The crisis in relations between the Baghdad government and the KRG over the Khanaqin issue is not calming down, going even as far as clashes between Kurds and Iraqi forces, despite several meetings between the two governments and a provisional agreement. On 1 September, a Kurdish delegation visited Baghdad to meet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The discussions were described as “open and transparent” by Yassin Majid, one of the Prime Minister’s communication advisors, while the Member of Parliament for the Kurdish Islamic Party, Sami Atushi, expressed the hope that positive results would be secured by dialogue and by avoiding any “military option” in the issues over which Baghdad and Irbil were in dispute. For his part, the Kurdistan President, Massud Barzani, personally called on the Iraqi Prime Minister to ask him to avoid the crisis that was developing on the spot between the two security forces.
On 5 September, officials of the two governments announced the signing of an agreement. It was decided that the Army and the Peshmergas both withdraw in favour of the local police, apart from a checkpoint that would be shared by the police and Army forces. “Things are returning to where they were before the Iraqi security forces entered the district”, explained the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff, Babekir Zebari, a Kurd, during a press conference given jointly with the Peshmergas commander in Khanaqin, Mala Bakhtyar. The Kurdish General, from his position in the Iraqi Defence Forces, was speaking on behalf of the Baghdad government while Mala Bakhtyar did so in the name of the KRG, which gives an idea of the political intermingling of the “Arab-Kurdish partnership” in the central government.
However, General Zebari’s remarks sound somewhat ambiguous, because the situation “before the Iraqi security forces entered the district” was in fact complete Kurdish control of the region. As a result, applying this agreement in the field comes up against the real fact of the situation. The town of Khanaqin, whose population is 85% Kurdish, 97% of whom are Shiites, wants to remain under the control of the Peshmergas pending its re-integration into the Kurdistan Region, as Provincial Councillor Ibrahim Bajelani explained to the Guardian: “The Iraqi Army still wants to enter the town and the Peshmergas are still present. We are in a cleft stick. If the Iraqi army tries to enter without prior agreement we cannot be held responsible for the consequences”.
Already, in June 2006, the town’s municipal council had called for it to be attached to the KRG. Here the message of the Kurdish political committee as well as of the Mayor, Mala Hassan, is perfectly clear: Article 140 must be applied to allow, through a referendum, Khanaqin to return to being a Kurdish administered area. As Mala Bakhtyar, the Peshmerga commander, explained to the AFP “Our message to the Iraqi government is simple: Apply the Constitution and authorise the holding of a local self-determination referendum. If the government does nothing there will be political disturbances and violence”.
The Shiite Kurds were particularly targeted by the former regime’s persecutions and most of them were forcibly displaced in the period 1970-1980. Their return to the town dates from 2003 and they have no wish to see Iraqi troops again patrolling the streets of the town that the Peshmergas had liberated. As Mala Bakhtyar explains: “When we arrived here, there were 36 American soldiers and no Iraqi troops. I came at the head of 4 to 5,000 men. There are no al-Qaida fighters here now and no violence. So why these Iraqi troops? The government should thank us rather than tell us to clear out”. Ordered to leave the area of Northern Diyala, the Peshmergas, backed by the support of the local population, are refusing to leave it and only accept orders from the Kurdistan government, which is negotiating the issue with the Baghdad government.
The hostility and fears of the inhabitants are also attributable to the conditions of their recent return. Whereas the refugees from Kirkuk are still waiting, often in camps, to be rehoused or compensated, the Khanaqin Kurds moved back as a matter of course when the Kurdish troops arrived in the town and settled back in houses abandoned by the Arab settled, who had fled. Mohammed Aziz, a maths teacher whose family had been driven out of the village in 1975 when he was only four, explained: “Our houses were taken over by the Arabs without any compensation being paid. When we returned, we took one of the empty houses. The Arabs had run away”. Mohammed Aziz, who had been forced to live in the Shiite province of Babylon for 30 years, said he was now happy to be able to bring his three children up in Kurdish and to return “to his land”, hoping that Khanaqin will be permanently incorporated into Kurdistan.
