On 25 July next, about 2 and a half million electors of the Kurdistan Region, will go to the polls both to re-elect their Parliament and to elect a President. In the case of the Parliament, there are 24 political parties (including 5 coalition lists) and independent public figures standing for the 111 seats (11 of which are reserved for the many ethnic and religious minorities), making a total of 507 candidates.
The principal list is the Kurdistani List, representing the alliance between the two major Kurdish parties, Massud Barzani’s KDP and Jalal Talabani’s PUK. These two big and historic parties, who were rivals for a long time, were reconciled in 2003 and formed a block both in Baghdad and inside the Region, against parties that, hitherto, have not carried much weight, like the religious parties or those of the far Left. This year they have to face a third and more serious competitor, Mustafa Nawshirwan’s “Goran” List or “Change”. This advocates the reform of the institutions and political system, whereas the Kurdistani list is essentially playing on the preservation of past gains, political caution in the face of future challenges and the historic experience of its leaders. Nevertheless, there is, in fact, little difference between the policies of the KDP-PUK list and that of “Goran”. It should be noted that Nawshirwan is not standing for the Presidency and that the Change concerns, essentially, the internal policy of Kurdistan, particularly that of the PUK. It is aimed at an electorate made up of former PUK electors as well as at young Kurdish citizens who want to end the grip of the veterans of Kurdish politics on the country’s affairs.
The Service and Reform list is a rather ill-assorted coalition of 4 political parties, two of them Islamic (the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, close to the Moslem Brotherhood, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group, formerly linked to the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group but become more temperate as regards terrorism, though still suspected of close links with Iran) and two secular Left wing parties, the Kurdistan Social-Democratic Party, formerly linked to the Kurdistani List and the Party of the Future, which is the result of a split in the Workers Party (close to the PUK). Their slogans are directed against corruption and in favour of a greater participation of women in the Region’s public life.
The Kurdistan Conservative Party’s list is led by Zais Surchi. It is, in fact, a group of tribal leaders led by the Surchi tribe, which considers it has a “blood debt” with Massud Barzani’s KDP Peshmergas, going back to the civil war in 1996. Long supported by the PUK, they are now on their own. The Surchi tribe is spread of a wide are between Irbil, Duhok and Mosul.
The Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, founded in 1979 by Sheikh Uthman Abdel-Aziz, assembles some Sunni mullahs. It is strongly rooted in Halabja and the surrounding areas, and made their stronghold there into a little Islamistan until it was cleaned up by the PUK in 2003.
The Social Justice and Freedom List is an alliance of 5 Left wing parties: the Communist Party of Kurdistan, the Labour Party, the Kurdistan Independent Labour Party, the Kurdistan Pro-Democratic Party and the Kurdistan People’s Democratic Party. Their main demands are equal rights between men and women, a solution to the housing problem, giving a priority to the agricultural sector and secularism.
The Independent Youth List is led by Hiwa Abdul-Karim, a 30-year-old journalist. It assembles some lawyers, university lecturers and journalists. It demands a greater participation of the youth in the country’s affairs.
The Kurdistan Reform Movement is led by Abdul-Musawwar Barzani. He wants a struggle against corruption and centres his campaign on greater respect for Human Rights.
The Progress list is led by Halo Ibrahim Ahmed, Jalal Talabani’s brother-in-law, who s also candidate for the Presidency. He promises to improve the Kurds’ living standards and demands that candidates, if elected, should keep their promises within 6 months or resign. Halo Ibrahim Ahmed was also formerly a member of the PUK, but resigned to form his own party. He has mainly lived in Sweden and Great Britain.
The National Democratic Party of Kurdistan, founded in 1995, campaigns for a “Great Kurdistan” and brings together Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian and Turkish Kurds. At first it was close to the PKK but has distanced itself since to move closer to the KDP. Its discourse is still very hostile to Turkey.
The Kurdistan Manual and Clerical Workers Party has existed for the last 14 years. It is a leftwing party, and its campaign stresses justice and rights for all.
The List for a Radiant Future for Kurdistan is led by Dr. Muhammad Saleh Hama Faraj, who lived in Great Britain from 1980 to 2008. He calls for a new Constitution to be written.
The Kurdish Parliament has 5 seats reserved for Turcomen. There are 4 Turcoman lists in competition. The Turcomen of Irbil list is led by Mahmud Chalabi, a former member of the Turcoman Front who broke away. This list calls for the inclusion of Kirkuk in the Region and is against any Turkish interference in Kurdistan affairs.
