On 11 November, Ehsan Fattahian, a 29-year-old Kurdish student who had earlier been sentenced to death by the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court, was hanged despite a number of protests and appeals from a variety of NGOs, including Amnesty International.
Ehsan Fattahian was arrested on 20 July 2008. He had acknowledged his membership of the Komala and was sentenced by the First chamber of the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court to 10 years jail following a trial in which the defence had been denied any right to argue his case. He had appealed, as ad the Prosecution, and, with complete disregard for Iranian law, he was sentenced to death by the Fourth Chamber of the Kurdistan Province Court of Appeal in January 2009.
In a letter, Ehsan Fattahian described the tortures to which he had been subjected from the first day following his arrest and also mentioned the reason for the toughening of his sentence: he had refused to “confess his crimes” before a camera or to renounce his political convictions.
However, according to article 288 of Iranian law, sentences can only be increased on appeal if they are lighter than the minimum provided for an offence. In Ehsan Fattahian’s case, the minimum for the offences with which he was charged was one year. As he had been sentenced to ten years imprisonment in exile (i.e. outside his native province) increasing it to death was quite illegal.
Before his execution, Ehsan Fattahian took part in a hunger strike, alongside other Kurdish political prisoners, who were protesting at the conditions of their detention. He had never admitted any of the charges levelled against him other than membership of Komala. On 10 November he was transferred to solitary detention and hanged the next day without being able to see his family. Moreover, the latter were unable to secure restoration of his body for burial before being told that he had been buried anonymously in a cemetery in Kermanshah, where he was born. Furthermore the authorities warned his relations that they should not engage in too conspicuous mourning ceremonies or organise demonstrations in his memory.
The announcement of this execution made indignant many organisations and public figures in Iran and abroad. The 2003 Nobel peace prize-winner and lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, attacked this sentence and its execution as °hasty” and “unprecedented” as well as the fact that the Fattiahian family had been unable to see Ehsen before he was executed. “It is most unusual to execute someone in such a precipitate manner that they were unable to allow the family to see him on his last night It is most unusual and only increases suspicion regarding the real cause of his death”, she stated on the BBC in person. “I do not want to prejudge anything … however, because of inappropriate treatments carried our in Iranian prisons, particularly of prisoners, that have become the norm, it is fair to question the cause of Ehsan’s death”.
A little later, on the Rooz Internet site, the Shirin Ebadi advised the Fattahian family to have their son’s body examined by a trustworthy doctor.
I the circumstances of Ehsan Fattahan’s death remain unknown, it is worth recalling that this is not the first time that a detainee has died under torture. In June 2001, Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian woman photographer of Iranan origin was beaten to death and probably raped, according to the forensic report. Akbar Mohammadi, a student sentenced to 15 year ail for having taken part in a demonstration in 1991, died in suspicious circumstances in Evin prison in June 2006, as well as Zahra batti-Yaghoub, a 27-year-old woman doctor who died n Hamadan prison in October 2007. Ebrahim Lotfallahi, a student who died in detention was, like Ehsan Fattahian, buried hastily and in secret in a Sanandaj cemetery on 15 January 208, before his family was even informed of his death. On 30 October 2008, a member of the Moujahiddin, Abdolreza Rajabi, died while being transferred from Evin prison to one in Rajaei Shahr. On 6 March 2009, Amir Hossein Heshmat Saran, the founder of a political movement, the United Nation Front, died, after 5 years detention. Less than two weeks later, Omid-Reza Mir Sayafi, a blogger who had been sentenced to 30 month’s jail six weeks earlier, also died in Evin.
Moreover, Ehsan Fattahian was not the only Kurd awaiting execution. Twelve others are facing the same fate: Ms. Zaynab Jalalian, Habib Latifi, Shirkouh Moarefi, Ramezan Ahmed, Farha Chalesh, Rostam Arkia, Fazih Yasamini, Rashid Akhkandi, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Hossein Khazari and Farzad Kamangar. Amongst them, Shirkouh Moarefi, who is 24 years of ago, was also transferred to an isolated cell a few days after the death of Ehsan Fattahian’s death, as a possible prelude to execution.