According to Mala Hassan, who also favours incorporation, 90% of the Kurds forcibly displaced from Khanaqin have now returned. The mayor of Khanaqin, who was a member of the Kurdish delegation that signed the agreement states that his town will remain under Kurdish control even if their troops were to withdraw: “We are all Peshmergas now”.
Indeed, throughout the town pictures of Massud Barzani and Kurdistan flags are displayed. Even a mixed population area where Arabs also live, like Jalawla, is entirely controlled b the Kurds. The KRG even makes a larger contribution to the districts annual budget than does the Baghdad government (15 million US dollars). For the towns Kurds, incorporation in the Kurdistan Region is, in any case, an already established fact. As Nihad Ali, who commands the Peshmerga detachment here, explained to the Washington Post: “Who can dispute the fact that we have already made this region a part of the KRG? Who has spent all this money here? What martyrs blood has been shed here? These people are totally dependent on the Kurds. We cannot abandon them”.
Only the Sunni Arabs in the area, often linked to the old regime, look unfavourably on the perspective of being ruled from Irbil. Ahmed Saleh Henawi al-Naimi, a Jalawa tribal chief and former Army officer under Saddam, complains about what he calls a “Kurdification” process. “We are subjected to two occupations —one by the Americans and one by the Kurds. That b the Kurds is the worse and is leading the population to terrorism”.
These accusations of “Kurdification” are rejected by the KRG that points out that it had no need to “Kurdify” the region any more than it was trying to ”take control” of it, as it is accused by the Arab groups because, as retorted Fuad Hussein, Massud Barzani’s chief of staff: “We already control the region. It is the on-site reality of these disputed areas in Iraq that cannot be ignored”. On the contrary, it is the al-Maliki that is being accused by the Kurds of having a “secret agenda” of driving them out of the area. “Some of them would even want to drive us out of Iraq”.
In an official statement of the Kurdish Government’s stand on the issue, Fuad Hussein reaffirms that they do not envisage any “unilateral annexation” of these areas and that the presence of the Peshmergas was solely in order to protect the population from terrorism. The presidential chief of staff added that applying Article 140 could alone settle these conflicts by constitutional means.
In any case, Baghdad is finding it hard to drive out of Jalawla even the few hundred Peshmergas who refuse to leave their quarters despite re-iterated demands of the Army, which has several times tried to enter but has each time found its way barred by the PUK Peshmergas. On 20 September, Sarchil Adnan, who runs the PUK branch in the town, nevertheless announced that “the Kurdish parties in Jalawla, al-Saadiya, Khanaqin and Qara Tepe have accepted to evacuate the government buildings provided they are only used as offices”, without, however, giving a precise date for starting this withdrawal. On 27 March the Iraqi police (recently formed in the district and exclusively composed of Arabs, according to the Kurds) had attacked a building occupied by the Kurdish Asayish (security forces), killing one of them before the curfew was decreed for the town.
The Kurdish forces are also targeted by terrorist attacks. Thus an explosion aimed at a patrol vehicle killed six of them and wounded three others about the middle of the month, while on 28 September it was the mayor of the small town of Saadiyah, East of Khanaqin, who was wounded, with six of his men, in a bomb attack as he was going to his office.
Furthermore, the Kurds of Khanaqin are worried about the new police force set up in Diyala. According to them, the recruiting excludes Kurds in favour of Arabs, and it seems to them liable to be infiltrated by al-Qaida. This fear could only be strengthened following the arrest, on 30 September, of General Hassan Karawi, commander of the Jalawla police, by the multi-national force. He is suspected of being involved in terrorist activities along with three other officers: Brigadier General Abdullah Anu, Lieutenant Raed Sheikh Zaed and Ibrahim Abdullah, former director of the Khanaqin secret services centre under the Baathist regime. They were all arrested in the house of a local Arab tribal chief.
