The first trial of Ahmedinjad’s opponents has begun in Iran. They can be summed up as a sort of self-accusation or confession by the accused. However, the validity of these confessions has been immediately challenged by the Iranians in the street, by international public opinion and by the defence lawyers.
Thus the evening following the TV broadcast of the confession by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a supporter of Karroubi’s campaign and a former Vice-President under Khatami, whole districts of Teheran shook with the shouts of protest, who climbed onto rooftops or opened windows to chant “Allahu Akbar”, the rallying cry of the opposition demonstrations. While these demonstrations usually take place every evening, at the same time, it has been noticed that they doubled in strength and number after each broadcast of these trials.
The confessions of Mohammad Ali Abtahi in particular scandalised Iranian public opinion, both because of his popularity and the blog he maintained but also because of the striking contrast the Iranian viewers could see between Abtahi’s youthful and podgy appearance before his arrest and the sight of his physical and moral in court. He seemed to have aged by ten years.
Perhaps aware that these confessions were not convincing the public or else in reaction to the rumours of the torture that the prisoners were said to have suffered, one government channel also broadcast a live meeting between Mohammad Ali Abtahi and his daughter, who had come to see and question him “freely” in front of the cameras. The objective of this televised interview was to get Abtahi himself to deny the physical and moral pressures that the accused were said to have endured and specifically whether or not he had been given “pills” (sic) to make him confess.
The month of August also saw an intensified trial of strength between Mehdi Karrubi and the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani. Reacting to open letters sent by Karrubi to leaders of the Iranian Judiciary on the subject of the tortures and rapes inflicted on imprisoned demonstrators, Larijani had at first announced that an enquiry into the matter would be started. This enquiry was, indeed, very rapidly set up and its results soon published. Two days were enough for the Speaker of the House to declare that after a “thorough enquiry” and meetings with detainees at Kahrizak Prison, no case of rape or torture had been found.
However, the Kahrizak Prison was, indeed, closed this month, because, it is said, of the deaths of several students who were relatives of leading families. The prison is described as a “death camp” by former prisoners: thus Mohammed Kamrani, 18 years of age, died under torture. Another student, Mohsen Rouhol-Amin, arrested on 9 July, was hung by his feet wand died while being beaten. A Kahrizak survivor testified to the news site Iran Focus: “Kahrizak is a death camp. A fruit and vegetable storehouse converted into a temporary prison: the cells are metal containers, whose only ventilation is by a small hole for which we had to share access time to be able to breathe”.
A year earlier, this prison had already caused a scandal when the National Council of the Resistance had revealed that 18 prisoners had been locked up in these metal containers, since the prison had no special women’s quarter. Left there in the full heat of summer they had all died of heatstroke and asphyxia.
Despite Ali Laijani’s denials, many witnesses corroborate the facts denounced by Mehdi Karrubi, be it to NGOs, political parties, or even foreign press organs. While torture and sexual abuse are usual in Iranian prisons, the tales told about Kahrizak are outstanding in their brutality and are more like death sentences by torture than interrogations or acts of intimidation. All these tales recount the same facts: detainees packed 40 to 60 into jails 30 m2 in size, beaten with iron bars and steel whips to else scalded with boiling water.
One demonstrator, jailed and then released, gave this account to Paris-Match: “We found ourselves standing up, squashed like sardines in kinds of containers at a temperature of about 40° for two days, without any toilets, water or food, but plenty of rats. When our bassiji guards ran water through the door we had to get down and lap it up like dogs. It was disgusting: filth and blood everywhere. Because we were bleeding — beaten with clubs, our faces broken. We all had broken teeth. I am now deaf in one ear. But I’m better off than comrades who are dead”.
Another witness, aged 25, told the Iran-Focus site: “We saw members of our container hung by their feet for forty-eight hours. One of them was returned to his family disfigured, his eyes swollen like purple tennis balls and died in his parents’ arms. There were rapes being carried out every day: three of the youngest went through it, we could hear their screams”.
