On 3 October, a PKK attack on the Turkish Army outpost of Aktutun, in Hakkari Province, caused the death of 20 Turkish soldiers and 23 Kurdish fighters, according to the official Army report, whereas the PKK claimed 9 deaths in its ranks as against 62 deaths and over 30 wounded amongst the Turkish troops. The Army retaliated by bombing the PKK bases in Northern Iraq, without be able to give any precise figures of the damage caused. A few days later, another attack, aimed at some police in Diyarbekir, caused five deaths, including four policemen. Members of the PKK, (coming from Iraqi Kurdistan according to the Turkish authorities) machine-gunned a police van. However, this attack was not claimed by any Kurdish organisation.
As usual, the funeral of the Turkish soldiers was the occasion for nationalist demonstrations for revenge involving several thousands of people. The size of the guerrilla units involved in the attack and the number of casualties has shaken Turkish public opinion. However, this time the press and the opposition parties have openly called into question the Army’s competence.
As soon as he learnt of the attack, Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey, cancelled a visit to France that was due to take place the following week, while the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hurriedly returned from a visit to Turkmenistan.
Once again, the Turkish Government demanded that Iraq “face up to its responsibilities”. However, the Iraqi Government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, while condemning the attack called on Ankara to act “with wisdom and restraint”.
In a press conference, General Metin Gurak, who runs the General Staff Press office, stated that the heaviest losses were due to heavy weapon fire from the other side of the border, in Iraqi territory. He reported 23 Kurdish fighters were “neutralised”, but Metin Gurak was unable to give any certain figures of PKK losses. However, the guerrilla forces spokesman, Ahmed Danis, stated that Turkish losses were far higher than the official Army assessment, with out being able to give any precise figures either.
The attack took place a few days before the Turkish Parliament was due to renew its authorisation to the Turkish Army to carry out operations against the PKK bases by violating the Iraqi borders. This time, however, far from taking advantage of these events, the Arm was faced with a salvo of criticisms, particularly from the press. The large scale of the assault, that fact that it took place in broad daylight, and the large number of Kurdish fighters involved (almost 350) caused man observers to question a failure in the Intelligence services or else in the ability of some officers to pay attention to warnings about the security of the front. At the moment of the attack the commander of the units in the region was attending a wedding. No warning was given to the troops even though information about the possibility of PKK operations was already circulating. The fact that the fighting was not only in broad daylight but lasted several hours also raised doubts about the effectiveness of the information provided by the American satellites. Finally, the Aktutun outpost, because of its geographic position had already been the target of frequent attacks without, it would appear, the Army taking any particular measures to make it more secure. “Are these soldiers ensuring the safety of the country and its borders? In which case don’t they need to ensure their own safety? How is it that this same border post has been under attack for 16 years and how many soldiers have fallen as martyrs?” asked Mehmet Altan, in the Daily Star, while Oktay Eksi, in Hurriyet was even more direct is asking: “Isn’t someone going to ask, following such incidents, whether there weren’t serious lapses? Isn’t someone going to ask who is responsible? Is there not going to be an official enquiry?”
The Army was even obliged to hold a press conference to answer the press criticism (a rare even). Thus, the Assistance Chief of Staff, General Hasan Igsiz denied any faults by the officers or the Army Intelligence Services, reaffirming that the bulk of the losses were essentially due to fire from the other side of the border and not to infiltration of fighters only Turkish soil. In the opinion of Gareth Jenkins, of the Jamestown Foundation, interviewed by Zaman, this shows a “mixture of incompetence and arrogance. The Army may have thought that there was no problem, that it (the border post) could be defended. They probably found it distasteful to recognise that they could not defend it”. Indeed, the photos published in the press show a dilapidated border post, with makeshift defences, although its position on the border made it particularly vulnerable to PKK attacks (there have been 52 since 1992). In response to the press attacks regarding the inadequacy of information provided by the United States, General Igsiz denies that there was any flaw in the Intelligence system. On the other hand he claimed that the Iraqi Kurds could, from their own positions, follow the slightest movements of the PKK but that, to date, the KRG had not shared this information. The Turkish General also accused the Kurds of sheltering the wounded guerrillas in their hospitals and of allowing them to move freely, which the Irbil authorities have always denied.
While some voices in the Army are protesting at the limitations to their powers due to the constitutional reforms made to qualify for membership of the European Union and demand new “anti-terrorist” legislation, other voices, even amongst the “hawks” are pointing out the need for a fresh strategy and for improvements in the Army’s tactics hitherto used to fight the guerrilla, challenging the competence of the Army’s leaders. Thus Onder Aytac, an instructor at the Ankara Police Academy, proposes much greater initiative left to the police force and condemns the lack of coordination between the difference Intelligence services in Turkey. Taking the opposite view to the official Army discourse, that Turkish losses were due to firing from the other side of the border, he affirms that the Aktutun assault could well have been launched by PKK units operating inside the country. “They were equipped with heavy weapons, which men’s that they needed vehicles or horses to carry these arms. It is highly probable that this attack was carried out by PKK terrorists based inside Turkey. Moreover, if these terrorists had infiltrated into Turkey from Northern Iraq, the situation is even worse”. Onder Aytac added that several people who were responsible, going from the Army commander of the border post to police County’s Police Director should be dismissed from their posts were such an attack to occur again.
