On 25 February, to mark the 25th Anniversary of the foundation of the Paris Kurdish Institute, a conference was organised at the Palais Bourbon (the National Assembly) in the theme “the Kurdish question in the 21st Century”.
The last quarter of a century was full of both tragedies and hopes: the Iraqi Kurds threatened with inescapable extinction following the Anfal campaign of 1988-89, were able, as a result of the Gulf war (1991) to engage in an experiment of political autonomy; the decapitation of the Iranian Kurdish leadership (1989-92) was not able to hinder the renewal of Kurdish culture in that country; for the last decade the Syrian Kurds have been enjoying a renewal that covers a peaceful commitment to struggling both for democracy and cultural rights; and finally, despite the scorched earth policy adopted in response to the PKK guerrillas, Turkey has not succeeded in “eradicating” Kurdishness.
Over and above a moment of reflection on its own past, the Kurdish Institute hoped, through this symposium, to draw up a balanced assessment of the last 25 years of Kurdish history.
The conference was opened by the welcoming speech of Mr. Francois Loncle, a member of parliament for the Eure area and former minister, who paid tribute to the work of the Kurdish Institute and promised to initiate a study group on Kurdistan within the French National Assembly. The Speaker of the Kurdistan National Parliament, Adnan Mufti, also paid tribute to the work of the Kurdish Institute, founded at a particularly dark period in Kurdish history, and summed up the political agenda of Iraqi Kurdistan. In his introduction to discussion, Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, cast a look back over the outstanding events that have parked Kurdish history over the last 25 years, and the cultural, social and political actions of the Paris Kurdish Institute.
The first Round Table on “Case Studies”, with Jonathan Randal as moderator, included Gilles Dorronsoro, Professor of Political Science at the Paris Sorbonne University, who spoke on the theme of “Identity, territory and political mobilisation in Turkish Kurdistan”. Dr. Dorronsoro described the present situation in Turkish Kurdistan and the Kurds’ feeling of identity, stressing that the Kurdish language does not seem to be the most substantial element of Kurdishness in Turkey. Both directors of the Centre of Kurdish Studies of Exeter University were also present and Hashem Ahmadzade spoke to describe “Relations between Kurds and Iranians” while Gareth Standsfield covered “The de jure and de facto situation: the consolidation of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region”. To round off the Case Studies, Jordi Tejel, a research worker at the EHESS (The School of Advanced Studies in Social Science) analysed the subject of “Kurds in Syria: continuity and changes in a little known question”.
The morning session of welcoming speeches was marked by a speech of support by Mrs. Danielle Mitterrand, who came specially to encourage the Kurds in their struggle for democracy.
The second Round table, which began the afternoon session, was entitled “Side Glances” and the moderator was moderated by André Poupart, Honorary professor of Montreal University, Canada, who made a pertinent comparison of the power sharing in Kurdistan with the Canadian Federal System in General and the case of Quebec in particular. Hamit Bozarslan, Lecturer of political science at the EHESS assessed the “The Kurdish Question between 1983 and 2008”, followed by Ann-Catrin Emanuelson of Goteborg University, Sweden, who developed the issue of the “Diaspora as cultural and political area”.
The last Round Table had the participants discussing “Perspectives of the Kurdish Question in the 21st Century”. Chaired by French Ambassador Bernard Dorin, it included Peter Galbraith, former US Ambassador to Croatia, Fuad Hussein, Presidential chief of staff of Iraqi Kurdistan, Gerard Chaliand, a geopolitical specialist, Najmaldin O. Karim, President of the Washington Kurdish Institute and Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute. Between them drew a picture of the political, cultural, social and economic situation of Kurdistan they traced the perspectives facing the Kurds.
The conference, simultaneously translated into Kurdish, French and English was marked by questions from the public of about 300 people who had come to share the speakers' analyses.
In the evening of 21 February, the Turkish Army launched an operation against the PKK bases on Mount Qandil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, by crossing the border. The operation lasted a week before the Turkish troops withdrew. However, the Turkish Chief of Staff declared that he reserved the right to renew this kind of operation if need be, while the PKK presented the withdrawal as a heavy defeat for the Turkish Army.
