The 11 Judges of the Turkish Constitutional Court have ruled unanimously (as most political observers expected) — the DTP was declared dissolved by the Turkish Constitutional Court on 11 December on the grounds of being: “a centre of activities detrimental to the independence of the State and to its indivisible unity”. It also banned from all political activity for 5 years 37 of the party’s leading cadres and its two co-presidents, Ahmet Turk and Aysel Tugluk. The two latter were also stripped of their office as elected Members of Parliament.
This decision places the AKP government in an embarrassing position both with respect of the European Union and their Kurdish opposite numbers from whom it had hoped some support in its policy to resolve the conflict. It was, however, welcomed by the opposition, in particular by the President of the CHP, Deniz Baukal, who described it as a “a fair and legally well founded decision”.
At first inclined to withdraw from parliament, the remaining 19 DTP Members finally chose to remain and found another party, the Party for Democracy and Peace (BDP). Since the debates on this had taken place openly within the DTP as in the PKK, and since the DTP had not hidden that their decision to remain in parliament was taken on the “advice” of the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, a further legal charge was issued against Ahmet Turk on 23 December.
The banning of the DTP was criticised by the European Union as well as by the AKP government, which has to face a firm opposition from nationalist and Army circles in its efforts to resolve the Kurdish problem in Turkey. The news of this ban has, moreover, provoked many violent incidents going from demonstrations that turning into clashes in the major cities of Western Turkey, where many displaced Kurds now live, to riots in the large Kurdish towns like Diyarbekir or Hakkari, the DTP’s main electoral strongholds.
Criticised by one side for collusion with the separatists and on the other for the inadequacy of the announced measures, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his team are blowing hot and cold on the Kurdish question, as are the nationalist circles, particularly after the sudden series of police raids as much regarding the Ergenekon case as on Kurdish circles, who are regularly accused of links with “terrorist” organisations.
Thus on 24 December the Diyarbekir police arrested more than 80 people in their homes, all on suspicion of “separatist machinations” and links with the PKK. The dragnet took place simultaneously in 11 provinces.
This is the third time this year that such police operations have taken place, but this one has particularly strongly hit Kurdish opinion and aroused its indignation, since it follows closely on the banning of the DTP; confirming the opinions of those who were sceptical about the AKP’s real intention of carrying out reforms.
The Kurdish mayors arrested are Selim Sadak, mayor of Siirt; Abdullah Demirbas, mayor of Diyarbekir’s old town (Sur), who has had frequent problems with the judicial establishment because of his initiatives to promote the public use of the Kurdish, Syriac Armenian and Arabic languages; Aydin Budak, mayor of Cizre; Ethem Sahin, mayor of Suruç; Ferhan Turk, mayor of Kiziltepe; Leyla Guyen, mayor of Viransehir and Necdet Atalay, mayor of Batman.
The other 35 people charged are members of Kurdish parties, NGOs or Human Rights Defence movements.
The President of the newly created BDP, Demir Çelik, condemned this police operation that, in his view, can only increase tensions and highlights the incoherence of Turkish policies regarding the Kurds: “I must stress that these operations are evidence of a development that in no way correspond to the government’s plans and peace process”.
In an interview given to the Turkish daily Bianet, the President of the Diyarbekir Bar, Mehmet Emin Aktar, saw this as a grave error of judgement by the AKP: “The government’s position is somewhat suspicious (…) All these police operations of arrest and detention only increase the Kurds’ distress. It is wrong to imagine that the Kurds will lose its armed strength once they have exhausted all their legal resorts. By doing this they will continue to clash with the young people who grew up during the conflicts of the 90s”.
More bitterly, the mayor of Diyarbekir spat out to the TV cameras in exasperation: “I have only one thing to say to those people who are trying to sort out which of us are hawks and which are doves — f… off the lot of you!”. This provoked scandalised reactions in the Turkish media, as in the daily Hurriyet, always more ready to be shocked at bad language that at abuses of Human Rights … Osman Baydemir added: “After 80 years the Turkish State, for the first time ever, started some initiatives in the direction of living together with the Kurds. We believed it and supported it. However, once again, we see that it was just a snare, to try and destroy the Kurds’ struggles”.
Despite their anger, the decision of the Kurds to maintain their Parliamentary Group prevailed and a new group of M.P.s was formed composed of the remaining 19 ex-DTP Members plus an independent M.P. from Istanbul who joined them, Ufuk Uras. The new composition of the National Assembly is thus, out of 544 Members:
Justice and Development Party (AKP) 338
People’s Republican Party (CHP) 97
Nationalist Action party (MHP) 69
Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) 20
Democratic Left Party* 8
The Party for Turkey 1
* In fact neither democratic nor left wing, but another Kemalist party like the CHP.
