On 1st July a police operation launched simultaneously in Istanbul, Ankara, Trebizond and Malatya, that deployed 6,000 policemen resulted in the arrest of 21 people, all opponents of the AKP, the party in office. Ten of these will be charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation”. Amongst them are two retired generals, Hursit Tolon and Sener Eruygur, two former “hawks” within the Army. Indeed, Sener Eruygur is still president of the influential and strongly nationalist Association for Ataturk’s Thought and was one of the ringleaders of the “pr-secular” demonstrations against the election of Abdullah Gul to the Presidency. The daily paper Radikal, which repeatedly makes “embarrassing revelations” about the Army’s institutions, has also named him as being the initiator of two attempts at coups d’état in 2003 and 2004 that hat the specific aims of preventing the signing the Cyprus peace plan drawn up by of Kofi Annan, then UN General Secretary as well as the re-unification of the island envisaged b the plan.
The so-called “Ergenekon” scandal broke out in 2007, when an arsenal was discovered in an abandoned house near Istanbul. Some 80 influential public figures are in jail charges with being members of a secret organisation, “Ergenekon”, of nationalist ambitions. Its aim was said to destabilise Turkey, through “terrorist” attacks attributed to either Kurds or Islamists and by carefully targeted assassinations such as that of the journalist of Armenian origin, Hrant Dink or that of the Christian missionaries at Malatya. This underground group is also said to be the latest manifestation of the “deep State”, that secret network working within the State in a quasi-autonomous manner since the cold war period. Amongst those charged are a number of retired senior officers, some journalists, lawyers, members of the political caste and one person involved with the mafia.
Coming in the middle of a political crisis, when the ruling AKP is itself being threatened with a banning order from the High Court, this drag net has been presented by some opponents as a riposte by the government against its adversaries. However Radikal, under the be-line of Ismet Berkan, describes, in advance of publication, the 2500-page charge sheet drawn up by the public prosecutor after 13 months investigation. The journalist vigorously attacks Generals Hursit Tolon (former commander of the First Army) and Sener Eruygur (former head of the Gendarmerie) accusing them of having caused the failure of the Cyprus Peace Plan in 2003.
As for the paper Taraf, run by the liberal novelist Ahmet Altan, it reveals a plan to destabilise the whole country. Thus, the Ergenekon network was due to organise violent demonstrations on 7 July, in four major cities, in support of some of the judges due to rule on the banning of the AKP. One of them, at Gaziantep, was due to be led by General Tolon and the owner of a nationalist TV channel. It was planned that anonymous sharpshooters, recruited from the ultra-nationalist cells, would open fire on the demonstrators so as to arouse opinion against the government. At the same time, several public figures, including journalists and intellectuals, were to be assassinated. The resulting disorder would thus have led the Turkish citizenry to back an Army putsch.
Another revelation made by Taraf has embarrassed the Army: at Daglica, a locality in the Kurdish region of Hakkari, an ambush, attributed to the PKK, is said to have been exploited by the command. Forewarned of the imminence of the attack, it chose to let the troops suffer unaided under fire. Thirteen of them were killed in the clash. On the grounds of this attack, the Turkish Army had been able to prepare and justify its operation in Northern Iraq last winter, allegedly to eradicate the PKK that had dug itself in on the Qandil Mountains. The Army’s only answer to Taraf’s charges was to threaten the paper that it would come and seek “by force” the secret documents it clamed to possess to back up its story.
In this agitated situation, the Constitutional Court’s ruling regarding the AKP was given on 30 July: in the absence of a majority of the 7 judges (by only one vote), the AKP escaped being dissolved and the five years civic ineligibility demanded for 71 of its leading members was lost. It was, however, found guilty of anti-secular activities and sentenced to reimburse half of its present public funding.