Following the arrest of Mashaal Tamo, leader of an opposition platform “Kurdish Future” on 15 August, which was denounced by the Observatory of Human Rights in Syria, this organisation has again denounced that of Talal Mohammad of the Wifaq Party, a banned branch of the PKK in Syria. He was also placed in solitary confinement at the end of August. Both are accused of “major offences” against the State
Mashaal al-Tammo had declared, shortly before his arrest, that the attitude of the Syrian police towards the Kurds was in danger of provoking riots similar to those of 2004, which the Syrian courts have described as “incitement to civil war” — a charge that incurs the death sentence, though this is rarely used against known political opponents. He is also charged with the classical offence, whenever Kurdish leaders are involved, of membership of an organisation “having the goal of changing the fundamentals of society and creating racial and sectarian tension”.
The arrest took place shortly before the visit to that country of Nicolas Sarkozy, who argued in favour of the liberation of Syrian political prisoners and a liberalisation of Syrian political life. However, the French message does not seem to have registered, since at the same time the Centre for the Freedom of the Media and Freedom of Expression announced that Syria has been blocking Internet access to 160 sites since the year 2000. These sites are those of Kurdish political parties, of political opponents, of news papers (especially Lebanese ones), movements for Human Rights and a variety of associations, Islamic or civil… According to Mazen Darwish, the President of the organisation, this repression is increasing: “Thus is but the beginning of political censorship of the press and an attempt to control all who use Internet”, who, according to Mazen Darwish, are increasingly having resort to this media to express themselves and comment on the political life of their country.
Indeed, 15 September was the day on which 50 Kurds were tried before a Damascus court martial and received sentences of between 4 and 6 months imprisonment fro having taken part in the demonstrations that followed the kidnapping and death of the Sufi Sheikh Maashuk al-Khaznawi. At the time, the demonstrators were demanding the whole truth about this murder through the setting up of an independent enquiry. The 50 accused ad been arrested on the spot, detained two months and then released. They are charged with “incitement of religious and racial dissention and of conflict between the nation’s different religions and groups”.
In addition, on 18 September, there began the trial of Ahmad Tohme, Akram al-Bunni, Fida al-Hurani, Ali al-Abdullah, Walid al-Bunni, Yasser Tayser Aleiti, Fayez Sarah, Mohammed Haj Darwish, Riad Seif, Abu Dan and Marwan al-Esh. These twelve men are members of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration for a democratic change (NCDD), a movement that includes over 160 politicians, Human Rights activists, intellectuals and artists. Since it was founded in December 2007 (to replace the former National Council for a Democratic Change, created in 2005) forty of its members have already been arrested by the Syrian secret services. The twelve being tried at the moment are those who were kept in detention.
On 28 January 2008, they appeared before a judge and charged under Article 285 of the Syrian Criminal Code with “weakening national feelings”, Article 286 for having spread “notoriously false rumours” and with having sought “to weaken national feelings”, Article 306 for membership of an “association having the aim of changing the economic or social structure of the State” and Article 307 that bans “all action, discourse or writings that incite sectarianism or encourage the conflict between sects”. On 26 August the Public Prosecutor confirmed the charges. The defence lawyers, allowed to speak on 24 September, pleaded “not guilty” making the point that the Damascus Declaration only had the aim or initiating discussion on a process of peaceful and democratic reforms in Syria. The accused face up to 15 years imprisonment. The verdict is expected in October.
This trial has been sharply criticised by the Euro-Mediterranean Network for Human Rights, the Observatory for the protection of defenders of Human Rights (a joint working platform for the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture), Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First. These NGOs expressed their “deep concern” at what they describe as arbitrary detention and iniquitous trial in a common statement in which they insistently called on the Syrian authorities to cancel the trial as well as to release the accused immediately and unconditionally. They recalled that members of the Damascus Declaration were only “peacefully exercising their fundamental rights” as guaranteed by international laws and the Syrian Constitution itself, such as Article 38, which stipulates the “all citizens have the right freely and openly to express their opinions, verbally or in writing and b any other means of expression”.
The NGOs also fear that the accused might not have the right to a proper trial and criticise the “vague and wide” terms of the Penal Code, which allows the authorities to use them against peaceful dissidents and human rights activists. The lawyers have also reported ill treatment suffered by their clients, who were all beaten during their interrogations and forced to sign false statements, which were then used by the Prosecutor during the trial.