According to Ihsan Bal of the Ankara based International Organisation for Strategic Research (USAK), the cooperation between the gendarmerie, the border guards and the police was also defective and he called for more authority to be given to the Minister of the Interior. However, according to Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst with the Economic policy Research Foundation (TEPAV) who has specialised in security problems: “It is not reasonable to keep 6,000 men under arms in these mountains. If you persist in treating this situation as if it was natural then you’ll never have any success. You must set up political objectives, develop strategies and provide the time and money needed to carry out these strategies”.
However a number of editorials in the Turkish press stressed, on the contrary, that the Kurdish question in Turkey could no longer be considered solely from a military point of view but that it had “political cultural, international psychological and security” dimensions (Aksam, 5 October).
Finally, this scandal, which took place a year after the controversial Daglica attack, about which the paper Taraf had already revealed shady aspects, revives the suspicion of instrumentalisation of the violence by “the deep State”, at a time when the Ergenekon trial is taking place. The same paper published and also broadcast on its Web site, aerial infrared photos. These pictures, taken by a drone, clearly show a group of fighters coming to lay mines in the area nearly three quarters of an hour before the attack was launched. Then, as the PKK units grew in number, some of them took up positions on top of hills in full site of the drone’s cameras. The whole assault was filmed in this way. Taraf drew the conclusion that the Turkish security forces could not have been unaware of the movements of PKK units before, during and after the attack since these pictures were being transmitted directly to the Staff Headquarters for several hours. Moreover, the paper published security reports, also sent to the same Staff headquarters warning it of the imminence of an attack — a report that even gave the names, ages and dates of birth of the PKK fighters scheduled to take part in the operation.
Finally, the paper openly challenges the remarks made by the General Staff General, Hasan Igsiz, made at his press conference to the effect that soldiers and border guards had been deployed before the attack and that F-16 fighter planes had come to support them. Indeed, the news reported by Taraf shows that the soldiers had arrived too late and that the only air support came from two Cobra helicopters. Hasan Igsiz had also states that Bayraktepe, a hill close to the army position, had never been taken by the PKK, whereas the information published by Taraf shows that the guerrillas had taken and held the hilltop for 8 hours before withdrawing.
Making comparisons with the Daglica attack the year before, Taraf listed the same derelictions of military duty, resulting in the same losses: in both cases the Army had been warned of the imminence of an attack; 9 days before in the case of Daglica, 10 days before in the case of Akturtun. In the case of the assault in October 2007, the enquiry later confirmed that small groups of guerrillas and mules had been infiltrating into Turkey for a whole week, that the movement s had been observed by the Army, as confirmed by recorded communications between officers and soldiers. In both cases, the question is raised of the tardiness of the armed forces in acting on the information received. Finally, the journalist Avni Ozgurel, writing in , in the same paper, saw the war against the PKK as being of vital interest for the Army, enabling it to keep a greater hold both over the country’s political life and the revenue from heroine smuggling. “Revenue from heroine has been used to finance the war against the PKK. Heroine is transported from the South East to Edirne in convoys of armoured cars. Those who are taking part in this traffic say to themselves “Why should I risk my life in the mountains against the PKK? Or infiltrate the PKK to collect information for the JITEM? I’d rather get a share in the heroine profits and form a gang”.
In a crisis meeting bringing together members of the General Staff and the government, the Army presented, in a report prepared by the Malatya-based Second Army Corps Command, a version of the facts that whitewashes the Army of any charge of any military or security failure. Thus General Ilker Basbug denied the comments in Taraf, affirming that the infrared photos did not come from Aktutun but showed a group 125 Km away from the base. Pointing out that these pictures came from American cameras, the Prime Minister asked Foreign Minister Ali Babacan to contact the American leaders to establish their origin and to explain how they had come into the possession of the paper. After the Army’s presentation, the many questions asked by the Ministers showed that the latter were not very convinced by this presentation of the facts.
The meeting also covered measures proposed for fighting the PKK, including direct discussions with the authorities of the Kurdistan Regional Government
On 14 October a three-party meeting took place in Baghdad between the President of Kurdistan, Masud Barzani, the Iraqi President and Prime Minister' Jalal Talabani and Nuri al-Maliki, and a Turkish delegation led by Murat Ozcelik, Turkey’s special diplomatic representative to Iraq. This is the first “official” meeting between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Hitherto the Ankara government has always refused the slightest political gesture that might imply official recognition of the Kurdistan Region and persisted in only passing by Baghdad, particularly for resolving the issue of the PKK bases in the Qandil Mountains. The Turkish press tended to present this meeting as a means of inducing the Iraqi Kurds to act against the PKK on their land, while Murat Ozcelik remained more evasive, preferring to talk about “decisive action to be taken to counter the PKK terrorist threat” without saying any more except opening a “new page” in relations between Irbil and Ankara. Fuad Hussein, Massud Barzani’s chief of staff, equally concisely spoke of a “positive and constructive” meeting. The United States, which has long been pushing for direct contacts between its two main allies in the Middle East, naturally welcomed this meeting.