The Turkish Army has been regularly bombing and shelling along the Iraqi border since December 2007. On 4 February, some planes crossed the border to bomb 3 (empty) villages near Qandil with making any victims according to the PKK. For its par, the Turkish Army describes the bombing as “intensive bombing” of Kurdish fighters.
However, the majority of observers were not expecting an offensive in February because of the still wintery climatic conditions that make mountain operations very difficult. On 18 February Ercan Yavuz, a journalist on the Turkish paper Zaman, close to the AKP party (in office) declared that the “Turkish Army was now ready to carry out land operations in Iraq”, the most probable date given being mid-March.
However, many leading American officials visited Ankara before the date of the offensive. On the 13th, General Cartwright arrived in Ankara to meet the Turkish General Ergin Saygun and David Petraeus, Commander of US forces in Iraq. The meeting was due to cover the “common struggle” of the United States and Turkey against the PKK. On 15 February, it was the turn of the US Minister of Justice, Michael Mukasey, to meet with Turkish leaders in Ankara on the same subject. The American Minister then declared that this cooperation had been “active and crowned with success” and was continuing.
On the same day, throughout Turkey, police were put on “maximum alert” because of Kurdish demonstrations commemorating the 9th anniversary of the capture of Abdullah Ocalan. Clashes occurred between the police and Kurdish demonstrators, in the course of which a 15-year-old boy was killed at Cizre. During his funeral, the riot police once again attacked the young demonstrators who reacted by destroying many small shops, erected barricades and threw stones at the Turkish police. There were also disturbances at the Kurdish town of Hakkari.
On the 21st, Turkish troops, including several thousands of infantrymen and 3,000 commandoes, for the first time crossed the border to start land operations against the PKK, penetrating 20 Km inside Iraqi Kurdistan. The infantry advance was backed by artillery fire, air raids and “real time intelligence”, promised by the USA since the beginning of January, on the positions and movements of the PKK.
The Turkish Army claims to have totally or partially destroyed 312 positions. As for the human losses, they totalled over 300 dead, 270 rebels and 30 soldiers, according to the Turkish General Staff’s communiqué. On the other hand, a web site close to the PKK announced 130 Turkish soldiers killed and 5 PKK fighters, as well as shooting down a helicopter, the loss of which was confirmed by the Turkish Army that merely referred to a “technical hitch”. Independent Kurdish sources assess the casualties at a dozen killed, including 5 civilians on the Kurdish side, while the Turkish losses are about 30 deaths.
The Government of Iraqi Kurdistan, which protested at this violation of the borders, rapidly accused Turkey of aiming at the whole of the Kurdish Region, and not just the PKK and put the Pesmergas on maximum standby alert round the major towns and at strategic points. On 21 February Turkish tanks based at Barnarne, near Amadiyye, (where they have been based since the “cease-fire agreements between Turkey, the United States and the KDP in 1997) tried to leave their barracks to take part in an encircling movement round the border area of Hak. They were immediately surrounded by Peshmergas and violently set upon by the Kurdish population, which was very hostile to the Turkish operation and do a rapid U-turn.
On the 24th, heavy fighting took place round the Camp at Zap, which the Turks were seeking to carry by storm under artillery and air cover. This camp, about 6 Km from the Turkish border, is embedded in a deep valley, is one of the principal crossing points for PKK attacks on Turkey, as is the Harkuk camp, where troops were parachuted by helicopters. The General Staff still talked of “heavy losses” on the Kurdish side, but on Tuesday 25th heavy snowfalls forced the Turkish troops to stop their advance. The PKK reported 200 soldiers that their own fighters were said to have surrounded in one of the mountain valleys and also reported that “many soldiers” were frozen where they lay, since the temperature had dropped to -15° C.
The spokesman of the Kurdistan Regional Government criticised the American position on the Turkish raid on Mount Qandil: “We hold the US Government responsible for these military operations, since without their consent Turkey would never have dared violate Iraqi territorial or air space”, accused Falah Mustafa, Kurdish Minister External Relations. “The Regional Government condemns these military operations and the bombing of infrastructures” and “calls on Turkey to withdraw immediately from the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The problem will not be resolved by militarily but by peaceful means”. Falah Mustafa also insisted on the measures already taken by the Kurdish government to stop the PKK’s activities in the Kurdistan Region before calling for a direct dialogue between Ankara, Washington and Irbil to find a solution.