Finally, the state of health of some dissidents seems worrying and in need of medical treatment: thus Riad Seif, the General Secretary of the NCDD, suffers from cancer of the prostate and is now receiving no treatment; Dr. Fidaa al-Hurani, the NCDD President, has also been refused medical attention although he has heart problems; Ali Abdallah, an independent journalist, has lost all hearing in his left ear as a result of blows received during his interrogation. On 28 January last, he was examined by a doctor who refused to make a report. This prevented the prisoner from receiving medical help. Moreover, Ali Abdallah was transferred, two months ago, to a punishment cell, where conditions of detention are even more severe, for having refused to rise during an argument with a guard.
The organisations remind Syria that it is signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and several conventions, particularly ones on civil and political rights that cover, amongst other things, the right to free expression and freedom of association. It has also signed the 1998 United Nations’ Declaration “on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect Human Rights and universally recognised fundamental liberties”. They also demand the lifting of the State of Emergency and the ensuring laws, calling on all the institutions of the European Union to join this protest and so inform Syria.
On 24 September, the Iraqi, after much painful labour, finally gave birth to a new law on the local elections. These should take place no later than 31 January 2009 in 14 of the country’s 18 provinces. The 191 members of parliament present voted by a sow of hands, so the Bill was passed by a majority of those present.
Passed unanimously, the new election law was described by Mahmud al-Mashshadani, the Parliament’s spokesman, as “a great day for Iraq, and a day for democracy in which the Iraqis have proved that they could reach consensual solutions. Kirkuk is a source of problems but, today, it has become a symbol of Iraqi unity”.
In fact, this “symbol of Iraqi unity” simply effects a postponement of the elections in accordance with the advice of the UN representatives, who advised that elections for Kirkuk be postponed and a commission be formed, that would have the task of preparing the elections in this region — which the Iraqi Parliament accepted. According to Khalid Shawani, a Kurdish M.P., this commission will consist of “two representatives each from the Arab, Kurdish and Turcoman communities and one from the Christian community”. Its objective is to “prepare the ground” for holding the elections, due to take place during 2009, to set up new “mechanisms for power sharing” in Kirkuk, to check the census of citizens and the registration of electors while correcting the “excesses that occurred after April 2003”, the date of the collapse of the Baathist regime. The commission’s report is to be presented to Parliament before 31 March and the M.P.s will then chose the date of the poll.
In the mean time, the Kirkuk Provincial Council, which has a Kurdish majority, will continue to govern the region. Kurdish M.P. Khalid Shawani also stated on The Voice of Iraq radio that the parliament had unanimously approved the UN envoy’s recommendation on the “joint participation of the Federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government” in the process and of the necessity of their support for its success.
Three other provinces will be subject to an independent election agenda: Duhok, Irbil and Suleimaniah, that is the present Kurdistan Region which must first pass its own election law, as was explained to AFP by Ali Qader, the President of the KRG election commission: “Only the Kurdistan Parliament has the right to pass this Bill, so no date is yet set for the elections in Kurdistan”.
The passing of this election law was welcomed by Washington that has been pushing for months for the holding of elections, originally due for October 2008 and that has tried to the very end to avoid postponement. “We congratulate the Iraqi Parliament for having passed the law on holding the elections. We think that it s a positive sign that shows, without any doubt, that an Iraqi democracy is on the way to becoming mature”, declared Robert Wood, the State Department spokesman. “We hope that the provincial elections will take place as soon as possible, preferably by the end of the year”.
However there have been discordant notes to this dithyrambic chorus. Thus the Deputy Speaker of the Kurdistan national Assembly, Kamal Kirkuki, declared on the voice of Iraq radio that the law passed, especially the Articles 2 and 4 violated the Iraqi Constitution and, consequently, the “democratic bases of the new Iraq”. Kamal Kirkuki was, in fact, expressing the position generally adopted by the Kurds who have been opposed, since the beginning of summer, to a special treatment for Kirkuk, the sole aim of which being to prevent the Kurds again winning the Provincial Council election there seeing that the province’s demography is so much in their favour. The view of the Kurds of the KRG, as of those of Kirkuk, was thus to hold the elections in this province under the same conditions and in the same way as in the rest of Iraq. The vote of the M.P.s of the Kurdish Alliance in the Baghdad Parliament was just a compromise to resolve the crisis.