In the opinion of observer of Turkish political life, this half-hearted ruling may perhaps be the beginning of a “truce” between the government at the Army-backed judicial caste following a beginning to the month that was very agitated and uncertain for the country’s stability. The very strong pressures exerted by the European Union and by Washington to avoid the scandalous situation of a party that had just won a major victory at the polls being banned also contributed to leading the Army’s high command to resolving to compromise with the AKP.
The Provincial Council elections that, normally, should take place next October, have caused a considerable stir in Iraq and aroused growing discontent amongst the Kurds. The question whether or not to postpone these elections because of the sensitive and still unresolved situation in the Kurdish areas outside the Kurdistan Region has, indeed, been under discussion for several months. To this must be added the drawing up of new electoral legislation that, inter alia, has to rule on the redrawing of constituency boundaries and a census of electors.
While certain Iraqis are demanding the postponement of the elections, the United States, on the other hand, is strongly pushing for them to be held. With the reduction in violence in Baghdad and the passing of the law on the sharing of resources derived from hydrocarbons, these elections appear to it as a political stage of high symbolic value, that indicates an improvement and “normalisation” of the situation in Iraq. Moreover, the readjustment of power distribution resulting from the elections could ease local tensions. Or perhaps revive them…
In fact, the Kurdish Alliance block in the Baghdad parliament boycotted the vote on this law that proposes dividing Kirkuk into four constituencies and sharing the seats out between them so as to give the Kurds, the Turcomen and the Arabs 32% each, the remaining 4% going to other minorities. This also means ignoring the 1937 census figures (the last valid one) as well as avoiding carrying out an up to date one. This means carving up the Provincial Council in accordance with the wishes of about 100 Arab and Turcoman Members of Parliament, with 10 Kurds, 10 Arabs, 10 Turcomen and 2 Christians.
However the Kurds have rejected this division that, they say, is very far from reflecting the population distribution of Kirkuk and, consequently, the real vote of the electors, which has been made redundant, as was stressed by Mahmud Othman, a Kurdish Alliance M.P.: “If you carve up the number of seats before even holding the elections why bother to vote?”. The Bill also provided for the withdrawal of the Peshmergas from Kirkuk and their replacement, to ensure security, by Iraq soldiers coming from the Centre and South — which is regarded with suspicion by the Kurds.
Moreover, the vote was taken on 22 July, when only 140 of the 275 M.P.s were present and thus immediately open to doubt. The two Deputy Speakers of Parliament, the Shiite Sheikh Khalid al-Attiya and the Kurd Aref Tayfur also boycotted the vote while popular demonstrations were organised in all the Kurdistan Region’s cities to protest against it being passed. Thus, several thousand people marched in Irbil, the Kurdistan Region capital, some of them even bearing banners identifying Mahmud Mashadani, Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, with Saddam Hussein. In Suleimaniah, several thousand protesters, in addition to demonstrating, signed a letter to the governor to be forwarded to the Iraqi parliament. At Duhok on 31 July, the demonstrators presented a statement opposing the law to be sent to the UN Secretary General, to the President of Iraq, the President of Kurdistan and other leading officials of the country.
Moreover, two days after it was passed by the Iraqi National Assembly, the Election Bill was finally rejected b the Presidential Council, since the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, and his Vice=President Adel Abdel Mahdi, exercised their veto, considering that the Bill contained Constitutional irregularities and procedural faults. Since any law passed must be approved unanimously by the three members of the Presidential Council, the Assembly is thus obliged to revise the Bill — which makes even more uncertain that the projected date for the elections will be kept.
This rejection also seems like a snub by the Presidential Council to both the USA and to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. However, in the words of Jalal Talabani, the Bill, as voted, could cause “enormous damage to the country’s unity”.