The Turcoman Reform List is led by Abdul Qadir Zangana, who wants to strengthen the role of the Turcomen in the Region’s political life. He is close to the Turcoman Front in Kirkuk and thus opposed to the inclusion of Kirkuk in the Kurdistan Region.
The Turcoman Democratic Movement was founded in 2004 and is led by Karkhi Alti Barmak, with some former members of the Turcoman Front, the pro-Turkish party in Kirkuk. Having opted for an alliance with the Kurds, they now wish for Kirkuk to be included in the Region and are opposed to Turkey.
The Independent Turcoman list is led by Lanhan Shakir Aziz. In his opinion the Turcomen are the majority of the Kirkuk population, which should thus be declared and independent region.
There are also 5 seats reserved for Christians and 4 Christian lists are competing for them. He Chaldean List is an alliance between the Chaldean Union Party and the Chaldean National Council. They were allied to the KDP-PUK list in 2005.
The Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Autonomy List is an alliance between the Assyrian-Chaldean Branch of the Iraqi Communist Party and the Assyrian Patriotic Party (whose General Secretary is the Region’s Minister of Tourism). It calls for autonomy for the Christian districts of Nineveh-Mosul, within the Kurdistan Region.
The Al Rafidian List is that of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, led by Yussadam Kanna, the only Christian Member of the Iraqi Parliament, who has gone through a number of fairly changeable alliances and is challenged by some in his own party. Formerly supported by the Region, he seems to have moved closer to the Arab nationalists last year. He rejects the idea of an autonomous Christian region attached to Kurdistan for Nineveh-Mosul. In this campaign he stresses strengthening the employment of Christians in the Kurdish Region’s security forces.
The National Council of Chaldeans, Syriacs and Assyrians is led by Sarkis Aghajan Mamendo, former Finance and Economics Minister of the KRG, and a pillar of the Region’s “Christian policy”. His movement is often regarded as the Christian branch of the KDP. Sarkis Aghajan was very close to the Barzanis. He wants Christian autonomy in Nineveh-Mosul within the Kurdistan Region.
One seat is reserved for the Armenians, who are some 200 families in Zakho. There are 3 Armenian candidates standing: Aram Shahin Dawood Bakoyan, Eshkhan Malkon Sargisyan and Aertex Morses Sargisyan.
Al Ammal, the list presented by the PKK branch in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PÇDK, was banned from taking part in the elections by the Baghdad judicial authorities, as was announced by the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission.
Unlike the previous elections, in which the extensive boycott by the pro-reform electorate had enabled the victory of the conservative candidate, Ahmedinjad, these elections were closely followed in Iran. Observers present noted a very broad participation on12 June, the polling day.
Of the list of candidates approved by the Council of Guardians of the Revolution and the Supreme Guide, only the outgoing President, Ahmedinjad and Hussein Mussavi had any hope of being elected. The latter was considered the outstanding favourite.
However, some days before the vote, Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist in exile, recalled, in an article published in the paper Asharq Alawsat, that Musavi’s victory was far from sure. Indeed, he recalled power, in the country, was really held by Khomenei, the Supreme Guide. Since Ahmeninjad was supported by the Guide during his campaign, voting against him was equivalent to voting against the Guide — which the powers that be in Iran could not tolerate.
This analysis was confirmed by Yves Bonnet, former Director of the DST (the French equivalent of MI5, i.e. the Internal Security Intelligence Service), the author of a book on Iran, in an interview he gave to the newspaper France Soir: “In Iran’s politico-administrative organisation, elections do not have the same role as in the West. The only real election is that of the Supreme Guide, whose role is fundamental and who accumulates the totality of fall the power in the State: from the executive level to the constitutional, legislative, judicial and religious. The absolutism is thus total, and the theocracy absolute, to such an extent as to relegate France’s pre-Revolutionary Old Regime to the level of particularly liberal regimes. … Whatever is done in Iran can only be done with the Guide’s backing. The system is very clear — one person governs everything”.
According to Yves Bonnet, the list of candidates approved shows that Ayatollah Khamenei did everything to favour Ahmedinjad’s re-election by deciding in detail the far from record of the majority of the candidates (with the exception of the cleric Mehdi Karubi): “Ahmedinjad, nicknamed “the man of a thousand coups de grace” since he finished off those sentenced to death in Evin prison; Mohsen Rezai, former head of the Pasdaran (somewhat the equivalent of Hitler’s Waffen SS) who was Rafsanjani’s security advisor and the object of an international arrest warrant; and finally Hussein Musavi, formerly Khomeini’s Prime Minister, the man who oversaw the massacres of August 1988, when 30,000 people were killed. In fact, the Supreme Guide did everything to favour Ahmedinjad’s election”.
