In June, president Massud Barzani undertook a diplomatic tour involving historical stages in Turkey and in France. Indeed, this is the first time in history that a Kurdistan president has been officially received, as such, by a Turkish President, Prime Minister or any other Turkish official. This five-day visit was in response to an invitation from the Ankara government made last April. His last visit to Turkey was in 2004, but then as chairman e provisional Iraqi Government Council.
As expected, this meeting covered the very active bilateral trade relations between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey, the question of border security and their relations with Iraq.
Although bloody clashes had begun again between the PKK and the Turkish army, Massud Barzani repeated that he would “make every effort to prevent PKK attacks from taking place from places in the Qandil mountains,” during the joint press conference he held with the Turkish Foreign Minister. Ali Devatoglu. “We are opposed to the pursuance of violence. We do not consider that the security of Turkey is separate from hours (…). We will make every effort to put an end to this deplorable situation.” The Turkish Minister for his part expressed his satisfaction at the strengthening of links with the Iraqi Kurds, while asking, as usual, for “cooperation against the PKK”. “We expect full co-operation with our Iraqi brothers, and particularly from the Kurdish regional administration. We are glad that there has been a recent improvement in this cooperation”.
A reception was organised by the Iraqi Embassy in Ankara for this Kurdish delegation, as well as for a certain number of foreign diplomats and Turkish dignitaries. During his stay, Massud Barzani also met Turkish businessmen in Istanbul, to encourage them to invest in Kurdistan and to develop the already substantial trade relations.
On 15 June, the Kurdish president then visited Paris. This also was a historic first, since it is the first time that Massud Barzani has been welcomed to the Elysée Palace as President of Kurdistan. In the 1990s he had been welcomed by President François Mitterrand, but then only as a leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.
The meeting with Nicholas Sarkozy covered the political situation in Iraq, and its evolution as well as the economic links between the Kurdistan Region and France. President Barzani declared that his government wished to develop multiplex relations with France. For his part, Nicolas Sarkozy replied “France is glad of its friendship with Kurdistan and attaches great importance to this”. He also welcomed the positive role played by the Kurdistan region in the political process in Iraq, adding that his country supported a democratic Iraq where are the Kurds must live in peace and freedom. The French President having expressed his wish to visit Iraqi Kurdistan one day, Massud Barzani officially invited him on the spot.
Later the same day, the Kurdish President and a government delegation met Foreign Minister Bernard Kuchner. There too, the meeting was followed by lunch at the Quai d'Orsay in honour of the Kurdish President and covered Franco-Kurdish relations. The two men made a joint declaration expressing their intention to develop long-term trade, economic and cultural relations between France and Iraqi Kurdistan. In this statement the French government announced that it wished to provide assistance in the training and strengthening of administrative skills is within the Kurdistan regional government.
Then, at a press conference, President Barzani and Minister Bernard Kuchner expressed their satisfaction at having signed this agreement which aims at strengthening and multiplying bilateral relations between Irbil and Paris in the areas of culture, education, training and trade.
President Barzani also insisted on praising and thanking Bernard Kuchner for his past actions of humanitarian support for the Kurdish people, and his friendship for Kurdistan. He also said he was very pleased with these meetings.
“There are many opportunities for mutual cooperation between us, and I am very glad that the new Iraqi Constitution allows the development of such cooperation. Until security and stability have been re-established in certain parts of Iraq, the Kurdistan region can serve as a port of entry for other parts of Iraq and for economic and trade cooperation between France and Iraq”.
Replying to a question from a journalist on the conflict between Irbil and Baghdad on the subject of Kurdish oil operations, President Barzani pointed out that the Central Government had recently accepted to recognise as valid the oil contracts signed with foreign companies by the Kurds. This would lead to the reopening of oil exports from Kurdistan once a new government has been formed in Iraq.
The month of June saw the renewal of clashes armed clashes between Turkey and the PKK guerrillas, which caused many losses in both camps.
On 19 June a night attack by the PKK against an army post in Semdinli, near the Iraqi border, caused 11 deaths and 14 wounded among the Turkish troops. According to Turkish Army authorities, 12 Kurds were killed as well.
