A referendum is due to take place in Turkey on 12 September on a proposed reform of the Constitution, which is still that set up by the Army’s 1980 coup d’état. The amendment package recently approved by the Turkish Parliament envisages altering 26 Articles and repealing the Constitution’s provisional Article 15. This forbids any trial of the members of the National Security Council formed following the 12 September 1980 coup. The new clauses also repeal the ban on General Strikes and allow citizens to join more than one Trade Union.
The Kurds in Turkey have expressed their views on the document to be approved — an on the whole critical viewpoint. Most of the Kurdish leaders consider it inadequate with regard to their national question since the Kurds are not even mentioned. Thus the PKK has called for a boycott of the referendum through one of its spokesmen in Iraq, Farhan Omar: “These Constitutional amendments contain nothing new for the Kurds. The PKK is not in favour of these constitutional changes. The former constitution banned the Kurdish language. The new one does the same. Kurdish children will still not be able to be educated in their mother tongue, they will not be allowed to have Kurdish first names nor can Kurdish towns and mountains be called by their Kurdish names”.
Unsurprisingly, this call for a boycott is also adopted by the BDP, the principal Kurdish party in Turkey. Thus Salahattin Demirtas, the BDP co-chairman, declared that the ballot boxes would be returned empty to the government. While he was at it he accused the Prime Minister of being responsible for the recent anti-Kurdish riots, led by ultra-nationalist groups in the Western parts of the country, and even of being an accomplice of the Ergenelon conspiracy.
“We are the vanguard of those who wish to live under a Democratic Constitution. However, it is clear to us that the AKP habours evil intensions and supports the conspirators”.
In a more balanced manner, the other co-President, Gulten Kisanak, revealed the political quandary in which the referendum places them. In his view, to vote YES would be merely to support a patching up of the coup d’état Constitution — while voting NO would be to legitimise it.
On 1 August, thousands of Kurds marched through the streets of Istanbul to protest at the absence of any amendments regarding the Kurdish question.
On the other hand, the Kurdish parties HAKPAR and KADEP called for taking part in the referendum and approving the reforms, considering them a step forwarding the process of democratising the country.
The main Turkish opposition parties, for their part, call for an unequivocal NO vote, since it is very clear that this referendum is considered to be a plebiscite in support of the government.
Finally a group of Turkish intellectuals, artist and journalists have adopted a position closer to that of the Kurds, even if they does not call for a boycott: a vote “yes but …” or “yelmez ama avet” (it’s not enough, but yes).
However, independently of the stands taken by the parties and calls for boycott, the question raised is the attitude of the Kurdish electorate. If the boycott is widely followed, this will strengthen the impact of the BDP on Kurdish policy in Turkey. On the other hand, if it were a relative failure, this would be interpreted as a Kurdish vote of confidence in the AKP.
In an interview given to the daily paper Zaman, which is close to the AKP, the former BDP President, Ahmet Turk, shows, at length and in more measured terms than Selahettin Demirbas, the possible Kurdish responses to the referendum.
Thus, for this Kurdish leader, the present progress that the Kurds enjoy in Turkey owes nothing to the Turkish ruling class: “Neither the Justice and Development Party (AKP) nor the Governments led by Suleyman Demirel or Bulent Ecevit have said “There are some Kurd amongst our citizens. These differences are an asset”. The position we have reached today owes nothing to their attitudes. On the contrary, we owe all the progress that has been achieved to innumerable sufferings and to the debate (on the Kurdish question)”.
Considering the actions of the AKP to resolve the Kurdish question to be insufficient, Ahmet Turk cites the example of Spain which has had the moment of “courage” needed to take political decisions in favour of Catalonia and the Basque country at a time when extreme Right militia were facing the country with a danger similar to that of Engenekon in Turkey today. In the opinion of the former BDP leader, the problem is due to the fact that Turkey has always been ruled by a political caste that extols the status quo and which considers itself the “owner” of the Turkish Republic and which, moreover, has little confidence in democracy for resolving problems.
On 9 August a meeting took place between the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who is also leader of the State of Law Party, and the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massud Barzani, to prepare for discussions about the Iraqi crisis and the problem of forming a new government that has been pending since 7 March. The Prime Minister’s last visit to Kurdistan was on 21 May.