In an official statement, the President of Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, although declaring he was “very satisfied” by this vote, in the hope that it will be “a significant step towards a strengthening of the democratic process in Iraq”, and although affirming “active support the adoption of a law allowing all Iraqis to determine the final status of their community within the new Federal system”, regretted that the law did not mention the rights of Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities to be represented. Thus the Kurdistan presidency was anxious to reaffirm its support for all the religious and ethnic groups in Iraq, for a guarantee of their rights, which is fully in line with the KRG’s own policy of tolerance and even of positive discrimination towards minorities, particularly religious ones. Thus places the Iraqi government in a somewhat embarrassing position because of the agitation of the Christians that the new draft of this law has aroused.
Indeed, the silence of the final draft on the question of the representation of minorities in the Provincial councils did not pass unnoticed by those concerned. Thus on 29 September, some Christians from Qaraqosh, in Nineveh Province, that is sheltering a great number of refugees from other parts of Iraq as well as the local Christians, demonstrated against the repeal of Article 50 during the final vote. This article provides a certain number of seats be guaranteed for the provinces’ ethnic and religious minorities, as has been the case in the Kurdish Parliament since 1992. The Assyro-Chaldeans consider this omission unconstitutional and an attack on their rights by “marginalising” them.
The Qaraqosh demonstrators, therefore, submitted a memorandum to the local mayor to be passed on to the President, Jalal Talabani, to the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to the spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament, Mahmud Mashshadani and to UN representative Staffan de Mistura and the US Ambassador. They demand the restoration of Article 50 and the possibility of self-administration.
The Assyro-Chaldean People’s Council has called on all Christians to organise “in the places where they reside”, but this is, in fact, difficult as this community is particularly targeted by terrorism and cannot march in areas where it does not enjoy protection by the Kurds. The head of the Mosul Section of the Iraqi Democratic Party, Menas al-Yusifi, also considered this repeal “unfair” as it could only “throw oil on the fire” and “aggravate the crisis that the Iraqi people is experiencing”.
Christian discontent has been relayed to those inside the KRG even to the highest government level, since George Mansour, the Minister for Social and Civic Affairs and himself a Christian has spoken out condemning this repeal, describing it as a “step back” in the country’s democratic process and a “flagrant violation of the second Article of the Iraqi Constitution that forbids any law that harms democratic principles” as well as of Article 14 that affirms the equality of all Iraqis, whatever their sex, religion or ethnic origin. A Christian Member of Parliament, Yonadim Kanna, similarly considered that the disappearance of Article 50 was an attack on democratic principles of partnership and brotherhood in the country.
Faced with this salvo of criticism, Staffan de Mistura, the UN representative in Iraq has ended up by admitting that minorities were being marginalised in the new draft of the law but called on the malcontents to negotiate with the independent High Electoral Commission that is handling the local polls.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who recently met the Pope and had assured him of his support for the Christians in Iraq, has officially disavowed this repeal by declaring that he had, on the contrary hoped that Parliament would have retained the passage guaranteeing the representation of minorities. He also called for the Parliamentary leaders and the election commission to “find a solution and to remove the feelings of anxiety, of being alienated or repressed that is affecting communities that are proud to be Iraqis”.
Finally, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholics of Iraq, Cardinal Emmanuel III Dely, appealed personally to the Presidential Council, that has not yet ratified the law, to veto it a second time — which will not suit either the Iraqi Government, Parliament or the USA
“I appeal to the Presidential Council not to approve the repeal of Article 50 in the provincial law, as this is an act of oppression against our presence and representation in Iraqi society”, exclaimed in a televised interview.
Questioned on the subject, Hashim al-Tayy, the head of the Parliamentary Commission on Regions, revealed that the different parliamentary blocks had dropped Article 50 solely because they had not been able to agree on the number of seats to be allocated to each group. But he insisted that the guarantee of these reserved seats would later be added to the law.
Wile the Kurdish political prisoners have been on hunger strike since 25 August, the shopkeepers of the Kurdish city of Mahabad observed a one day strike by refusing to open their shops on 3 September, in solidarity with their imprisoned compatriots.