Naturally the Army indulged in shelling, bombing and reprisals, violating the Iraqi borders, for the first time in two years, to try and reach the Qandill bases, and penetrating 10 kilometres into Dohuk Province. Furthermore, the general staff announced that 130 PKK fighters had been killed since March, as against 43 Turkish troops.
The PKK attack at Semdinli and the reprisals and shelling on the same day were confirmed by the PKK spokesman to AFP. However, Ahmet Deniz indicated that he could not give an exact account of the losses on either side since the operations were still taking place, simply stating and that two Kurdish that there had been two Kurdish victims. The same spokesman threatened reprisals against Turkish towns if the army continued its operations. Commenting on the figures given by the Turkish army of 130 deaths in the PKK ranks, Ahmet Deniz confirmed this figure, while correcting the period involved, since this was the total of all victims since April 2009, not 2010.
The Turkish raids into Iraq caused 4 civilian victims, amongst who was a young girl of 15, whose mother and two-year-old brother were also wounded.
Replying to criticisms and to the indignation in Turkish public opinion after the death of its soldiers, the chief of the general staff Ilker Basbug declared, during a press conference held in Çanakkale, that he was absolutely determined to fight the terrorist organisation until it was annihilated. “This struggle is a long-term one, and requires patience”, he said. However, the general added, “terrorism” will not be eradicated unless, in addition to security measures, some economic measures and socio-cultural initiatives directed at the Kurds take place at the same time. He considered that the opposite idea, namely that economic and socio-cultural measures alone would put an end to the armed struggle, was mistaken.
The United States, for their part, expressed their support for Turkey. The US ambassador in Ankara, James Jeffrey, thus declared: “We are ready urgently to examine the new demands of the Turkish Army and government regarding the PKK. The PKK is a common enemy of Turkey and the United States and we actively support the efforts of our Turkish ally to conquer this terrorist threat.” The US ambassador also repeated that the cooperation of his country's intelligence services with the Turks remained unchanged. This is in allusion to a cooling off, alleged by certain political observers, in relations between the two countries after Turkey's refusal to follow the United States’ lead in sanctions against Iran and over the recent Israeli-Turkish crisis after the death of nine Turks in the attack by Israel on the NGO ship attempting to force the Gaza blockade.
Nevertheless, the Gaza scandal did not stop the cooperation military cooperation between Israel and Turkey, since the Anatolia press agency revealed the use of drones, bought from Israel to overfly and spy on the movements of guerrillas in Iraqi Kurdistan. General Ilker Basbug confirmed these facts, pointing out that the use of drones inside the Iraqi borders was, in fact, done by agreement with the United States.
This contract, signed in 2005, for a total sum of $185 million, covered the purchase of 10 planes, surveillance equipment and ground-based control stations from Israel Aerospace industries. Turkey had already received six of these drones and the delivery of the four others is due to take place this summer.
This announcement immediately provoked the ironic reply from the PKK spokesman, Ahmed Deniz, echoing the accusations made by certain Turkish political circles, particularly the Islamic ones, accusing Israel of supporting the PKK in secret so as to annoy Turkey:
“Turkey has always said that Israel supported the PKK, in order to attract the sympathy of Moslem countries and sully the PKK's reputation in the eyes of the Kurdish people. Today, however, they recognise they are the only ones to recognise and support Israel. This admission illustrates the bankruptcy of Turkish policy. If Israel and America did not support Turkey it would not be able to fight the PKK for more than an hour”. Ahmet Deniz added that the use of the Israeli drones to survey their bases was nothing new.
The fighting has not stopped, despite Turkish retaliation. On 22 June, the death of 7 Kurdish fighters and a Turkish soldier were announced. A PKK attack against a gendarmerie post at Bagdere near Silvan, caused five Kurdish deaths, killed a soldier, and wounding two others, as well as three civilians. In another clash, two other Kurds were killed and a third taken prisoner.
On the same day, a bomb exploded in Istanbul, aimed at a bus transporting soldiers and their families. Four soldiers, who in fact were Kurdish, were killed as well as a young girl. 12. Other people were wounded. Even though the action was not claimed by the PKK, the organisation was pinpointed by the Turkish authorities, since its spokesman had mentioned the possibility of carrying the struggle to Western towns in Turkey, if the army continued the fighting.