The prisoners also attacked the acts of violence by the “lebas shakhsi”, a sort of militia of “plain clothes hooligans” used for repressing the demonstrations who were used ruthlessly in the prisons to beat up or rape the detainees.
Many said they were ready to give evidence before an international commission and accused Ahmed-Reza Radan, the commander of the State Security Forces of running Kahrizak and being directly responsible for everything going on there.
Despite this, Ali Larijani threatened Karrubi because of his allegations and ordered him to provide proofs of his allegations, no doubt counting on the victims' fear of testifying openly. At the same time, Karrubi’s newspaper, Etemad Melli, which published his letters and statements, was closed down and its premises searched by the police and documents were confiscated. Mehdi Karrubi, in one of his letters, had stated that he possessed documents proving the pressures exerted by the sepah-e pasdaran on doctors who had had to treat the injured, forbidding them to provide medical certificates. He also said he had CDs with proof of the raping and torture in detention and, commenting of the closing and searching of his offices, simply said that the CDs were in a safe location.
On 5 August, the prime Minister officially met Ahmet Turk, the leader of the DTP Parliamentary Group, for a meeting, following which Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was “optimistic” — a feeling shared by the Kurdish leader who spoke of a “genuine dialogue” that brought hope.
Whereas Mr. Erdogan has, hitherto, refused to consider the DTP as recognised representative for resolving the Kurdish question in Turkey, even going so far as to refuse to shake hands with its Members of Parliament, a sign of relaxation has appeared in the “plan” announced by the government for ending the Kurdish conflict. Not much has emerged about the meeting except, that, according to the Prime Minister, there is no question of embodying, in the Constitution, the existence of Kurdish people as a component part of the Turkish Republic, even if Article 66 of that Constitution (which links ethnic membership to Turkish citizenship) could be amended.
According to the paper Vatan, Erdogan’s plan has as its objective the reduction of unemployment in the Kurdish provinces over the next 5 years, as well as the re-iterated promises of increased development in these areas and some economic support. The highly controversial institution of “Village Guardians”, which has recently been the source of several bloody crimes, will be abolished and the military presence of Gendarmerie units will end, leaving only a military control of the country’s borders. The government may also broaden the amnesties already decreed for a limited number of members of the PKK and accept the return to Turkey of refugees from the Makhmur camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.
With regard to the Kurds’ linguistic demands, their language could be taught in the state schools. Finally, a symbolic gesture — the thousands of Kurdish and Syriac villages that have been officially renamed in Turkish, may be able to resume their original names.
At a dinner at which were present several Ministers and leaders of the various religious communities (the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchs, the Syriac vicar-general and the grand Rabbi) Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed that “Turkey had no other choice but to resolve the Kurdish question”.
The AKP hopes, no doubt, by these initiatives, to outstrip the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who was due to publish a peace plan two days later, according to Murat Karayilan, President of the Executive Committee of the Kurdistan Confederation (the PKK’s political organ). The latter, indeed, described Erdogan’s gesture as a “manoeuvre to deceive the international community and to attenuate the impact and scope of our president's road map”. According to him, this “road map” was inspired by the 1921 Turkish Constitution, which recognised Kurdish identity and gave political and cultural rights to the ethnic minorities. The PKK’s demands were now limited to three précis points: the release of Ocalan, Kurdish language education and autonomy.
However, the disclosure of Ocalan’s road map has been postponed to a later, unspecified, date at least with regard to its full and final form. The PKK leader contented himself with a few broad, fairly vague and contradictory outlines, recalling, for example that the PKK was no longer calling for independence, nor was it demanding a federal status for Kurdistan in Turkey, in the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan. Thus he was also giving up his project for ultimate “confederalism” between Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, and did not mention the autonomy demanded by Murat Karayilan. He nevertheless called on Turkey to recognise the right of the Kurds to form a “democratic nation” with their own defence militia, which sounds very much like the Iraqi Peshmergas.