In fact, the day after the poll the outgoing President was declared the winner with 64% of the vote. These results were then immediately exposed by the other candidates, led by Hussein Musavi and Mehdi Karubi, while the streets of Iran exploded with spontaneous demonstrations. Very rapidly the accusations of fraud multiplied while the heads of foreign states remained, in the main, relatively cautious in their comments.
Rapidly, the demonstrations of protest came up against the violent reaction of the police and the Bassaji militia. Figures secretly given by members of the Ministry of the Interior staff were taken up by several sources of information such as Farda Radio, Voice of America, Zaman Radio: Musavi is said to have been in the lead with 19 million votes, Mehdi Karubi was second with 13.3 million and Ahmedinjad was only third with 5.7 million. Rezai won 3.5 million.
The extent of the protests in the majority of large towns throughout Iran seems to confirm these figures, which does not necessarily mean unconditional support for Musavi (who is a man of the regime and whose appeals not to demonstrate were often booed by the students) but rather a rejection of the system and especially of Ahmadinjad’s presidency. Moreover, Hussein Musavi carried out a skilful campaign, getting round the censorship and the obstacles created by the police as was pointed out by one of the innumerable anonymous bloggers that expressed themselves about the events in Teheran. Indeed, these comments, made either via Internet or Twitter, were by people who had themselves taken parting the events, unlike the foreign journalists who were either confined or expelled:
Many people know nothing about the candidates, all they know about Karubi and Musavi is that Karubi is a mullah and that Musavi wears a suit (and therefore is considered more modern). Musavi had much more money than Karubi, and was very clever in his campaign. Taking the colour green as his symbol was a stroke of genius. Thus made his campaign both more expensive and easier. Once, in a meeting with Karubi, we were chanting slogans in Vali Asr Square, when supporters of Ahmedinjad attacked us. They cut the electric cables to prevent Karubi from speaking. But Musavi’s supporters only had to wear something green — this colour became the colour of “No to Ahmedinjad”.
Thus two members of the Iranian National Football team wore green armbands before a match that was taking place in South Korea and being broadcast on television. The have been banned from playing for life but the impact of such a “revolution”, made thanks to video pictures broadcast throughout the world by You Tube, Daily Motion and Facebook, struck public opinion by the special character of this dissidence through pictures and short messages (a phenomenon already used in Burma and Tibet) that the state censors was incapable of completely blocking. The death of a young girl in Teheran, seen “live” on television, hit in the heart by a bullet fired by a Bassaji militiaman also provided this movement with a icon, so that the blood-drenched face of Neda Salehi Agha Soltan rapidly round the world, while wakes with lighted candles were organised in Iran as well as abroad.
Although the extent of the movement may have surprised the regime, some analysts also see there an opportunity for the Guardians of the Revolution to purge their ranks by arresting and intimidating the “reforming” mullahs close to Musavi and Karubi. Thus in the opinion of Aaron Rhodes, spokesman of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: “the Iranian secret services and security forces are making use of the public demonstrations to conduct what appears to be a major purge of individuals in favour of reforms whose lived may be threatened in detention”. Aaron Rhodes particularly cites the case of 'Saeed Hajarian, former adviser to Mohammad Khatami, who had supported Hussein Musavi’s candidacy. Physically weakened by an attempted assassination from which he had suffered 9 years earlier, Hajarian needs constant medical treatment. Thus his recent arrest puts his life in danger. There is also the suspicious death in a “car accident” of Mohammad Asgari, responsible for security of communications at the Ministry of the Interior. Asgari was suspected of possessing and spreading the proof of the electoral fraud and the results that showed that Musavi was the winner.
For the tome being, Ayatollah Khamenei does not seem prepared to give and inch and continues to refer to Ahmedinjad as the “elected President”, despite the pure sham of the vote counting in certain areas, which resulted in the re-election of the outgoing president. Khamenei has categorically rejected the demands by Musavi and Karubi for the poll to be invalidated.