This has not prevented violent confrontations continuing in the streets of Kurdish areas between the police and demonstrators. These caused a dozen injured in Diyarbekir, including two police, and ended with a dozen arrests. In Hakkari and Yuksekova the police were again confronted by hooded teenagers, who threw stones at them despite tear gas and high-pressure water jets.
The decision to ban the DTP, in addition to arousing some disapproval from the European Union, was also severely criticised by Massud Barzani, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and may have some effect on the fate of the future of the Kurdish refugees in the Makhmur camp, which the recent relaxation by the Turkish governments attitude on the Kurdish question had brought to the forefront.
Having fled Turkish Kurdistan and the war there in 1996, the some 12,000 refugees in the Makhmur camp, set up by the UN High Commission for Refugees, are in a difficult political and social position. They are both very much controlled by the PKK cadres and kept in an intermediate area, neither quite in Iraq nor quite in Kurdistan, since Makhmur is in one of the areas claimed by the KRG and covered by Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. Last autumn their repatriation was accepted by Ankara, but the conditions laid down by the PKK for their return as well as the demonstrations that had greeted a group of civilians from Makhmur and fighters from Qandil as “peace envoys” had offended Turkish public opinion and more or less suspended the timetable for their return, though without completely cancelling it. The latest police raids on Kurdish activists in Turkey have thus prompted the Kurds in Makhmur to a certain distrust. When the Turkish Minister of the Interior, Besir Ataly, was on a recent visit to Baghdad, they paraded that city’s streets in protest, waving pictures of Ocalan and PKK flags.
Consequently, breaking slightly the soothing and optimistic tone that has developed in recent months in Turco-Kurdish relations, Massud Barzani expressed, in a communiqué, his “anger” at the banning of the DTP by the Constitutional Court while welcoming the Turkish governments recent initiatives: “The Presidency (of the autonomous region) expresses its anger following the banning of the DTP by the Constitutional Court but, on the other hand, welcomes the greater openness by the Justice and Development Party government. It hopes that the Constitutional Court’s verdict will not stop the process. It calls on all Turkish factions to engage in a policy of reconciliation so ensure its success”
After much argument and protesting by the various Iraqi political or religious factions, the election law for 2010 was passed by the Baghdad Parliament. Previously planned for January 2010, the repeated delays in passing this law have constrained the Iraqi Electoral Commission to postponing the poll to 7 March.
The 325 Members of Parliament will themselves then have to elect the Prime Minister and the Iraqi President. A referendum is also planned for the same day, to ask the Iraqis to decide on the presence of US troops in Iraq.
The birth of this law came after a difficult delivery and its approval was rejected several times. The principal contentious issues were the number of seats to be distributed between the provinces and to minorities and Iraqis in exile as well as the validity of the Kirkuk electoral register, disputed by the anti-Kurdish Turcoman and Arab parties.
The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) also recommended that the electoral system be altered so that each elector might vote for individual candidates rather than for closed lists, as has been the case so far. However, this system of open lists met with considerable opposition from those Iraqis hostile to Maliki, even among the Shiites, like the religious leader Ali al-Sistani, who feared that such a list of names would work to the Prime Minister’s advantage, even though the majority of the parties accepted it in the end.
UNAMI, after giving up the idea of an “ethnic” redivision of the seats in Kirkuk after the election, tried a compromise on the issue of the controversial electoral registers for Kirkuk by proposing to “mix” the 2004 registers with those of 2009, which, naturally met with opposition from the Kurds. In the end, the 2009 registers will be used for the election, but the Kirkuk results will “temporary” for a year while the Electoral Commission investigates the possibility of irregularities before finally validating them.
Initially the law was passed by 141 for, 54 against whole 80 M.P.s, mainly Kurds, left the chamber in protest at the small number of additional seats allocated to the three provinces of the Kurdistan Region. Indeed, they had been allocated three more seats although the total number of seats had increased from 275 to 325, including 16 for minorities: 5 for the Christians, 1 each for the Yezidis, Shabaks and Mandeans and 8 for Turcomen.
However, the Sunni Arab Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashimi for his part had demanded that 15% of the seats be reserved for Iraqis in exile and had vetoes the law that President Talabani and the other Vice-President, a Shiite had ratified. His stand on this issue is explained by the large number of Sunni Arabs, more or less compromised by their involvement with the former regime, who had fled the country after 2003. However, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Ayad al-Samarrai, was able to circumvent the veto by arguing that the issue of allocation of seats was a matter for the Electoral Commission, not a Constitutional issue, and the Presidential Council’s veto on Iraqi laws only applied if they were unconstitutional. The law was thus resubmitted to Parliament.