Commenting on this meeting on his return to Kurdistan, Massud Barzani also described it as “a new page” and “a path opened up for dialogue”: “Before, Turkey refused any kind of contact with us. Now Ankara has taken a step to improve relations with us as well as with the Baghdad government. Thus meeting is a start. A start in finding positive solutions to the problems that separate us”. The Kurdish President confirmed that further meetings are envisaged, without giving any precise timetable, simply saying that they would take place “here and in Turkey”. He also denied that the conversations were only about the PKK, even if this subject will again be dealt with between the two parties. Remarks that were confirmed by the Kurdistan Region’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani: “We do not want our relations to be confined solely to the problem of the PKK. We want to build up extensive e links with all the regions”. The Prime Minister confirmed that other meeting are envisaged but that no dates had yet been fixed. He also revealed that he had already had meetings with Murat Ozcelik in London, last July, so as to plan this meeting with Massud Barzani.
This open change of attitude comes at a time when the Turkish Army, politically weakened following the attack on the outpost of Aktutun, is obliged to justify its strategy to public opinion and the government. Thus, General Ilker Basbug called, in a press conference, publicly called for “a dialogue with the President of the Kurdistan Region to put an end to the violence. In view of this question, the efforts are positive”. The general also expressed the hope for “a democratic solution to the Kurdish question”, explaining that military responses would resolve nothing nor prevent young men going off to join the guerrillas. He even expressed the hope that Kurdish language programmes be broadcast on Turkish television as soon as possible.
The Turkish daily Milliyet following an article from the Kurdish paper Kurdistani Nuwe, even announced that, following his next visit to Baghdad, the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, would visit Irbil where his would inaugurate the airport of Kurdish Region’s capital. This declaration was not formally confirmed by those round the Turkish President who, for his part, while not denying that a future visit to the Iraqi capital is being envisaged, said that no date had been set and the possibility of a visit to Irbil was still being discussed. The Foreign Ministry spokesman, Burak Ozugergin even replied: “No visit to Irbil or North Iraq is planned. It is too soon for this. It has not been discussed”.
As Turkey was this year’s special guest at the Frankfort Book Faire, several intellectuals, writers and publishers in Turkey took advantage of the occasion to denounce the attack on freedom of expression and publication that they always aver to face in their country. Thus the novelist Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, declared during the inaugural ceremony, which was presided by the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul: “Unfortunately, the Turkish State continues to punish writers and ban their books. Hundreds of authors and journalists have been brought to trial and sentenced on the basis of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, with which it tries to intimidate writers like myself”.
Orhan Pamuk thus recalled the multitude of bans aimed at Internet sites, like Youtube, issued by judges who have the power to block access for the whole country to Web sites that are amongst the most widely used in the world.
Replying to the writer, Abdullah Gul stated that “Turkey was now fulfilling, to a large extent, the European requirements regarding freedom of expression and the respect for cultural differences”, before adding that “success was incomplete” and that there remained “much more to do”. The Turkish President said he wanted to thank Orhan for “his contribution to the cultural renaissance in Turkey”.
The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, recognised, during this same ceremony that “Turkey still has some way to go. However, it must be supported. I cannot imagine our succeeding in the political integration of Germany without the European integration of Turkey”.
Other dissident voices, however, expressed themselves with greater severity towards Turkey. Thus the Turkish opposition writer Ali Ertem, who lives in Germany, called on his country’s intellectuals to oppose the persecutions to which non-Turkish citizens of Turkey are subjected, such as the Kurds. “Today the Turkish State denies the crimes against humanity committed in its recent history and now uses all its power to ensure the disappearance of the Kurdish colours. Those who defend peace and democracy, writers, journalists, human rights activists like Musa Anter, Hrant Dink, Akin Birdal have been the victims of assassination, been imprisoned, or been prevented from expressing themselves freely. The latest example is the banning, a few days ago, of the newspaper Taraf. Dozens of intellectuals are being hounded for their ideas on the basis of Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. The same goes for the ban on the Kurdish language in administration. Teaching the Kurdish language is thus prevented, the letters “X”, “Q” and “W” are, oddly enough, forbidden to appear in printed texts”.
Moreover, an incident occurred during the Fair, when a group of Turkish nationalists violently attacked a Kurdish stand that was displaying the Kurdish flag and a map of Kurdistan.