For their part, the Kurdish members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council voted an appeal (boycotted, in this case by the Turcoman and Arab members) calling for Kirkuk to be joined to the Kurdistan Region. “We are presenting a petition, signed by 24 of the 41 members, calling for the annexation of Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq” declared Mohammed Kamal, a member of the Council, to The Voice of Iraq radio, adding that submitting this petition to the Iraqi Parliament was “a constitutional right”. Naturally the reaction of the other political groupings was not long delayed. Mohammed al-Juburi, an Arab member of the Provincial Council, stressed his radical rejection of Kirkuk becoming “part of Kurdistan”, seeing there the germs of a future civil war. Questioned by al-Sharqiya radio, the Turcoman representative of the same Council, Fawzi Akram, declared that this declaration by the Kurds confirmed the Turcoman feels and called on President Talabani to “adopt a constitutional position in the face of this demand”.
However, questioned on the same radio station, Awat Mohammad, a member of the Kirkuk Kurdish Brotherhood list used a much more balanced speech: “We sincerely wish that negotiations between the Parliamentary blocks in Baghdad succeed in reaching a satisfactory solution to this Bill on Provincial elections in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Bill was passed by the Council of Iraqi representatives in the absence of representatives of the Kurdish people and of Kirkuk. This led to a crisis. The only option possible was to have recourse to the Constitution. We considered that the appropriate solution was to ask the Provincial Council’s Presidency, in a petition signed by a majority of members and addressed to the Presidential Council, to apply the laws regarding the formation of regions. This is a legal request, which must not be interpreted a break with the Centre or as a unilateral decision”.
Indeed, Article 119 of the Iraqi Constitution stipulates that one or more governorates have the right to organise themselves as a region, on the basis of a petition that must be approved by referendum. Such a petition may be made two ways: either approved by one third of the representatives of each of the Provincial Councils or by one tenth of electors of each of the provinces.
However, Mahmud Othman, M.P. for the Kurdish Alliance, has pointed out that the government of his Region had no intention of annexing Kirkuk, while confirming that the Provincial Council had submitted its request “to the Federal Government, to the Kurdistan Government and to the Baghdad and Irbil Parliaments”.
At the same time, terrorist attacks have not been lessening in Kirkuk, where a suicide bomb attack, taking place on 28 July during a Kurdish demonstration against this Bill, killed about twenty people and wounded many more. The attack started a movement of panic in the crowd, which contributed to increasing the casualties. According to Najat Hassan, an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Kirkuk, when the Kurdish demonstrators fleeing the explosion drew near the offices of other political parties, the guards there d fired in the air to keep them at a distance. This provoked some armed people in the crown to fire back. Dr. Sharzad Hamed Aziz, of Kirkuk’s Azadi Hospital, stated that there were 22 dead and 120 injured, 30 of them seriously.
Two days earlier, a 23-year old Kurdish journalist, Soran Mammah Hammah, was killed in the same town, as he was walking home. The assassins fled in a car. Reporters sans Frontières, in its condemnation of this murder, added that Soran Mammah Hammah “had written very critical articles against some local politicians and security officials and had received death threats calling on him to stop his investigations”.
On 9 July, three German mountaineers, Helmut Johann, Martin Georpe and Lars Holper Reime, were kidnapped while on Mount Ararat by the PKK, which the Firat Kurdish News agency confirmed the next day. These Germans were part of a group of 13 mountaineers. They were kidnapped while camping on Mount Ararat, at an altitude of 3,200 metres. Five Kurdish fighters arrived and took the three men away.
The reasons given in the communiqué issued by the Kurdish guerrilla forces was “Germany’s hostile policy” towards the PKK. “The German tourists will not be released until the German government announces that it has abandoned its hostile policy towards the Kurdish people and the PKK”. The movement also insisted that the three hostages were in good health, had not been ill-treated and had also called for an end to military operations in the area where they had been captured.