On 25 June another Army patrol was attacked at Elazig, causing the death of two Turkish soldiers and one civilian and wounding six other people. Retaliation took place the same day, Turkish police carrying out a raid on a house where two “separatists” were said to be hiding according to police reports. The two men were killed.
The “collateral victims” of these clashes were not just Kurds. Thus the Army opened fire on villagers South-east of Antioch, thinking that they were dealing with fighters, whereas, in fact, they were peasants who had left their village to collect thyme in the mountains. Two people were killed and others were wounded.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister, a Kurd Hoshyer Zebari, criticised the Turkish incursions into Iraq, describing the action as “unilateral” and calling on Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to return to peaceful methods of settling the conflict. This was an allusion to the policy of “openness” announced by the AKP the previous year, but which has been slow to catch on.
“This initiative was wise ” the Minister continued, “and should be adopted, improved and put into practice". It is the best solution to an old problem. Although we do not support or close our eyes to any terrorist attacks made by the PKK, nevertheless no country should resort to unilateral action”.
For his part the President of the Kurdish region, Massud Barzani, in a press conference held at Irbil, did not hesitate to openly blame the PKK for the renewal of violence, accusing it of wishing to harm the relations Iraqi Kurdistan was trying to establish with Turkey: “The PKK has launched its actions in Turkey and Turkey has consequently shelled our borders”, Massud Barzani remarked. He added that the PKK itself was providing all the excuses that Ankara needed to attack Kurdish territory.
Indeed the President in no way appreciated the fact that the PKK took advantage of his stay in Turkey to renew the fighting:
“It is a great pity that, while I was in Turkey, the PKK announced that it was putting an end to the ceasefire and renewing the war. This was really unfortunate and I never expected that the PKK would adopt such measures just at the moment that I was in Turkey”.
Massud Barzani promised to do all that he could to stop the attacks. But he did not fail to condemn, is as did the Iraqi government, the shelling of the borders carried out by the Turks against the PKK as well as by Iran against the PJAK forces.
Certain comments in the press had suggested that the Iraqi Kurdish president might have given is the green light to these incursions. Massud Barzani denied any such agreement:
“We have never given a green light to Turkey or Iran to shell the border regions. Those in the media that say so are far from the truth. We condemn such shelling completely”.
The renewal of fighting has not prevented business, as an important delegation of Turkish businessmen visited Iraqi Kurdistan on the 27th, so as to strengthen and develop trade links. The Turkish Ministers of State, Zafer Çaglayan, who accompanied the 200 businessmen, expressed the hope that economic exchanges between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan would help in resolving tension.
“Trade is the key to politics. Improving trade links will eradicate the problems that divide us”, the Minister declared to the Turkish daily Miliyet. “Terrorism will fade away if the economy of the “region” (of Kurdistan) in Turkey improves. Some 80% of the food and clothing sold in Iraqi Kurdistan is produced in Turkey. Turkish businessmen are taking part in a number of projects in the region. However, a lot remains to be done: infrastructures, hospitals, and schools. The Turks are the keenest candidates for all this”.
On 30 May last Vera Baudin died of a heart attack at the age of 80. Born on 27 March 1930, Vera Fine had married a Kurd from Iran who died of leukaemia five years later. She then devoted herself to the Kurds, and founded a Kurdish Heritage Foundation of America in the Brooklyn area of New York. This is a Kurdish Museum and Library the first in the United States, which has been visited by large numbers of research workers, journalists and government officials, Kurds passing through New York and all people who wished to know more about Kurdistan.
“Nothing that happened to normal people has ever happened to me” Vera Seedpour was in the habit of saying.
Vera Marion Fine was born in Vermont in 1930 of a family of low-income émigré Russian Jews: her father was a scrap metal and rag dealer in a town where they were the only Jews present. At the age of 17, she left for Brooklyn with Marcel Baudin, who she married and with whom she had five children. She worked at first in a bakery then secured a post as assistant to a property developer.
