The Provincial elections in Iraq last month took place without any surprises since care had been taken to exclude from the start the province that was the main source of Arab-Kurdish conflict, namely Kirkuk. Apart from this, not much change compared with the 2005 Parliamentary elections except that the ending of the boycott by the Sunni Arab parties, which enabled them to regain control of provinces where they are in the majority, like Anbar and Diyala, without, naturally, being able to capture the Shiite areas, because of their smaller numbers. In these last, Nuri al-Maliki created a certain surprise by coming to the fore in the regions where his co-religionists were in the majority. This is why a number of papers have presented the results as a triumph for the Prime Minister throughout Iraq. However, a detailed examination of the results, not province by province (these having been carved up by Saddam Hussein to fragment and hide specific local characteristics) but by ethnic or sectarian areas shows that nothing has really changes in the political or religious choices. The Shiites and Sunni Arabs vote for their own parties and the Kurds and Christians vote, like last time, for a common list, as in Mosul where there is even a slight drop for the Democratic Assyrian Party, that failed to win a single seat.
Maliki’s indisputable (victory even though his was being attacked by the whole Iraqi political caste over his taste for personal power) is perhaps due, as some say, to his control of the State services and whole apparatus of power making it easier for him to campaign. However, his image as “avenger of the Shiites, who had hanged Saddam Hussein”, his reputation for independence of the religious lists and the pro-Iranian militia as well as his stand as “unifier of the Iraqi national State” (especially in opposing the Kurdish government) may also have played in his favour with the Arab nationalists, fiercely opposed to any Kurdish autonomy. His list with about an average of 20% of the votes came first in 10 of the 14 provinces that votes. In fact, the only potentially dissenting provinces in the Arab part of Iraq are the Sunni provinces, which include Sunni Arab areas and some Kurdish districts (Khanaqin, Makhmur) or mixed areas of Kurds, Shabaks, Christians and Yezidis as in Nineveh, Sinjar, and Sheikhan. Neither Kirkuk nor Kurdistan took part in these elections.
Thus in provinces with a Sunni Arab majority, like Nineveh-Mosul and Diyala, just looking at the overall results the Sunni parties won the day, since Saddam Hussein had carved them up so as to scatter the Kurdish and Christian districts among areas that had Arab majorities. However, if one examines the results of Kurdish inhabited districts of Diyala like Khanaqin it is immediately obvious that they voted nearly 97% for the Kurdish Alliance list. In Mosul, the Sunni Arab nationalist parties won all the right bank whereas on the left bank and the North the Christian-Kurdish coalition list remains united, beating certain Assyrian groups that were hostile to the Irbil government.
Elections in Kirkuk are supposed to be organised in the course of 2009, but the way their results will be applied is highly uncertain, since the Arabs and Turcomen are demanding that, even before the vote, the number of seats be divided equally between the three communities — which immediately makes nonsense of any election. The fact that the voting pattern has not changed since 2005 implies that the Kirkuk elections will give the same results as 4 years ago — a victory for the Kurds and each ethnic or religious group standing fast on its initial position.
One possible sign of the beginning of a settlement — the Iraqi government has just announced the holding of a population census of the country as a whole. Since the indispensible prerequisite holding referenda of the Kurdish populated regions regarding their incorporation in the Kurdistan Region is a population census, this first part of the process envisaged by Article 140 of the Constitution will be met. Furthermore, since this census also covers the distribution, by the central government, of the income derived from the country’s natural resources among the provinces in proportion to their population, it cannot be delayed indefinitely, even for Kirkuk.
Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government is also preparing an electoral law for its own elections — form the national Parliament on 19 May and the regional Parliament towards the end of the year. Arrangements for reserving seats for the Christian and Turcoman minorities have been passed and could be increased if the incorporation of the Kurdish populated districts brings about an influx of Christians and Turcomen to the Region. For the moment, however, it has been decided that 10 seats will be reserved for them in the Regional Parliament, subject to increasing them should the Christian and Turcoman population increase. The Turcoman leaders living in the Kurdish Region have declared they are satisfied with 5 seats — even the representatives of the Turcoman Front, although this party is backed by Ankara and virulently opposed to returning Kirkuk to the Kurdish Region. Indeed, this appreciation has not pleased the Kirkuk-based Turcoman Front leaders, who described them as mere “personal points of view”.