The criticisms the censorship that blocked Youtube, Wordpress or Dailymotion did not prevent the Turkish courts from suddenly closing access to the Blogger site, that is, the biggest host for blogs in the world. The decision was taken by the Diyarbekir 1st Criminal Court, without any indication of the reasons, at first. In fact, it was an issue of the broadcasting right of football matches, which are held by the Digiturk television network. As many bloggers had published the results of some matches on their blogs, and even snap-shots of some matches, Digiturk filed a complaint. Thus the Diyarbekir Court simply ordered the closing down of access to the blogs as a whole. A number of infuriated Turkish bloggers demonstrated their discontent by creating a joint site sasuresansur.com, enabling them to get round the block. In the face of the publicity around this ban, Bloggers was rapidly made accessible again in Turkey. However, Reporters sans Frontières, which has been demanding for several months that the ban on Youtube be lifted, was indignant at this sudden and disproportionate measure: “No prior notification to the users or subpoenas! The blogs hosted on this platform were closed down by surprise. This is not just a matter of copyrights or pirating. This decision is yet one more example of the fact that, in Turkey, sites are closed down solely because of the publication of a single doubtful item on an isolated blog”.
This NGO calls for the repeal of law 5651, passed in May 2007, that provides for the blocking of Internet sites that are in breach of law 5816 (itself going back to 1951 and penalising “offences to Ataturk”, incitement to commit suicide, paedophilia, sexual abuse or the use of drugs).
“Following these successive abusive blockages, we have a proof that this law is the principal source of the deterioration in freedom of expression on Internet. Moreover, the access providers must themselves block access to sites that are in breach of the law, making them accomplices of the censorship. We call for a revision of law 5651 as son as possible. Rather than blocking a site as a whole, only the content item ruled “sensitive” should be subject to litigation”, declared Reporters without Borders, which has ranked Turkey at 102nd place with respect of press freedom in 2008.
The debate over the passing of the Bill for the coming Provincial Elections has not slackened, this month, especially on the subject of the dropping of Article 50, which had guaranteed seats to ethic and religious minorities. The protests from the minorities concerned are still as heated — from the Yezidis and, especially from the Christians, exposed to recent and murderous attacks in the city of Mosul. Since September, the UN representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, has been calling for the restoration of this article of the Iraqi Constitution, and the Iraqi minorities have also been backed by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
At Telkif and at the Yezidi temple of Lalesh, UN Representatives, including Steffan de Mistura, have thus been meeting delegations of Christians and Yezidis. “The UN Delegation has met the leadership of the administrative units. They have discussed means of granting equitable rights to religious minorities by means of article 50”, summarised Dirman Sleman, the head of the Telkif Provincial Council. “The meeting mainly covered the request that all the Iraqi people be represented, in proportion to its population, in the Bill for the Provincial elections”. Prince Tahsin Beg, the Yezidi chief, pointed out that they had stressed, to UNO, the importance of quotas of representation, and considered that the UN delegation have indicated its “understanding” of their position. Andrea Kilmer, Steffan de Mistura’s assistant, stated, in a press conference, that the United Nations “will do its best” to guarantee the rights of Minorities in Iraq, particularly those of the Yezidis and Christians.
The Yezidi Spiritual Council had already issued a declaration, distributed in all their cultural and religious centres: “In the name of all the Yezidis, we ask and insist on the re0insertion of article 50 in the Provincial Election Bill as well as its revision to guarantee an equitable representation of the Yezidis of Nineveh”. According to this Council, the Yezidi population of this province is about 450,000, mainly in Sinjar, Shekhan Telkif and Bashiqa. The Yezidis also ask UNO and the Iraqi Presidential Council to respect their right to be considered one of the components of the Iraqi people.
In the Kurdistan Region, as well as the areas protected by the Kurdish forces, the Christians, in addition to demonstrating against the abrogation of Article 50, also claimed autonomy of the areas where they live. “We will demonstrate and protest until we secure the right of autonomy for the Christians in our districts as well as equitable religious representation for minorities”, declared Jamil Zeito, who leads the official Syriac-Chaldean Council. Thousands of Christians have thus taken part in these demonstrations in the towns of al-Qosh, Tel-Saqif and at Duhok.
The Kurdistan Regional Government has reiterated its support for the minorities. The Speaker of the Irbil parliament, Adnan Mufti, described the dropping of Article 50 as unconstitutional: “The Kurdistan Parliament supports the demand of Christians and other ethnic and religious components of the with regard the law on provincial elections. The Kurdistan Regional Constitution recognises minority rights more fully than the Iraqi Federal Constitution. In Kurdistan the minorities take art in the democratic process and enjoy all their civic, cultural and administrative rights”. For his part, the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, that he “fully supported” the re-insertion of Article 50 into the Iraqi Constitution: “We must guarantee the rights of minority communities so that they are represented in our government. In the new Iraq, based on federalist principles, democracy and pluralism, we must not allow small groups of our citizens to be alienated or separated. We must always remember that our government must serve the people and only exists to protect its rights and to promote their wellbeing. In the Kurdistan Region, we have been vigilant about protecting the interests of all the minorities — and this is the reason its citizens of all religions and ethic groups live in peace”.
