All through the month of July bloody clashes between the PKK and the Turkish Army continued. Thus, on 1 July 11 or 13 PKK fighters are said to have lost their lives in the course of clashes with an army unit, according to the Anatolia Press Agency. On the Turkish side, 3 soldiers lost their lives as well as 3 members of the “village guardians” militia.
The Turkish authorities point an accusing finger at the PKK military command in its refuge in the Qandil Mountains, in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is regularly bombed by the Turkish Air Force. They also criticise the lack of American assistance in their fight against the PKK, as Sinan Ogan, Director of the Turksam Research Centre explains.
Since the scandal of the Turkish humanitarian flotilla to Gaza, which has seriously damaged Turkish-Israeli relations and Ankara's refusal to vote for sanctions against Iran at the United Nations, relations between the USA and Turkey have cooled of somewhat, according to many observers. Thus, the US Assistant Secretary of State, Philip Gordon, has openly questioned Turkey’s “loyalty to Washington”.
However, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Endogan, denies this state of tension, while recognising differences of opinion: “This does not mean that there is a real problem”. Nevertheless, on the same day, the Deputy Prime Minister, Cemil Ciçek, stated that Turkey expected more of the Americans in the fight against the PKK.
We want a more determined cooperation that goes beyond the tripartite (Turkish-US-Iraq) machinery” set up against the rebels in 2007.
Thus Turkey is demanding that the US “hand over” the PKK leaders based in Iraqi Kurdistan and that it applies pressure on the Kurdish Government in Irbil to encircle the PKK bases completely, even though both demands are physically impossible.
Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Barak Obama during his visit to Toronto for the G20 summit and complained about the delay in the information provided to the Turkish Army by the American drones, calling for the information to be provided “in real time”.
Speaking off the record to AFP, a Turkish diplomat confirms these complaints:
It’s simple. We ask the Americans to supply us with more information about the PKK in Iraq. They have all the means to do so”.
A list of 248 PKK members, including the military commanders Murat Karayilan, Cemil Bayik and Duran Kalkan has even been handed to the Americans, to the Iraqis and to the Kurds, asking that they be handed over to the Turkish authorities “as soon as possible”, according to the Turkish daily Radikal, Turkey also wishes for a joint operation to capture them.
More specifically, during a TV broadcast, the head of the Turkish General Staff, General Ilker Basbug, most violently accused the Iraqi Kurds of “inaction against the PKK”, reviving the threat of another army incursion into Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Air Force frequently pounds the PKK positions in the Kharkuk and Qandil areas, in Iraqi Kurdistan, with this having much effect on ending the attacks.
From his Imrali prison, the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, has again called on Turkey to negotiate with his armed movement, at the same time demanding recognition in the Republic’s Constitution of the right of the Kurds in Turkey to autonomy, as well as the release of members of the BDP, suspected of PKK membership, who were arrested during the latest police round up. In other words, Ocalan indicated that the PKK’s struggle far from ending would intensify.
Indeed, other bomb or armed attacks have since taken place. Thus, on 19 July, an explosive device, placed on the roadside, blew up an Army vehicle near the town of Cukurca (Hakkari Province).
Another attack, on 20 July caused 15 deaths among the troops although reinforcements had been sent to Cukurca following the attack on the Army vehicle.
Another sign of disillusionment, after the hopes raised by the “Kurdish initiative” started by Erdogan: a number of people making up a “peace group” that had the Turkish-Iraqi border, has returned to Iraq.
These 34 “peace envoys” 30 adults (8 PKK activists, 22 “sympathisers”) had, at first been left free but later accused of links with the PKK, facing 20 years jail. Ten of them were placed in detention and their trial began last June.
We had stretched out our and but we just met a void” stated the group’s spokesman, as quoted by the Firat News Agency.
The Turkish Minister of Justice, Sadullah Ergin, when questioned by the press stated that he knew nothing certain about this return to Iraq, while regretting it:
We received some information along these lines. I would have hoped that they remained in this country to contribute to the government’s peace effort”
For his part, the head of the PKK armed forces, Murat Karayilan, confirmed, in a BBC interview, Ocalan´s proposals, pointing out that he had ordered his men to lay down their arms “under UNO supervision” if Turkey would accept a cease fire, while flourishing, for the first time in several years, the threat of “independence”.
If the Kurdish problem is resolved democratically via a dialogue, then yes, we will lay down our arms. However, if the Turkish government refuses to accept this, we must proclaim the independence” of South-Eastern Turkey, where the PKK is operating.
There is only one sign of political detent — on 22 July, the Turkish Parliament voted a Bill limiting the imprisonment of Kurdish children who had been arrested for throwing stones at the police during demonstrations. Hundreds of them, some as young as 12, had been sentenced to prison, despite protests from human rights defence organisations and Amnesty International.