Some time before dying, Ehsan Fattahian had described the circumstances of his arrest and of his two trials in a letter by way of a political legacy, which has received wide distribution in some papers and over Internet and been translated into several languages:
The last glow of the setting sun
Show me the path on which to write
The sound of dead leaves under my feet
Tell me “Let yourself fall
And you will find the road to freedom”
(Margot Bickel, a German poetess, translated by Ahmad Shamlou)
I am not afraid of death, even now that I feel it so close. I can smell its stench, which has become so familiar — it is an old acquaintance of this land and of its people. I do not just mean death but of the reasons for this death. Since it has become the price of justice and freedom, how can one fear this end? “They” who have sentenced “Us” to death for having sought a narrow opening into a better world, freed from injustice — do they understand what they are doing?”
My life began in the town of Kermanshah, a name that, for my compatriots, has always meant Greatness, the cradle of civilisation in our country. Very early I saw the discrimination, the oppression — I felt them to the very depths of my being — this cruelty and the wherefores of this cruelty and the attempts to remedy it have given birth of a whole host of thoughts within me. Alas, They have blocked all the roads leading to justice and make the atmosphere so oppressive that I could find to way of changing things from within. I left for another place (Iraqi Kurdistan): I became a Komala Peshmerga. It was the desire to find myself, to find my identity, that made me take this road. It was difficult to leave my birthplace but I have never cut the links that tied me to the city of my childhood. From time to time I have wished to return home and renew old memories and it was on one of these occasions that, thanks to “Them” the visit turned sour—they arrested and imprisoned me. From the first moment, thanks to the hospitality shown by my jailers, I realised that the tragic fate suffered by so many of my comrades would be mine: torture, trumped up charges, trial in camera and to order, an unfair and politically motivated verdict and, in the end, death.
Allow me to tell you this, in the most relaxed manner: after my arrest at Kamyaran on 20 July 2008, and after some hours spent as the “guest” of that town’s security office, while my handcuffs and blindfold prevented me from moving of seeing, a person arrived who said he was the assistant Public Prosecutor and started asking me a series of questions completely unrelated to one another and full of false accusations (I would like to stress that any legal interrogation outside a courtroom is forbidden by law). That ended the first of my many interrogation sessions. That same night I was transferred to the Kurdistan Provincial security office, in the town of Sanandaj. It was here that struggle really began: a filthy cell, disgusting toilettes and blankets that had probably not seen any water for decades! From this moment on, my days and nights were spent in interrogation rooms and the underground corridors where I was subjected to extreme torture and beatings. This lasted three months, and during those three months my interrogators no doubt in the hope of promotion or a little increase in pay, made all sorts of accusations as weird as they were untrue, although they know better than anyone how far they were from reality. They made great efforts to try and prove that I was involved in an armed attack aimed at overthrowing the regime.
The only charges they were able to make against me was that of being a member of Komalah and of having taken part in propaganda activity against the regime. The First chamber of the Islamic Republic’s Sanandaj Court sentenced me to 10 years in exile in the Ramhormoz Prison (East of Khuzistan). The government’s political and administrative constantly suffer from centralisation, but in my case they tried to decentralise their justice and gave the courts of appeal of Kurdistan Province the power to retry the crimes of political prisoners, even with penalties as heavy as the death sentence. In my case, the Kamyaran Public Prosecutor appealed against the sentence of the First Chamber and the Kurdistan Court of Appeal amended my sentence to one of death, which is against the Islamic republic’s own laws. According to Article 258 of the “Dadrasi Keyfari” law, the Court of Appeal can only increase a sentence if t is below the legal minimum provided for an offence. In my case, the crime charged was “Moharebeh” (hostility to God) for which the minimum sentence is one year’s imprisonment, while my sentence, of ten years imprison and in exile, is far above the minimum. Any comparison of my sentence with the minimum laid down for this crime shows the completely illegal and political character of this death sentence. I must, however, mention that just before changing the verdict, they took me to the interrogation offices of the Snanadaj security department and asked me to confess to crimes I had not committed in a filmed interview and to say things that they themselves did not believe. Despite strong pressure, I did not accept to make this filmed “confession”. They then bluntly told me that they would alter my verdict to a death sentence, which they did soon after, showing how much the Courts obey orders from authorities external to the Department of Justice. Can they be blamed in consequence?
I judge has to swear an oath to remain just in all situations and at all times to all people and to look at the world from a solely legal point of view. What judge, in this baneful country, can claim never to have broken this vow and to have always remained just and equitable? In my opinion you can count such judges in the fingers of one hand. When Iran’s whole judiciary system arrest, tries and executes people at the word of an interrogator (who has no understanding of legal issues), how can you really blame little judges of a province that has always been repressed and been the victim of discrimination? Yes, the foundations of this house are built on ruins.