According to the German weekly Der Spiegel, the PKK Executive Council had formally warned Angela Merkel’s government at the end of June of the “negative consequences” of its policy towards the party. For several years Germany has been carrying out a series of arrests and trials of PKK leaders living on its soil. Last June, the German Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schauble, had forbidden teams of the Denmark-based Kurdish television, RojTV from working in his country. H had also ordered the closing down of the Wuppertal-based VIKO Fernseh Produktion GmbH production company, which produced broadcasts for the Kurdish channel. This party, which is filed on the European Union’s list of “terrorist organisation”, has been banned in Germany for the last fifteen years. This has not prevented it from being present in an underground manner as well as under the legal cover of a variety of German voluntary associations. Germany houses the largest Kurdish community n Europe (over half a million) mostly from Turkish Kurdistan. According to the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, at least 11,500 active members are listed in the country.
As might have been foreseen, the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier immediately rejected the conditions laid down by the PKK for releasing the hostages, which he demanded be done unconditionally. “The Federal Republic does not respond to blackmail.” The Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schauble, similarly stated that no negotiation was possible. “It is out of the question for us to negotiate with the PKK on the way German laws are applied”. He also announced that members of the criminal investigation department of the German police were being sent to Turkey. For her part, Angela Merkel called for the immediate release of the hostages and equally refused any possibility of giving in to “blackmail”.
On the same day, while on a visit to Baghdad, Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reported on the determination of the Iraqi and Kurdish governments to fight the PKK: “We have secured the support of the Maliki government and the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region against the PKK. The PKK is a threat, not only to Iraq and Turkey but also to the whole region. We do not allow such organisations to poison the relations between two countries. There is a common understanding of the problem. There is a common will to defeat the organisation”.
The kidnapping of the three Germans ha not interrupted the clashes between the Turkish Army and the PKK. On 11 July the Turkish authorities announced the death of ten Kurdish fighters in a clash with the Army near Sirnak. One member of the so-called “village guardian” (a government armed and organised militia) was also killed. At the same time, Turkish paramilitary forces surrounded Mount Ararat, declared an interdicted zone, to try and free the mountaineers. This sparked off another PKK communiqué, on 14 July, calling, for the first time, for a stop to military operations. The movement declared it was “ready to release the three German tourists on condition that Turkey interrupt its military attacks in the region where they had been captured and that the release take place under the ægis of an international organisation such as the Red Cross”. The Kurdish organisation’s spokesman, Sozda Avesta, speaking from the Iraq’s Qandil Mountains, made the point that the Germans were in good health.
However, fighting is continuing near the Iranian and Iraqi borders, making 33 more victims among the guerrillas, as against 2 deaths among the troops, according to Turkish sources.
Finally, as might have been foreseen from the start, the mountaineers were freed by the PKK on 20 July, apparently without gaining anything in return. The governor of Agri Province (Ararat), in a press conference naturally insisted that the pressure of the Army round the kidnappers had forced them to release their hostages, but it is unlikely that the PKK had ever intended to keep them as hostages indefinitely. This kind of kidnapping operation, while it has already occurred, has remained pretty rare with this organisation and has never led to detaining their prisoners for long. It is essentially a spectacular feat to make an impression on Turkish and international public opinion.
On their return to Germany, one of the three mountaineers, Lars Holgar Reime, stated that they had been “relatively well treated” by the guerrillas, confessing that their main fear, during their detention had been of intervention by the Turkish Army, which would, inevitably, have exposed them to danger.
On 29 July, Amnesty International published a report that attacks Iran and its repression of minorities — a repression that is being stepped up, according to this human rights defence organisation.
Thus Amnesty criticises a whole series of discriminatory actions and human rights violations directed at the 12 million Kurds living in Iran — 15% of the country’s total population. The discrimination can be both religious and cultural, since the Kurds, on the whole, are Sunni Moslems, not Shiites. They also cover social questions like housing, employment and education. Finally, Kurdish media that criticise attacks on human rights are particularly targeted by the authorities: “The Iranian Constitution proclaims the equality of all Iranians before the law. However, as our report shows, this is not true for the Kurds in Iran”, stated one of the organisations officers. “The Iranian government has not taken sufficient measures to eradicate discrimination, or to put an end to the cycle of violence against women and punish those responsible”.