The religious minorities’ protests and fears of being marginalised in Iraqi political life must been seen against the background of the dismal situation of the Christians in Mosul who, at the same time, have had to face a wave of assassinations, threats, intimidation and blackmail from obscure groups that seem to have set themselves the task of eradicating any non-Arab and non-Moslem presence from Mosul. Thus, nearly 300 Christians were forced to flee the city in the space of a few days. As from 10 October the Archbishop of Kirkuk, Monsignor Louis Sako, in connection with several attacks, denounced “a campaign of liquidation” directed against the country’s Christians: “We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of politically motivated violence. These attacks are not the first and, unfortunately will not be the last”. He also criticised the Baghdad government’s inertia over these acts of violence. “We have heard many words from Prime Minister Maliki, but unfortunately they have not been translated into facts. We want solutions, not promises”.
Indeed, while the Shiite Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has condemned the murders and acts of intimidation of the Christians, he has not proposed any precise measures to protect the population. The indifference of the Iraqi authorities is harshly pointed out by Monsignor Rabban al-Qas, Bishop of Irbil and Amadiya, in an appeal made over Asia News: “What is happening in Mosul today is precisely the outcome of the State’s immobility as well as a twisted, fanatical and fundamentalist attitude. This tragedy — that recalls the situation of Christians in the first centuries — began immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Thousands of Christians and Kurdish Moslems were driven out, killed, kidnapped and forced to leave Mosul. Today less than a quarter of the Christian population remains in Mosul. The threats, the reprisals, the discrimination, the blackmail, fundamentalist Islamic propaganda in the schools, the slogans painted on the walls led many moderate Moslems to cease defending their Christian brothers against intolerance. Now, out of fear of fanaticism and intolerance, they don’t even dare show that they have Christian friends of acquaintances. What is happening now is the result of a long silence by the Prime Minister and the Baghdad government, which have shown themselves incapable of stopping the wave of violence against the Christians. They are responsible for what is happening, without forgetting the American forces and the UN representatives”.
Faced with the urgency of this situation, twelve Chaldean Bishops held a meeting with the Vatican nuncio on 29 October. For its part, the Kurdish Parliament held an extraordinary session in the middle of the month to discuss the Mosul situation and the fate of the Christians being forced to flee the city. It decided to send a KRG delegation on sight to assess the needs of this threatened population. Parliament allocated 100 million Iraqi dinars to help the refugees and the Regional Government has made a statement condemning the terrorists’ schemes and calling on “all the Ministries, Department and organisations concerned to as much provide assistance to the victims as is in their power.
The 16 October issue of the Kurdish Globe contained a report by Romeo Hakkari, the general secretary of the Bet-Naharain Democratic Party (a Christian party). This followed a hurried visit of inspection to the refugee families in the area round Mosul, where the majority of the population is Christian. He reported 14 Christians killed since the beginning of the month, 1400 families displaced, three Christian houses destroyed a great number of injured. In Romeo Hakkari’s opinion, this was a clear plan to drive all the Christians from Mosul. The general secretary openly accused islamist groups and former Baathist Party members. “Many of the families received direct threats to make them leave Mosul, others indirectly via their mobile telephones”. He added that, even after their departure, they continued to receive threats by telephone to dissuade them from returning home.
Questioned by the Kurdish Globe’s journalists, the refugees confirmed the absence of any reaction from the Mosul authorities. “We left Mosul right under the eyes of the Iraqi police”, charged Samil Georges, a Christian from that town who had fled with his family three days earlier. In his view it was even possible that some of the police had taken a behind the scenes part in these actions to drive out the Assyro-Chaldeans. An Arab member of the Iraqi Parliament, Ossama al-Najifi, of the National Iraqi List, accused the Kurds of being the source of these exactions, but this was refuted by Father Zaya Shaba, a priest of the town of Shaqlawa, in Irbil Province, where a number of refugees, Arab Moslems or Christian have found shelter. He retorted: “In Kurdistan the Kurdish government build churches for us while in the centre of Iraq and in Mosul extremists have blown churches up!” Father Shaba, moreover, recalled that these anti-Christian attacks are nothing new and have been perpetrated in Baghdad and Basra for a long while now.
Expressing himself officially on the Kurdish Government’s web site, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani described the situation and the forces at work in this way: “The terrorists behind the attacks and the forced displacement of Christians across Iraq have continued and extended their campaign of terror to Mosul. The Christians who have fled from Mosul have not just come from one or two districts in the city of Mosul — they also come from 52 distinct districts of the region around it. There have been man victims in Mosul. Thousands of Kurds have been killed because of their ethic origins, as a result of which thousands of families have been driven out. The city of Mosul has become, today, a sanctuary for many terrorist organisations and for former members of the former Baath regime. The so-called “Islamic State”, for instance, has become an umbrella organisation under which all these terrorists are operating. While it is true that most of its members are Arabs, the groups also include some Turcomen and Kurds. To them mist be added that there are even some Christians who were formerly members of the Baath Party regime and who describe themselves as of the “Resistance”, who are actively fighting against the present government and the Coalition Forces. The terrorists have recruited support amongst a mixture of ethnic and religious groups so as to sow doubt, fear and tension amongst the people of Mosul. This is a classic terrorist tactic”.
