January 1st 2009 saw the launching of the first Kurdish language channel by the public Turkish TV service, (TRT). This channel, TRT-6, broadcasts 24 hours a day programmes with the Turkish sub-titles that were originally obligatory for the few hours of Kurdish language broadcasts allowed on the Turkish channels. Under pressure from the European Union, the laws banning the TV and radio broadcasts in Kurdish were permanently repealed in 2003. However this did not lead to the growth of a real policy of freeing and supporting audiovisual programmes in minority languages in Turkey. With the municipal elections impending, many see this as a political gesture by the AKP to win the votes of a substantial part of the Kurdish electorate so as to swing a number of town councils, at present held by the pro-Kurdish DTP party, over to the governing AKP party. In any case, the Prime Minister’s recorded message, broadcast at the opening of the channel, in which he pronounced a few words in Kurdish (“TRT 6 bi xêr be” — wishing good luck to the channel) shows the unambiguous involvement of the authorities in this politico-media scoop. This was immediately attacked by the nationalist parties and by the DTP — the former seeing it as an attack on the Republic’s linguistic unity, the latter as a mere electoral manoeuvre without any real intention of making headway on the Kurdish question. Thus the DTP members of parliament and councillors point to the ban that is still in force on the use of Kurdish in any administrative context, as well as the ban on the use of the letters Q, X and W. Because of its status of a of an official State Channel, TRT is suspected of serving as the government’s “spokesperson”, in the way that the Denmark based RojTV channel, widely viewed in Turkish Kurdistan, is already accused of speaking for the PKK.
The channel’s Director, Sinan Ilhan, rebuts this accusation, as do other intellectuals and performing artists taking part in this enterprise, who consider it a stage towards the recognition of a more or less official status for the Kurdish language as well as opening the possibility of later opening private Kurdish channels. Thus the Kurdish television has been welcomed by Kurdish intellectuals like Umit Firat and Altan Tan, who have stated that Turkey is, in this way, putting an end to its denial of the Kurdish people’s existence.
After broadcasting Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s message, one by the Turkish President Abdullah Gul also expressed best wishes to TRT6. Three Minister attended the inauguration in person: junior Ministers Mehmet Simsek and Mehmet Aydin and the Minister of Culture Ertigrul Gunay and a number of AKP members of Parliament were present in the studios. There was no DTP representative present.
Broadly speaking, the first programmes were considered of good quality, TRT visibly provided the necessary means. There were cultural broadcasts of music and literature or dealing with social questions, as well as documentaries. Some performers who are very popular with the Kurds of Turkey, Rojin and Nilufer Akbal organised live variety shows with guests on the set, whether singers or not, and questions from the audience. Although hitherto Kurdish children’s programmes were banned, TRT6 is now broadcasting cartoons in this language, which along with Turkish and international films, dubbed into Kurdish, thus giving it the status of a “family channel”. For the moment the language chosen is the Kurmanji dialect, but Sinan Ilhan has announced his intention later to broaden out into the Zazaki and Sorani dialects. Apart from RojTV, most of the Iraqi and Iranian Kurdish channels are at the moment broadcasting in Sorani.
Tensions between the Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad have not eased as the date for local elections draws closer. These are due in 14 Iraqi districts, i.e. excluding Kirkuk and the Kurdish Region. Baghdad is accusing the Kurds of having secessionist aims while Irbil regards unfavourably the attempts of Prime Minister l-Maliki at concentrating power in his own hands. This the Kurds interpret as a return to the past, towards the former authoritarian and nationalist regimes from which Iraq has already suffered. In a very critical open letter addressed to Nuri al-Maliki, President Barzani observes: “unfortunately there are, in Arab circles, some short-sighted chauvinists and extremists”. Without specifically naming them, Massud Barzani attributes to them the deterioration of relations between Arabs ad Kurds and the awakening of “harmful hostilities by reopening wounds of the past”.