Iran’s Kurdish provinces also followed close behind the agitation that began in Teheran, even though demonstrating in a moderate sized town is much more dangerous that in Teheran. As from 16 June, Student sit-ins began at Hamadan’s Abu Sinna University, despite attacks by the police and the arrest of 17 students. In Kermanshah, the population parades in the streets shouting slogans hostile to the regime. Here too, the police, uniformed and plain clothes, charged the demonstration, injuring a number of them and making arrests.
On 23 June and the Kurdish town of Saqiz was almost completely paralysed by a general strike, with 80% of the shops lowering their shutters in the main avenues. In the course of the day the smaller shops gradually closed throughout the town. On the same day in Marivan, the bazaar was also closed and as a sign of a strike in spite of the intensive patrols of the police and plain clothes the men who'll prevented any gatherings. In Sanandaj, Guardians of the Revolution were watching the town and had installed cameras filming the principal crossroads and squares 24 hours a day. However, 3000 people rallied the next day in this same town to organise a wake in memory of Neda Selahi Agha Soltan, with candles and photographs of the victim. The commemoration was interrupted by an assault by the police, who dispersed the demonstrators with teargas.
In Kermanshah, a curfew was installed as from 24 June. Any assembly of more than three people was forbidden after four o'clock in the afternoon. An army regiment, usually posted on the Borders, was sent there as reinforcement. This did not prevent other demonstrations taking place in particular the funeral of a young Kurdish student Kianoosh Assa, who died under torture in detention. Some 6000 people followed the funeral procession and clashed with the police. This was not the first Kurdish victim. On the 18th of June, the body of Farzad Jashni, 17 years of age, originally from the province of Ilam, was secretly buried in the town of Abdanan, whereas he had been killed in Teheran by the regime's militia. The police obliged the young man's family to keep silent about his death and to carry out a virtually secret funeral.
On 24 June, the Kurdish Parliament voted on and passed by 96 out of 111 (97 present) the new Constitution of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Seven members of Parliament refused to take part in the vote, not for any reasons connected with the text itself but arguing that it was illegal since the Parliament's legitimacy had expired on 4 June, Indeed, it re-election had initially been planned for May but were postponed until 25 July because of technical and budgetary problems which were connected with Iraq and its High Electoral Commission. The seven protesting members of Parliament are standing on lists that are in competition with the list that represents the present majority in parliament. This includes that of Nawshirwan Mustafa, and they would have preferred to vote as members of the newly elected members of the parliament on their own list.
However the principal effect and of passing this constitution is to claim Kirkuk and the other Kurdish districts mentioned in the Iraqi Constitution (article 140) in the definition of the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan: “Iraqi Kurdistan is a geographical and historic entity, which includes the provinces of the Dohuk, Suleimaniah, Irbil and Kirkuk, as well as 11 other places located in districts with majorities in the provinces of Nineveh-Mosul, and Diyala (including Khanaqin)”. Regarding its inhabitants, “Kurdistan is composed of Kurds, Turcomen, Arabs, Syriacs, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians and other citizens living in this region”. On the subject of religion, the text “Recognizes and respects the Islamic identity of the majority of the people of Kurdistan" and of all of the “Religious rights of Christians and Yezidis". Like the Iraqi Constitution the Kurdish Constitution recognizes Islam as the principal source of legislation (article 6) which is a step back from the desire of the Kurds to impose secularism as the law for the Iraqi Constitution in 2004, while declaring, as in the Iraqi Constitution, that no law contrary to democracy and human rights may be voted, which is one way of blocking the Charia, in its more conservative provisions.
The Kurdish and Arabic languages are the official languages of the Region, whereas Turcoman and Syriac are official languages in those areas where they are spoken by the majority of the inhabitants.
The political system of the Kurdistan Region is Parliamentary Republican and Democratic, in accordance with article 1 of the Constitution (which has 122 in all). The former quote “Chief" of the Kurdistan Region in 1992 is today the President, elected by direct suffrage and still in direct commander of the Peshmergas (articles 60to 65). His term of office is for yours and he can be re-elected once. He has the power to propose laws and amendments to Parliament, to issue Presidential decrees and to dissolve Parliament in cases defined by the Constitution to declare a State of Emergency, after consultation with the Speaker of Parliament and the Prime Minister, in case of war, of invasion, natural disasters and epidemics.
Article 8 reminds of its limitations as a central government: no international agreement passed by Iraq concerning the Kurdistan region can be valid unless it is first approved by a majority of the Kurdish numbers of Parliament. This could cover the area of hydrocarbons and their exploitation, a subjet of dispute between the Kurds and the Central Government, but also a range of military agreements passed between Iraq and foreign troops without the agreement of the Region.