The report stresses the critical situation of Kurdish women, doubly persecuted as members of a disadvantaged ethnic community as well as by the interdictions, both religious and cultural, imposed on them as women: inequality in access to education, early and forced marriages, domestic violence that goes to the extent of “honour crimes” or drives them to suicide. However, according to Amnesty international, Kurdish women are an important mainstay of the economy in Kurdistan and, indeed, throughout Iran as a result of the war with Iraq which seriously cut down the male population.
“Kurdish women are daily subjected to violence and meet official discrimination from the State — but also from other groups and individuals, including their own families. The Iranian authorities must exercise constant vigilance to eradicate violence against women in their homes and in their community, but this is not the case”, the report recommends. However, the Iranian legal code is based on an extremely backward-looking and rigid interpretation of the Shiite Sharia. Thus it is legal for a man to beat his wife, specifically stating the conditions allowing this, while the legal age of marriage for girls has been reduced to nine years. In practice, since the official religious practices are, in many cases more discriminatory than the traditions way of life of the most disadvantaged minorities, it is hard to see what the State could do to improve matters.
Otherwise, the report points out that, with regard to Kurdish cultural rights, for example the wearing of their traditional dress, their music, these are generally respected and the Kurdish language is used in the media. However, Amnesty reports acts of intimidation or repression directed at Kurdish identity on the pretext of “internal security” and fighting the PJAK guerrillas. Several cases are mentioned of improper imprisonment, iniquitous trials and death sentences.
Thus, Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydari and Farhad Yakili, were found guilty of the offence of “moharebah” (being an enemy of God) and sentenced to death although their trials were marred by serious irregularities and they had been severely tortured. They were accused of being members of the PKK or of its Iranian branch, PJAK. Ali Haydraiyn and Farhad Yakili were also sentenced to more than ten years imprisonment for “forging documents” and so, under Iranian law, must first serve their prison sentence before being executed.
Farzad Kamangar, a 32-year old teacher has consistently denied the accusations and revealed that the authorities had asked hum to sign a letter asking for pardon — his refusal being interpreted as an admission of guilt. Since his sentence was confirmed on 11 July, he is liable to execution at any moment. On 21 July a gathering of a thousand people took place in the Kurdish capital of Sanandaj to protest against this sentence and the imprisonment of the other detainees.
Last May, Mohammad Sadiq Kabuvand was sentenced to eleven years imprisonment by the 15th Chamber of the Teheran Revolutionary Court — ten for having threatened “the security of the State by founding the Organisation for Human Rights in Kurdistan (HROK)” and one for “propaganda against the system”. The trial took place in camera, as is often the case with political issues— a fact regularly criticised by the defence lawyers because of all the procedural irregularities that this allows. Amnesty international has stated that it considers Mohammad Sadiq Kabuvand a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for having peacefully used his rights of freedom of expression and association during his term as President of the of HROK and also as a journalist. It should be recalled that Iran is a signatory of the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, which specifically guarantees the right to such activities.
Hana Abdi, a psychology student, was arrested on 4 November 2007 while staying at her grandfather’s in Sanandaj. Detained in secret for three months, she was sentenced to five years imprisonment last June — a sentence she must serve in another province, far from her family and friends, which makes her sentence all the harder. According to her lawyer, the 2nd Chamber of the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court considered she was guilty of “collecting and colluding to foment a crime against national security”. She is, in fact, an active member of the “Campaign for Equality” launched by Iranian women to put an end to the legal discriminations that they face in Iran. Amnesty international gives Hana Abdi the status of prisoner of conscience in the same way.
In addition to the Kurds, the 57-page report reports the discriminations that are practiced against Arabs of Ahwas and Baluchis.
On the initiative of the Regional Government of Kurdistan, a conference took place in Irbil to discuss the possible reduction in capital punishment in Iraqi Kurdistan. As explained by the organiser of the conference, Dr. Shwan Muhammad, Minister for Human Rights in the Kurdish Region: “We are working to secure a reduction in the use of the death sentence in Kurdistan, in accordance with Iraqi law”.