Ironically refuting the accusations made by the M.P. Ossama al-Najifi and spread by a certain anti-Kurdish press, the Prime Minister retorted that the interests of the Kurds and Christians, as well as other minorities in Mosul are, on the contrary linked in the region and that the Kurds have everything to lose by this ethnic and religious “cleansing”: “As far as Kurdish national interests are concerned, the presence of Yezidi and Shabak Kurds and of Christians in the city of Mosul is important to maintain the proportional figures of the population during the coming municipal elections. So how is it logically possible for the Kurds to try and reduce the number of Christians in the town and so give the Arabs a majority of the population? Those who accuse the Kurds of driving the Christians out of Mosul are the same people who, earlier, accused the Kurds of an expansionist policy in Mosul and some other regions. Now these accusers have completely changed their assertions, saying that the Kurds are driving out the Christians and the Yezidi and Shabak Kurds. Politically, the Kurds have the most to lose from these events, since they increase the proportion of Arabs”.
A series of riots have shaken Turkey this month, sparked off by a variety of apparently insignificant incidents but all around the Kurdish question in the country. Thus, at the beginning of the month, anti-Kurdish riots broke out in the town of Altinova, near the Aegean Sea, after a fight resulting in two Turks being killed by a Kurd. About 48 people have been detained for questioning, according to the local authorities, 18 of whom will be brought before the courts.
The origin of the altercation was a relatively trivial event. In the course of a quarrel, a Kurd knocked down with his van two Turks who died on the spot, and was immediately arrested. However, after the funeral, over 3000 people marched past waving Turkish flags and shouting “Altinova belongs to us!”. They then began to attack and stone shops and stalls owned by Kurds. Over and above the initial incident, the reasons for the intensity of the interethnic tension can also be seen in the nationalist feelings aroused by the attack on the Aktutun border post and the calls for vengeance following the deaths of 17 Turkish soldiers.
Two weeks later, violent demonstrations broke out in the East of the country after the lawyers representing Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, had stated, on 18 October, that their client had been roughed up and received death threats from one of his guards. On the morning of 20 October, during a DTP meeting at Diyarbekir, demonstrators clashed with the police causing one death and dozens of arrests. On the 25th, there were clashes with the police at Van, and 7 people were arrested. On 26 October, the police used tear gas at Gaziantep and made about a dozen arrests. At Yusekova, a small town near the Iraqi border, the police again used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
In Diyarbekir, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, 5,000 people had marched to demonstrate and the police had charged, making several dozen arrests, when some demonstrators started throwing stones.
The West of the country, which now has a large Kurdish population of people forcibly displaced during the war, was not spared. In Istanbul, clashes occurred in the Umraniye district, while at Kucukcekmece a shopping centre was devastated by Molotov cocktails. Many demonstrations by the PKK and its supporters also took place outside Turkey. On 21 October, demonstrators tried to set fire to the Turkish Embassy in Helsinki. Five suspects were arrested and then released. In Beirut, hundreds of Kurds demonstrated in front of the United Nations offices on 26 October and on the 29th there were marches with Armenian and PKK flags.
Although the Minister of Justice, Mehmet Ali Sahin, denied the allegations, they were supported and spread by the DTP leader Ahmet Turk, who protested, in a press conference, at the “ill treatment” that Abdullah Ocalan was said to have suffered and demanded that a delegation, including members of his party, be sent to Imrali, where the Kurdish leader is imprisoned. Although the DTP is in danger of being banned, and that the next elections will see that party actively opposing the ruling AKP party in the regions of Turkish Kurdistan, Ahmet Turk has again called for the resolution of the Kurdish problem by peaceful means: “The Kurdish question is a political problem and it can only be resolved by political means. The attitude that pushes some to say “if I win the elections in the Kurdish regions and overwhelmingly defeat the DTP in those same regions, I will have eliminated the problem” shows the humiliating and disrespectful way in which the Kurds are regarded”.
Furthermore, on the subject of the police repression, Amnesty International has criticised the measures envisaged by the governor of Adana, namely of cutting off medical care to demonstrators and their families. “The authorities’ response must be in conformity with human rights and not lead to collective punishment”, declared Andrew Gardner, the AI officer responsible for Turkey. In Turkey, a “green card” allows the poorest families to have access to medical care, which is very expensive, even for the middle classes. It was also planned to cut them off from the free delivery of coal, which is organised by the Social Aid and Solidarity Foundation. “These measures to deprive children suspected of having taken part in demonstrations of medical and other aid, together with their families, are a form of collective punishment and in violation of the right of people to care and a decent level of life, without discrimination” added Andrew Gardner. “Rather than violate human rights, the Turkish authorities must ensure that their responses to demonstrations are compatible with their obligations to respect and protect human rights inside their territories”.
This series of incidents shows the extent of the growing gulf separating the Kurdish and Turkish population, the first being regularly stigmatised as “accomplices of terrorism”. As for the Kurds, according to Sezgin Tanrikulu, Chairman of the Diyarbekir Bar Association, their confidence in peaceful and democratic solutions is crumbling. In Kurdish towns, celebrations of 29 October, the anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, are widely boycotted by the DTP Town Halls. The Mayors of Diyarbekir, Sirnak, Tunceli (Dersim), Cizre and Hakkari have not organised any demonstrations in open protest against the future banning of their party.