On the other hand, the Constitution allows the Kurdish Region to sign agreements with other countries or regions, which would then have to be subsequently approved by the Federal government. If this does not happen the agreements will not be applied. However the article specifies that the agreements should only be refused by Baghdad “for legal and constitutional reasons”. Since the Iraqi Constitution is fairly wide and vague on many questions, particularly as far as federal powers are concerned, this leaves the Region a large margin of manoeuvre for avoiding being vetoed.
The Constitution recognizes and guarantees the rights of all citizens. Confessions extorted by torture or threats cannot be taken into account. Civilians cannot be brought before a military court and arbitrary detention is illegal. Emergency Courts are forbidden by article 84. Judges and Public Prosecutors cannot be members of political parties.
In a press conference, the Speaker of the Kurdish Parliament, Adnan Mufti, describes the day as “historic for the people of Kurdistan, who now possess their own Constitution and will therefore be able to exercise their rights”.
The constitution will be submitted to a referendum in the Kurdistan region. The date of 25 July was first put forward (at the same time as a Presidential and legislative elections) but the Heigh Electoral Commission judged that this was not technically feasible and the date of the referendum has been postponed to an unknown date.
The unequivocal definition of Iraqi Kurdistan’s borders immediately aroused hostility from the Arab nationalist parties in Iraq as well as embarrassing the American administration. On 30 June, 50 Iraqi members of Parliament led by the nationalist Ossama al-Nudiafa, who has just won the provincial elections in Mosul, signed a petition condemning the Kurdish Constitution. "Not only is it incompatible with the Federal Constitution but it violates it, giving the Region more powers than Baghdad … This Constitution stirs up hatred between different components of Iraq and constitutes a provocation with regard to Iraq’s neighbours by trying to build a Great Kurdistan".
Among the MPs who signed the petition are other Sunni Arabs, such as Omar al-Juburi of the Concorde Front, the principal Sunni Arab block, as well as members of the Sadrist Shi'ite group such as Fawzi Akram who considers that "this constitution will lead to a crisis in relations between the different components of the country".
The approaching withdrawal of American troops increases the tensions and the fears of the different communities in Iraq. "The Arabs in Kirkuk fear that the (Kurdish) security in the province, who work for the political parties there, would will “take control of the city after with the withdrawal of the American forces", declared Mohammed al-Juburi, head of the Arab Bloc in that city. "Though the situation is stable today from the security point view, there is not an equitable sharing of power between the different communities is in this sector and this worries us".
This “equitable power-sharing”, which is the principle of demand of the Arabs in Kirkuk means, in fact, the distribution of seats on the council equally between the three main communities of Kurds and Arabs and Turcomen, without any consideration of the real ethnic composition of the population or the fact that the great majority is Kurdish This is why elections to the council have, for the moment, been postponed, the Arabs and Turcomen refusing a proportional sharing of the seats.
Although the Iraqi Army is trying, by sending in more troops, to take control of the disputed regions, such as Kirkuk and Khanaqin, for the moment made secure by the Peshmergas, the weakness and insufficiency of the Iraqi public authorities in the areas of security and infrastructures is not a factor that would reassure the population after the departure of American troops. As Turkan Shaker Ayub, a Turcoman member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, explains: “The Government must reinforce the Army in Kirkuk after the departure of the US forces, because the police is weak and lacking in equipment. We hopethey will listen to us and send in additional troops”.
This is not the Ahmad al-Askari, a Kurd who is also a member of the Council, who says he is confident of the manner the police in Kirkuk would ensure security. Anther Kurdish councillor, Azad Jibari, stresses that the Assayish (Kurdish security services) should be more involved in the protection of the city because of their proven competence in the struggle against terrorism.
According to the figures given by the security forces, there are, at the moment, 11,500 police in Kirkuk, of whom 35% are Arabs, 35% Kurds and 28% Turcoman with a few Christians.
In November 2004, the murder by some Turkish policeman of Ahmet Kayaz, aged 31, and his son, Ugur, aged 12 years, had caused an uproar. The father and son were killed in their village of Qoser (Mardin region), virtually on the doorstep of their house. The evokes a security operation and limits itself to declaring that some “terrorists” were killed in the course of this military operation.