Representatives of the Ministry, lawyers, judges, and leaders of local and international organisations as well as a number of members of the Kurdish Parliament attended. According to the Minister for Human Rights those taking part had been brought together to give their opinions of the means of reducing the use of the death sentence and to suggest amendments to the Anti-terrorist Act. This law, initially passed on 16 August 2006, does, indeed, provide for the use of the death sentence, but for a period of only two years. Thus this measure is, in any case, due to expire in August 2008. It was the opportunity provided by this timetable that enabled Minister Shwan to raise the beginning of a future debate on the complete abolition of capital punishment — an objective that he presents as a major objective of his Ministry.
However, the principal obstacle to this abolition is the terrorist threat weighting on the whole of Iraq and, consequently on public opinion and any vote in Parliament. However Shwan Muhammad is relatively optimistic, even though the Irbil parliament renewed the Act on 29 June last for a further two years, that is until 16 July 2010: “When this threat has disappeared Parliament will work with us to arrive at the complete abolition of the death sentence in Kurdistan”.
“The Parliamentary Commissions for Human Rights and for Internal Affairs have insisted on the importance of the project and affirmed that the law deserved more analysis and amendments”, stated Tariq Jawher, an advisor of Adnan Mufti, Parliament’s spokesman, while stressing that the law as renewed by Parliament had, in fact, undergone some improvements, for example the delays before coming to trial for those charged with terrorism. However this did not satisfy either the Minister or the Non-Government Organisations.
Another speaker in this discussion was Brigadier General Mustafa Bawil-agha, director of the Irbil Central Prison, who made the point that his principal concern, were capital punishment abolished, would be ensuring peace and security in the country, before concluding “If, without this punishment, the population is safe then abolish the death sentence”.
According to statistics from the Human Rights Ministry, 34 people have been sentenced to death in the last three years. However, capital punishment had been adopted and applied as from the first year of the Kurdish autonomous government in 1992. This increases the total to 89 sentences, including of three women. However, only 25 have really been carried out — 7 in 2002, the rest spread out over 2006, 2007 and 2008. All the executions took place in Irbil, except for one in Duhok.
On 27 July, a double bomb attack took place in Istanbul causing 17 deaths and dozens of injured, some of them very seriously. Two bombs, placed in dustbins exploded ten minutes apart in a pedestrian precinct at Gungoren, a working class quarter in the European part of Istanbul.
The city governor, Mohammad Guler, immediately accused the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an accusation quickly repeated by the NTV news channel as well as several newspapers, including Hurriyet and Vatan. The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal, also pointed to the Kurdish movement as being responsible, as did the Turkish government.
However, the fact that this attack took place on the very day of the beginning of the Constitutional Court hearings to rule on whether the AKP party should be banned for “anti-secular activity” as well as the fact that it took place in an uneasy political context of politico-media mud-slinging resulting from the “Ergenekon” scandal, has also led some to think of a possible attempt to destabilise the country by the “Deep State” networks. While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also pointed to the PKK he nevertheless moderated his remarks by calling on the media to be cautious: “Please do not give a name to this terrorism. Let the security forces study their records and give it a name”.
The BBC opportunely broadcast an interview with the chief of the PKK armed forces, Murat Karayilan — a an interview made several weeks earlier, in which he raised the possibility of attacks on “economic and military targets in Turkish cities” in reprisal for the Turkish attacks on their bases.
However, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party was not slow in denying any involvement in this attack. The PKK thesis” was, however, kept up by the Minister of the Interior, who announced the arrest of ten suspects and the charging of eight of them with “membership of the PKK”. Two of these men were said to have been seen not far from the scene of the attack not long before the explosion “behaving suspiciously”.