As far as the Americans are concerned, the political turning point announced by the AKP is appreciated and encouraged. The US Ambassador, James Jeffrey, who has also met Ahmet Turk, indicated that his country was ready to welcome a DTP representative office in Washington.
However, these diplomatic successes abroad have not met with any response from the rest of the Turkish political opposition parties. Both from the CHP and the MHP came the usual shower of accusations about “concessions” being made to the PKK, while the Army chose, at first not to make any comments, which might have weakened the stand taken by Deniz Baykal and Devlet Bahçeli, in the absence of their usual backing.
On the other hand President Abdullah Gul did not fail to make approving comments about his Prime Minister’s political moves. Returning from a tour of the Kurdish regions in the North of the country, he also declared that the Kurdish question was a major problem for Turkey, as “a country that aspires to entering the European Union”, for which settling the conflict is a condition. Abdullah Gul thus urged the opposition not to remain outside the initiatives for establishing peace.
However the Army, which initially had remained silent about this new political line to such an extent that it seemed like a tacit approval, ended up by intervening on 26 August through the Chief of the General Staff, Ilker Basbug, who rejected any stopping of the struggle against the PKK, and said he envisaged watching very closely the political, economic and cultural reforms that the government was proposing. “The Army will not tolerate any attack on the foundations of the Nation-State and the unitary State. Turkey is a State, a country and an indivisible nation, whose language is Turkish”.
The Minister of the Interior, Besir Atalay, following a great tour of a number of actors in Turkish political and social life, indicated during a press conference that his government was seeking a “consensus” with the goal of democratising Turkey. He also indicated that he would be giving the Prime Minister a report before 1st October and that the plan for resolving the Kurdish question would be put before Parliament, which is, anyway, largely dominated by the governing party.
The AKP’s road map is no more known in its details than is the PKK’s peace plan, except that there is no question of a real revision of the Constitution.
On 2 August the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, visited the Kurdistan Region, a thing e has never done since taking office in 2006. However the growing points of disagreement between Baghdad and Irbil, as well as the sharpness of the exchanges between Nuri al-Maliki and Massud Barzani, the Kurdish President, have prompted the Americans strongly to urge that f this meeting be held. Indeed, it was after a meeting with the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, that Massud Barzani had announced the opening of future negotiations with the central government. As for the Commander of US troops in Iraq, General Ray Odiermo, he ha described the Arab-Kurdish conflict as “the first source of instability”.
Nuri al-Maliki was welcomed at Suleimaniyah Airport by the Iraqi President and Deputy Prime Minister, Jalal Talabani and Barham Saleh, as well as by Kosrat Rassul, the Vice-President of the Kurdistan Regional Government. They then went to Dukan, to the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani’s own party.
The meeting with Massud Barzani took place the next say and ended with a joint press communiqué, the tone of which was intended to be soothing and optimistic to all sides:
“This evening a team will begin to discuss the political and strategic conflicts and a delegation from Kurdistan will come to Baghdad. I hope that Neçirvan Barzani (the present Prime Minister of the Kurdish Region) will join it to discuss pending questions and to settle the problems”, declared Nuri al-Maliki. “We have different points of view, and this is natural as we are building a democratic State on the ruins of a dictatorship (…) I am happy about today’s meeting and have agreed to continue to meet at all levels”.
Massud Barzani, for his part, said he was “flexible as always”: “We have agreed to resolve the problems between the Kurdistan region and the government. Today’s meeting was very positive”.
Jalal Talabai went one better: “This visit was productive and successful. We have had an honest and brotherly meeting”.
However, faced with the persistence of the Kurdish-Arab discord over the status of Kirkuk, the senior officers responsible for local security forces are openly hoping for the maintenance of an American military presence in this province, even after the final withdrawal of the remaining US troops from the rest of the country, planned for the end of 2011.
Thus General Bakr, a Kurd responsible for the Kirkuk Police Forces “hopes” that this withdrawal will not cover, in the immediate future the US base “Warrior”, which he hopes will be maintained until the various factions as well as the Irbil government have reached an agreement. According to General Bakr, such an agreement is not utopian: “The autonomous Kurdish government knows that its future lies in Iraq ad the Iraqi government knows that it has everything to gain from good relations with the autonomous government”.