The new law is equivalent to an amnesty for the imprisoned minors: “About 190 minors, at present in prison, should be released, and several thousand others at present being tried should benefit from this law”, declared the Kurdish Member of Parliament Bengi Yilmaz. Minors found guilty of taking parting banned demonstrations or of offenses covered by the Anti-Terrorist laws will go to reformatories instead of prison. Only “recidivists” and those caught carrying arms will face imprisonment — but the sentences may not exceed six years. Finally children and teen-agers will no longer be tried by adult courts.
At the beginning of July, the Syrian forces arrested 400 people in a vast dragnet covering the towns of Aleppo, Qamislo, Afrin, Hassake and Raqqa.
This news was published by the Turkish news agency Anatolia, alleging that those concerned were members of PKK — a statement denied by the Syrian Kurdish associations.
The charges against those detained go from the illegal collection of money to separatism and the will to “divide Syria”. The Turkish news agency even reported that 11 PKK members had been killed in clashes with the Syrian forces.
However, the Syrian-based association “International Support Kurds” denied this information on 2 July, the day after the arrest, indicating that the 200 Kurds had been arrested because of recent Newroz events, particularly at Raqqa, where Kurds celebrating the Kurdish New Year had been attacked by the Syrian authorities. It also said that they had not all been arrested in a single dragnet but in several waves of arrests. Some of these people have since been released.
Moreover, according to Nawaf Khalil, a journalist and analyst of Kurdish politics in Syria, the bilk of the Kurds arrested are suspected of membership of another party, the PYD and not the PKK. As for the 11 deaths mentioned by Anatolia, they are a pure invention — or else a manoeuvre by the Turkish AKP aimed at persuading Turkish public opinion that there is a regional level struggle against the PKK, outside its borders.
Furthermore, while the Syria Kurds deny this reason for the arrests, the repression is indeed real. Amnesty International has again questioned the Syrian President about the fate of 52 prisoners of whom there has been no news since a revolt in detention that cost the lives of 22 people in the Saydanya Army prison 2 years earlier.
Thus Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty’s Middle East department, stated that the Syrian authorities should inform the prisoners’ families on their condition, the place where they were detained and even their deaths and the circumstances of these deaths.
According to a police report, the violence began when 9 islamist prisoners attacked the guards to take their arms and mobile phones so as to alert their families and international organisations about the conditions of their detention. At least 17 prisoners and 5 soldiers died.
Persecution of the Kurds in Syria is also taking the form of expropriations. Thus some Kurdish farmers at Derik were obliged to sign blank sheets of paper that were used to cancel any possibility of reclaiming the lands they were working once the State had confiscated and excluded them from agricultural activity.
The documents regarding the ceding of the land also contains a statement that these acts were signed freely, without any constraints, and that the peasants were in full possession of their physical and mental faculties.
In fact, the Kurdish farmers stated that they were threatened if they refused to sign, and in particular would be accused of being members of illegal organisations like the PKK or PYD or the Confederation of Western Kurdistan or that their children would be refused access to schooling or university.
Finally, a series of mysterious deaths has been hitting Syrian Conscripts of Kurdish origin for several months. Several conscripts died in Northern Syria while doing their national service with no explanation of the circumstances of their deaths. In the face of insistence from their families and some associations, the Syrian Army finally invoked the possibility of an “epidemic” and cancelled the enlisting of several young conscripts.
The Kurdish associations state, in a declaration, that 10 recruits were admitted to hospital in Qamishlo on 12 July and that their condition was critical.
Without really giving any medical details, other Syrian officials have admitted that the so-called epidemic was rather due to severe exhaustion aggravated by the heat wave that was hitting the whole region and other ills such as dysentery, possibly caused by dehydration and malnutrition.
There are a number of assumptions regarding the reason for these illnesses, some people accusing the vaccines administered to new soldiers which may have been defective. Others attribute the cause to the weather that has provoked a wave of sunstroke and fever. Yet others talk about contaminated water or food only affecting troops but not civilians”, declared the spokesman of the Kurdish associations, especially as the doctors’ diagnoses are difficult to establish due to their lack of equipment and the resources of their laboratories.
At least 14 soldiers, all of them new recruits, have lost their lives in this way in Army hospitals at Harasta and Teshrin.
On 20 July, the opposition weekly, Rozname, published an article accusing the two parties in office of receiving backhanders for oil smuggled to Iran. Considering that this accusation is baseless, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Kurdistan President Massud Barzani, has filed a legal complaint against Rozname for libel, demanding a billion dollars damages.
The Press Freedom Observatory for Iraq has stated its “concern”, stressing that this is “the largest sum ever demanded in the history of the Iraqi press”.
Rozname, founded in 2007, belongs to the head of the head of the opposition Goran Party, Nauchirwan Mustafa, indeed affirms that “this smuggling earned millions of dollars to the two traditional Parties, the PUK and the KDP”.
The KOP Secretary, Fazel Mirani, also demanded that the journalists who wrote the article, Sirwan Rashid, as well as the chief editor of another review, Azad Jalak, be forbidden to leave the region.
We have decided to go to law and demand compensation from the newspaper, since it accuses us of corruption. It must provide proof of its allegations, and if it doesn’t have any we have a right to demand compensation”, declared an officer of the KDP’s Political Committee.