Nevertheless, the head of the German Intelligence Service (BND), Ernst Uhrlau, cast doubts on this version in the German daily Bild. In his view, this type of bomb attack “does not really fit the PKK” and he sees it as rather the action of islamists linked to al0Qaida: “The technique used in the attack, the time and place chosen recall more an islamist or Turco-Turkish context. We know that islamist terrorists are also at work in Turkey as part of their global Jihad”.
On 21 July, the head of the Kurdish Left Party (PGK), which is banned in Syria, was arrested by the security services in Damascus. The news was made public by the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria (ONDHS) in a communiqué attacking this unconstitutional measure. It pointed out that Mohammad Mussa, 56 years of age, had already suffered from police pressures in the past. Thus the security services of the Kurdish town of Hassake have several times summoned him for interrogation regarding his activities as well as about his statements to the Arab press.
According to the ONDHS, the arrest warrant was not issued b the judicial authorities but by the security services themselves under the “State of Emergency decrees that have been in force for the last 45 years”. Thus the organisation demands that the Syrian authorities give up “their absolute right that they have illegally seized in the name of the State of Emergency so as to carry out arrests”, while demanding the immediate release of the Kurdish leader.
As for the Kurdish Left Party, it also demands that its General Secretary be released in a statement made to the AFP: “Mohammad Mussa is a nationalist who defends the legitimate rights and interests of the Kurdish people as well as those of the Syrian people as a whole”.
In an interview given to the Suleimaniah University magazine The Windows, Jay Garner, on a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, recalled the years that followed the fall of the Baathist regime and the political consequences for Kurdistan.
Jay Montgomery Garner, a retired General of the US Army, had directed the 1991 Safe Haven operation that had enabled the mass exodus of the Kurds to be checked by setting up an air protection zone, which was to form the nucleus of the present Kurdistan Region. In 2003, following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, he was appointed head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq, but was only able to remain in office for a month, being rapidly replaced by Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority. Jay Garner recognised that he always knew that this mission would be short, but had never envisaged it would be ended so rapidly. In the opinion of this retired General, a Federal system could provide a rapid way out of the conflict without getting bogged down. Nor would it weaken the Central Government, which would be the decision-maker on questions of foreign policy, currency, taxation and borders: “If America had opted for federalism from the start it would not have had to face the present day problems. If we want a stable Iraq, it must be made a federal state”.
Describing himself as a “friend of the Kurds”, Garner remained more evasive about the attitude of the present US government towards them: “I cannot speak about strategic relations between the Kurds and America because I am not part of the US Administration. I am unable to say what George Bush, Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice think about relations between America and the Kurds”.
However, the former officer was more direct about the Iraqi situation. While he is very approving of the “Kurdish success” he finds the rest of Iraq disappointing: “Five years after the war in Iraq the situation remains disappointing. America has, indeed, succeeded to some degree in strengthening security but if you look at the political process it is very slow and Regional Government of Kurdistan is the only success story”. A success that, in his view, is mainly due to two points: the liberation of the Kurds of the Region from the Baathist yoke by the Coalition troops seventeen years earlier but also to the Kurdish people itself: “Look at the structure of the Regional Government of Kurdistan: it has many women in it, particularly in Suleimaniah. Three of the five project directors are women. This shows the will of the RGK to have women members. Kurdistan has a Constitution that gives rights to the minorities. We could say that Kurdistan can serve as a model for the rest of Iraq … The Kurds in Iraq have suffered greatly. Nevertheless they have been capable of enduring and surviving. Today the Kurds have a variety of natural resources but the important thing is the method of using these resources. Thus the young must be encouraged to remain in their country”.
Finally, on the question of the possibility of installing military bases in Kurdistan, the US general fully supported such an option: “I have always supported the idea of a US military base in Iraqi Kurdistan. Not a very big base, just a little Army base consisting of an air force and a brigade of troops. This is important because it strengthens relations between the Kurds and America. It would also send a message to the countries of the Middle East that America will stay on a long term basis to ensure stability”.