This demonstration did not go down too well with the State Security Forces or the Secret Service agents who carried out a series of raids in the bazaars and streets of Mahabad to try and force the shop owners to get back to work. As for the demonstrators for acted openly, they were all photographed and filmed by the authorities.
The political prisoners who are on hunger strike number about forty in Urmiah Prison, fifteen in Mahabad, thirteen in Sanandaj and eight in Teheran’s Evin prison, while it has not been possible to locate four others. In their declaration, the hunger strikers, eight of whom have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution, make an appeal to international public opinion, describing their inhuman conditions of detention. They demand the immediate suspension of executions and arrests and of “all forms of torture and degrading punishment”. The also demand that Iranian prisons should be checked by an international commission.
In its latest report, dated July 2008, Amnesty International had already sounded the alarm over the increasing umber of arbitrary detentions, of iniquitous trials and the upsurge of executions in Iranian prisons, pointing out that the Kurdish population was more particularly targeted, especially journalists, Human Rights defenders and feminist activists.
The Committee for the Protection of Journalists has also called on Iran to release two Kurdish journalists, arrested last August, Anvar Sa’j Muchashi and Massud Kurdpur.
Anvar Muchashia, law student at Teheran International University, worked for several Kurdish satellite television channels and also engaged in other political activities. He had also worked with a Kurdish weekly review, Karaftu, which has since been banned. The day before his arrest, he had confided to a fellow worker that he had received a telephone call from a secret service agent warning him that he had “crossed the red line”.
As for Massud Kurdpur, he worked as a free-lance journalist in the town of Bokan. A member of the editorial board of a since banned weekly, Didga, he used to regularly give interviews on Kurdish issues to foreign radios, including the Voice of America, Radio Farda, the BBC and Deutsche Welle. His family, that has been able to visit him, has reported that he has lost a lot of weight and has spoken of ill-treatment. The only information about the charges they been able to secure from the security services covered his contacts with international press agencies and his statements in international media. Thus on 12 July, the date of his last statement to the press, he had spoken in a Kurdish language broadcast on Voice of America on the subject of the strike in Iranian Kurdistan to in memory of the Kurdish leader, Abdulrahman Ghassemlou, assassinated in 1989 by the Iranian secret services.
Other publications have recently been closed by the Commission for the Supervision and Authorisation of the Press, an organ of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation: e.g. the ecological magazine Tarabestan Sabaz and, surprisingly enough, a review of crosswords, Sargami. In its readers’ letters column there sometimes appeared humorous remarks aimed at the country’s leaders. It was criticised for publishing “inappropriate comments” and banned
On 5 September, however, the NGOs, including Reporters sans Frontières, learned with relief that the death sentence passed on the Kurdish journalist, Adnan Hassanpur, had been quashed for “a legal technicality”. In fact, the Teheran Supreme Court finally considered that the accusation of “enemy of God” levelled against him (which carries the death penalty) turned out to have no solid basis. It therefore sent the case back to the Sanandaj court. Reporters sans Frontières expressed its satisfaction, while again demanding the immediate release of Adnan Hassanpur, “who has been suffering an ordeal for the last eighteen months” and who denies all the charges levelled against him. “The Prosecution has never been able to find any evidence of his guilt. Despite this, the judges in charge of his case have twice decided to sentence him to death. “This judicial relentlessness against independent journalists and those who work with the foreign press must cease”.
Saleh Nibakht, the prisoner’s lawyer, hopes that the Sanandaj court will not make “the same mistake” twice running, pointing out that one of the officiating judges has since been dismissed. A fresh trial against Adnan Hassanpur began on 6 September.
Adnan Hassanpur, 26 years of age, was arrested on 25 January 2007 and imprisoned in Mahabad before being transferred to Sanandaj. He had worked for the weekly review Aso, which deals with the Kurdish question, a “sensitive” issue in Iran. The weekly was banned in 2005 by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Orientation. The journalist also worked with foreign radios, such as the Voice of America and Farda. Since his arrest he has twice gone on hunger strike in protest at the conditions of his detention.