Another factor that could change the situation in Kurdistan, traditionally dominated by two major parties: the internal crisis that has hit the PUK following the resignation of 4 members of its Political Committee, who are protesting at the “lack of democracy and transparency” within their party. This internal stir and the consequent replacement of certain PUK members of the government could penalise that party in the coming elections. Moreover Nashirwan Mustafa, a former senior leader of the PUK, who resigned 3 years ago, may present his own list, which would thus be in competition with the PUK. Indeed, it could attract a “protest vote” from among traditionally PUK electors who would not, at this time at least, switch their votes to Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Finally, the Irbil Parliament has provided for an obligatory quota of women members, which would probably be about 30% of the seats reserved for women. At the same time, to show that the 1992-2003 period (which had seen the Region’s de facto autonomy) is now over, the Kurdish Assembly’s official name is no longer the “National Council” but the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament.
As the municipal elections approach it seems as if the only real suspense lies between the AKP and the DTP. The other Turkish parties, like the CHP, seem completely out of the running, faced with the overwhelming superiority of the AKP, firmly enthroned by the 2007 general election. Should the AKP, one again, win more Kurdish votes than the DTP at the coming municipal elections, its position against the nationalist parties will be greatly strengthened. At a time when Ankara is beginning to negotiate with the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, it would greatly help it also to appear as a political force that, for better o worse, enjoys the confidence of the majority of the Kurds of Turkey. Indeed, it would not be a bad for it, faced with the European Union’s criticisms about its failure to advance, thus to appear as the Turkish party best able to settle the Kurdish problem without violence. Its political strategy is thus double: on the one side economic help and distribution of basic foodstuff and necessities like coal. (Indeed, this is nothing new in AKP election campaigns throughout the country, where, like most moderate religious parties, it consolidates it popularity with social work and material aid.) However, the other aspect of its policy is, evidently, the demand by the Kurds for the right to use their language (in private and public, in the media and officially) and to teach it. Here the launching of the TRT6 channel, broadcasting in Kurdish 24 hours a day, without Turkish sub-titles is seen by some as a step forward — and an electoral stunt by the DTP, which instead of claiming this as its own victory, since it is one of its oldest demands, attacked this opening as a superficial and opportunist gesture.
Consequently the DTP has quickly counter-attacked with the idea of embarrassing the government with its own contradictions. Thus it pointed out that posters in Kurdish were systematically forbidden, that DTP mayors had been stripped of their office for having printed some Kurdish phrases and used forbidden Kurdish letters of the alphabet (letters that are used in Kurdish but not in Turkish) and that Kurdish first names are still refused registration for the same reasons.
On 24 February, the leading DTP Member of Parliament spoke in his mother tongue at a meeting of his parliamentary group — for the first time since Leyla Zana took her oath of office in Kurdish in 1991. The public TV channel that broadcasts parliamentary debates then interrupted its programmes. Even though, given the political developments since, this would not have the same legal consequences as for Leyla Zana in 1991, Ahmet Turk succeeded nevertheless in again launching the debate of the status of the Kurdish language in Turkey. Why should not a Kurdish member of parliament have the right to express himself in his mother tongue, for example to remind people that 21 February had been declared by UNESCO as International Mother Tongue Day? Thus a journalist, Ahmet Altan, wrote ironically in the Turkish daily Taraf: “Browsing the Net sites of yesterday’s papers and watching the TV news programmes, I thought something really terrible had happened. Speeches, declarations, censures … What had happened? Ahmet Turk had spoken to his group in the National Assembly in Kurdish. In our country, a reality as obvious as the fact that a Kurd speaks in Kurdish is considered an exceptional event. So listen, I’m going to reveal to you a weighty secret. Kurds speak Kurdish. Turks speak Turkish. The English speak English. The French speak French. And if it still annoys some people I can go on listing still more. Why does it seem so strange to us that a Kurd should speak Kurdish?” In the end other voices pointed out that in his recent speech in Diyarbekir the Turkish Prime Minister had addressed a few words in Kurdish to the crowd.