However, since the first vote had taken place in the absence of the M.P.s from the Kurdistan Region in the issue of the 3 additional seats, the Region’s President threatened to boycott the elections. It was thus finally agree that the number of seats to the Kurdistan region be increased, but at the expense of the Sunni Arab provinces, which was often seen as a form of retaliation against al-Hashemi’s attempted hold up. This has led some political analysts to say that the Sunni Vice-President\s first veto was bit or poker bluffing that didn’t work. Thus the Iraqi press described it as a “disaster” for the Sunni Arabs.
The new arrangements, as voted by Parliament, thus no longer take into account the Iraqi population increase since 2005, but raise the number of seats in each province by 2.8% per year. Thus, in the opinion of the Sunni Arabs and the press in general, the Kurds are the only ones to benefit from the new system. The frustration and anger of the Sunni Arabs augurs for a difficult political climate after the elections. The blame, however, is laid squarely on Tariq al-Hashimi, strongly criticised by his fellows for having gambled, in such a risky and personal manner, the future representation of the Sunni Arabs in Parliament.
As the Kurd finally accepted to take part, despite the special arrangements about Kirkuk, a rumour has gone round in Iraqi political circles about a secret bargain between Massud Barzani and the American Administration, which is in a hurry to resolve the issue before the complete withdrawal of its troops. Thus some Sunni Arab tribes in that province accuse the USA of having given in to the Kurds on the holding of the referendum provided for by Article 140 of the Constitution, which has been repeatedly denied by Nuri al-Maliki. As for the Kurdish parties they will probably break with their habit of a “united front” at the Iraqi elections, since the new party, Gorran, whose relation with the PUK at ground level are pretty tense, has refused to join the Kurdistani Alliance and will probably go it alone at the elections. At the same time, the Kurdish Islamist parties, who were already very divided at the Kurdistan parliamentary elections last July, have not managed to unite since. The Kurdistan Islamic Union has rejected any alliance with the Kurdistan Islamic Movement or the Kurdistan Islamic Group.
The Sunni Arabs are also divided. The largest Sunni Arab party has had many defections, including Tariq al-Hashimi, who has formed his own party, the Renewal list, allied to the Iraqi National Movement led by former Prime minister Iyad Allawi and the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, which has some Baathist tendency.
Ahmed Abu Risha, leading the Awakening list, which won most of the seats in the Sunni Arab province of Anbar in the 2009 local elections, had earlier started discussions with the Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to join his State of Law coalition, which won the 2009 elections. In the end he opted for al alliance with the Minister of the Interior, Jawad al-Blani, an independent Shiite and the Sunni Abdul Ghafur al-Samarrai, who are both in the Iraqi Unity coalition.
The number of demonstrations that have peppered the month of December show that the opposition in the streets of Iran has not abated despite the violence with which it is repressed. There seems even to be a radicalisation of the confrontations, the issues now going far further than just the dubious re-election of Ahmadinjad. It is the very authority of the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei that it being attacked and defied, even within clerical circles.
On 7 December, Iranian Student’s Day, was thus transformed into a day of protests on every University campus. The police rapidly surrounded the colleges to prevent the rest of the population from joining the students, but were not always able to do so. Thus at Amir Kebir University the crowd force d the gates and mingled with the students, Despite the cutting of access to Internet and mobile phones networks, the slogans were effectively transmitted throughout student circles and video pictures of the demonstrators, caught on mobile phones, once more went round the world via the Web, although journalists were, once again, banned from the scene.
It was in the course of this day that one could see that the Iranian youth protest movement was crossing a Rubicon by beginning to attack the hitherto tabooed symbols of religious authority and of the Islamic character of the regime. An Iranian flag that did not bear the name of Allah was waved at Teheran’s Khajeh Nasir University, a picture of Ali Khamenei was publicly burnt to cries of “Death to you” and even that of the late Ayatollah Khomeiny. This particularly scandalised circles close to those in power, who fiercely attacked Mussawi and Karrubi, the two principal leaders of the opposition and called for their arrest, while the latter spoke of “provocations” by some of the bassaji militia — an argument also used by some student groups.
Whatever the truth of this point, this has not prevented the Iranian ruling authority from splitting still further, even giving rise to the fear of “civil disobedience in the Army”. Thus the Internet sites have relayed an appeal drafted by some officers and soldiers of the Land and Sea Armed Forces, protesting at the abuses of power by the “Guardians of the Revolution” (Pasdaran). Even if the text was not published officially, a number of Iranian observers in exile (journalist and political) consider it is genuine.