A story in the Daily Star examined the strange situation of the Kurds living in the Lebanon, many of whom have never been able to acquire the country’s nationality although the bulk of them arrived in the 1920s and 30s, fleeing successive waves of persecution by the Republic of Turkey. It was during the annual dinner given by the Philanthropic Association of Lebanese Kurds on the occasion of the Iftar (the feast that ends the Ramadan fast) that the journalists were able to meet the 250 members of the association as well as Sheikh Hamed Musamak
The last named, taking the floor at the Assembly recalled the difficulties faced by his community. “The Kurdish community faces two major problems. Many of us do not have Lebanese citizenship and we are not represented either in Parliament or in the government”.
Deprived of rights or assistance granted to Lebanese, these Kurds, who are amongst the most disadvantaged layers of society, are also discriminated against in access to higher education, health and employment. Despite promises by the Hariri government in 1994 to regularise their position, the hostility of the Christians to any mass granting of citizenship to Moslems as well as the indifference to the other Lebanese towards these non-Arabs means that today 40% of the some 75,000 Kurds who have lived in the Lebanon for several generations still don’t have Lebanese nationality and so suffer an insecure status as non-national residents.
“We have complained to many political men and religious leaders”, explained Sheikh Hami, “but no one supports our cause. We would like to build a Kurdish centre, but we cannot. The annual Iftar dinner is the only occasion for our people to get together”.
The Kurds began arriving in the Lebanon, which was under French mandate at the time, at the end of the First World War, and still more after Sheikh Saïd’s revolt in1925. This continued throughout the inter-war years fleeing successive waves of repression in Turkey. There was also, in the 1960, a wave of economic immigration. Socially and economically, this is one of the weakest, least educated and most disadvantaged communities in the country. They have been and are still cultivators, labourers of unskilled workers.
The question of their naturalisation did not arise for the Kurds prior to the Second World War. Then, the bulk of them saw no point in spending time and money on administrative procedures to obtain a citizenship that, at the time, gave no particular advantages. However, in 1941 they found themselves without papers and so excluded from the national food rationing system, set up in French colonies and protectorates as in metropolitan France. Unfortunately, a law had just been passed the year before restricting access to citizenship, whereas it had been fairly wide before: all that was needed was five consecutive years in the country or to have married a Lebanese.
In 1960, Kemal Jumblat, the head of the Druze community, himself of Kurdish origin, became Minister of the Interior and granted them an “indeterminate” citizenship that allowed those who held it to obtain Lebanese nationality, at least for those of their children born in the Lebanon. However, this measure was annulled in 1962, under pressure from the Christians, who, while in favour of naturalising Armenians, were opposed to that of the Moslem Kurds for fear of altering the population balance between the country’s different religious groups. There was then set up a system of “substitution cards” that gave the right to move freely inside or outside the Lebanon and gave access to state schools for the children. However, they did not give the right to vote or to any government employment.
On 21 June 1994, Rafik Hariri allowed a certain number of Kurds, estimated at between 10,000 and 18,000 to be naturalised despite fierce Christian opposition.
On 18 September, the journalist and publisher Ragip Zarakolu, was awarded the “Freedom of Publishing” Prize of the International Association of Publishers that hailed his “exemplary courage” in his struggle for freedom of expression and publication.
It was in 1977 that Ragip Zarakolu and his wife founded their publishing house in Istanbul with the aim of creating a “wider area of democracy, of freedom of expression and publication in Turkey”. Thus, for the last 40 years this publisher has brought out works on subjects that are taboo in Turkish society, such as the Armenian genocide, the Kurdish question and the situation of the Greek minority in the country.
One of the most controversial books in his catalogue was, in the 1990s an essay on Kurdistan. Although the Turkish authorities immediately banned it, they could not prevent its distribution. As Ragip Zarakolu tells the story: “They came to our publishing house to seize all the copies. However, we had already distributed them before they arrived. We had printed 3,000 copies. They were very surprised, but there was nothing they could do. Later they accused us of started proceedings. The first trial took place at the “serious crimes” Court. We were accused of inciting the Kurds to rebellion. Thus my ex-wife spent six months in prison in 1994”.