At the age of 40, she decided to enrol at Vermont University, where she passed a decree in sociology and a Masters in philosophy. She then enrolled for a doctor's degree at Columbia University. In the meantime she had divorced. She is secured her Ph.D. in 1976.
It was while she was at Columbia that she met a Kurd from Sanandaj, Homayun Saeedpour, age 26, who she married in 1981. It was then that she became interested in the cause of the Kurdish people, about which she had to known nothing previously. Ten years later she was to say “she knew the Kurds better than any Westerners in her life”.
Five years after their marriage, Homayun died of leukaemia. Two years later Vera Saeedpur started the Kurdish Heritage Foundation of America, a Library - Museum about the Kurds. This was the first of its kind in the in the United States and contained over 2000 works in Kurdish or other languages, maps, some of which dated back to the 19th century, posters, newspapers, some of which were published under the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad in 1946, and other historic documents, folklore objects and costumes.
This typically New York house, was bought in 1984 for $300,000 of and furnished in Victorian style and enriched with Kurdish artisan and folklore jewellery, which gave the premises a unique character.
Professor Robert Olson, (Kentucky University) declared “The Kurdish library that she created in her Brooklyn home bore witness to her love and interest in Kurdish culture”. Robert Olson spoke of Vera Saeedpour as a “passionate advocate for the cultural, linguistic and political rights of the Kurdish people”.
Shayee Khanaka (UC Berkeley/Middle East Collection Librarian, President of the Kurdish Studies Association) remembers the lecture organised by the Kurdish students to which Vera Saeedpour had been invited to speak, and her leaving the memory of “an astounding speaker at an astounding and extremely passionate speaker capable of answering the most diverse questions”.
Vera Saeedpour published the International Journal of Kurdish Studies, in cooperation with anthropologists from Harvard University and Cultural Survival.
This month's report of the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) covers the situation of Kurds in Syria, (estimated at 1.7 million strong). It covers all its political cultural and social aspects.
With regard to freedom of expression, of opinion and of association, the KHRP recalls that in 2009, many Kurds who were peacefully active in cultural areas were arrested and put into solitary confinement. In general, all activity outside the ruling Baath Party is de facto considered illegal by the security forces, which exert constant pressure on all who are suspected of dissidence
In March 2009, 26 Kurds were arbitrarily detained for having taken part in a silent march in protest against Decree N° 49, which considerably restricts the right to buy, sell or rent any property in the border regions.
In June 2009, Jigerkhwin Sheikhun Ali, an official of the Kurdish Democratic Party was is imprisoned in the same way as the lawyer Mustafa Ismail in the previous December. In the latter case, his writings on the web or on foreign websites and the telephone interviews that he had given on the subject of human rights in Syria had undoubtedly displease the regime.
Repression of all dissidence also uses then penal legal system. The High State Security Court uses several articles from the Syrian Penal Code, which allow it to sentence non-violent activists on the grounds of “attacks on national security” — articles in which are widely used on the in the charge sheets. In November 2009, a Damascus Court sentenced Sheikhu Mohammad Sa’id Omar and Mustafa Jumah to 3 years jail for “weakening national feelings” and “incitement to sectarian or racial hatred or conflicts” after they'd been convicted of having distributed a newspaper criticising Syria’s discrimination up against the Kurds.
The security forces and the Courts use clauses of the penal code to make illegal membership of any of social or political organisations that have not received government approval. In May 2009 Mashaal Temo, spokesman of a banned political party, was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison for “weakening national feeling and for having distributed false or exaggerated information The defence was not allowed to call any witnesses in its favour of the accused, or even to be present at the trial.
Another worrying factor is the way Kurds who had fled Syria and then been expelled from their host country. In September 2009, Khaled Kenjo, expelled from Germany back to Syria after his application for asylum had been rejected, was arrested on arrival and placed in solitary. He was accused of propaganda and false information under Article 187 of the Syrian Penal Code. Similarly Barzani Karm, expelled from Cyprus to Syria in June 2009, was arrested on arrival at Damascus Airport and placed in solitary confinement. Witness report that he has been tortured.