Here is the full text:
In the name of the divine country, the Army is the people’s refuge.
During the war years, when we fought alongside our brothers of the Revolution’s Guardians, we were defending the land, the dignity, the survival and the well being of the Iranian people.
Our country’s wealth comes from its people’s valour. The Armed Forces and the Guardians of the Revolution must serve the people and their lives. We would never have thought, at the time that, hand in hand, we were giving our lives to defend our country, that, today, an isolated group amongst the honest soldiers of the Revolutionary Guards would turn their arms against the people.
The Army knows how to be the people’s refuge and will never be made into a tool for the repression of the citizens by the politicians. We will not go against the neutrality that our function demands of us but we cannot remain silent at the sufferings and the violations that our people are suffering. We demand that the so-called Guardians of the Revolution stop raping and taking the lives, the dignity and the goods of the Iranian people on pain of receiving in return the anger of the brave soldiers of the Army. The Army is the people’s refuge and it will defend, to the last drop of its blood, this worthy and peaceful people”. (translation whereismyvote.fr)
Consequently Ayatollah Khamenei had, once more, to leap to the defence and try to discredit the opposition, especially Mussavi and Karrubi, accused of playing the game of the Western powers or even of being subservient to them
“They should be worried when they see corrupt people, exiled monarchists, communists, dancers and musicians supporting them. Those who shout these slogans in the name of these persons (the leaders of the opposition), waving their pictures and speaking of them with respect, have reached a point that is directly opposed to that of the Imam of the Revolution (Khomeiny) and of Islam”.
In parallel to this, a “Web war” is taking place, sometimes with a note of humour. Thus a student, Majid Tavakoli, one of the leaders of the student movement, arrested on 7 December, was photographed by the Pasdaran wearing a woman’s Chador (headscarf) to ridicule him, the Revolution Guardians accusing him of trying to escape disguised as a woman, which is denied by those who saw his arrest. The photo was published by the Fars News Agency, close to the government, which draw a parallel with Banisadr, the first President of the Islamic Republic, who was also accused, in his time, of having fled disguised as a woman. However, far from discrediting Tavakoli, the picture, whether or not it was a photomontage, was immediately hijacked by hundreds of Iranians throughout the world who had themselves photographed wearing a Chador in their Facebook or on Twitter, in videos on You Tube with the message “We are all Majid”. Amongst them are well known public figures, such as Hamid Dabashi, Professor at Columbia Univerity, or Ahmad Batebi, the leader of the 1999 student revolts, who also now lives in the United States. Finally, pictures of Khamenei and of Ahmedinjad wearing the same Chador have also been circulated.
In retaliation to this “Web War”, the site of Twitter was briefly hijacked by a group describing itself as the “Iranian Cyber Army”, which replaced the site’s home page by a green flag framed by two red stars with the words “Long live Imam Hussein” followed by “We must strike out if the Guide orders, we must lose out heads if the Guide wishes”. “Those who fight in Gods path win”. According to the Iranian opposition this was done by a group of Russian hackers hired by the Pasdaran to hijack dissident sites.
Indeed, 18 December, the day of Ashura, the Shiites’ most solemn religious festival, in commemoration of Imam Hussein’s death, was not exempt from violence. This, once again, breaches a taboo that has not been broken since the 1979 revolution: it is a day on which no blood may be shed, not even that of animals.
On the eve, a demonstration had been organised in support of the authorities, to cries of “Death to Mussavi” — no doubt inspired by the Sermon by Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, formerly the Supreme Guides representative on the Martyrs’ Foundation. On the occasion of Friday’s midday prayers this cleric had demanded the execution of leaders of the opposition. The demonstration’s success is uncertain. The official press agency, IRNA, talks of “millions of demonstrators”, but eyewitnesses only describe a few thousands, often civil servants, more or less willingly there or members of the militia. Neither Mehdi Karrubi nor Hossein Mussavi had called for a counter-demonstration for fear of violent clashes.
The next day, that is on the day of Ashura itself, the opposition demonstrations took place in all major cities and were violently repressed, causing many deaths — at least eight according to Shiite officials. On the following days, several public figures close to Musavi were arrested while Mehdi Karrubi’s car was attacked.
On 12 December, a Kurdish lawyer, Mustafa Ismail, was arrested and placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International immediately called for his release, pointing out the danger of the prisoner being tortured or subjected to ill treatment.