Despite the fact that, at my last meeting with the Public Prosecutor, he admitted that the death sentence was illegal, they also told me that it would be carried out. Needless to say, this insistence on carrying out a death sentence is the result of pressures from political and security forces quite foreign to Justice. Don’t you think that these people look at the life and death of prisoners of opinion solely from the angle of their own pay slips and political needs and that nothing else counts for them but their personal ends, even with regard to the most fundamental issues of human rights and that of life? Forget about international laws — they totally ignore their own laws and procedures.
So here are my last words: If, in the minds of these leaders and oppressors, my death will rid them of the “problem” of Kurdistan, I affirm that this is an illusion. Neither my death nor the death of thousands of others like me will remedy this incurable evil. They may even add fuel to the fire. There is no doubt but that each death leads to a new life”.
Announced since the beginning of summer, the government’s plan to resolve the Kurdish question has finally been made public, arousing disappointment amongst the Kurds, who consider the measures completely insufficient, while provoking protests from the Turkish nationalist parties, always quick to attack any compromises with “separatism”.
Amongst the measures proposed, is the authorisation for Kurdish or Syriac localities to regain their former names, that had been officially “Turkified”, to lift the interdictions on the public use of Kurdish in election meetings, to authorise prisoners’ families to speak to them in Kurdish in the visiting rooms. The government also hopes to create an independent commission to resolve the problems of torture and discrimination.
Most analysts, however, consider these measures, insufficient for ending the conflict. As the editorial writer Murat Yetkin, of the daily paper Radikal, wrote “While what Atlay (the Minister of the Interior) has announced are steps forward towards the development of democratic standards, they are a good thing … However, the PKK will not come down from its mountain strongholds just because there is an independent commission on Human Rights and because people can speak their mother tongue in prison.”
For its part, the PKK declared, in a communiqué to the Firat News Agency, that “the Kurdish question cannot be resolved with recognising the wishes of the Kurdish people and stating a dialogue with its spokesmen” (i.e. the PKK itself).
One demand, recently floated by the PKK, is the recognition of Kurdish at the constitutional level, which seems, for the moment, an impassable red line, psychologically at least, for Turkish public opinion and its political caste. All the more so since the AKP only has 367 Members of Parliament, whereas 550 are needed for Parliament to pass any amendment to the Constitution.
In the course of the debate on the Kurdish question, a CHP Member, Onur Oymen, sparked of a separate but related controversy, this time in connection with Kurdish history and Turkey’s official version of the Kurdistan revolts and the terrible repressions that followed, in Dersim in particular.
Indeed, on 9 November, replying to the supporters of the AKP reforms, this CHP Member declared that the argument that peace would spare many Turkish families from having to go into mourning for their soldier children was unacceptable: “Did not mothers cry during the war of independence, during the Sheikh Said revolt or that in Dersim or in Cyprus? Did anyone call for stopping the fighting then, so that mothers need not cry?”
However, this outburst not only aroused indignation in Kurdish public opinion but amongst Alevis in general, who rebuked the fact that a Turk could compare a war against an external enemy (the Allied Powers of Cyprus) with a military repression against citizens that were officially considered “Turkish”. Those most directly concerned, the Alevi Kurds of Dersim, whose grandparents were the victims of the 1937-38 massacres were the most virulent. Pictures of Onur Oymen made up to resemble Hitler were pasted up on the town’s streets. The Alevis, from hostility to religious parties and commitment to secularism, traditionally have voted CHP, despite some swing towards the AKP in 2007 and the fact that in the last elections the DTP had made a good score in Dersim.
Nevertheless, the M.P.s remarks had the merit of bringing to the forefront one of the blackest pages of the Republic’s history, unknown to the majority of Turks. It also highlights the Alevis’ religious issue. The latter, who are officially classed as Moslems and so coming under the control of the Islamic Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs) have always demanded the status of a religious minority, like the Christian sand Jews, which is refused to them Consequently Alevi schoolchildren are forced to attend the compulsory Islamic religious classes at school.
The parliamentary debates on the electoral law for the 2010 general elections in Iraq have aroused such controversy that is seems virtually impossible to keep to the initially planned election date of January, and there are even serious doubts about February.