In the opinion of the authors of the report, the very name of the Syrian State, that of “Arab Republic”, itself infers the negation or discrimination against all other ethnic minorities living in Syria. As the numerically largest single minority, the Kurds are more particularly targeted by a discriminatory and repressive legislation. The KHRP recalls the fact that in 1962, 120,000 Kurds were stripped of their Syrian nationality and that neither they or their children have subsequently been able to recover their citizenship in Syria, becoming, in fact, stateless persons in their own country
Any expression of Kurdish identity is discouraged. Tension is particularly high during the Newroz Festival (the Kurdish New Year) — festivities are often forbidden or violently attacked by the police. Similarly the use of Kurdish names is forbidden as well as the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools.
The Kurdish Human Rights Project then tackles a strange business that is worrying the Kurdish community in Syria: the mysterious deaths of an abnormally high number of young Kurds while doing their military national service. Over the last five years, 36 young conscripts have lost their lives in circumstances that have never been clarified. The authorities’ official version has always been suicide or accident, but several Human Rights activists as well as the victim’s families have repeatedly demanded serious enquiries into these deaths. So far in vain.
In July 2009, the Syrian Arab Republic presented its first of its periodic reports covering its application of the UN Convention against torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. This report. addressed to the Committee against Torture, denies or minimises such actions, is contradicted by a whole series of testimonies made by prisoners or local associations that, on the contrary, the practice of extracting confession by torture is still the rule in Syrian prisons.
Thus in the same month of July 2009, Rojin Juma Ramino, a member of a feminist organisation, was arrested in the Kurdish town of Koban. She was then tortures while in detention and then sent to the Al-kini Hospital under a false name. The following month, two sisters, Esma Murad Sami and Eyhan Murad Sami were arrested in the town of Hassake and report that they were tortures and forced to collaborate with the Security Forces against other Kurdish activists.
On 23 June, a lawyer who specialised in the defence of Human Rights cases in Syria, Mohammad al-Hassani, was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. He had won the 2010 Martin Ennals prize, which his been given every year since 1993 to “a person or organisation whose struggle against breaches of human Rights was courageous and remarkable”. The jury that awards this prise is made up of ten major international organisations: Amnesty, the International Jurists Commission, the International Federation for the Rights of Man, Human Rights watch, the World Organisation against Torture, the International Service for Human Rights and Diakonie, Germany. This has not prevented Syria from sentencing him, and a spokesman of the British Commonwealth and Foreign Office has publicly expressed the Office’s view of this sentence.
“On Wednesday 23 June, Mohammad al-Hassani, an eminent lawyer and Human Rights activist, was sentenced by a Syrian Court for “propagating false information aimed at weakening national morale”. The United Kingdom deeply regrets this sentence and earnestly calls on the Syrian government to set aside this decision and release al-Hassani.
We are seriously concerned about the Human Rights situation in Syria and call on the Syrian government to fulfil all its obligations regarding Human Right and to allow its citizens to exercise their rights to freedom of expression without fear of arbitrary arrest, intimidation or prison”.
Regarding the case of Mustafa Ismail, raised in the KHRP report, the Second Prosecutor of the Aleppo Military Court has accused him of stirring up plots and actions aiming at harming Syria’s relations with foreign countries, as well as of being a member of an illegal organisation whose aim is the partition of Syria and the annexation of a part of its territory to a new country. Mustafa Ismail faces 1 to 5 years imprisonment. The same Prosecutor rejected all the petitions for the release on bail of the prisoner presented by his lawyers.
Mustafa Ismail is a longstanding activist, well known to the Syrian intelligence services. He was first arrested in 2000 by the political intelligence services for having taken part in a television broadcast in the Kurdish Medya TV channel. He was the detained in Aleppo for several weeks and has since been summoned by the Syrian security services on several occasions. Thus, in October 2009, he was summoned by the State Military Intelligence Service. He is at present detained in the Aleppo Central Prison, after having disappeared for three months during which it is supposed that he was in the hands of the Secret Services.