Very soon, however, the age of the child and the evidence of the family and local villagers contradicted these allegations. Ahmet Kayaz’s brother, Reshat Kayaz, had declared, when describing the events to the press: “My brother was a lorry driver. This was how he so earned enough to keep his children. This is what happened. One night my brother and his son went out of the house because they wanted to drive the lorry. Suddenly they were target heavy gun-fire from the police and the army. My nephew received 13 bullets and my brother seven. They are martyrs — the whole world can see how a father and his son were riddled with bullets. It is a crime and i call on the whole world not to remain silent but to put an end to the savagery of the army and the Turkish police”.
Ahmet Kaymaz was known to be a member of the People's Democratic Party (HADEP) and members of his family had been called upon to join the “village guardians” which they had refused to do. According to be the forensic medical report which have been published there were indeed 13 bullets extracted Ugur’s corpse, nine of which had been fired into his back at virtually point-blank range. The child’s mother, who had seen the shooting from the house, stated that she saw an officer of the Security police with his foot on her son’s neck. The village schoolmaster, who very rapidly ran to the scene of the gunfire, corroborated what the family said, as well as denying the possibility that a weapon, found near his body, could possibly have been used by the child. According to him, this weapon, which had weighed nearly 3 kg, much too heavy for the size of the young boy. Another troubling fact, which does not match the normal gear of an “armed terrorist”, is that the child was only wearing indoor slippers.
The case had made her a lot of noise in her and stirred up Turkish opinion and the Turkish editorial writer Mehmet Ali Birand called for a serious enquiry: "Now it is time to listen to your consciences. It is time to go through these reports through a fine comb to discover the truth and to prove that this was not an assassination. We are talking about a child of 12 years of age, killed right in front of his house when he went out to say goodbye to his father, who was going off on another lorry journey. We’re talking about a father who had to remain away from home for months on end to earn enough make ends meet.
The truth must be make known. No one must be spared or protected from justice. The collection of laws that we call the Copenhagen criteria is a choice of life. In brief, this calls for democracy, and democracy is a regime that must be applied to everyone in this country. The government is confronted with a test of its sincerity. The way to prove that democracy really has r been established in Turkey, resides in the effort necessary to conduct an enquiry into the murder of Kaymaz. The road towards the European Union does not only pass through Brussels but through Kiziltepe and Mardin”.
In April 2007, however, the four policemen responsible for the shooting were acquitted by the Eskishehir court even though a Parliamentary enquiry had concluded that there was serious negligent on the part of the police force during the operation. Retried on appeal this month by the Ankara Supreme Court, Mehmet Karaca, Yasafettin Açikgoz, Seydi Ahmet Dongel and Salih Ayaz were once again acquitted, the court considering that the four policemen had acted or had felt that they were acting, in a state of “self defence". wretched claim as the brother and uncle of the victory must be clear that he would carry the matter to the Supreme Court led to the European Court in Strasbourg t
The Syriac monastery of Mar Gabriel, founded in 397, in the region of Tur Abdin, is being subjected to administrative manoeuvres by both the State and Local AKP party elected officials aimed at confiscating its land. On 24 June it was ordered to “restore” to Turkey 34 hectares (85 acres) of forest by the Midyat Court. The case before the court was to decide whether it was indeed the owner of the land surrounding its buildings — land coveted by the neighbouring villagers. The land, sparsely wooded with shrubs, that surrounds the buildings was declared to be a “forest” and thus the property of the State’s Forest Department.
Another complaint concerns the wall, which the monks had built around the buildings to protect themselves in the event of clashes between the Army and the PKK. They are accused of having broken the law by building this wall and case has been postponed until 30 September. On the other hand the State Treasury Authority has lost a case against Mar Gabriel. This state institution demanded, for no apparent reason, 12 lots of land outside the the said wall, making a total of 24 hectares (60 acres).
Behind this basically religious hostility, there lies a political tug-of-war between the AKP elected officials (the government party) and the DTP (the pro-Kurdish party). Thus the AKP Member of Parliament for Mardin, Suleyman Çelebi, has stated to the press: “We are the legitimate owners of the monastery and the Syriacs are there under the protection of the Republic". This, however, is not true since the Syriacs, be they Orthodox Catholic, share with the Alevis, the inconvenience of not being listed as a religious minority in the Treaty of Lausanne. They are, therefore, not under the “protection of the Republic” any more than are their cultural buildings, whereas (in principle at least) it is illegal to despoil the Greek and Armenian communities.