One of the most criticised actions is the creation in the provinces of tribal militia backed by the central government that are not answerable to the local authorities. This the supporters of federalism in Iraq see as a sign of a takeover of decentralised regional policies and an attempt to set up personal power. The Prime Minister’s supporters, however, deny any drift towards dictatorship, attributing these accusations to electoral manoeuvres and stressing Nuri al-Maliki’s determination to set up a State of Law that would put an end to sectarian conflict.
The Kurds are not the only ones to criticise the Prime Minister’s new and more authoritarian policy. Other Iraqi voices are being heard taking up the accusations of a dictatorial drift, even within his own parliamentary block, the United Iraqi Alliance, as well, naturally, amongst the Sunni Arabs, generally disinclined to admit the new political supremacy of their Shiite compatriots. “For the last few months Maliki has been acting in a unilateral fashion on many decisive issues”, accuses Abdul Karim al-Sanary, leader of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Concord Front. A rumour has even gone round of an attempt to oust al-Maliki from his position as Prime Minister before the end of his term in office (2010 theoretically) by a challenge in parliament. This rumour, which was finally squashed by a denial from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI — another Shiite party), had earlier been suggested as a possible Parliamentary riposte to the government by a Kurdish M.P. Mahmud Othman in an interview given on the Ridaw web site: “The Kurds have allies: Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is even more dissatisfied by Maliki than us and the Iraqi Islamic Party also disagrees with him. If these factions unite to discuss certain subjects they could achieve something”. However, in Mahmud Othman’s opinion this is not the moment for such an extreme solution: “but this depends on the government’s behaviour. If the differences are resolved the discontent will not reach such a point. Otherwise it could be possible”.
The source of the conflict between Nuri al-Maliki and the Kurdish government, according to this M.P. lies in the mistakes and inefficiency of the Iraqi and Kurdish administrations as well as of persisting Arab nationalist ideology: “The conflicts are of political, legal and administrative character. The legal and administrative conflicts come from the fact that the federal system is new to Iraq. Neither the Iraqi government nor ourselves have had any previous experience of this system. So much so that we both make mistakes. As far as the political and ideological aspects are concerned, there are probably two further problems to be considered: the first is that the Iraqi government does not believe is federalism. Have you ever heard Nuri al-Maliki say “federal Iraq”? Only the Kurds use the term. Maliki says that the constitution needs amending, the authority of the central government consolidated and that of the Kurdistan Region reduced and the Peshmergas must withdraw to the blue line (the area that was under Kurdish control before 19 March 2003). He says that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is not empowered to sign oil contracts off its own bat. All these points show a rejection of federalism. Constitutionally, the KRG does have such prerogatives. The second problem is that there is an Arab chauvinist ideology that believes that the Constitution was drawn up when the Iraqi government was weak and the country unstable and that that is how Kurdistan acquired such benefits. It considers that little by little the balance must be restored by weakening the Regions authorities and consolidating the central government”.
In 14 January the Los Angeles Times published an interview with President Barzani both in summary as well as the full recording. This aroused sharp reactions from many Arab papers and political groups that once again accused the Kurdish President of threatening independence if he did not get what he wanted. In this interview, Massud Barzani recounted the past relations the Kurds had had with Nuri al-Maliki when he was in exile and the support the Shiite leader had received from the Kurds such as in 2007, when the Kurdish government had opposed an attempt to overthrow the Prime Minister. “It was in April 2007, when we felt that there were a serious attempts to force him out of office. We felt this and also what was behind it all, which was not at all well intentioned. There were some ill-intentioned people with their own agenda that boded no good for Iraq in general or the Kurds in particular. Around the end of April, on the 26 and 27, a meeting took place of several Iraqi groups, under the auspices of foreign secret services from several of neighbouring countries, namely Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Emirates. I think there were six of them in all. They organised this meeting with several Iraqi groups whose principal idea was to undermine the situation. We were alarmed at this, which is why we fully supported al-Maliki’s stand — we felt that all this was directed against Iraq’s interests. It was a very direct and baleful intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs through the secret services of those countries. We were alarmed at this and we openly supported the Prime Minister because we felt that all this was aimed against the Iraqi people, against the Kurdish people and against Iraq. This led us to a coalition of four parties, later extended to five (a consultative committee including Barzani, the members of the Iraqi Presidential Council and Prime Minister al-Maliki)”.