On 25 February, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Nechirvan Barzani, held a press conference during which he said he was “very concerned” by the Turkish operation and called for the incursion to be stopped immediately. The Prime Minister insisted on the fact that only a political solution could resolve the question. “The Kurdistan Regional Government understands that the PKK is a problem for Turkey. In the 1990s Turkey tried, sometimes with our help, to resolve the problem with the PKK militarily, and today it is again trying the same thing. However, experience has clearly shown us that these military methods can never succeed. I am ready to visit Ankara. A four-handed discussion between Washington, Istanbul, Baghdad and Irbil will help find a lasting and peaceful solution to this question”.
The prime Minister also condemned the destruction by the Turkish Air Force of infrastructures far from the border regions and quite unrelated to the PKK. “We believe that this proves that, despite their avowed aim, Turkey’s really target in the Kurdistan Region. I am surprised by Baghdad’s feeble response to this flagrant violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.
Furthermore, on 26 February, the Kurdish Parliament demanded the closing down of these Turkish bases and the departure of their 3.200 troops from the Kurdistan Region. “We demand that the Turkish Government quit the bases that were set up in the Kurdistan Region because of exceptional circumstances that the region was going through before the fall of the Saddam Hussein Regime”.
The “feeble Iraqi reaction” criticised by Nechirvan Barzani, changed a great deal between the first days of the offensive and the time when the fighting intensified and got bogged down. On the 23rd, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki called on Turkey to “respect Iraqi sovereignty”, while the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari (himself a Kurd) when talking to the BBC described the operation as a “limited military incursion in a far off, isolated and uninhabited mountain region”, adding that “if it continued it could destabilise the region because a mistake could lead to escalation”. Mr. Zebari indicated that the Iraqi government had only been informed of Turkish intensions “at the last minute”, that it had never given its consent to the operation and that “despite Ankara’s promise to avoid targeting infrastructures, several bridges had already been destroyed”.
Nevertheless, on the 24th the Iraqi Government spokesman, Mr. Ali Dabbagh, declared: “We do not think that these operations present an attack on the sovereignty of Iraq. We know that there is a threat to Turkey from the PKK terrorists, but we have let Turkey know that this operation must not destabilise Iraq and the region”.
However, the unpopularity of the incursion and the growing scepticism regarding its effectiveness, perhaps led Baghdad to taking a tougher stand because a fresh communiqué issued on the same day called on Turkey “to withdraw its troops from Northern Iraq as quickly as possible”, stating, this time, that it was “a threat to our sovereignty”. The Prime Minister’s staff also called on Ankara “to open a bi-lateral dialogue with the Iraqi government” and that the conflict with the PKK “should not be treated by military ways”, even while assuring that “it understood Turkey’s legitimate concerns regarding security”.
The Shiite religious dignitaries, for their part, disapproved the Turkish operation. Thus a Shiite cleric, Qasim al-Tayi declared on 24 February: “We categorically reject the Turkish incursion into North Iraq and we considerate an aggression and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty. We call on all political forces, decision makers and public opinion firmly to oppose this invasion. The advance of Turkish troops into Iraqi territory on the pretext of chasing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party can lead to the destruction of most of the country’s infrastructures and the deaths of Innocent Iraqis”. , Qasim al-Tayi adds that this incursion was an illegitimate act “that cannot have an rational explanation”.
In the US, President Bush had approved the offensive as from 23 February. However, faced with the difficulties the Turkish troops were facing, the unexpected toughness of the fighting, aggravated by heavy snow-falls, as well as the danger of direct clashes between the Turks and the Peshmergas, Washington soon began to fear a spreading of the conflict to Iraqi Kurdistan and called on Turkey to withdraw “as quickly as possible”.
However, the Turkish Defence Minister, Vecdi Gonul, Seemed deaf to demands for a rapid withdrawal, whether they came from the United States, Iraq or the European Union and declared: “Turkey will remain in Northern Iraq as long as it has to!” while assuring the Americans that his country had no intention of occupying “the North of Iraq”.