Ahmet Turk explained his gesture as “an old dream”, that of being able to speak in Kurdish in Parliament, as a souvenir of the time when, jailed in Diyarbekir, he had been unable to exchange a single word with his mother in Kurdish, the only language they had in common but absolutely forbidden in the prison waiting room. Having said this, Ahmet Turk was elected to Parliament in 2007. He has thus waited two years before “fulfilling his dream”, which seems more like a skilful riposte in the election campaign round Kurdish demands, forcing the AKP to either outbid him or act ruthlessly against him, both of which would have drawbacks for it: either it would offend its Turkish electorate or it would accentuate Kurdish distrust of it.
Will, however, this manoeuvre suffice to make up for his party’s relative failure in the parliamentary elections, where the majority of Kurds had, nevertheless, voted AKP? Can the DTP repeat the success of HADEP in 1999, when that party had won all the major Kurdish cities: Diyarbekir, Van, Batman, Hakkari, Siirt, Bingol and Agri? Or will it repeat DEHAP’s poor score in 2004, when its unnatural alliance with the Turkish SHP has caused it to lose Van, Bingol, Agri and Siirt? An opinion poll published in Haber shows that Diyarbekir is likely to re-elect its mayor, Osman Baydemir, but the polls for other Kurdish towns is more uncertain. Hitherto Kurdistan has largely voted for Moslem religious parties (except for Dersim, an Alevi region) — often by way of a protest vote against other Turkish parties, which are closer to the Army and fiercely reject Kurdish rights. The AKP and its policy of easing off had aroused a degree of hope amongst the Kurds in 2002, very tired of the war and wishing to improve their living conditions. However, the clear decline of any concrete initiatives since 2004 (apart from the creation of TRT6) has evidently disappointed its Kurdish electorate, which has not seen any improvement in its standard of living — the only hope of any remedy to unemployment lying, for the moment, in the economic development in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Thus the question remains as to the expectations of the electors. So far in the campaign, the DTP’s position has been rather defensive (criticising those of the governments gestures aimed at taking over its own demands so as to steal its electorate). Its usual stands of a more directly political kind can seem fairly far from the daily lives of its potential electors and of their social and economic problems whereas the AKP, has always appeared as a socially and economically pragmatic party, compared with other Turkish parties.
As for the side effects of TRT6, they appear to be contradictory according to the media (depending on their political tendency): the hope that this will silence the guns according to Sabah, indifference or sceptical disinterest among the Kurds, according to Bianet. This has not prevented AKP from continuing to woo the Kurdish provinces, particularly by playing on Islamic themes. Thus on the occasion of the festival celebrating Mohammad’s birthday (Mawlid) a special programme was broadcast on TRT6 shot in the Diyarbekir Grand Mosque, with prayers, readings from the Quran, and sermons in Kurdish by the Imam, who stressed “unity and brotherhood in Islam”. While the DTP has an image of a rather Left wing party, (and consequently secular if not atheistic) it also organised a Mawlid celebration at Silvan, a town close to Diyarbelir.
At a time when the Parliamentary elections are approaching, the PUK has plunged into a crisis following the resignation of four senior (Said Qadir, Omar Said Ali, Jalal Jawhar and Osman Hajji Mahud) leaders from its Political Committee.
This is not the first major resignation within the party. Three years ago, Nawshirwan Mustafa, at the time considered the Party’s n°2, had resigned all his duties in the party to set up his own press group. He is said to be envisaging standing with his own independent list. On 14 February 2009, Kosrat Rassul, Jalal Talabani’s own assistant general secretary and Vice President of the Kurdistan Region also presented his resignation, but withdraw it when Jalal Talabani offered him better sharing of power with his party.
The other four people resigning have just presented 11 proposals for reforming the PUK, which have been rejected by Barham Salih, another assistant general secretary, according to Faraydun Abdul Qadir a former leader who had resigned in 2005. “The party is going through a deep crisis at several levels. Partial and superficial reforms cannot be any remedy”, declared Jalal Jawhar, who is demanding “radical reforms so that the party can work democratically and transparently” as well as the return of Nawshirwan Mustafa to his former position as assistant general secretary.