As well as Kirkuk, disagreements continue covering the management of the hydrocarbon resources that Baghdad would like to control, particularly regarding the signing of contracts with foreign companies. In addition there is the marginalisation, in the view of the Kurds, of their units within the Iraqi Army, accompanied by an attempt by the head of the government to use the armed forces like a private militia. “In normal circumstances, it is quite natural to transfer and move different officers and units to different parts of the country. Evidently, when one considers the situation in Iraq it is easy to see that the situation is not normal. For the moment the situation is quite abnormal. In quite recent periods we have observed an attitude of deliberately marginalising Kurdish participation in the Army. So we seem to be seeing a unilateral attempt to create an Army that is answerable to a single individual, which is even more alarming. First and foremost, the Army should not be involved in politics. Moreover the Army should not be used to settle internal conflicts between this group and the next. I think that, at present, there are 16 divisions in the Iraqi Arm. Normally the generals of the divisions should be appointed and approved by Parliament. However, I defy anyone to find a single divisional general whose appointment was made or approved by Parliament. They were all approved by personal decisions — decrees — and this is surely something intolerable. This is not the Army … that we hoped to create”.
This Kurdish suspicion is strengthened by the deployment of Iraqi troops in Kurdish populated regions that the Irbil government claims, particularly Kirkuk and Khanaqin. The Kurdish Peshmergas, initially deployed in these areas to ensure security at the request of the US and Iraq, report “abnormal” troop movements since the summer. Thus the Iraqi Army’s 12th Division was given the duty of forming a military belt round Kirkuk which, by being thus stationed close to the Kurdistan Region borders had the result of restricting traffic between Kirkuk and the two major towns of Irbil and Suleimaniah whereas previously, when Kirkuk-Irbil-Suleimaniah controls were carried out by Peshmergas, traffic flowed freely between the three regions. Thus the Kurdish newspaper Aso published the remarks of an Iraqi officer, speaking off the record, “the Iraqi Defence is trying to set up rigorous check points on the roads entering and leaving Kirkuk to control the city’s borders”. The same officer indicated that, in future, the Iraqi Army hoped to be deployed in the Eastern districts of Kirkuk like Laylan, Qadirkaram, Takyay-Jabari, Shwan and Bani-Maqam as well as the North side, at Dubiz and Pire.
“The movements of these divisions are not normal, they are part of an pre-planned agenda”, accused Mustafa Shawrash, commander of the PUK Peshmergas. “This is why the Kurdish leaders watch it with suspicion”. Mustafa Shawrash stated that the Peshmergas had sent several messages to the Iraqi troops to urge them to leave. A commission had then been formed of representatives of the Kurdish Region, the American forces and the 1st Iraqi Army, but it had not yet been able to meet. For the moment the 12 Division is not advancing but it is not retreating either and the Peshmergas are standing firm. This division is composed of 70% Arabs, 20% Kurds and 10% Turcomen, making a total of 9,000 men. According to Sharwash, the general commanding it, an Arab from Hilla, is a former leading member of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, who had previously fought the Kurds at the head of the same division. He was imprisoned for four months by the Americans before resuming his duties. On the other hand, the Kurdish officers appointed to this division had been transferred from Kirkuk to other Iraqi towns like Tikrit and replaced by Arabs or Turcomen.