On 27 February, a Turkish delegation left for Baghdad to discuss the operation in the North of the country. At the end of this meeting, Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign affairs advisor of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, declared during a press conference given jointly with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari (himself a Kurd) that “There will be no timetable for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Northern Iraq so long as that organisation’s presence has not been eliminated”.
However, during the night of 27 February, the Turkish Army unexpectedly began to withdraw from Iraqi Kurdistan, whereas only an hour before the Turkish Army’s Chief of Staff, General Buyukanit , also refused to give any date for withdrawing: “A rapid time limit is a relative notion. It could sometimes be a day and sometimes a year”.
Most of the Turkish media, as well as the political caste and even the man in the street are convinced that this about face was caused by American pressure and the threat to close the air space to Turkish planes as well as suspending the intelligence being provided in real time on the movements of the Kurds — despite the Army’s denials. The Turkish press even used the term “bomb” to describe the official announcement of the ending of operations. Faced with these affirmations, Yasar Buyukanit, questioned by the paper Milliyet, reiterated that: “I alone am answerable for the decision to withdraw, like the order to start military operations — neither the political administration for an allied country (i.e. the US) can take such a decision”, thus implying that this withdrawal surprised even the Turkish Prime Minister. “Mr. Erdogan was aware of the operation as a whole, including the decision to withdraw, on the other hand he did not know exactly when and where the withdrawal would take place”. The General insists that it was not the last visit of the US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, that lay at the source of this decision. Thus he explained that the troops had begun to withdraw two das before the official announcement, which occurred on 29 February, to “avoid having the Kurds attack our soldiers during their retreat”. However this argument is hardly convincing, since it was just the Kurds — the Peshmergas and then the PKK fighters — who, as of 27 February, tipped off the media.
In the Turkish political caste, the withdrawal caused quite a stir, particularly in Parliament. The two opposition parties, the Nationalist Action Party (MHP — neo-fascist) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) sharply criticised the Chief of Staff and Robert Gates. The Speaker of the Turkish parliament, Koksal Toptan, also condemned the American pressure on the TRT television channel seeing them as part of a regional manoeuvre: “I imagine that they wanted to send a message to the Iraqi central government, on the one hand and the Kurdistan regional administration in the North of Iraq on the other by saying that, if you are angry with us for helping the Turks, the latter will withdraw whenever we ask them to”.
Immediately after the official announcement, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made two contradictory statements. On the one hand, addressing the Baghdad government, he declared that “Turkey and Iraq should not allow the Kurdish rebels of the PKK to sour their bi-lateral relations” and again called for cooperation between the two countries to drive the PKK out of Northern Iraq. However, on the other hand, he also invited the PKK to la down its arms by declaring that Turkish democracy was “mature enough” to resolve the Kurdish question politically: “Our democracy is mature enough to take all kinds of differences into account, all sorts of political opinions, so long as they remain within the bounds of the law”.
In response to the Turkish attack, the PKK called for movements of urban disturbance from the Kurds of Turkey. Thus Bahoz Erdal, one of this party’s leaders, declared: “Kurdish youth must retaliate to this operation” and “the response must be strong. If they want to sweep us aside, our youth must make life in the towns unbearable and burn hundreds of cars every night”. The PKK also accused the US of having taken an active part in the operation. “American reconnaissance planes flew all over the region. They give Turkey information on our positions in real time and then Turkish planes came to bomb us”. Bahoz Erdal also accused groups of Iraqi Kurds of taking part in the fighting, openly attacking the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani. “In our view, Jalal Talabani’s attitude is very dangerous. We have information that he may even have invited the Turkish Army to Qandil”. The PKK spokesman also called on the Iraqi Kurds to oppose the invasion.
In fact, as from 23 February, demonstrations against the military operation were organised by the DTP, first in Istanbul then in some Kurdish towns. In Diyarbekir, several thousands of people marched on the 25th to demand an end to the incursion, with slogans very hostile to the Turkish Prime Minister and the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, who was visiting Turkey at the time. The demonstrations did not, however, degenerate into violence, the police clearly having been instructed to avoid inflaming the situation.