Mustafa Ismail wrote regularly about the conditions of Kurds in Syria and Turkey on many foreign Web sites. Summoned by the Security services of the Syrian Air Force in Aleppo, he has since disappeared. His family, who travelled to Aleppo on 17 December to visit this organisation, was told that they had never seen Mustafa Ismail in their offices and ordered them to return home.
Nevertheless, on 11 December, on the eve of his arrest, the lawyer wrote on the London based Levant News site, that he ought to be in the Guinness book of records for the number of times he had been summoned to go to the offices of the different security services since 2000. Thus on 3 October last, he was interrogated by the Political Security Office and on 7and 8 November by the State Security Office. The interrogations always covered his media activity and particularly the telephone interviews he had given to the Roj TV channel.
Mustafa Ismail is not the only Syrian Kurd to have “disappeared” in 2009. On 1 August a 15-year old child, Shahab Othman, who lived in the Koban region, was also arrested and carried of by the Political Security and his family has had no news since. On 17 November, Aziz Khalil Abdi was arrested by the same Political Security unit and his fate remains unknown. On 28 December, four other Kurds were arrested and jailed at Qamishlo. Hassan Saleh, Maaruf Mala Ahmed and Muhammad Mustafa are officials of the banned Yekiti party. Anwar Nasso is an artist and activist. The exact motives for their detention are unknown.
Moreover, since 30 October, some Kurdish prisoners who were on hunger strike at the Adra Prison in Damascus, in protest at their conditions of detention and their isolation have interrupted their action. However, according to the Executive Committee of the Democratic Union Party, the hunger strikers have been tortured and force-fed.
The prisoners are demanding a regular trial, the end of their isolation, the right to leave their cells for exercise and the right to receive visits from their friends and families as well as having the same rights as common law prisoners to radio and televised news
Ten days after interrupting their hunger strike, family visits were authorised to the prisoners, who, according to the visitors, show signs of having been tortures. They said they had been locked up, alone, in narrow cells where they were forcibly fed. The leader of the movement, who negotiated with the prison authorities, secured the promise that their demands would be considered, but so far nothing has changed, according to the Committee.
Some detainees suffered more particularly from the ill-treatment and torture endured: Muhammad Habash Rashi Bakr, detained for the last 7 years, Nuri Mustafa Hussein and Salah Mustafa Misto detained for the last 6 years.
On 30 December the Yekiti party finally announced the release of Ibrahim Burro, who was arrested in April 2009 and sentenced to one year’s jail last October for “membership of a secret organisation”. During an official reception organised by Yekiti, Ibrahim Burro related in detail what he had seen and suffered in prison. He thus pointed out that a number of teenagers without much political found themselves in prison solely because they had waved the emblems of Kurdish political parties and that many of the arrests amongst Kurds were totally arbitrary.
A film, The Breath: Long live the Fatherland (Nefes: Vatan sagolsun) by Levent Semerci, relating the life of a Turkish garrison during the 1990s, during the “dirty war” in Kurdistan is meeting with an unexpected success in Turkey, with 2.4 million seats sold since its release in October thus far outstripping box-office successes like harry Patter (640,000 seats).
Moreover, the film was unanimously applauded by the most widely opposed political sides, even if opinions differ as to its message, since it is praised by the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Ilker Basbug as being “One of the finest films ever made on the struggle against terrorism” while the daily paper Taraf is it as opposing “the beauty of live against war”.
For the film critic Attila Dorsay, it is definitely the “first really anti-war film of the Turkish screen”, since “war is not idealised, nothing in glorified. People went to see what had happened to their children, their cousins. They were personally and directly moved by this film”.
This is Levent Semerci’s first feature length film, since hitherto he has only made commercial and musical video clips. The plot is taken from a book Guneydogudan Oykuler (Tales of the South East) written in 1999 by the writer Haken Evrensel, who took part in writing the scenario.
A unit of 40 men commander by an officer, Mete, deeply affected by the recent deaths of two of his men, is sent to protect a wireless communications base at Karabal, from attacks by the PKK. This is located on one of the country’s highest mountains (2,365 m about 7,700 ft altitude) on the Turkish-Iraqi borders. Little by little they get the feeling of impending death and their only contact with the outside world are their telephone conversations with their families. It is then that a PKK fighter, who calls himself “Doctor” succeeds in interrupting a call by Mete to his wife and a series of dialogues, at once hostile and humdrum is set up between the belligerents.
In addition, the film Iki dil bir havul (Two languages, one suitcase) by two film students, (Ozgur Dogan and Orhan Eskikoy) respectively a Zaza Kurd and a Turk sold 78,000 seats. The film is about the arrival of a primary school teacher, who only speaks Turkish, in a village where his pupils only speak Kurdish.