Several meetings between the Iraqi Kurds and American leaders as well as Masud Barzani’s visit to Washington, have been mainly concerned with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Indeed, an agreement is needed enable the US to maintain a long term military presence in Iraq after the UN mandate expires, that is 31 December 2008.However, the negotiations n the details of implementing the agreement are not making any progress, largely due to Iraqi hesitations.
In his family stronghold of Salahaddin, the President of the Kurdistan Region, first met General Raymond Odierno, commander of the multinational forces, accompanied by a delegation. The Kurdish Government’s Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, was also present as well as several KRG leaders. As well as questions linked to regions claimed by the Kurds, such as Khanaqin and, more largely the problems of security in the country, particularly at Mosul, the discussion mainly covered the Security Pact at the moment being discussed between the Americans and Iraq, the Kurds being, of all the Iraqi political components, the most in its favour. Another eminent visitor to Salahaddin was John Negroponte, Assistant Secretary of State, who had also come to discuss the Pact and bi-lateral Iraq-US agreements. John Negroponte had earlier met Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, in Suleimaniah and had visited Kirkuk. In a joint press conference, Masud Barzani again re-iterated his support for this agreement.
The Kurdish President then went to Baghdad to take part in the meeting of the Political Council for National Security where the principal Iraqi political leaders were due to discuss new modalities put forward for the final agreement. However, the Iraqi Prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki all the same announced that he was going to submit a new version of the SOFA to the White House.
On his return, he declared to the press as he arrived at Irbil airport: “We are clearly in favour of signing this projected agreement. There are forces that support this treaty and others that hesitate, yet others that are embarrassed and yet again some that are afraid to declare their position. On Sunday evening we took part in a meeting of the Political Council for National Security and we clearly showed our position. The agreement contains many positive points that are favourable for Iraq. It has been decided to refer this to the Government and Parliament, and every party I free to five its position. The alternative, in the event of its rejection, is worrying: it would mean either continuing the present situation, in which an American officer has the prerogative of arresting all the Ministers, or the United States leave Iraq or else the United States will leave Iraq and renounce its commitment to our country. We have always said we are against any agreement that violates the country’s sovereignty, but the latest version of the agreement proposed by the Americans take this sovereignty into account”.
A week later Masud Barzani flew to Washington to discuss this agreement with US leaders while in the Iraqi camp, and particularly amongst the Shiites, many were reticent. “The issue of the agreement is strategic and was the principal theme of the meeting”, declared the president to the press after his meeting with Condoleeza Rice, before adding that the agreement was discussed “in detail”.
President George Bush indicated that he had received several requests for modification and discussed them with Masud Barzani, without revealing their content to the press. He recognised that the Kurdish leader was the principal defender of this agreement. Condoeeza Rice, like George Bush, said they were confident that it would be signed before the end of 2008, but this feeling is far from unanimous in the US Administration. If the SOFA were not signed, it would remove any legal basis for the US military presence in Iraq, and would result in the suspension of all armed action and the troops being confined to their barracks. “The advances in security that have been achieved will begin to come apart, since we will no longer have any mandate for operating”, remarked the Pentagon’s spokesman Geoff Morell.
The other solution would be to secure another mandate from the UN, which would require the agreement of Russia and China, who could veto it.
An extreme Left Turkish activist, Engin Ceber, died in hospital on 10 October, as a result of torture to which he had been subjected after his arrest on 28 September last. He was 29 years of age. As soon as his death was announced, Amnesty International demanded a complete enquiry, backed by several Turkish NGOs: “The death of Engin Ceber is a fresh proof that acts of torture and ill treatment are widespread in detention centres in Turkey”.
This case reopens the issue of the use of torture in Turkey in its police services as a whole, be they the investigatory or penitential, because Engin Ceber is said to have been ill-treated, both by gendarmerie and police, only while in detention, which recalls the worst days of the Turkish prisons, particularly after the coup d’état.
Engin Ceber was arrested along with other activists during a demonstration that implicated the Turkish authorities in another case — that of the death of Ferhat Gercek, an activists shot down by the police a year earlier. According to his lawyer, immediately after his arrest he was undressed and beaten up, struck with wooden truncheons not only during his initial detention but also during his preventive detention. Sent to hospital on 7 October for head injuries, he died three days later.
On 14 October, the Minister of Justice, Mehmet Ali Sahin, presented official apologies to the activist’s family on behalf of the government and of the State. He also announced the suspension of 19 officials and promised a full enquiry.
While some Turkish newspapers, like Hurriyet, welcomed the government’s effort at transparency (“This is the first time a Minister apologises in this way”, pointed out the journalist Ahmet Hakan) other voices, like the victim’s father were not satisfied by this mea culpa and are calling for more serious punishment for those responsible that a simple suspension. Nor is Amnesty International satisfied — it demands that “those presumed guilty of the death of Engin Ceber”, be brought for trial. The organisation also demands that the two other activists arrested with Engin Ceber and still detained in the same Metris Prison, in Istanbul, be no longer subjected to the same acts of torture and be medically examined.
