
Iraqi Kurdistan is being used as a haven of peace by numbers of Iraqi Christians who have found shelter there for a peaceful coexistence, after fleeing other regions where their churches have been targeted and their priests kidnapped. The large number of them whose families had originally come from the region, have rebuilt houses in villages that have often been long deserted, near the border with Turkish Kurdistan. Others, coming from Baghdad, Mossul or elsewhere rent housing, often at exorbitant rates, in Christian quarters, like that of Einkawa, on the outskirts of Irbil, while waiting for things to calm down enough for them to return, or envisage going into exile abroad. Mgr. Rabban, Bishop of Irbil and Ahmadiya, estimates that “the number of Christians who have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan is over 70,000”. “Over two hundred villages that had been abandoned or destroyed in the years 1987-88 during Saddam Hussein’s offensive against the Kurds have been rebuilt. Those who owned land have put it to use, others rent it out”. He blames the attacks on the Christians on “fanatical fundamentalist and the 600,000 hooligans and criminals freed by Saddam Hussein before his fall”. “Three priests were killed in Mossul. Churches were burned, dynamited, machine-gunned. Twenty days ago two priests were kidnapped in Mossul and held to ransom”. These acts of violence have aroused a wave of panic amongst the Iraqi Christians, he says with alarm, and those who could have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, “this area of brotherhood, where they have been generously welcomed”. The Christian refugees complain, however, of the high cost of living in Kurdistan, considerably higher than in other regions. In view of the lowering of violence in Baghdad, about twenty Christian families have returned there from Einkawa, according to Mgr. Rabban.
Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan, with over a million inhabitants and lying some 330 Km North of Baghdad, has a flourishing economy and has become a magnet for the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons fleeing violence in other parts of Iraq. However, faced with the influx of displaced persons coming from other provinces, the Kurdish authorities have set up a “residential permit” and newcomers must have a Kurdish guarantor. At the end of 2003, at the suggestion of the US Army, Irbil was surrounded by a mechanically dug ditch or moat, four-metre wide by three deep, impassable to vehicles discouraging to pedestrians. It has cut all the unobtrusive points of access to the city, blocked all diversions and forced all traffic to enter through eight strictly controlled crossing points. There is a peshmerga guard post every 500 metres all round the moat, each is full view of the others on either side.
“The Turkish Republic has been fighting for several years against the most important problem in its history (…) Military intervention into Northern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan) is again on the agenda (…) The government has obtained parliaments authorisation for cross-border intervention. Operations and fighting persist on the border. How have the Turkish Armed Forces conducted this struggle? How has this Army, which is after all a regular one, emerged victorious from this struggle called “the asymmetrical war”? What have been the repercussions of this struggle on the State, on the Turkish armed forces and on the PKK? What have been the mistakes made by Turkey during this period of struggle? Does the State, does the Army, have the same line and orientation today as at the start of the struggle in 1984? What are the views of the commanders who conducted this struggle against the PKK and led the Turkish Armed forces? What are their views of the future?” To try and answer these questions, Fikret Bila, a Turkish journalist on the daily paper Milliyet, close to Army circles, carried out a series of interviews with five Turkish generals during the month of November. The following are extensive extracts from these interviews, published in the Turkish daily as from 3 November:
It was 16 September 1998. Atilla Ates, commander in Chief of the Army had just made his famous speech of warning to Damascus, in Reyhanli district of Hatay. Damascus would have to hand Ocalan over to us of face the risk of war with Turkey. General Aytac Yalman, Commander of the Army’s 2nd Division, who was accompanying Ates Pasha that day, set to work as soon as his chief had left for Ankara...
What would have happened if Damascus had not taken Turkey’s threats into account? (…) We would have entered Syria. The plans were ready for going right through to Damascus. We were not joking.
Had Syria not taken any measures on its borders?
It was not in any position to stop us. The majority of its troops were stationed on the border with Israel … Following the collapse of the USSR Russia could not come to its aid. Syria was short of spare parts: its planes could not take off, its tanks were pinned down. And we were determined. I myself knew the region very well. … (…)
It was then that the news came via the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak (…). Mubarak phoned the Turkish President, Demirel, and informed him that Hafiz al-Assad had decided to send Abdullah Ocalan away from Syria. After he left Syria, Ocalan was finally delivered to Turkish officials in Nairobi on 15 February 1999. The following year, Aytac Pasha became Commander of the Gendarmerie and in 2002 Commander in Chief of the Army. He retired in 2004, leaving his command to General Yasar Buyukanit (today the Chief of Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces).