Several religious and ethnic groups in Iraq protested at the number of seats reserved for minorities, that they considered insufficient. The President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, had himself asked Parliament to increase the number of seats reserved for Christians and Iraqis living abroad. During his visit to France he had even indicated that he hoped that the number of seats for these groups would rise from 5 to 15%.
This time, however, the threat of a veto (the Bill has to be approved by the Presidential Council) did not come from Jalal Talabani but from the Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hasemi, who publicly declared on television that he would not ratify the Bill unless the number of seats for minorities was trebled.
As things stand, 8 seats are reserved for minorities (Christians, Mandeans and Yezidis) and 8 others for the very large number of Iraqis living abroad. At the time of the 2005 elections the first of these was 15%, which has since been reduced to 5%. President Talabani and his Vice-President had earlier asked that the former figure be restored, officially “to promote national reconciliation”. This time, however, Talabani does not seem to have approved his vice-President’s veto, seeming rather to have distanced himself from the latter in his statements on French television on 24 November: “I fear a further postponement of the elections so I decided not to oppose the election Bill”.
The Kurds, as well, are dissatisfied with the seat distribution and the Speaker of the Irbil Parliament, Kamal Kirkuki, has written to President Talabani asking him not to ratify the Bill, considering that the percentage of seats allocated to the Kurdish Provinces was “not normal”. The President of the Kurdistan Region even threatened to boycott the elections if the seat distribution was not altered in an “equitable” manner. Indeed, of the 48 additional seats provided for in the new Bill, only three go to the three Provinces of the Kurdistan Region.
In opposition to the Sunni Arabs and the Kurds, Iraqis from the Southern Shiite Provinces demonstrated in front of Government building in Basra against Vice-President Hashemi’s veto. They received indirect support from the Americans, who hope for the elections to take place as soon as possible to meet with their timetable of troop withdrawals. Thus Jalal Talabani has not concealed, in his press statements, the fact that Christopher Hill, the US envoy to Iraq, was personally urging the Members of Parliament to pass the Bill. Joe Bidden, the US Vice-President, for his part has phoned the Kurdish leaders at least three times to ask them not to block the election process.
On 21 November, the Baghdad Supreme Court rejected Vice-President Hashemi’s veto on the grounds that the seat distribution was a function of the election organisers and not of the election law. Since the Presidential Council’s veto only applied to constitutional issues, it could not be exercised in this specific case.
The new distribution of seats between the different Iraqi provinces was decided by the Electoral Commission on the basis of the number of food ration cards renewed every year. The figures, issued by the Trade Ministry, indicated that the Iraqi population had increased to32 million in 2009 as against 27 million in 2005. On the basis of these figures, the Election Commission estimated the number of Iraqi electors at 19 million, each Parliamentary seat representing 100,000 electors. A quarter of these are reserved for women, 5% for the 2 million Iraqi refugees in exile, 5 seats are allocated to Christians in the three Kurdish provinces and Nineveh and a seat each for the Yezidis, Mandeans and Shabaks.
However these figures are disputed, mainly by the Kurds, who point out that Nineveh receives 13 more seats with a population of only slightly more than 2 million people whereas Kurdistan, with a total population of 5 million has only received 5 more.
Mahmud Othman, a Kurdish Alliance Member of the Baghdad Parliament, also challenged the Iraqi Trade Minister’s figures, pointing out that the number of ration cards was far from a reliable criterion in certain regions such as Nineveh, where it had been artificially inflated.
In all, the distribution of seats announced was as follows: 68 for Baghdad, 31 for Nineveh, 24 for Basra, 18 for Dhiqar, 16 for Babil, 14 for Anbar, 13 for Diyala, 12 for Salahaddin and Najaf, 11 for Wasit and Diwaniyah, 10 for Karbala and Misan and 7 for Muthana.
For the Kurdistan Region, 15 for Suleimaniah, 14 for Irbil and 9 for Duhok, while Kirkuk received 12 seats and a quota of 8 allocated to minorities.
Thus, out of a total of 323 seats, the Kurdish region will have 38 as against 57 in 2005. Since the last census was held in 1957 it is impossible to have any reliable figures for the Iraqi population.