Despite promises of “zero tolerance” in cases of torture, made by Turkey to strengthen its case for membership of the European Union, these practices have not disappeared. The Association for Human Rights in Turkey (IHD) has recorded 678 unreported complaints of torture and ill treatment by the police and gendarmerie in 2007 — which admittedly represents a slight improvement on previous years (708 for 2006; 825 for 2005 and 1040 for 2006).
On 31 October, the Irbil Parliament passed the law on the Status of the Individual, which includes a certain number of differences with Iraqi laws, particularly with regard to polygamy and divorce. In 2001, Law N°62 passed by the Kurdish Parliament had already forbidden this practice save in certain specific conditions. As from 28 October, 200 activists from nearly 40 feminist movements had been demonstrating in front of the parliament, demanding total of polygamy and absolute equality between the sexes in all matters regarding matrimonial and family arrangements. However, the law passed on 31 October did not go as far as total interdiction, being satisfied by strongly limiting recourse to this practice. Whereas Moslem law allows a man to have up to four wives, the KRG law tolerates a second marriage solely in cases of proven sterility or if the wife is suffering from sexually transmitted disease. “We did not succeed in banning polygamy but we have succeeded in strictly limiting it”, stated Member of Parliament Mrs. Khaman Zirar to AFP news agency. For her part, Laila Abdullah, of the Union of Kurdish Women regretted this partial result and indicated that her group will continue to put pressure the political class to achieve interdiction.
Another measure adopted was a law allowing women to initiate divorce, a right that has to be stipulated at the moment of marriage as part of the contract and signed in the presence of two witnesses (Moslem marriage is a civil contract, not a religious ceremony). As for the legal age of marriage, it has been set at 16 years for both sexes, subject to a medical certificate establishing that both parties are physically and mentally capable of contracting the union and subject also to parental agreement for the future bride (or at least that of her mother if the latter is a widow).
Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the principal financial backers of the Ilisu, which is due to drown the town and valley of Hasankeyf have, after several warnings, started the process of withdrawing from this Turkish project. According to the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation, Erich Stather, the three countries meeting on 7 October had sent a firm request regarding environmental problems raised by the project, to which Turkey had provided few answers or guarantees. Si, within 60 days, Ankara does not satisfy the requirements expressed by the European governments they will cease to guarantee the companies involved in the project, which will result, in fact, in a freeze of the project. The NGOs that are struggling to preserve the town of Hasankeyf consider that it is highly unlikely that the required conditions to preserve the environment could be fulfilled by Turkey in two months, i.e. by the deadline of 6 December 2008.
According to Ulrich Eichelmann, of the ECA Watch Austria, such a gesture is a first in “the history of European economic exportation”. Heike Drillisch, who is leading the German campaign against the Ilisu dam, welcomes this long awaited decision and insists that they will remain vigilant against any last minute compromise with the Turkish government.
For over a year now, independent experts have unceasingly stressed the fact that Turkey was not fulfilling its commitments not meeting international criteria regarding environment and guarantees for the inhabitants who would have to be expropriated. In March2007, Germany, Austria and Switzerland had agreed to stand as guarantors for the companies Andritz AG, Zueblin AG and Alstom who had thus been able to borrow from several banks: Austria’s UniCredit, Germany’s Deka and the Societé Générale. The total amount of these credits was estimated at 450 million euros. The withdrawal of the governments will probably prompt the banks also to withdraw from the project, particularly in the present financial situation. Thus the companies’ contracts are, in turn, jeopardised.
The Mayor of Hasankeyf, Abdulyahap Kusen, expressed his satisfaction in these terms: “The probable withdrawal of the Europeans is good news for the inhabitants of Hasankeyf and an additional motive for us to continue, stage by stage, our struggle here in Turkey against the project. We now really have a chance of saving our home, with its natural and cultural heritage of thousands of years”.
The hardening of the attacks on feminist and human rights activists continues. On 23 October, the Teheran Court of Appeal Confirmed the eleven-year sentence on a Human Rights activist and Kurdish language journalist, Mohammad Sadigh Kabudvand, for “offenses against national security”. The information was given to the AFP news agency by his lawyer, Nasin Sotudeh. His only “crime” was to have founded a Human Rights defence organisation.
“The charge of offences against national security is unfounded”, protests Reporters sans Frontières. “It is absurd to consider the defence of human rights as an attack on national security. It is just an excuse to silence a journalist who has been writing for a long time about discrimination against minorities in Iran”. RSF also criticises the absence of the medical treatment needed in view of the Kurdish activist’s state of health. Detained since July 2007 at Evin Prison, in Teheran, an ill-reputed detention centre, Mohammad Sadigh Kabudvand suffers from a painful prostate condition and has received no medical attention. His wife, Parniz Hassani has told RSF that she has not received permission to visit him Since 24 September last.
Last July, Amnesty International published an alarming report on religious and cultural discrimination and the persecution to which minorities are subjected, particularly the 12 million Kurds in Iran.