Born in 1973 in Koban, a Kurdish town in Northern Syria, he is married and the father of three children. He practices as a lawyer and has defended several Kurds and Arabs arrested and tried for their political activities. He is also an influential journalist and a poet. He has written a dozen articles dealing with the law and politics. He has also translated many articles and research papers for Internet sites, newspapers and reviews, both Arabic and Kurdish. His own writings mainly dealt with breaches of Human Rights in Syria. He has also taken part in Kurdish television broadcasts as a political analyst and Human Rights activist. He is also a correspondent of the Diyarbakir-based newspaper Azadiay as well as the Australian radio Sydney 2000.
Other activists have been sentenced this month. On 15 June, the same Aleppo Army Court passed a 5-year jail sentence on Dilsher Khatib Ahmed, of the town of Qamishlo and on Lawrence Hejarm of Amude, charged under Articles 267 and 288 of the Penal Code that forbid membership of any political organisation that aims at detaching part of Syrian territory for annexation to another country. These sentenced were later reduced to two and a half years.
Fawaz Mohi adDin, also from Amude, was also sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment, charged under the same Article 267 dealing with illegal organisations. His sentence was later reduced to 1 year and 3 months.
The Committee for Human Rights in Syria expressed its concern at the increasing number of such sentences and called on the judicial authorities to show some independence and impartiality in their sentences and way of handling cases. It also calls for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of opinion, particularly in the case of Mustafa Ismail.
Mahmud Safo, a member of the Kurdish Left Party’s Political Committee, arrested on 28 March 2010, was sentenced on 20th of this month to a year in jail by a judge of the Qamshilo Army Court for incitement to racial and sectarian hatred and for leading an illegal organisation.
Mustafa Mohammad Ali Khalaf, born in 1968 at Koban, has disappeared since he was arrested in his home on 3 May last by the local branch of the political security force. Married and the father of seven children, he is this family’s sole financial support. Also at Koban, Subhy Osman Berkut, born in 1965, was arrested on 14 February 2010 as he was returning home from work. There has been no news of his whereabouts since, not of the reasons for his arrest. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of arrests in this town.
Finally, as seen by the case of the Murad Sami sisters mentioned above, Kurdish women are not spared from this repression. In March 2010, two young girls, Berivan Ramzi Rashid and Dijla Nuri Sheikh were arrested at their home at night and taken to an unknown destination. Their families have had no news of their fate.
A Kurdish women´s organisation, Sittar, has also been exposed to persecution by the authorities. Several of its members have been arrested and are being detained in solitary confinement. Amongst them is Fatima Ahmed Hawool, who suffers from a chronic infection. Her life would be in danger if kept in prison. Also amongst them are Hediya Ali Yussef and Menal Ibrahim, arrested in October 2009, in Aleppo with Fekret Murad. Other members, like Aisha Effendi, Sadiqa Osman and Sara Ali, are regularly summoned to appear by the security forces.
A Kurdish scientist has discovered a new enzyme doing research at Jagellion University in Poland. The enzyme has been named “Karilsin”, after is discoverer, Dr. Karim Yassen, a biologist, who was spending 6 months doing research in Poland.
The discovery of this enzyme will have therapeutic consequences for the treatment of periodontal illnesses. While the scientific community has already identified the bacteria causing these periodontal complaints, it had not yet succeeded in understanding what enabled it to develop.
“I still need to find what causes this enzyme to form and means of preventing this”, stated Karim Yassen.
Millions of people throughout the world suffer from periodontal complaints, going from slight gingivitis to serious tissue necrosis. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, almost 80% of the US population if affected by this complaint at some time or other,
Karim Yassen’s discovery has been published in the major international scientific reviews, such as the US Biological Chemistry Journal. Several Universities through out the world, including some of the most prestigious, have invited him to complete his research in their departments.
Dr. Yassen is 34 years of age. He is a lecturer in the department of biology of Irbil’s Salahuddin University. In 2005 he left to work for a PhD in biology at Jagellion University, in Poland. The Polish university has since offered him a 2-year grant to continue his research in Poland, but he has declined this offer pointing out that his colleagues and student in Kurdistan needed him there. However, in the absence of an ultramodern laboratory in Irbil, he doubts if he can put the finishing touches to his discovery. Nevertheless, Salahuddin University’s Dean of Science, Dr. Kamal Mustafa, has stated that he intends setting up a fully up to date library to help Karim Yassen continue his research.