In reporting on Diyarbekir, the Voice of America came round to the struggle of the former Mayor of Sur, Abdullah Demirtas, who had tried to introduce the use of the Kurdish language in the services his municipality offered its citizens. The publication of information leaflets in Kurdish resulted in his being accused of “harming the public and abuse of authority” (Article 257 of the Turkish Penal Code) and of the illegal use of “anti-Turkish letters”, that is to say letters that were not included in the Turkish alphabet as laid down in Article 222 (originally decreed to repeal the old Ottoman script and replace it by the present Latin letters). Although he escaped imprisonment, Abdullah Demirtas was nevertheless stripped of his elected office, despite the support of his electors, the majority of whom are Kurdish speakers. The use of Kurdish, previously completely banned, has become authorised since 1991 — essentially in private and in non-official publications. However, it still faces numerous restrictions, especially in teaching, the media, its use in public and in administration.
“When I was elected”, recalls Abdullah Demirtas, “I ordered an enquiry among the people. An enormous majority wished to have access to municipal services in its mother tongue, that is 72% in Kurdish, 24% in Turkish and 2% in Arabic. Consequently I ordered that information on training and on municipal services should be given in these languages. However, the Minister of the Interior considered this was illegal, since Turkish is the only official language. I was dismissed from office and the authorities found 20 offences to charge me with because of these publications in Kurdish”.
However, when questioned by the journalists, the Kurds still considered Abdullah Demirtas as their mayor and insisted on their attachment to their language — the more so as a number of them only have a very poor understanding of Turkish. Thus Z. Corun, a 70-year old Kurdish woman, grew up in a Kurdish village at a time when very few girls ever went to school. She and her family were forcibly displaced to Diyarbekir about fifteen years ago when their village was burnt down by the Turkish Army in its fight against the PKK. In addition to the hardness of adapting to an urban environment, marred by poverty and violence, linguistic difficulties added to the distress of these uprooted peasants: “I was so happy when the mayor introduced these services in Kurdish”, Z. Corun recalls. “Till then everything official was in Turkish. When I needed help for my husband, who was ill, I was afraid that they would laugh at me when I tried to speak in Turkish. It’s humiliating at my age. But with our mayor everything was different. The officials greeted us in Kurdish. All the information was in our language. It changed my life. Oh well — when we get a good mayor who does something for the people the State always gets rid of him”.
Although some measures have been taken officially, by the government, to lighten the interdictions weighing on Kurdish — principally because of the injunctions of the European Union — the bulk of the Turkish political caste remains strongly opposed to the official use of Kurdish.
According to Kemal Kirisci, lecturer of political science at Istanbul’s Bosporus University, this opposition is principally based on the fear of the country’s disintegration: “Who is really Turkish in the ethnic meaning of the term? If you scratch the surface of any Turk, you´ll soon find that underneath many of us are descended from Bosniacs, Tartars, Turks from the Balkans, Pomaks, perhaps Arabs in the South-East — and of course Kurds. Such a social composition generates considerable anxiety amongst the officialdom, because they think that if they give a special status to one group, then the next thing will be that others will want the same”.
However, for the last 85 years, that is to say since the foundation of the Republic, all the fears and nervous twitches of the Turkish republic have been unable o resolve the problem raised by the constant demands of the Kurds and an identity that resists all the policies (often very brutal) of assimilation. Without a radical change of policy towards the Kurdish problem there is little chance that this state of more or less open war will be reduced in Turkish Kurdistan.
“I met a mayor in London”, recalls Abdullah Demirtas, “and I asked him if it was a crime to supply information in languages other than English. He replied that it was not a crime at all. What seems normal in the rest of the world is illegal here. But I think that the strength of any society is in its diversity. It breaks my heart to hear myself having to say, all my life, that I am a Turk and that my mother tongue is Turkish”. Because he denied this lie the former mayor of Sur found himself described as a terrorist — like so many of his fellow countrymen.