However, in Kirkuk, the Arab-Turcoman opposition to secure the abrogation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution (which lays down that the status of Kirkuk be decided by referendum) is not letting up and several Arab and Turcoman parties are demanding this abrogation by parliament. This the Vice-President of the al-Aadal Turcoman Party, Hassan Torman, considers that: “This issue is neither a matter for the Iraqi Government or the Kurdish Regional Government but falls solely in the competence of the Federal Parliament. It alone can validate this article or not”. Nevertheless, the fact is that this Constitution was drawn up by a Parliamentary Commission of 55 elected members and was ratified by referendum, with over 80% of the Iraqi electors voting in favour
However, according to the official daily As-Sabah, the present Parliamentary Commission charged with reviewing this Constitution might alter several Article, including Article 140, by deleting the holding of a referendum, while proposing compensation to the people who were driven out of Kirkuk, although without rehousing them or allowing them to recover their lost properties. Mohammed Khalil al-Juburi, head of the Arab list on the Kirkuk Provincial Council considers, moreover, that since the ultimate deadline provided in the said Article for holding the referendum is 2 years past, this Article is now nul and void.
However, the Kurds had already, during the drafting of the Constitution, ensured that these articles could not be easily abrogated later. Moreover, Constitutional revisions have not only to be passed both by Parliament and by referendum as was done initially, but can be blocked if three Iraq provinces vote against. This gives the Kurdistan Regional Government a de fact veto on any alteration or abrogation of this article.
During his 2 August visit to Kurdistan, Nuri al-Maliki himself recognised the constitutional character of Article 140, even while calling for a “solution that preserves the interests of the different components of the people (…) in the framework of the Iraqi State”.
Without specifically replying t the Kirkuk authorities’ request that they extend their military presence beyond 2011, the United States have nevertheless started talks with the Iraqi Government for a possible agreement that would allow a tripartite Kurdish-Arab-US force temporarily to ensure security in this province. According to General Ray Odierno, this tripartite cooperation would only be a stage towards the training of an Iraqo-Kurdish force that could operate in the territories covered by Article 140, principally Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala. According to him, while° “Al-Qaida is jumping onto the gap that is opening between Kurds and Arabs in the province of Nineveh and the Kurdish Autonomous Region, what we want to do is to bridge that gap”.
As if to corroborate the General’s words, a bomb attack took place on 10 August in the village of Khazna, 20 Km from Mosul, which is inhabited by Shabaks, a non-Moslem Kurdish religious sect that is as much targeted by the al-Qaida fanatics as the Yezidis. Two trucks filled with explosives destroyed 35 houses, causing 28 deaths and 155 injured in this locality, whose total population is 3,500.
On 16 August, in the same province of Nineveh, a bomb placed in a road wounded the sole Shabak representative on the Provincial Council, as he was travelling in a car with two assistants.
These attacks have sharpened the dissentions between Kurds and Arabs in this province, where it is even sharper than in Kirkuk. The al-Hadhba party, and Sunni Arab nationalist organisation that won the last elections in Mosul, owing to the exodus of Kurds and Christians fleeing the city’s violence, has accused the Kurds of being the source of these attacks. The Irbil government has vigorously denied this, recalling that the victims of these latest terrorist attacks were all Kurds, since in addition to these murders aimed at Shabaks, 21 Yezidis were also killed this month in a suicide bomb attack in Sinjar.
“We have been patient so far to maintain peace and stability and prevent getting involved in a confrontation with terrible consequences. The truth is that a number of the people on the al-Hadhba list, and in particular two of the Governor’s bothers, are responsible for this campaign of attacks and assassinations that are aimed at Yezidi and Shabak Kurds, at Turcomen and Christians. Over 2,000 Kurds have been killed in Mosul, not to mention the forced displacement of hundreds of Christian and Kurdish families”, declared the Kurdish Regional Government spokesman.