Thus Kirkuk remains the major issue that crystallises all the country’s ethnic tensions. Thus US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to this city was subjected to considerable attention by Iraqi observers. However, the American leader’s speech got no further than vague generalities with his appeals for “cooperation” between the country’s religious and ethnic groups after meeting several local leaders, talking about “compromise” and “concessions needed” for Iraq to settle its internal conflicts. When he was still in opposition, however, Senator Joe Biden had been the author of a plan, approved by the US Senate in September 2007, to divide Iraq into three major semi-autonomous regions: Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab. This plan had been rejected by the White House, however, and Turkey, for its part, continues to issue warnings against too hasty decisions regarding the status of Kirkuk, evoking the inter-ethnic violence to which this would lead.
Be that as it may, even if the elections in that town have been postponed, several murders of political activists and leaders have taken place, mainly in Kirkuk as well as in Khanaqin, which fully involved in its election campaign. On 4 January, in Kirkuk Anwar Moheddin Rassul, a member of the Communist Party of Kurdistan, was killed by armed “persons unknown” who fired at him. The murder took place near his home and his body showed signs of blows. This is not the first assassination that has hit this party, since in 18 December last, Nabla Hussein al-Shaly, a member of the same Party’s Women’s League, had also been assassinated in her home by “persons unknown”. Two days later, another Kurdish politician, Subhi Hassan, a member of the Jalal Talabani’s PUK, was shot down in his car with his bodyguard, after being chased by another vehicle. On 8 January, it was the turn of Abdelrazzak Mohsen Ulwi, 14 years of age, to be shot down as he was strolling through the al-Saadi Market. This victim was the younger brother of Nossair Ulai, who runs the al-Saadiya section of the Kurdistan. Two brothers had already received several death threats.
On 7 January, a fresh wave of arrests connected with the Ergenekon case shook Turkey. The confessions obtained again reveal several planned assassinations aimed at the Alevi and Armenian communities, the Prime Minister and members of the Supreme Curt of Appeals, all with the aim of plunging the country into a state of chaos and insecurity favourable for an Army coup d’état.
Launched in six Turkish towns at once, this dragnet was able to arrest over thirty people. These included seven retired generals, a former colonel, Levent Göktay; Ibrahim Sahin, former Chief of Police for special operations; a writer, Yalçin Küçü, the former President of YÖK; Kemal Gürüz and some journalists. Two days later, on 9 January, a drawing found in Ibrahim Sahin’s house enabled the investigators to discover a secret arsenal in an old warehouse with firearms, ammunition, and rocket launchers. In a forest near Ankara, they also found an arms cache, still thanks to a map found in a suspect’s home, they found an arms cache containing: 30 hand grenades, three flame-throwers, a quantity of explosives and ammunition of different kinds. Arms were also seized in lieutenant colonel Mustafa Dönmez’s home in Istanbul: some Kalashnikov’s, bullets, some shotguns, binoculars, bayonets, and 22 hand grenades. Mustafa Dönmez, however, succeeded in escaping and is now being sought as a suspect.
The Public Prosecutors report that phone tapping operations by the police found evidence that those charged planned to assassinate Ali Balkiz and Kazim Genç, two Alevis leaders, and the President of the Armenian community of Sivas, Minas Durmaz Güler. In Sivas, two hand grenades were found at the home of the principal suspect of the plot to assassinate Minas Durmaz Güler, a certain Oguz Bulut, President of the Sivas Idealists Club, an association closely linked to the ultra-nationalist MHP, although the latter is now trying to distance itself from the Club.