For its part, the Iranian government, through its spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hossein, announced having “strengthened” its borders with Iraqi Kurdistan following the Turkish offensive, to prevent the PKK fighters from seeking refuge in Iran.
The death sentence on Ali al-Majid, known as “Chemical Ali”, a high official of the former regime, who had played a leading role in the Anfal campaign, the genocide against the Kurds, was approved for execution by the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and by his two Vice Presidents.
Al-Majid is one of three Baathist leaders sentenced to be hanged last June after being found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The appeal court upheld this verdict last September. The two others are Hussein Rashid Mohammad, formerly representative of the Iraqi Armed Forces Directorate of Operations and Sultan Hashim al-Taiy, former Minister of Defence.
On Friday, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Minister of Anfal Martyrs, Shinar Sa’d Abdullah, called for Ali Hassan al-Majid to be rapidly executed, expressing pleasure at the Presidency’s decision: “We call on the central government to speed up the execution of al-Majid. Approval of the sentence is a positive step in restoring legitimacy to the Court that passed this sentence”.
In December 2007, Shinar Abdullah had declared that his ministry was ready to have recourse to UNO if the death sentence passed on the authors of the Anfal were not passed. A political and legal controversy had, indeed, perturbed Iraqi political circles over these three sentences. Jalal Talabani and his Vice President Tareq Hashimi considered, indeed, that the officers of the former Iraqi Army should not be executed as they had been forced to obey orders under pain of death. Jalal Talabani had several times defended Sultan Hashim Ahmed, who he described as a “respectable” soldier who should not be executed.
Saber Abdul-Aziz al-Dori, who ran the ld regime’s secret services and Farhan Motlak al-Juburi, the head of these services in the “North Zone” were sentenced to life imprisonment, while the former Governor of Mosul, Taher al-A’ani was acquitted.
Osman Baydemir, the Mayor of Diyarbekir, was finally acquitted on the resumption of his trial that began last November. He was being sued over the printing and distribution of invitation cards to his town’s 6th Festival of Culture — because they had been drawn up, not only in Turkish but also in Kurdish, Armenian and English… The prosecution had demanded a three-year sentence.
The case was based on Article 222 of the so-called “hat law” — such cases are becoming increasingly frequent in Turkey today. In addition to Osman Baydemir, the court was trying Abdullah Demirbas, former mayor of Sur, a local council adjoining Diyarbekir, and 19 members of the Town Council. Abdullah Demirbas had, indeed, wanted to go even further by offering public services in his town hall n four languages, that is in Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian and Syriac, arguing that these were the four languages normally spoken by his electors, who did not all have a proper mastery of Turkish.
The 21 accused were being sued partly on the basis of Article 257, that condemns “public harm” and the abuse of ones “position”, but essentially on Article 222, which is used to prohibit the public use of Kurdish in public services. In 1925, Kemal Ataturk did, indeed, promulgate a law forbidding men to wear the fez, when its name of the “hat law”. In 1928 clauses were added banning the use of “anti-Turkish” letters, which at the time was directed against the use of the old Ottoman alphabet. Today it is used to ban the use of three letters of the Kurdish alphabet (W, Q and K) that are not used in Turkish.
The defence argued that Diyarbekir and the adjacent municipalities were not the only ones to distribute brochures in foreign languages since many Turkish towns, especially in the Western parts of the country, offered tourists information in English, German, Dutch and even Polish, especially on their Web sites.
However, if Osman Baydemir was acquitted, the publisher, Mehdi Tanrikulu was sentenced to 5 months jail made a complaint about a Public Prosecutor in Kurdish and of having “persisted” by expressing himself in Kurdish to the court. The Istanbul First Criminal Court ruled that Mehdi Tanrikulu, who directs the Tevn Publishing House, had infringed this same “Hat Law” both verbally and in writing.