However, neither the sentences nor the severe harassment b the authorities got the better of this publisher’s determination. Two years later he brought out a work on the Armenian genocide. “When we were charged, we replied by publishing still more books on the same subject. We were accused of crimes. Therefore we tried to understand what was, in reality, the crime: publishing a book or the subject that it dealt with? If you publish a book on the Armenian genocide and are accused of it, you then have to show what the Armenian genocide was, who was responsible for it an who, in reality was the criminal”.
At the beginning of 2008, Ragip Zarakolu was found guilty of translating and publishing another book on the Armenian genocide. But the awarding of the Prize seems to him an important support: “You feel your struggle is recognised. I am proud to receive it because I love books. Therefore this prize gives me a feeling of happy tiredness. But I also feel a bit ashamed of the fact that it could sometimes be a crime to be a publisher in Turkey. This is disgrace for m country. I will continue publishing, finding new books, opening new doors, new windows. There will always be some potential danger. But I love this. They will never be able to impose limits to my work as a publisher”.
Those in charge of health questions in Kirkuk are sounding the alarm. According to them, the city has been spared the cases of cholera this summer, but it has broken out here and there in Iraq. This is because the defective water and sewage distribution systems place the inhabitants in serious danger of such outbreaks.
In April 2007, Iraq experienced its greatest cholera scare, with 20 deaths. It was specifically from Kirkuk that the epidemic started before spreading to the rest of the country. Over 3,000 cases had been recorded in the province an that occasion. This year, the authorities’ efforts, as well as national and international assistance, had enabled any resurgence of the disease to be avoided. Experts on the spot, however, do not exclude its reappearance, as Sabah Amin Ahmed, director of Public Health for Kirkuk Province explains: “The poor level of the services and the inadequacy of public health provisions endanger the lives of the population. The majority of the inhabitants of Kirkuk do not have easy access to sources of proper drinking water or to a good sewage system”.
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the world Health Organisation, over 30 % of the samples of water taken in Kirkuk show signs of bacterial pollution as against 10% for Iraq as a whole. The reason cited by those in charge is the poor state of the pipes, some of which are seriously damaged, which damages the water quality. Pending a possible renovation of the infrastructures, the Public Health authorities have been reduced to distributing chlorine pills to the population so that they can themselves treat the water they use. “We know that this can provoke diarrhoea in some people”, explained Jaffar Rubay, one of the Health Service administrators. “But it is the only solution to avoid an epidemic from breaking out”
The governor has also arranged for isolation wards to be set up in the hospitals, provided them with rehydration pills and launched a campaign of public information and prevention. “We are doing our best to educate the population with out health teams and the leaflets we distribute in the health centres and the schools. At the moment only a small number really follow our health directives, but when they fear an epidemic they stick to them more strictly”.
Naturally the areas most liable to be contaminated are the poorest, particularly those where Kurdish families, displaced by the old regime, who have returned without yet having been rehoused and so live in refugee camps or shanty towns without any facilities. The population has thus increased y 35% since 2003 which has, obviously aggravated the problems of infrastructure. Thus, outside the city people live without sewage, without clean drinking water and without electricity and are obliged to dig their own water wells, which are far from meeting any health and safety standards.
This year, the Iranian National Festival of Street Theatre will take place in the town of Marwan, in Iranian Kurdistan, from 3 to 6 October. The organisers have selected 34 of the 183 companies who had submitted plays. At a press conference, the Festival Secretary, Shahram Karami, announced that two of the companies would be from Iraqi Kurdistan. They will play respectively “The flowers of Treasure for the Theatre” by Morad Aziz and “My “human” stories” by Kardo Aziz.
The Festival s also due to welcome 10 companies from Teheran and 24 others from all the towns of Iran. A polish company will also be organising a workshop.
Each of the plays (amongst which are “Stone Soup” by Mahmud Farhang, “The Magical Cockroach” by Siamak Bamiani, “Betrothed to the rain” by Rajabali Fallah and “Circles and gallows” by Mohsen Purqasemi) will be played three times in the streets of Marwan. Fifteen of them will then be selected for the International Theatre Festival.