Other sources close to the investigators describe the former Mayor of Istanbul, Bedrettin Dalan, at present on the run in the USA, as the head of the Ergenekon network’s financial section. As for Generals Kemel Yavuz and Tuncer Kilinç, they are said to have provided the network’s military training. Another Brigadier General, Levent Ersöz, was arrested on 15 January as a suspect while he was returning Turkey illegally. He was coming from Russia to undergo treatment for prostate trouble. However, on 18 January he was sent to hospital for heart trouble. According to his daughter, Fulya Ersöz, he is said to be undergoing intensive care and being kept unconscious by the medical team. Levent Ersöz, who retired in 2003, had been appointed to Sirnak Province at a time when the gendarmerie was conducting such a reign of terror that the region was nicknamed “The Temple of Fear” or “The Republic of Sirnak” to stress the absolute independence of the Armed Forces and the paramilitaries in this part of Turkish Kurdistan. Levent Ersöz is also suspected of being behind a large number of disappearances and assassinations by “persons unknown”.
On 19 January, a former commander of the Diyarbekir JITEM (the gendarmerie’s secret service — that has no official or legal existence) was found dead in his Ankara home. The autopsy will have to determine whether it is a case of suicide. In any case, this is the fifth “mysterious” death since the start of the case. Abdelkrim Kirca is the fifth JITEM officer to die in suspicious circumstances. General Ismet Yediyildiz, also suspected of belonging to this organisation died in a road accident. Major Cem Ersever was found dead in his house, apparently assassinated, as were the Gendarmerie Majors Ismail Selen and Hulusi Sayin.
Colonel Abdulkerim Kirca was accused of having ordered many “extra-judicial executions” by an informer, an ex-PKK man who had been turned round, Abdulkadir Aygan. He had already been accused, together with another officer, Mahmut Yildirim, of kidnapping and murdering eight men. However, following disagreements over jurisdiction, his case had been transferred from the Diyarbekir 7th Corps Army Court to the judicial disputes Court in Ankara. Accused of founding an illegal armed organisation, of torture and of three murders, Abdulkerim Kirca faced a life sentence. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, the President of the Turkish Republic of the time, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, had decorated him with the State Honour medal.
Nevertheless, the colonel was recently the subject of a press campaign publishing the accusations of the families of people who had “disappeared”. He was accused of being behind hundreds of “unresolved murders” in the 1990s. Indeed, the number of these “extra-legal executions” had increased in a spectacular manner during the period when he was on duty in the region as commander of the JITEM. Thus, after his suicide, the General Staff denounced the press for relaying then testimony of “so-called informers”. General Ilker Basbug, Chief of the Turkish Armed Forces General Staff attended his funerals accompanied by a great number of officers from all four of the armed forces. The Minister of the Interior, Besir Atalay, was there at the side of the deceased wife and his daughters, who published the General Staff’s written accusations of the press: “We see here a real example that shows how people who have served the nation loyally give up their lives because of a negative atmosphere spread by some circles of Evil. This irresponsibility deeply shakes our noble nation, as well as the Kirca family. For the moment there is nothing we can do except to hope that common sense will prevail. Our only consolation is the solidarity of which his brothers at arms have shown. They are heroes and their behaviour full of dignity. If we have some hope for the future it will be because of this worthy behaviour”.
However, an examination of Abdulkerim Kirca’s military record in the light of recent evidence published in the press reveal some areas much less “worthy”, involving the JITEM’s scheming and abuse of power. Major Kirca took on his duties after his predecessor, Cem Ersever had left the Army, in 1993, possible because of the death of another gendarmerie commander, Esref Bitlis, killed in an unexplained air crash. Cem Ersever had recognised that he had been responsible for JITEM’s operations in the “South East”, that is in the Kurdish region. He was assassinated on 4 November of the same year, together with his wife and his assistant. All the documentation in his possession regarding JITEM disappeared.
Abdulkadir Aygan, a former PKK member who had been turned round and become an informer, stated that he had seen Kirca kill three people with his own hands at Silopi: Necati Aydin, Mehmet Aydin and Ramazan Keskin, all three members of the Diyarbekir branch of a medical workers union. They are said to have been shot down on the Silopi-Diyarbekir road.