The handing over of Ocalan to the Turkish authorities is viewed somewhat differently by Aytac Yalman: “In my opinion, the USA had already long decided to intervene in Iraq. That is why the Americans handed Ocalan over to us. They wanted to be able to rely on the Kurds when they intervened in Iraq. They had planned to carry out this intervention with the help of Barzani and Talabani. Ocalan was an alternative to Barzani and Talabani. I think the Americans delivered Ocalan to strengthen Barzani and Talabani’s margin of manoeuvre. (…)
Questioned on the non-military aspects of the Kurdish question, General Yalman stressed: “The social dimension of the problem is very old. In reality Turkey aught to have seen the problem and made a just interpretation of it when it was still just a social question. A solution could then have been found at that time if what was needed had been done. (…) What are the social aspects of the (Kurdish) problem?
It can be described as a question of “self expression”. They want to speak their own language, sing and listen to their songs. At that time we were guided by the theme “There are no Kurds”. We say the Kurds as an offshoot of the Turks and in places you heard that they were called Kurds because of the sound of their feet in the snow “kart-kurt”… At the time we considered their demands as “attacks on the integrity of the State”. Two things have to be acknowledged: we did not see the social aspects of things … and assimilation was not achieved…” concluded General Yalman.
Fikat Bila’s series of interviews continued the next day with the former Head of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff, Dogan Gures, who was in office during the First Gulf War and the setting up of the safe area North of the 36th Parallel, which banned Iraqi planes so as to protect the hundreds of thousands of Kurds hunted by Saddam Hussein. Dogan Gures explained, from the start of the interview, that he took the opportunity of the Provide Comfort operation and the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan to over fly and carry out manoeuvres North of the 36th Parallel.
“As East Germany was dismantled, its weaponry was available. The GDR Chief of Staff, General Franz was a friend of mine. I called him to ask what they were doing with the arms. He told me that the fields were teeming with abandoned Kalashnikovs … I told him I needed some and he authorised me to take as many as I wanted … I sent a team and took 100,000 Kalashnikovs to distribute them to our soldiers and to village protectors … 100,000 free Kalashnikovs …”
Authorised by the government to crush the Kurds, Dogan Gures had full powers to carry out military intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992. Mobilising 50,000 troops, backed with Cobra and Super-Cobra helicopters, but also M-60 and Leopard tanks, General Gures carried out an operation that, in his words “was not a low intensity fight”.
“This intervention in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) in 1992 was a concept we call sector control. An incursion in which one starts off stationing divisions of soldiers to control a sector. These soldiers are elite troops whose strike force and training are very high … this caused the greatest losses (to the PKK)”.
General Gures also boasted of having created the specials forces “a kind of Turkish-style PKK”, “heroes hidden in the South-East”, in his words. These farces had no hesitation about carrying out thousands of extra-judicial executions at the time. Asked how he saw the future, General Gures replied: “Turkey is in danger of division” and described a scene in which Dick Cheney, US Vice President, would orchestrate the redrawing of the map of the Middle East. In his opinion “the United States and the European Union want the division of Turkey”.
Ibrahim Hakki Karadayi, Head of the Armed Forces General Staff between 1994 and 1998 and in office during the 28 February military coup d’état (called the post-modern coup d’état in Turkey) that ousted Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamic government was Milliyet’s third guest.
General Karadayi described the PKK question as an “uprising”, “organised by and enjoying the support of important foreigners” … General Karadayi thinks that fighting terrorists and fighting terror are not the same. That it is easy to fight against terrorists but the struggle against terror demands more scope. “In 1980 I was on duty in Elazig, responsible the State of Emergency. I wandered at will in the region. Later I returned as commander in chief. A man approached me and asked me “why do you look for terrorists here, Pasha? You should look for them in Parliament.” There was a lot a common sense in that: soldiers fight terrorists … but fighting terror is different”.