Wishing to avoid a crisis that could weaken the PUK at the coming general elections, Jalal Talabani declared that he accepted the demands made by those resigning, in particular “transparency in the PUK’s finances, which will henceforth be under the control of the Political Committee, the replacement of party leaders and representatives in the Regional Government and, finally, that supervision of the party’s intelligence service (hitherto controlled by Jalal Talabani’s men) by one of the two Vice Presidents”. However, these measures, though they had made Kosrat Rassul change his mind, have not convinced the four others, despite Kosrat Rassul’s efforts to get them to go back on their decision. As for Jalal Talabani, taken up by his duties as Iraqi President, he was unable to intervene directly at the height of the crisis as he was away on an official visit to South Korea.
One of the first consequences of this internal crisis has been the resignation of several PUK members of Nechirvan Barzani’s cabinet (i.e. of the Kurdistan Government) and a unification of three ministries not located in Irbil: the Peshmerga’s which goes to Jaffar Mustafa (PUK), that of the Interior, held by a KDP member but with Jalal Sheikh Karim having the post of Assistant Minister, and Sheikh Bayaz (PUK) replaces Sarkis Aghajan at Finance. Omar Fatah, formerly Deputy Prime Minister, is thus replaced by Imad Ahmed, who was previously Minister of Reconstruction. Imad Ahmed is also a member of the PUK Political Committee. The head of the Asayish (the PUK security service), Seifeddin Ali Ahmed, has also been replaced.
However, many of the reformist PUK members consider these replacements quite insufficient to resolve the internal crisis. In the opinion of Abdul Qadir, former PUK senor official: “The replacements have been unable to end the problem of Nawshirwan or persuade the four leaders to go back on their resignation. The replacement (in the Kurdistan Government) of Sarkis Aghajan cannot prevent the most active members of the PUK from resigning in the future. A real change involves going from a terrible situation to a positive one. I expected to see these changes begin with a general reconciliation before these replacements took place”. According to Feridun Abduk Qadi, the multiplication of independent lists, particularly one led by Nawshirwan Mustafa, can only arouse the fear of a series of “lasting tensions” that would compromise the political balance of the whole of the Kurdistan Region. Thus, in the view of Farid Asasard, a leading member of the PUK and head of the Kurdistan Centre for Strategic Studies, this conflict and the weakening of the PUK seriously worries the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), although they are historic rivals, since it could put an end to the present Kurdish coalition that, since the fall of the Saddam regime, has held firm in the face of the other Iraqi parties.
According to Asasard, origin of the crisis lies in the very structure of the PUK: “Originally, this party was not formed as a real party but as a coalition of several parties. In such an organisation, there is no real unity and the members have different ideologies. The PUK was formed in this way and continued as such until 1992, when it was decided that the basis had to change: the PUK thus became a party. The organisation’s three wings also united into a single party but, in doing so, they also inherited problems inherent in parties. These problems are now visible today and the reason they have lasted so long is that the three wings never really fused into the PUK”.
According to Abdul Qadir, the tensions essentially resulted from the way the Political Committee took its decisions and dealt with its members. “All those who resigned held high positions. So they could not complain on that score. However, in all parties there is one very important point, which is that of decision taking. If the decisions taken did not represent the ideas of all the members and if they were imposed on the members, a situation gradually emerged where people felt strangers in their own part. This is due to the party’s procedures and administrative methods”.
As for the re-integration of Nawshirwan Mustafa that the reformers are demanding, this does not seem likely to happen. Originally a leader of Komala, one of the movements that united to form the PUK, Mustafa had decided to dissolve it. However, in so doing, according to Asasard, he made a serious error of political judgement. “In the muddle of the 80s Nawshirwan had ceased to belief in Marxism or any revolutionary ideology. So that dissolving Komala seemed quite natural to him. But he had not thought of the consequences of this — he did not take into account the fact that Komala was his power base in the PUK and that he was thus depriving himself of this base. Now, 17 ears after the dissolution of Komala, he says that this decision was a mistake. I also think that Nawshirwan committed a historic mistake and he’s deprived himself of the source of his influence”.
Faraydun Abdul Qadir, a former leader of Komala, who had also taken part in this decision to dissolve, confirms it was a “political mistake” and blames it for some of the Political Committee’s drift towards authoritarianism, which is criticised by some members. “The PUK had certain aspects that led to a form of decentralisation. So long as Komala still existed, Talabani really was our most worthy brother, the movement’s leader and the PUK’s figurehead — but at the same time Nawshirwan was the Party’s other leader and not just a secondary one. Consequently there was a form of decentralisation in the PUK and authority was not monopolised”.