Kirca’s name also turns up in the famous Susurluk scandal. Kutlu Savas, the author of a report commissioned by the Prime Minister, refers to Kirca as the “planner and executor” of the bulk of the abuses of power committed by the shadowy networks operating inside the Army. The Susurluk scandal burst when a police chief and a wanted criminal and mafia leader were killed, in the same car together, in a road accident in 1996. It was one of the scandals that confirmed the existence of a “deep State” working underground. Another passenger, a Member of Parliament, was linked to the “Village Guardians” militia, armed by the State as auxiliaries against the PKK. According to Kutlu Savas, the JITEM was controlled by the Army security of East and South East Anatolia: “Even if the general in command of the Gendarmerie refuses to admit it, the JITEM’s existence cannot be denied. It is possible that the JITEM has since been dismantled and set aside up to a point, by dispersing its personnel and archives to different places. Many officers, however, who have worked for JITEM are still alive”
The hanging and sentencing to death of minors is continuing in Iran. Hamid Zarei was also executed at Sanandaj for a crime he had committed when he was 17 years old.
As for Zeinab Jalalian, 27 years, living at Maku, in Iranian Kurdistan, she was sentenced to death for alleged membership of a political party. According to Zeinab’s family, the Iranian Security Services arrested her at Kermanshah and transferred her to the Intelligence section of the Guardians of the Revolution’s Army (Pasdarans) in the same town, eight months ago. Kept in isolation, no information about her was given nor any visits allowed. In her trial, which only lasted a few minutes, the Revolutionary Court accused her of being an “enemy of God” (muharib — a crime punishable by death) and of membership of a Kurdish political party (often PJAK in these cases). The defendant, who has always denied the charges, was consequently sentenced to death. In the last few years, 12 other Kurdish activists, accused (rightly or wrongly) of membership of banned parties have been sentenced to death and are awaiting execution.
Moreover, another Kurdish activist, this time at Mahabad, has died in detention, in suspicious circumstances, a few days after his arrest by the authorities. Hashim Ramazani, originally from a village in the Bokan region but living in Mahabad, was arrested for “security reasons” and transferred to an office of the Urmia secret services (Itlaat). Four days later his family was summoned by this office to collect his body. The authorities stated that Hashim had committed suicide but refused to let the body be sent to Teheran for an autopsy. They also forced the family to sign a promise to keep the whole matter secret. Even his burial took place at night with plain-clothes police in attendance.
Another Kurdish activist, Jebrail Khosravi, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment by the Sanandaj court for membership of an illegal political party, unspecified. As for Kamal Sharifi, a political activist and journalist at Saqiz, he was sentenced to 30 years for membership of a dissident Kurdish organisation. He also ran an Internet site that covered Kurdish news in Iran.
On 18 January, two students, Rahim Mohammadi and Mohammad Sadeghi as well as another youth of 18 were arrested at Ravansar (Kermanshah Province) and their families and friends have had no news since. No one knows what they are accused of. At Mahabad another Kurdish student, Amir Masbah Ghazi was arrested by the security forces at the end of 2008 and is still imprisoned at the Urmia secret service detention centre. A student at the private university of Mahabad, he is known for his activity as a social and intellectual activist. He is also a member of the Mahabad Literature Association, the activities of which are only concerned with Kurdish culture and literature. Amir Masbah Ghazi had already been arrested and harassed by the Iranian authorities three years ago. Finally, the Third Court of that town's Revolutionary Court sentenced a Hamadan student to 6 months jail. He was accused of having insulted the regime in power and of having founded several illegal associations.
The abuses by the authorities can sometimes cover a whole village. Thus the inhabitants of the Azeri-Kurdish village of Khorkhora, in the Salmas district, have collectively filed a complaint against the Guardians of the Revolution’s Army (Pasdarans) for tortures and acts of violence.
On 17 January, at eight o’clock in the morning, some Pasdaran officers carried out an attack on the home of Sayyid Taher Mohammadi, 38 years of age, and arrested him after severely beating him up. He was taken to an unknown destination and there has been no news of him since. The week before, 6 other residents of that village, aged between 24 and 47 had been arrested in the same way. Still detained by the Pasdaran, they are not allowed any visitors.