The DTP elected representatives in the region, on the contrary, have adopted a policy of protecting and defending all local communities and have several times expressed their support for the rights of the monks: "There is neither golden nor silver nor oil in the region, but just oaks hand which the villagers want to use. I think that the verdict should be in favour of the Syriacs,, to whom these lands belong", had declared to Hurriyet, before the trial, Metin Kutlu, assistant mayor of Midyet. He accuses the AKP party of being behind this judicial battle.
Indeed, Suleyman Çelebi, the AKP mayor of Mardin, is no friend of the Syriac Christians. Regarding his town, which, despite the genocide, still had a substantial Syriac population until the 1990s, he has affirmed that the “Suryani” had left the region of their own accord as from the 1980s. (In fact they were driven out by the war.) While he denies supporting the villagers in their lawsuit, he does not hide his views on the issue, stating that the villagers were “aware of their rights”.
Founded in the year of 397, Mar Gabriel is one of the oldest monasteries to be continuously occupied in the world. Midyet is at the moment we seat of the Orthodox Syriac bishopric of Tur Abdin, at the head of which is Monseigneur Timoteos Samuel Aktdash. The Tur Abdeen is one of the most ancient and most prestigious sites of early Oriental Christian occupation. However, because of its position on the borders with Syria and Iraq, the region has suffered from clashes between the PKK and the Turkish army. While there were still 130,000 Syriacs in the region during the 1960s, this has dropped to 3000 today.
Today, the monastery shelters 3 monks, 14 and nuns, and 15 students who, in addition to theology, are taught the Syriacs language. This is, perhaps, a further point that disturbs the Turkish authorities, since, even more than Kurdish, Syriac is not recognized as a language to be taught in Turkey. Even in the villagers in which Christians still live, the teaching of Syriac it is still done in a semi-clandestine manner, and only to the youngest children. In November 2007, Abdullah Demirbas, the former may of Sur, a municipality near Diyarbekir and Osman baydemir, the mayor of Diyarbekir, as well as 19 other members of the local council, were tried but finally acquitted, for having published municipal brochures in languages other than Turkish, namely Armenian, Syriac and Kurdish.
The Kurdish film director, Barham Ghobadi, was arrested on 2 June in Iran then released with a warning on the 9th, while visiting his family in his native village, which is near the Iraqi border. He was accused of having formulated “severe criticisms" of the Ayatollah’s regime in his last film, "We don´t know anything about Persian cats", which opened the “Un certain Regard” section of the 2009 Cannes Festival on May 14th.
Last April he is fiancé and assistant, Roxana Sabri, had been arrested for " espionage" and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. This sentence was commuted on appeal to a 2years suspended sentence and she was released in May, shortly before the opening of the Cannes Film Festival. She is forbidden to exercise her profession of journalist in Iran for a period of five years.
The "criticisms" of the Ayatollahs’ regime by a Barham Ghobadi was in the very subject of the film, which showed the virtually clandestine nightlife of the underground musical culture in Iran, with groups of rock 'n' roll and rap normally forbidden as "decadent" or "obscene". The filming thus also had to be done in a clandestine fashion in 17 days with very basic equipment. The film tells the story of two young musicians, who had just come out of prison, who try and set up a group to play in a festival in Europe. The principal actors are a rock and folk and blues group, Mirza, a rapper, Hichkas, and some Iranian pop x heavy metal musicians. To make this film Barham Ghobadi didn't even take the trouble of seeking an always hypothetical authorisation as he himself told the press: "After Half Moon in 2006, the Ministry of Culture let it be know that it suspected me of having a separatist position in so far as I was an Iranian Kurd".
In an interview given to Village Voice Blog, the film director reviewed his career: "These last 30 years I really had to work in absolutely miserable conditions, in fear so as to make films, completely under the control of the government. I was constantly lying. The Ministry of Culture, which should be teaching us Culture and Education only taught us how to lie. For the last 30 years. In this civilised country -- which had seen great civilisations like Iran, the Minister of Culture in Iran has really become like an army. And the biggest enemy of creators in Iran it is the Ministry of Culture".
Is on the subject of Iranian youth, which he'd frequented during the filming and on recent events, which he considered foreseeable, following the contovercial re-election of Ahmedinjad: "I had the impression that something was about to happen. They were so tense, so agitated, in a state of rebellion. I wanted to use this film to cry out against this situation, to cry out like all the members of these groups with whom I had worked. I wanted to shout with them, to make this film a manifesto against the brutal situation which is crushing all of us".