In a last attempt to ease the crisis, Jalal Talabani is said to have offered 6 parliamentary seats to Nawshirwan Mustafa and his list, hoping thus to forma coalition. However, sources close to the reforming wing of the PUK state that the former Komala leader hoped to remain in opposition and would refuse Jalal Talabani’s offer. As for the four who resigned, Said Qadir, Omar Said Ali, Jalal Tawhar and Osman Hajji Mahud, they have confirmed their resignation and thus denying rumours that they might possibly return to their posts.
Another enquiry has begun in the province of Sirnak into the existence of mass graves, called “ditches of death” containing nearly a hundred civilians said to have been killed by the gendarmerie in the 1990s.
The existence of these mass graves has long been suspected by the Kurds of the region, many of whom have lost relatives and friends whose bodies have never been found. These murders are attributed to the JITEM, a secret (and illegal) gendarmerie unit formed at the end of the 1980s, assigned to the struggle against the PKK and “Kurdish separatism”, whose abuses and the reign of terror they imposed on Kurdistan are public knowledge. The JITEM is accused of numbers of kidnappings and summary executions and of arranging the disappearance of the bodies specifically in acid or by burning or burying them in secret mass graves. Hitherto the Turkish State has denied JITEM’s existence, so the opening of such an enquiry shows the change in Turkish public opinion. JITEM’s crimes have been confirmed by former members of the Turkish Armed Forces arrested during the drag net directed against the Ergenekon network. Amongst these are Abdulkader Aygun, who was a member of JITRM, or Tuncay Guney, a major organiser of Ergenekon.
The Sirnak Bar Association has filed a complaint following statements by Tuncay Guney to the police specifically about dissolving bodies in acid and burning or burying them. Emin Aktar, President of the Diyarbekir Bar Association is also of the opinion that this dark period in Turkish Kurdistan must absolutely be the subject of a serious legal enquiry and that the bodies must be found and examined by experts in forensic medicine and to identify them by means of their ADN. The Silopi Public Prosecutor’s office authorised such an enquiry in January 2009.
In parallel with this, one of the principal survivors of the Susurluk accident (and scandal), the former Police Chief and Minister of the Interior Mehmet Agar, is at last appearing before the court, 13 years after the car accident that highlighted the links between the Turkish Mafia and the special security services at work in Turkish Kurdistan and the extreme Right. Indeed, on 3 November 1996, in Bursa, a car hit a lorry with fatal results. It was carrying Abdullah Catli (an ultra-nationalist activist) and his partner, Huseyin Kocadag, a police chief, Mehmet Agar and Sedat Edip Bucak, both Members of Parliament for the Dogru Yol Partisi, the party of the President of the Republic, Demirel. The first three of these were killed, the others injured.
The scandal was rapidly made public by the Turkish press and public opinion reacted sharply, in particular through organising a daily blackout in all the main cities by switching off all the lights at 9.pm. It was then that people began openly to speak about the “deep State” and Mehmet Agar was obliged to resign from his l post of Minister of the Interior. However, as a Member of Parliament, he enjoyed Parliamentary immunity, which enabled him to avoid facing the courts by getting re-elected for 13 years running. However, the 2007 elections were a disaster for his party (DT, result of a fusion between the DYP and ANAP) which failed to reach the 5% threshold needed to be represented in Parliament.
Mehmet Agar, therefore is appearing before the courts, accused of having covered the activities of the secret (and illegal) special sections of the Turkish police, in particular many assassinations in the Kurdish regions. He is pleading “not guilty” and denies that Sedat Bucak, the other Member of Parliament who survived the accident, or his former associates Korkut Eken or Ibrahim Sahin, (equally compromised by the scandal) were involved in the thousands of murders committed in the South-East. It should be noted that Ibrahim Sahin has just been arrested in the context of the Ergenekon affair and that they are all linked to jITEM and its abuses that terrorised the Kurdish regions in the 1990s.