Mehdi Tanrikulu had previously been sentenced to twelve and a half years imprisonment for membership of the PKK by the Diyarbekir High Security Court. He has also been accused (but acquitted) of “propaganda for an illegal organisation” after publishing a book by Zulfikar Tak, describing the use of torture in Diyarbekir prison. In the course of one of these trials, the Prosecutor, Mummer Ozcan, in the charge sheet he draw up, mentioned “the so-called Kurdish people”. Following this, Mehdi Tanrikulu lodged a complaint against him, in Kurdish, for “insulting” his identity. While the Prosecutor has not been subjected to any enquiry, his accuser, on the other hand, falls foul of this “hat law”. During his trial, he came accompanied by a Turkish interpreter, persisting in only expressing himself in his mother tongue. “I have the right to express myself in my mother tongue and its alphabet must be accepted by the institutions”, he declared before the court, quoting Article 39/5 of the Treaty of Lausanne, which “guarantees all Turkish citizens the right to use their mother tongue before the courts”.
The court only saw this as“persistence in committing a crime” and sentenced Mehdi Tanrikulu to 5 months jail.
A celebrated Kurdish “dengbej” (traditional bard), Ali Tijo, was arrested by the Syrian security services and no one knows his fate, despite the insistence efforts of his family and friends to have some news of him. They say they are worried about his health since, as well as being 71 years of age he suffers from heart trouble.
According to sources close to the singer, Ali Tajo had welcomed to his house in Aleppo a delegation of Kurdish singers from Iraqi Kurdistan. Some time after, the Syrian police raided his home, wrecked the house and took him away to the Aleppo Security Centre for questioning before handing him over to the Damascus Headquarters of the Secret Police.
Ali Tijo is a singer who is well known to the Afrin Kurds. This “dengbej” has a repertory of over a hundred ballads and epic poems, including one in praise of Sheikh Said and the 1925 uprising against Turkey, which is well known and popular with the Kurds.
With the Newroz approaching, Syria is experiencing increasing numbers of arrests and acts of intimidation. Six detainees have just been sentenced by the High Security Court to between 2 to 10 years jail on the grounds of “separatism”. Four of them (sentenced to 7 to 10 years) are accused of having “attacked” some police during a demonstration in Aleppo on the occasion of the 2007 Newroz celebrations. The other two (sentenced to 2 years), were accused of membership “of an extremist group”. Having already spent two years in pre-trial detention they were released.
In the Kurdish town of Hassake, a Human Rights activist was arrested by the town’s security services. According to the Syrian League for the Defence of human Rights, Osama Edward Qario is being detained because of his writings on everyday life in Syria. This 31-year-old English teacher was summoned by the Syrian Security services for having written an article entitled “Neither gas, nor petrol nor electricity” in which he criticised the Syrian economy.
As for the Kurdish former Member of the Syria Parliament, Uthman Muhammad Dadali, he died this month in the al-Kanadi Hospital of Aleppo. Some months earlier he had been arrested and tortured by the Baathist security services. Although released, his health remained seriously jeopardised, according to his family and friends. His health took a turn for the worst at the beginning of the months and he finally died as a result of the severe ill treatment he had received.
Osoye Dadali had been a Member of the Syrian Parliament in the 90s, representing Koban, the town where he was born.
At the same time, Dindar Zebari, the Kurdistan Regional Government coordinator, announced that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, following a visit by Antonio Guterres to Iraqi Kurdistan, has agreed that the Kurds from Syria, who fled their country for the Kurdistan Region, should officially receive the status of refugees.
These Kurds came there mainly after the riots and reprisals in Qamishlo, following the 2oo4 Newroz celebrations. They have been settled in a camp in the region of Duhok and are estimated by the Kurdistan government to number about 500.
Farzad Kamangar, born in 1973 and for 12 years school teacher at Kamiaran, in Iranian Kurdistan, has been sentenced to death.
Married and father of a family, he is a member of the teachers union and of other active voluntary associations. He used to write for reviews and association publications in support of human rights. Arrested on 19 August 2006 in Sanandaj (Iranian Kurdistan) by the secret services, for the following four months his family ad no news and the authorities denied knowing anything whatever about his disappearance.
In fact, he had been transferred to N°9 Evin Prison, in Teheran, a secret detention centre of the VEVAK, the Iranian secret service. Human Rights activists, report that, according to a letter the teacher had managed to smuggle out of his cell, he had been severely tortured and subjected to psychological pressures, that he had been unable to see any lawyer or contact his family. He had even tried to commit suicide and his health had seriously deteriorated. His lawyer confirmed these statements, reporting on his client’s poor physical condition during their first meeting. In addition to serious burns on the hands caused by boiling water, he also has a kidney infection and blood n his urine.