On 15 November, three Kurds were sentenced to three years imprisonment each for membership of a banned political party, Azadi, although it has only ever undertaken peaceful activities (appeals, demonstrations) in support of Kurdish cultural rights and of the situation of the Kurds of Jezirah, who were stripped of their Syrian nationality during an Arabisation campaign in the region. Mustafa Juma Bakr, Mohammad Said Hussein Omar and Saadun Mahmud were, nevertheless, found guilty of “inciting race hatred” and of “attacking the dignity of the State and wanting to weaken national feeling”, which are the standard charges against Kurdish activists. A week earlier, four other Kurds had each been sentenced to six years jail for membership of the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party, equally banned.
At the same time, a number of Syrian Kurds have been on hunger strike since 30October in the Adra Prison and the Sednaya military prison in Damascus, in protest at their conditions of detention. They are demanding a proper trial, the right to exercise in the prison courtyard, the right to be visited by family members, access to the media, the radio, newspapers and television, as is the case with other detainees.
Several demonstrations have been organised in support of this hunger strike. On 14 November, some Kurdish members and sympathisers of the Democratic Union Party undertook a one-day hunger strike at the Brussels Kurdish Institute. The same kind of demonstration took place in Aachen, in Germany, on the same day. On 15 November, the Syrian Kurdish Yekiti Party made a statement in support of the prisoners. On 16 November, a rally took place in front of the Syrian Embassy in Brussels. On 18 November, representatives of the Democratic Union and of the Kurdish National Congress met leaders of the European Union and of the Belgian government. On the 19th, it was in front of the Syrian Embassy in London that a Kurdish demonstration took place. On the 20th, some Kurds undertook a hunger strike in Geneva, in front of the United Nations Building. On 23 November, a rally mainly composed of these prisoners’ family members took place in front of these prisons in Damascus demanding, unsuccessfully, the right to visit.
Five prisoners, Munthir Abdullfattah Rasho, Ciwan Mohammed Ahmed, Hassan Khalil Qudo, and Khalil Fidi Khalil, who were due to be tried on 17 November had their trials postponed to 12 December.
On 27 November, a symposium was organised by the Paris Kurdish Institute at the French National Assembly, bringing together several historians and research workers on the subject of the massacres in Dersim in 1937-38.
Te first Round Table was chaired by Joyce Blau and covered the ideological context in which these massacres and the persecution of a whole population were perpetrated. Thus Dr. Ugur Umit Ungor, of University College, Dublin, linked the Young Turks political movement, which had instigated the Armenian genocide in 1915, and the planners of the Dersim massacres, recalling the number of refugees of the first who had found asylum in this region. The writer Mehmet Bayrak, for his part, situated these events in a long-standing tradition of persecution of Alevis in the Ottoman Empire that continued into the Turkish republic. Finally Seve Evin Çiçek, a writer and research worker, recalled that the Koçgiri massacres, in 1920-21, should be considered as a “prelude to the Dersim events”.
The second Round Table, presided by Hamit Bozarslan (EHESS) tackled the question, both legal and historic, of the genocidal aspect of the massacres. Dr. Hans-Lukas Kieser, of Geneva, described the context, the organisation and the “open questions” round the “Dersim campaign and Kemalist Turkey”. Dr. Ali Murat, of the Ankara Alevi Institute analysed Dersim through the “prism of the State”. Erdogan Aydin, an Istanbul writer and researcher, also examined the policy of the State regarding Dersim and the characteristics of the resistance that opposed it. Mete Tekin, a researcher in Paris, set out a chronology of the events and Ali Kiliç examined the Dersim question through the French archives of the period.
The third Round Table, presided by Gérard Chalian, dealt with Dersim in the collective memory, with a reading of the testimony of Ihsan Sabri Çaglayangil (1908-1993), former President of the Turkish Republic in 198o. Dr. Bilgin Ayata, of John Hopkins University, dealt with the question memory of the amnesia of victimised populations and Professor Mithat Sancar, of the Ankara Legal University, more specifically of the Kurdish and Turkish collective memories. Kazim Gundogan, a documentary producer from Istanbul, tackled the policy of forced adoption of Dersim children into Turkish families. His contribution was followed by that of Ms Marie Le Ray, a Ph.D. student at Aix-en-Provence, entitled “Dersim 1938, at the heart of a disputed re-invention of a locality”, and that of Serafettin Halis, Member of Parliament for Dersim: “Confronting History: facing up to the Dersim massacre”.
Finally the symposium ended with the reading of a message from the Ankara sociologist Ismail Besikçi and the closing speech by Kendal Nezan of the Paris Kurdish Institute.