One of the oldest monasteries in the world still active, the monastery of Mar Gabriel, near Midyat, is threatened with expropriation by the State, together with the villages surrounding it. Founded in 397, Mar Gabriel is the seat of the Orthodox Syriac Bishopric of Tur Abdin and of its present Bishop, Mgr. Timotheos Samuel Aktash. Tur Abdin is one of the most ancient an prestigious sites of Oriental Christianity, being bordered by Diyarbekir to the North, Mardin to the West and spread along the Tigris between Hasankeyf, Nusaybin and Cizre. Because of its position near the Syrian and Iraqi borders, the region has suffered from the clashes between the PKK and the Turkish Army. The population, which included 130,000 Syriacs in the region in 1960, has fallen to about 3,000 today. But now that the war has eased off and that tourists are coming back and Syriacs are even returning to settle again and restore Midyat or Igdil, the monastery is today threatened with being despoiled.
Far from being unoccupied or in ruins, like a number of Christian buildings in Upper Mesopotamia, Mar Gabriel still houses 3 monks, 14 cloistered nuns and 35 students. Indeed, it is one of the cultural and religious centres where they continue to teach the language and history of the Syriacs. The monastery is also annually visited by thousands of tourists and pilgrims.
Since August 2008, three headmen of neighbouring Moslem villages, members of government militia, have accused the monastery of “proselytism”, using the excuse of the presence of 35 young students, although these are all of Syriac origin. The court dismissed their plea but the village chiefs have renewed their attacks, claiming the monastery’s land. The grounds given are pretty spicy considering the antiquity of Mar Gabriel. The plaintiffs claim that before the Christian buildings were built, there was a mosque on the site. It must be remembered that the church was founded there in 397, that the oldest convent buildings were built between 40 and 401 and that this is attested by all the historical chronicles, including official documents of the Ottoman Empire. Its legal status as a foundation is, in fact, recognised by the Turkish Republic’s Official Journal (24.01.2003). However, a wall that encloses this land and the monastery, built in the 1990s as a protection from the fighting between the PKK and the army, is claimed by the “village guardians” to be the foundations of a mosque.
These same villages had, moreover, seized land belonging to Yezidis. In an open letter to the Turkish government, a Swedish Member of Parliament, Yilmaz Kerimo, himself of Syriac origin, has openly pin-pointed the instigator of these persecutions: the father of a local AKP Member of Parliament, who is also a commander of the “village guardian” militia. Because the Turkish State is not innocent in this case — jointly with the claims of the local village mayors of anti-Moslem activity and land stealing, the officials of the land registry attempted, in 2008, to redraw the boundaries of State property by decreeing that the land round Mar Gabriel was really a “state forest”.
“There is a constant campaign to break the back of the Syriac people and close the monastery”, said Daniel Gabriel, Director of the Swedish-based Universal Syriac Alliance (Human Rights section), pointing out that if the Turkish Government really wanted to protect the Syriac community, it would put an end to all these pettifogging legal procedures. According to David Gelen, the Mar Gabriel religious community, the Bishop, monks and nuns are being exposed to a campaign of intimidation and direct threats by the villagers — to such an extent that they do not dare go to the court themselves to defend themselves nor to defend themselves in any other way. Nor do they feel sure of any legitimate protection from the local authorities: “In Turkey, religious freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution. However, those who are not recognised as minorities do not exist in practical terms. The Syriacs, unlike the Greeks and Armenians, are not recognised as a religious minority, although they have been living here for millennia. The aim of all these threats is and legal proceedings is to oppress this minority and expel it from Turkey as a foreign body”.
On 11 February the European Union has to tackle Turkey on the issue of human rights and religious freedom for non-Moslems in Turkey. “We hope that our rights will be recognised”, said David Gelen, “but we are convinced that, as far as the Turkish State is concerned, the time has come to recognise, accept and protect the country’s cultural multiplicity instead of fighting it. Turkey must decide whether it wants to preserve a 1,600-year-old culture or annihilate the last vestiges of a non-Moslem tradition. What is at stake is the multicultural nature that always characterised this country under the Ottoman Empire”.