In the course of 2006 and 2007, Farzad Kamangar was several times transferred, sometimes to Kermanshah sometimes to Sanandaj, to be tortured and interrogated. When his mother and brother were authorised to see him, seven months after his arrest, Farzad Kamangar still did not know the charges against him nor had he been able to see his lawyer, who had obtained no information on his case. It was only later that he learnt that he was charged with “undermining national security”.
Farzad has gone on hunger strike several times, with other detainees, in protest at the conditions of his detention, and has had to be taken to hospital several times.
On 25 February, Branch 130 of the Iran Revolutionary Court sentenced Farzad Kamangar to death for endangering national security, accusing him of being a member of PJAK. He pleaded not guilt. His lawyer stressed the irregularity of the trial, which was not held in public and was without a jury. Human Rights Watch denounced this trial, the sentence and the torture inflicted on the prisoner. The organisation calls on the Iranian legal system to quash the sentence and retry the accused in an equitable and regular manner.
Presented at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the film “Gitmek” or “My Marlon and my Brando” is Huseyin Karabey’s latest film. Since Boran, a documentary fiction on the “Saturday Mothers”, and the “disappearances” in Turkey, followed by a report on the “displaced” Kurds of Mardin and a documentary against isolation and the Type F prisons (Silent Death), this Kurdish film-maker has unceasingly produced committed films on the Kurdish question and political problems in Turkey.
Already acclaimed in Turkey, particularly by the daily Zaman, his new film aroused an enthusiastic response in Holland.
Two actors, Ayca and Hama Ali, one of Turkish nationality and the other Iraqi, meet during the shooting of a film in Suleimaniah and fall in love. Then they each return home and the relationship is continued by letter, video, and telephone while the American intervention draws closer. When the war begins, Ayca decides to join Hama Ali in Suleimaniah and the tale becomes a road movie between the Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi borders.
“In the past”, Huseyin Karabey tells the Daily Star newspaper, “we Kurds were in the habit or recording our “letters” on tape recorders, because we don’t really like writing. Now Kurds are turning to videos”.
“I knew that the film would lead Ayca to the Turkish0Iraqi border because … we wanted to remind people about what has happened in Kurdistan and what is happening today … I think that this “documentary” is more “fictional” than a film of pure fiction. People think that if you shoot at 24 pictures a second it seems more real. With the video-letters of this film, we tried to show a new form of reality.
We did not want to pass judgement of the reality of events but to arouse questions about this reality, because this is the principal question in Turkey. The State’s policy has always been to ignore our identity and to call us “mountain Turks” it is more important to arouse questions about such statements than to oppose them with our own didacticism.
There are several narrative levels in the film. The first, the most external, is that of a simple love story that everyone can understand. There is also a second level that those who have some knowledge of Turkey and Kurdistan can understand. Then comes the deepest level, for those who know the region very well. The first pictures, for example, show street scenes in Istanbul, but the music on the sound track is Kurdish. Filming the former capital of the Turks to Kurdish music is something no one has ever done before.
Later, when Ayca is travelling towards the Iraqi border, she discusses with the taxi driver, a Kurd, the question of identity. They stop at a village in ruins so that he can clean an old tomb. This means nothing to foreigners, but all Turks know that this village is one of those that the Turkish Army destroyed about 17 years ago because of its highly strategic position. It is not even necessary to name it”
In this film, two old Armenian women who live in the same block of flats as Ayca, are constantly watching out for her comings and goings, waiting for her to return so as to always recommend that she shut her door securely. “They amuse us”, explains Huseyin Karabey, “but their fears also send out a signal about the situation of Armenians in the country.
On the one hand I’m not bothered about borders. I don’t say that there must definitely be a unified Kurdish state. But the borders are a reality. I have seen villages cut in two by the Turkish-Iranian border. Many people try to stir up hatred between peoples. It is better to treat these questions with humour, compassion and humanity.