In any case al-Hadhba’s accusations do not seem to have convinced the Shabaks themselves, since Molla Selim Juma, a religious leader of this community, in an interview with the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s newspaper stated that: “the Peshmergas will ensure the security of some 52 villages by digging ditches and allocating 12 guards per village to protect them from terrorist attacks”.
The month of August saw the death of two great personalities of Kurdish music and song — Aramé Tigran and Hasan Yousefzamani.
On 6 August, Aram. Tigran died in Athens Hospital of a cerebral tumour. He was born in 1934, in the Syrian Kurdish town of Qamishlo. During the 1915 genocide, his Armenian parents had fled their native town of Diyarbekir. He consequently grew up in the Syrian Jezirah, an area of multiple languages and cultures, but in which the Kurds made up the majority, hence his multilingualism and his affection for Kurdish culture.
Les known by the Armenians, he was one of the most celebrated and beloved of Kurdish singers, like Karapete Khajo. He composed and sang mainly in Kurmanji, with 210 songs and 7 in Zazaki, 150 in Arabic and 8 in Greek.
Having learnt to play the ’Oudh at the age of 9, he left Syria in 1966 for the Armenian capital of Erevan. There he ran Kurdish music programmes on Erevan Radio for 18 years. Thus his songs were heard very early by the Kurds of Turkey, at a time when the Kurdish language was totally banned.
He has been living in Athens since 1995.
In 2008 at Newroz, he had sung Kurdish, Turkish Armenian and Arabic songs in the town of Batman and had dedicated one of them to the Armenian journalist Hrank Dink, assassinated by Turkish nationalist.
He had take part, this year, in the Diyarbekir Art and Culture Festival but, already very weakened by his illness, had only sung three Kurdish songs. In this town and the neighbouring villages he had rediscovered signs of his family’s past and had expressed the wish to be buried in the Armenian Cemetery there as he explained to the daily paper Aknews:
“It was my dream of the century to visit Diyarbekir. I had always been in the habit of saying: “M God, will I never see the place where my parents lived before I die?”. Two year ago, after acquiring Greek nationality, I came to Diyarbekir for the first time.” A Funeral Committee, created at Diyarbekir by some DTP elected councillors, had planned to organise a mass at the Armenian Church there before burying the singer in the town Armenian cemetery. Anli, an officer of this committee, had stated to the press: “Tigran is the name that comes naturally to mind when speaking of Kurdish music. Everyone in this region, over a certain age, has come to know the music of his mother tongue thanks to Tigran, who played such sweet and moving tunes accompanied by his ’oudh”.
However, at the last moment, the Ministry of the Interior refused to deliver the authorisation required for burying Aramé Tigran in Diyarbekir, arguing that the deceased was not of Turkish nationality.
The Committee nevertheless held on to having a funeral service in Diyarbekir’s Armenian Cemetery, attended by the Mayor, Osman Baydemir, and a number of Kurdish artistic and political public figures.
On 18 August, another Kurdish musical personality, Hasan Yusefzamani, died in Canada, where he had lived since 1991.
Born at Sine, in Iranian Kurdistan, in 1931, Hasan Yusefzamani, at once a poet, a singer, a composer and lyric writer, was a teacher of Iranian classical music for nearly half a century. Playing the clarinet, the saxophone and the violin, he composed nearly two hundred tunes for some of the greatest names in Iranian music such as the famous Persian singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian, the Kurdish singers Shahram Nazeri and Mazhar Xaliqi and the Khorassani singer Sima Bina. He studied music at the age of 15 at the Sine Army School of Music. He also performed on the radio and founded the Kurdish Orchestra, which had a wide audience throughout Kurdistan, well beyond the Iranian borders, in Turkey as in Syria and Iraq. Then he left Sine to study music in Teheran.
At Teheran Radio he ran a Folk Music group as from 1962 as well as being clarinettist and violinist for several orchestras, before becoming the head of the Iranian National Radio and Television service’s Grand Orchestra.