Like the Kurds, the Syriac Christians of Upper Mesopotamia have been scattered and divided between four states: Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. The Treaty of Lausanne should have protected them but the different clauses regarding the protection of religious minorities were never observed in their case. Like the Kurds, they are, nevertheless, strongly united by their language and a common history and culture. As against the Kurds, they are also united by a single religion, even if their churches are extremely fragmented. However, again unlike the Kurds, they do not really have a continuously populated territory and this dispersion has not been helped by the genocide. Thus they have to depend on the good will of States to protect them from local greed.
“As history teaches us, religion has always had a dominant role in civilisation”, observes Yashar Ravi, president of the Syriac orthodox community of Antioch. “We are, undoubtedly, a very religious people and we are proud that we speak the same language as Jesus — this language that used to be, in terms of its dissemination, the English of the Middle East”. Indeed, appearing in the 12th Century B.C. Aramaic gradually spread with time as the lingua franca, the language of culture, of religion, of diplomacy and Under the Persians the official imperial language of the Persian dynasties. Only Greek equalled it in prestige and widespread use in Eastern antiquity.
The court hearing took place at Midyat on Wednesday 11 February, opposing Turkey against the monks, since the plaintiff, in the civil court, is the State Exchequer and in the criminal court the Turkish Minister of the Interior. Turkey’s complaint repeats the tale of the monastery being built on the site of an old mosque as well as that of a “forest” surrounding the buildings — a forest that consists of just a few bushes. At the opening of the hearing, there were several representatives of Human Rights NGOs, of Christian Solidarity International (CSI) and several journalists who were publicly threatened by a police officer and an interpreter: “If you do not leave the court immediately things will finish badly for those Christians you’re so concerned with!”. The courtroom was deliberately chosen, according to observers, because of its small size so as to prevent observers to staying there. The Foreign delegations having been forcibly expelled, only the representatives of the Finnish, Dutch and Swedish Embassies to Ankara were allowed to remain as well as the representative of the Norwegian Lutheran Church.
To counter the allegations of an earlier mosque on the site, the defence presented documents proving that the monastery had been there since later stages of antiquity. Proof of the property rights to the land round the monastery were confirmed and even extended under the Ottoman Empire. The documents were handed to the judge and sent to the Ministry of Agriculture. Then it was the turn of the Midyat Finance Administration to claim that a “State Forest” was being illegally occupied by Mar Gabriel. According to Turkish law, all woodland must remain public property of the State Exchequer. However, it is easy to see, on site, that there is no forest there, just arid and rocky areas with a few bushes. Despite this, the court demanded that a survey be carried out by a botanist at the monastery’s expense, to prove that there was no forest there.
In the same building, on the same floor, another trial began on the same day — this time a criminal not civil case. The prosecution accuses the Monastery’s administrator, Kyriakos Ergun of “insidious activities” — namely of having built a wall round the convent buildings to protect it from attacks by the PKK and the “village guardians”. He was given a postponement till 6 March to prove that he had not had any “of Tur Abdin.mful intentions” in building this low wall.
Since the 1960 Army coup d’état, nearly 50 Christians, including mayor, priests, teachers as well as simple peasants, have been murdered in the Tur Abdin area without any of the murderers being brought to trial.
In addition to that of the Assyrian and Chaldean media, a campaign to save the monastery has been launched by several Kurdish and Turkish media, including the daily Evrensel, which published a series of articles, in November 2008, to make public opinion aware of the plight of the Syriacs of Tur Abdin. A petition, in English and Turkish has also been launched against this despoiling. The petition makes the connection between the programmed disappearance of the town of Hasankeyf and the attacks on the monastery, seeing there the same determination to eradicate the cultural and historic wealth of Upper Mesopotamia.
During a press conference, Burak Ozigergin, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Minister, had rejected the idea of an amnesty for the Kurdish PKK fighters without, however, excluding the possibility that an initiative of this kind might one day be proposed in exchange for a total cease fire.