The affair began with an article in the New York Times, dated 8 July, reporting the possibility of some smuggling of oil to Iran, a news item relayed by AFP, a correspondent of which reported having seen, on the Bashmakh road, 150 tanker lorries waiting to cross the border in breach of the embargo.
In answer to the New York Times article, the Kurdish government made a public statement denying the accusation and affirming that the region was not exporting crude oil, but only heavy oil products produced by its three refineries. These bye-products could not be used in Kurdistan and their storage could have consequences on the environment. The working of these refineries was authorised by the law on hydo-carbons passed by the Iraqi Parliament in 2007.
The KRG admitted, however, that oil refined outside Kurdistan, in other parts of Iraq, could be smuggled out across its borders and promised a series of measures to put an end to this.
Already implicated by the opposition press in charges of corruption, the Kurdistan Minister for Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami, explained himself at length in an interview given to the daily Rudaw. Thus he denies any disagreements with Prime Minister Barham Salih or of having organised secretly organised oil sales to Iraq. According to this Minister, these sales were legal, in accordance with the Constitution and approved by President Barzani. The New York Times ’s accusations should be seen in the context of the long standing conflict between Baghdad and Irbil regarding the management and exploitation of Kurdish oil resources and that the Goran Party’s affirmations, and in particular those by Mala Nuri, a Goran Member of Parliament, were unfounded.
Kurdistan’s crude oil is not exported. People sometimes confuse crude oil and oil products. Si if he (Mala Nuri) is referring to crude oil, he is mistaken”.
Regarding the revenue from the sale of oil products, this is paid into an account held by the Minister of Finance, which is frozen pending resolution of the differences with Baghdad. He also stated that sales to Iran are made quite legally and that the central government had been informed of them as required by the Oil Law, which is denied by Hussein Shahristani, the Iraqi Oil Minster, nicknamed Jihad because of his well-known conflicting relations with the Kurdish region via his spokesman Assem Jihad.
The latter even threatened to deduct the revenue obtained from these sales from the Kurdistan’s budget allotment.
Questioned about this possible deduction, Ashti Hawrami stated laconically: “We have our own government and our own Parliament and make our own decisions”.
Abdullah Mullah Nuri, the Goran M.P. said he was not surprised that this affair was still further poisoning relations between the Federal Government and Kurdistan, before adding that he believed that these allegations of smuggling were broadly true.
There has always been tension between the central government and Kurdistan about oil. As soon as the news about trafficking was revealed, it became a factor in the conflict. Relations between Irbil and Baghdad will become more complicated and the politicians will want to use this trump card in their favour. Meanwhile the US Government may use this problem to put pressure on the Kurds”.
Some political experts consider that the next Iraqi government (the formation of which remains uncertain) could take advantage of this affair to overhaul the Oil Law and regulate the redistribution of income derived from natural resources throughout Iraq, including Kurdistan. However, since the result of the last elections led to the two main Arab coalitions (one Sunni the other Shiite) being neck and neck, there is still difficulty in reaching any agreement on firming a viable coalition government. Since the Kurds, taking all tends into account, have 63 seats in Parliament, they have a key role in the negotiations for forming any future government,
The performance of a play called “Sewakay Khom” (My Apple) met with a great success in Irbil this month. Written by the actor Karokh Ibrahim Hakim, it deals with the traumas of war and received, as from its opening night, high praise from the Kurdish press and public.
Hema, a young Kurdish woman married to a rich old man, is driven by the unhappiness of her marriage and war trauma, to kill her child.
According to Hakim, the “Youth” theatre company that puts on a new show every year in July, is far from being devastated by the crisis, as is often said in comparing it with the “golden age” of Kurdish theatre, in the 70s and 80s. According to him, the performance’s success is essentially due to its quality.
“Our performances have always attracted a lot of people. This is evidence that our success has got our message over”, the director explained to the daily Aknews.
The critics who attended the performance were unanimously of the opinion that the fact that Sewakay Khom shows that the actors and directors in Kurdistan are capable of producing very good performances, even if this is not frequently the case.
Thus the theatre critic, Haydar Abdurrahman, considered that this is “one of the rare “artistic” plays of our time, because, at this time, we are in the middle of a theatre crisis, and such performances are like a breath of fresh air. The direction, the cast and the writing all contribute to making this a fantastic work of theatre”. Haydar Abdurrahman said he was particularly impressed by the performance of these young actors, that he judged to be “extraordinary”, and by the talent of the director in getting their initiative and capacity to blossom.
Another professional opinion, that of the Kirkuk theatre company “Peace”, Sirwan Belana, also commented on the high level of the direction and the writing:
“The play is really worth seeing, as few theatre works has been able to reach such a high level of direction or writing”.
In his view, the principal message of Sewakay Khom is that women must only count on themselves for their emancipation.
Anwar Sheikhani, a leading Kurdish actor, was also greatly impressed by this work and stressed the originality of the stand taken by the director:
“Traditionally, plots have a beginning, a peak and conclusion. In this play, however, the director did exactly the opposite”.