According to the inhabitants of Khorkhora, this is not the first time that they have been subjected to attacks b the Pasdarans. In June 2008, the Guardians of the Revolution had carried out an identical raid and arrested the two sons of a municipal councillor. Vali Hamidi reported that he had been beaten and tortured before being able to escape and hide in the village. As a reprisal, the Pasdaran took it out on other households whose members they threatened and beat. Finally they took away Vali Hamdi’s father together with his other son, Amir. Vali Hamdi still lives secretly in the village. Despite the complaint filed by the villages, the authorities have refused to act, denying that the Pasdarans were behind these actions.
Finally the fortnightly Sanandaj paper, Rojhelat, which is published in Kurdish and Persian, had its banning order (passed in November 2008) confirmed on appeal. Directed by Mohammad Ali Tofighi, the paper preached reforming ideas and for a peaceful approach to the country’s Kurdish question. According to its director, “The Iranian officials continue to silence the forces of the press, instead of giving priority to dialogue and negotiation. This political approach cannot lead to anything other than the spread of violence”.
Another Kurdish journalist, Mohammad Sadegh Kabodvand, who is at present serving a 10-year sentence in prison, has been awarded the Hellman/Hammett prize by Human Rights Watch. This prize is intended for writers imprisoned for their opinions, their opposition to established regimes or for expressing themselves on forbidden subjects. A special “emergency” prize is also awarded to authors who have had to flee for their safety and need rapid medical treatment because of the tortures or violence to which they have been subjected while in prison. This is Mohammad Sadegh Kabodvand’s case, as his state of health requires urgent medical treatment as Sarah Leah Wilson (responsible for the Middle East and North Africa Department of HRW) points out: “His experience bears painful witness to the difficult situation that are being faced today by journalists, dissidents or peaceful opponents of all kinds”.
Mr. Kabodvand is an eminent defender of Human Rights in Iran, as well as being a journalist. In 2005, he founded a movement to defend the rights of Kurds in his country, the Human Rights Organisation in Kurdistan (HROK). This group includes 200 local reporters throughout the Kurdistan region that conduct enquiries collecting testimony daily on events that are taking place there. These articles and news were published in the review Payam-e Mardom (The People’s Message — at present banned) of which Mr. Kabodvand was the Director and editor.
Through his journalistic and social activities Mohammad Sadegh Kabodvand hoped to encourage a network that, in civil society, would help Kurdish and activist youth. He is the author of three books: Nimeh-ye Digar (The other half), a treatise on women’s rights; Barzakh-e Democrasy, or The struggle for Democracy; and Jonbesh-e Ejtimaii, the Social Movements.
The Iranian secret services arrested Mr. Kabodvand on 1 July 2007 and searched his house. He was taken to Evin Prison N° 209, controlled by the secret service and intended for political prisoners. Without any charges being officially made against him, this journalist remained six months in solitary confinement. In May 2008 he was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to 10years imprisonment for “intrigues against national security by founding the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan and for propaganda against the regime by spreading information, for opposing Islamic laws, particularly against stonings and public executions and by expressing himself on behalf of political prisoners”. In October 2008, the 54th Chamber of the Teheran Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence.
On 17 December last, according to his lawyers, Mr. Kabodvand suffered a heart attack. He is at present suffering from high blood pressure, kidney infection and prostate problems. However the authorities refuse o let him leave the prison medical centre to be seen by specialists. Human Rights Watch has thus appealed to the Iranian authorities to allow the detainee to undergo suitable medical treatment and to end his solitary confinement.