“We are evaluating what sort of measures could be taken in conjunction with all the institutions concerned” he declared evasively in reply to the journalists who were questioning him specifically on the question of an amnesty. “We are also evaluating these measures with our partners in the context of a three-party or two-party machinery or else with the European Union” By three-party or two-party machinery is understood the joint efforts being made by the USA, Iraq and even the Kurdistan Regional Government to get the PKK to bring its fighters down from the mountains, particularly those in Iraqi Kurdistan. Hitherto no military operation has succeeded, despite information provided by the US on PKK movements. A centre for tripartite forces has been set up in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, thus regrouping US, Turkish and Iraqi representatives, who have the task of eradicating the Qandil Mountain bases. Representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government are also included in this, and many international experts believe that the Iraqi Kurds, and especially the Massud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, will undoubtedly serve as intermediaries in any possible negotiations between the PKK and representatives of the three states. One conceivable solution is that the PKK once and for all lays down its arms in exchange of an amnesty. According to the daily paper Taraf, even the Turkish Army, which for a long time has formally opposed any solution to the conflict other than a military one, would no longer object. The same paper says that some secret services reported having recorded “progress”, on 20 January last, in discussions between the PKK and the KDP, particularly regarding this amnesty. Moreover the Irbil government is envisaging holding a great international conference of “representatives of all the Kurds in the world” to find a solution to the problem of the PKK and get it to lay down its arm.
Speaking about the tripartite force that has recently taken up quarters in Irbil, Burak Ozugergin pointed out that “several arrangements” had been made between Turkey, the USA, the Iraqi Government and Kurdish Region, regarding the course of operations. He did not, however, give any details or dates for the operations envisaged. But he did talk of monthly meetings with, on the Turkish side, members of the General Staff and military attachés as well as civilian members of the Turkish embassy in Baghdad. As for the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan, he presides at quarterly discussions in the context of this tripartite mechanism.
Taraf also quotes a report published b a Kurdish magazine published in Suleimaniah, Livin, describing with great precision the Turkish military presence in the Kurdish Region. It gives the figure of 3,235 men, settled in 13 military bases in the Kurdish Region. According to Livin, the largest of these bases, in terms of manpower, is at Qanimasi, in Dohuk province, 8 Km from the Turkish border. However, the one with the greatest capacity for logistics and intelligence is at Bamarne, also in Dohuk province, but 40 Km from the Turkish border. The report details the number strength as follows: 2564 soldiers, 91 officers, 240 “special operations” personnel, and 340 gendarmes, while 20 secret service agents are said to be settled in Batuffa, commanded by a colonel.
As for the military equipment, it includes 58 tanks, 27 armoured a=cars, 31 long range canons, 26 mine layers, 17 rocket launchers, 13 machine guns two pairs of night-vision binoculars, two tripod stands for binoculars, 10 snipers rifles, one Atar bomb, four satellite telephones, two sets of Racal radios, two winches and two silencers.
The three Provinces of the Kurdistan Region and Kirkuk did not vote in this election.
Principal parties or lists:
Kurdistan Alliance: The coalition of Kurdish parties.
Dawa — State of Law: Al Maliki’s list.
Fadhila or Islamic virtue party: A Shiite party allied to the Sadrists.
Nineveh Fraternity: A Kurdo-Christian coalition.
Al-Hadhaba - National List: Sunni Arab nationalists.
Iraqi national List: A secular Sunni-Shiite alliance.
Free Independence Movement list: Moqtada Al-Sadr’s Party.
Al-Mehrab or Martyrs’ List: Shiite party founded by Ayatollah Al-Hakim.
Movement of national reform: former Shiite Prime Minister Jafaari’s party
Rally for the Iraqi project: A Sunnite Arab party.
Sahwa – Coalition for Iraqi awakening : Sunni Arab Tribal militia.
Tawafuq - Iraqi Concord front: the principal Sunni Arab party.
Governorate d'Al-Anbar (province with a Sunni Arab majority):
Governorate of Basra (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate of Babil (mixed Shiite-Sunni Arab province)
Governorate of la Diyala: (a province with a Sunni Arab majority, but includes Khanaqin and Makhmur, Kurdish districts added to it by Saddam and among those claimed by the KRG)
Governorate of Dhi Qar: (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate of Karbala (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate al-Qadisiyyah : (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate of Maysan : (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate of Muthanna : (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate of Najaf : (province with a Shiite majority)
Governorate of Nineveh : (province with a Sunni Arab majority but a substantial Kurdish, Shabak, Yezidi and Christian population since Saddam added their districts to Southern Mosul).
Governorate of Salah ad-Din : (a province with a Sunni Arab majority)
Governorate of Wassit : (province with a Shiite majority)