The former Chief of the Turkish General Staff also carried out cross-border interventions in 1995 and 1997. In this connection he stressed the importance of an offensive without any prior declarations. According to the general, the borders between Turkey and Iraq were drawn up at the time by England to harass Turkey in the future. “Our borders with Iraq run along the summits of the mountains through England’s decision. Wherever England has a finger one should be suspicious. In my view they decided to run the border-line over the summits, in a geography that was hard to control to create problems in the future. The borders must be changed … not only those with Iraq but also with Syria”, concluded Ibrahim Hakki Karadayi.
“We cannot finish with the PKK through cross-border interventions”, said, the next day, General Hilmi Ozkok another former Chief of Staff interviewed. “For some time now, public opinion has been expecting such an intervention. As if any operation in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan) would put an end to all this. Why wasn’t the PKK born there instead of here? There has been a pro-Kurdish movement and people who incite it inside and outside the country since 1984. … After 23 years, the people have had enough and want an end to it … or else find a solution some other way… To put an end to a movement one must put an end to hope. If there is no more hope, then the movement runs out of steam, because the solution does not just lie in eliminating the cause … The English tried development and economic expansion in India, but they saw that all that just strengthened the separatist’s demands… ”
To conclude with this series of interviews of Turkish generals entitled “The Commanders of 24 years with the PKK” Fikret Bila questioned General Kenan Evren, perpetrator of the 12 September 1980 Army coup d’état, who seized the opportunity of making some self-criticism of his years in power, knowing that he did not risk anything. “Government officials in the South-East (Kurdistan) should also know how to speak Kurdish”, says, today, the general who is more famous for having declared, when he seized power “why feed them instead of hanging them?” in reference to political activists who were sentenced to death. It was he who had toughened the laws forbidding the use of the Kurdish language even in everyday speech.
When speaking about the PKK the Diyarbekir prison springs to mind, it is generally recognised that the use of torture and the ill treatment in this notorious prison had strengthened the PKK. Questioned on the matter, General Evren stormed “It really gets on my nerves when people talk about that prison. I was head of State, not manager of the prison”. “As if there was no torture in police stations before the 12 September coup d’état. They all used torture, which means that as soon as you fell into the hands of the police you suffered ill treatment. After the coup d’état we left the police free to work freely … but they did it all the same”, he said with astonishment.
Why forbid the use of Kurdish, asked the journalist adding that he had visited a school at the time and that the children spoke Turkish very badly. “Look at Belgium. The Flemings and the Walloons don’t tear one another apart. When I was head of the General Staff I visited Canada, Quebec more exactly, and I wandered around with my opposite number. In Quebec they speak French, which astonished me as I asked about this. They answered that all government officials have to know both French and English to be able to serve the citizens. … Our officials in the South-East (Kurdistan) must also learn Kurdish …”
On 6 November, Iran officially opened two consulates in Iraqi Kurdistan, at Irbil and at Suleimaniyah. Hassan Kazemi Qomi, the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, declared in Irbil: “Today we have good economic relations with Iraq (…) The two consulates have been opened in cooperation with the government of Iraq and the authorities of Kurdistan who are responsible for security”. He attended a brief ceremony to inaugurate the Consulate in Irbil, together with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani. The new Irbil consulate is in premises previously occupied by Iranian officials but closed since the beginning of the year because of an operation by the US Army, in the course of which five Iranian nationals had been arrested. The second Iranian consulate has begun its activity in Suleimaniyah. The two new consulates will enable “the strengthening of relations between Kurdistan and Iran”. Parallel to the opening of the two consulates in Kurdistan, the agreement between Iran ands Kurdish leaders envisages the opening of two Iraqi consulates at Kermanshah and Urmiyeh, in Iranian Kurdistan.
The setting up of these two diplomatic representations was provided for in an agreement between Teheran and the Iraqi Kurdish authorities, negotiated on 8 October to allow the re-opening of the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. On 24 September, Iran had ordered the closing of the border with Iraqi Kurdistan as a reprisal against the capture, by US Forces, of an Iranian accused of supporting the Iraqi Shiite militia. Iran now has four consulates in Iraq, the other two being in Basra and Kerbala.