Several arrests and acts of intimidation against Kurds have taken place in Syria, principally aimed at intellectuals or political activists. Thus on 6 January, Mustafa Juma, President of the Azadi Party, was arrested and tried by the Syrian secret services in Aleppo. According to his party, he was transferred to Damascus, where he is still detained by the Army Intelligence. Mustafa Juma is 62 years of age, born at Koban, and is the father of 12 children. The “Palestine” section of the secret service, which is detaining him, as an especially sinister reputation in Syria, and the conditions of detention and torturing of prisoners there are considered the most severe.
Furthermore, another Kurdish party, Yekiti (Unity) has denounced a number of suspicious “suicides” of young Kurds doing their national Service. Thus, on 10 January last, Berkhwedan Xalid Hemmo, from the town of Koban, died while doing his Army service at Hassake. On 13 January 2009, the family of Mohammad Bakkar Sheikh Daada was informed by the authorities that their son, who was also doing his national Service in the Army, had committed suicide. This is strongly contested by the young man’s relatives, who point out his strong personality and stress that, six months before being called up, he had been arrested for activities on behalf of the Kurdish cause. On 27 December 2008, Ibrahim Rouf’au Charwish, of Afrin, died in Damascus during his national Service. Here too, the family was informed of their son’s “suicide”. On 21 December 2008, Siwar Tammo, from the town of Durbassia, died “in the same circumstances”, in Aleppo. Yekiti states that other cases exist and that young Kurds who are due to do their military services are beginning to worry. Thus the party calls on the country and the European Union and the USA to investigate, as well as NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to continue to defend human right in Syria.
Alongside these “suicides”, real or alleged, arbitrary arrests are continuing. On 18 January, Imran as-Said was once again arrested for his participation in the Movement for a Kurdish Future in Syria, and then released. He had suffered the same misadventure last August and had just been released on 24 December. On 18 January he was sentenced to eighteen months jail for activity in “a secret organisation”. On 3 January, Shado Rachid Ali, born in 1973 at Afrin was arrested by the secret services at Qamishio and has not yet been brought to trial. On 17january Fawaz Kano, born in 1966, who works for an international NGO (FAW) was arrested by the secret police together with Zaki Ismael Khalil, born in 1977, who works in the Hassake hospital laboratory. They were “illegally ” teaching the Kurdish language in Syria In general, Yekiti thinks that Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza will contribute to worsening the persecution of Kurds in Syria. In fact, since 1967, the Arab nationalists — whether of the Baath Party or other movements — have always branded Kurdish activists, (except for the PKK who, for a long time, enjoyed the support of Damascus) in Syria as in Iraq as “allies of Israel” aiming to divide the “Arab nation” on behalf of “Zionists and of the USA”.
On 11 January, the President of the Regional Government of Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, received the Turkish Assistant Foreign Minister, Murat Özcelik. The two men met in Irbil and discussed the presence of PKK forces in the Qandil Mountains. While the Kurdish government remained fairly vague about the tenor of the discussions, Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister finally announced the setting up of a “tripartite” command centre in Irbil, covering the US, Turkish and Iraqi forces. While visiting Ankara, Hoshyar Zebari declared, during a Press Conference with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan, following this meeting: “We have agreed with the Minister (Ali Babacan) to set up a joint command centre at Irbil”. The Iraqi Minister also indicated that the USA would be included in this.
The decision to create this tripartite force is the result of a trilateral commission formed last November in Baghdad, assembling Iraqi, Turkish and American leaders, so as to fight the PKK. Also present at this meeting were two representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government, including the Minister of the Interior, Karim Sindjari. According to the Turks, the centre will open very soon and will provide intelligence on military operations planned by the PKK. Hoshyar Zebari reported “a new climate of cooperation and understanding” between Turkey, Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Ali Babacan, for his part, noted a “very positive change in Irbil’s attitude on the question. The choice of Irbil for this command centre, as well as the journey of Murat Ozcelik to the Kurdish regional capital are signs showing a change in Turkish policy towards Iraqi Kurdistan as well as US insistence on stabilising relations on the Northern borders of Iraq.