I do not want to ignore my identity — nor to use it to make a box office hit. I try not to forget where I come from, just to struggle against this policy of negation about who we are. My father speaks four languages: Kurdish, Turkish, Persian and Arabic. Today people turn their backs on such cosmopolitanism. But it was a good thing, wasn’t it?”
Mrs. Margaret Huber, the Canadian Ambassador to Iraq, visited Kurdistan for the first time on a three-day trip in which she accompanied a Foreign Ministry delegation and officials of the international trade sections of her Embassy. The delegation is due to write a report on those sectors most favourable for investment and trade for the Canadian business circles.
During the reception organised by the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mrs. Huber said she was “most encouraged by the high level of cooperation from the Kurdistan Regional Government”. The Ambassador added: “Too often foreigners do not have a precise understanding of what is happening in Iraq and in the Kurdistan Region. I want to change this”.
The Kurdish government spokesman, Falah Mustafa Bakir, expressed the hope that the world would know how much “the Kurdistan Region is stable, peaceful and embarked on the road to prosperity. That is why we hope that foreign companies will come to the Kurdistan Region and make it a springboard for expanding to the rest of Iraq”.
The Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, for his part stressed that so far interest was mainly in Kurdistan’s natural resources and its trade. However other economic sectors offered a wide range of activities, such agriculture, tourism, industry, infrastructures and the financial sector. He assured the Ambassador for his help so that Kurdistan and Canada could be linked in closer friendship and become trading partners.
At Sanandaj, in Iranian Kurdistan, eleven activists campaigning for the right to work were sentenced to flogging for “disturbing the public order and taking part in an unauthorised demonstration”. The condemned men, in addition to 91 days jail, shall receive ten strokes of the whip for having demonstrated on May 1st 2007. Two of them had even been sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment until this penalty was commuted to ten blows of the whip and a fine of 200,000 tomans ($200).
Khaled Savari, head of the National Union of sacked and unemployed workers, was also sentenced to ten strokes of the whip, as he explained on Farda Radio: “What crime did we commit? Did we break doors or windows? Burn cars? All we did was to complain about our wages and other problems connected with work in front of the Labour Exchange”.
The activists attacked this sentence, made in an economic context that was becoming increasingly difficult for workers. For the last two years, protest movements have been repressed with increasing severity by the Iranian State. Many protesters have already been detained, imprisoned or intimidated. However, this is the first time that the sentence of whipping has been carried out. Shirine Ebadi, Director of the Human Rights Defence Centre in Teheran and Nobel Peace Prize winner, judged these sentences alarming and recalled, also on Farda Radio, that physical punishments, such as stoning, flogging or amputation of hands, were strictly forbidden by the International Convention against Torture.
Following on an unfavourable report by Human Rights Watch in July 2007 on the conditions of detention of prisoners in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Prime Minister made clear his “energetic” support for the Human Rights Defence organisation and announced “impending measures”.
Seven months after the publication of the report, the Kurdistan Human Rights Minister, Shwan Muhammad Aziz, has just decided to close Akre Prison and build two prisons more in conformity with the criteria required by the International Prison Observatory. The Minister also announced that prisons in Kurdistan Region would, henceforth, be answerable to the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs. Shwan Muhammad Aziz presented this series of measures as “a vital advance towards understanding and identifying the tasks to be undertaken to carry out this reform”.
The European Court for human Rights found Turkey guilty of the death of Mazlum Mansuroglu, 24 years of age, during a raid in 1996 by security forces hunting for PKK activists. He was arrested in his home, at Tunceli, at that time under Emergency Law. Later his body was shown, together with those of the two activists sought, by the Turkish authorities who affirmed that Mazlum Mansuroglu had been killed during an armed clash with the Turkish forces.
However, his family has always disputed this version, affirming that he had been executed.
The European Court considered that “the responsibility of the State is certainly involved, in the absence of its being able to establish that the lethal force used against Mazlum Mansuroglu did not go beyond what was necessary” and that the “the failure to control by regulations the actions of the States agents and abandoning them to arbitrariness are incompatible with effective observance of Human Rights”.
The judges also recognised the ill treatment of the victim’s mother, Emine Mansuroglu, when she tried to prevent the arrest of her son.
Turkey was sentenced to paying nearly 27,000 euros in moral and material damages to the victim’s relatives.