The film festival SineMardin, took place between the 15th and the 22nd of June the town of Mardin. On the strength of its success, the organisers have reached agreement with the company Dox-Box and the Damascus International film Festival for the next season in 2010 while stressing that its hoped-for financial help from both Turkey and Syria.
The programme director, Zihni Turner, thus confirmed to the Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet Daily News that the coming festival will, no doubt, take place in both the two cities Mardon and Damascus: "We have not yet signed any agreement but, as organisers we have discussed cooperation and dates and decided to back one another up".
This festival, indeed, wants to be resolutely multicultural in a town which is no less so. It began with songs in Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish and then the screening of the film "Gitmek -- my Marlon and my Brando" by the Kurdish film director Hussein Karabey. The film tells the story of two actors Ayesha and Hama Ali, the one of Turkish nationality and the other Iraqi who meet during the making of a film and fall in love. Then each returned home and be their relationship continued by letter, video and telephone. It is a contemporary version of a epistolary love story, against a background of violence while waiting for the American invasion of Iraq. When the war begins Ayesha decides to join Hama Ali in Suleimaniyah and thus the story becomes a sort of road movie between the Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi borders …
Paradoxically, this film was censored in November 2008 during the Festival called Culturescapes-Turkei, when it was supposed to have been screened in 8 Swiss towns at once including Geneva. In fact the Turkish Ministry of Culture had put pressure on the organisers of this festival by threatening to withdraw the financial support grant of €400,000 if it was not removed from the programme.
At the same time, by agreement with the State, (initially obtained by a sort of sleight of hand) the Kurdish theatre group Destar was able to produce and act a Kurdish play in the National Theatre at Van on 22 June.
The Destar Theatre had, in fact, accepted with a company that was organising their performance, to change the name of the play and give it a Turkish name, before submitting it to the Van National Theatre. As the actress and co-author Berfin Zenderlioglu told the newspaper Hurriyet:: "We got see authorisation because the name of play was in Turkish. They noticed much later that the play itself was in Kurdish. We were then asked to re-apply officially to put the play on stage. We did so and they accepted it".
Miraz Metin and Berfin Zenderlioglu, both aged 28, had in fact decided to write a play on the relations between the sexes. Thus three months earlier they finished play Reseseve (Nightmare) dealing with the locking up of women in system dominated by men. "Directing this play I also questioned myself, as a man”, said Mirza Metin..
The play, performed by two actors, shows the feminine character with her hands tied by an accord as if she were a puppet, operated by man who is the “Nightmare". During the 75 minutes that the play lasts, the two characters engage in a critique of society, the chaos provoked by a system of male domination.
Mirza Metin, author and director of the play, evokes the period when, because of the State of Emergency in the Kurdish region from 1987 to 2002, tanks were gathered all round the theatre during some performances: "Policemen in plain clothes had a habit of coming into the theatre and we were obliged to act against a background of police radio messages. We will sometimes even imprisoned and then released when they understood that we would only theatre actors.
However, times have changed Berfin Zenderlioglu recognized: "The Director General of the National Theatres, Lemi Bilgin declared recently that theatres were open to Kurdish plays and this has had its effect”.
Mirza Metin describes Destar as a theatre company opposed to war and violence: "We are opposed to policies created by a system which makes forces people to be one another's enemies. As a theatre group we are trying to find a means of exchange the area of culture".
According to Berfin Zenderlioglu, Destar was founded in 2008. It has, nevertheless, suffered no a lot though many refusals gotten by theatre clubs and festivals: "None of our applications were accepted. We were told that because it was acted and in Kurdish the public would not understand it". Mirza Metin makes the point that he had often invited the famous names of the Turkish theatre to come and see their play so as to get the benefit of their experience and advice but he always was always met with the same objection: "They said they could not understand Kurdish and would not come to visit us. I often wanted to to ask them what they did when they did to understand the language when they went to see a play abroad.
Mirza Metin added that a dialogue between the two publics, Kurdish and Turkish, would only become possible if they put an end to all prejudice: “We can get close to one another by means of culture and art. Art has no language, no religion. It is peaceful and can be a mediator".
Berfin Zenderlioglu, for her part, explains that she had not been able to study in her mother tongue since Kurdish was banned in Turkey until very recently. Consequently, she sometimes has difficulty in expressing herself fluently on stage and her Turkish is better than her Kurdish. But she refuses nevertheless to act in plays in Turkish: "I have a mission which is to keep alive my language and my culture".