The Van Court Martial has banned the showing by the media of the trial of eight soldiers kept prisoner for two weeks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) then released at the beginning of November. The media received notification by fax of this decision on 12 November. “The bulk of the documents and information regarding the enquiries on this case, which concerns matters damaging to the unity of the State and aiming at removing part of the national territory from the State’s Administration, are of a nature that requires secrecy in the interest of national security” the court affirms. The eight soldiers were made prisoner by the PKK on 21 October during its attack on a Turkish Army position on the Iraqi Kurdish border, in the course of which 12 other soldiers lost their lives. In its decision the court indicated that the soldiers were tried for acting “counter to those required of agents of the State, persistent insubordination leading to great losses and flight abroad”. The documents indicate that they have “abandoned their positions in conformity with the offers of the terrorists and went with the terrorists to their camps in Northern Iraq”.
These conscripts are accused of having crossed the Kurdistan border without authorisation. The soldiers were questioned after their liberation by their officers and the Army prosecutors, first in Ankara then at Van on 4 November. The papers have speculated that soldiers, many of whom are Kurdish, have refused to fight. Three Kurdish Members of Parliament of the Party for a Democratic Society (DTP) helped secure the release of the eight soldiers. The Ankara Public Prosecutors Office has started investigations against these three MPs to determine whether their involvement in this release could constitute a crime under anti-terrorist legislation.
The circumstances of this attack by the PKK remain pretty disturbing in a region so strongly controlled by the Turkish Army (the second largest Army in NATO) which, moreover, has stationed 100,000 troops there in the last few months. Observers are astonished that there was no air cover and that the twenty men were completely neglected. The Turkish authorities particularly blamer them for being still alive and in no way wish to explain the reasons for this defeat, which is itself obscure.
On 11 November, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki said he was determined that Chemical Ali be hanged. Ali Hassan al-Majid should have been executed over a month ago. He was sentenced to death on 24 June along with the former Assistant Director of Military Operations, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti and Saddam Hussein’s Minister of Defence, Sultan Hashim al-Tai. Their sentence was confirmed on appeal. According to Iraqi law, this cousin and henchman of the former dictator, whose nickname comes from his taste for the use of chemical weapons, should have been executed with his accomplices 30 days after confirmation of the sentence on 4 September. “We are determined that justice be done and that these three people be handed over to the (Iraqi) legal authorities” declared Mr. al-Maliki, whereas the condemned men remain under the responsibility of the US Occupation Forces. The Prime Minister has set up a committee to enquire into the reason for the delay in carrying out the sentence.
Ali Hassan al-Majid, nicknamed “Chemical Ali”, the former Assistant Director of Military Operations, Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti and the ex-Defence Minister Sultan Hashim al-Tai were sentenced to death by the Iraqi Courts for their responsibilities in the repression of Kurds (the Anfal campaign 1987-88) which caused over 180,000 deaths. Several major obstacles, both legal and political, have since prevented the execution of the three men, today guarded by the US Army. The Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, and the Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, have refused to sign the order of execution for the three men. Mr. Talabani is opposed on principal to capital punishment, Mr. Hashemi, for his part fears that the execution of General al-Tai would sabotage efforts at national reconciliation in Iraq, reviving the frustrations of the Sunni Arabs.
Finally, the fact that the legal deadline for the execution — October 4th — has passed implies that it would henceforth be illegal to execute Chemical Ali and his co-accused, according to their defence lawyer. “No one calls to question the fate of Chemical Ali, but it is that of Sultan Hashem is questioned”, retorted the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh on 17 November. “Justice must prevail, the case is in the hands of the Supreme Court, which will decide if the execution requires the agreement of the Presidential Council”, he explained.
On 26 November, the Minister for Human Rights in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Aziz Mohammed, declared that at least 27 women have been killed in the last four months in Iraqi Kurdistan by members of their family, in “honour crimes”. “In the course of the last four months ten women were killed in Irbil, eleven others in Dohuk and six in Suleimaniyah”, he declared. “These are honour crimes. We have to say that violence against women is continuing”, lamented Mr. Mohammed. Over the same period, 97 women have also attempted to commit suicide by setting themselves alight to escape domestic violence he pointed out.
The Kurdish authorities and many associations formed to defend women’s rights are acting against these crimes, most often perpetrated by members of the family for allegedly “immoral” conduct.