Since the two blocks of Sunni and Shiite Arabs ended the last elections neck and neck, the much more united Kurds have played a preponderant role in the proper working out of a future coalition. While many disputes have inflamed relations between Irbil and Baghdad (the Kirkuk issue, the oil contracts, the budget) Massud Barzani nevertheless stated that he was not absolutely opposed to a second term in office for Nuri al-Maliki, while making the point that this meeting was not aimed at forming a coalition but to “strengthen an old alliance” and to envisage putting an end to the innumerable suffering afflicting the country.
For his part the Iraqi Prime Minister has indicated that his party, the State of Laws, had similarly approached the other parties that fought the last elections so as to enable a “road map” to be drawn up.
Nuri al-Maliki has also met the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, who stated that he had initiated this meeting and had advised the Shiite to allay Kurdish fears of seeing their claims once again ignored or postponed sine die by settling: the carrying out of Article 140, the issue of the sale of oil and gas, the upkeep of the Peshmergasas well as the renewal of the PUK leader’s tern of office.
Thus the Kurdistan Alliance, the principal coalition of Kurdish parties, has submitted a list of 19 demands to each of the two main candidates: Iyad Allawi, who leads the Sunni coalition Iraqiya and Nuri al-Maliki. To date neither of them has officially responded to these demands, which are:
1. To undertake to observe the Constitution and all its articles, so as to preserve the federal and democratic system.
2. To form a government of national unity that would include all the key groups of Iraqi society.
3. To adhere to the principle of partnership in decision-making, which must be maintained as follows:
A. A National Security Council must be formed formalised by a law to be passed by the Parliament at the same time as its approval of the new government.
B. Setting up rules for the internal policies and procedures of the Council of Ministers that shall clarify decision making and which groups shall be responsible for such decisions as well as the powers to be retained by the Prime Minister and his assistants.
C, Adhering to the principle of consensus (tawafuq).
4. Forming a Federal Council to last for one year after the formation of the new government. The President of the Republic and his Vice Presidents must have a right of veto.
5. The electoral law must be amended so ensure that all Iraqis are equitably represented.
6. The General population census must be taken within the planned period.
7. The complex of armed forces and other security forces must ne reconsidered, approved and made to work on a balanced basis.
8. Establish a principle of balance in all State institutions, including the Ministries, the independent commissions etc.
9. Carrying out Article 140 of the Constitution and making budgetary allocation for carrying it out within a period that must not exceed two years.
10. Approving a final Bill on water resources within a year of forming the new government.
11. Approving a final Bill on Oil and Gas within a year of forming the new government.
12. Financing and arming the Guards of the Kurdistan Region (Peshmergas) as part of the Iraqi defence system.
13. Supporting the Kurdistan Alliance’s candidate for President of the Republic.
14. Compensate the old regime’s victims, including the Anfal victims and those of the chemical weapons used at Halabja and elsewhere. The compensation must be immediate and fair.
15. Kurds must receive key posts in the Ministries, in the Council of Ministers as in the independent commissions so as to take fairly in account the rights of nations.
16. The Kurdish group (in Parliament) should have the right to vote for the approval of the principal Ministers and other ministries that cover the Region.
17. The General Secretary of the Council of Ministers must be a candidate from the Kurdistan Alliance.
18. The coalition government shall be dissolved should the Kurdistan Alliance withdraws following serious violations of the Constitution or of refusal to observe the terms of the agreed programme.
19. Members of Parliament and members of the government representing the ¨rime Minister must support the previous projects.
The other candidate for the Primiership, Iyad Allawi, is also due to visit Irbil at the end of the month to meet Massud Barzani, as was announced in the newspaper Aswat al-Iraq, as will the leader of the Supreme Islamic Council, Ammar al-Hakim.
Another meeting, this time internal to Kurdistan, also took place this month, in the context of post-election understanding. It brought together senior officials of the PUK and the leaders of the new party Goran, formed by dissidents from Jalal Taliban's PUK. Since the July 2008 General Elections and the very intense election campaign that opposed them, relations between the two movements have become still more acrimonious. Leaders of the two parties have, however, welcomed the meeting, seen as an important step in easing tensions. Awal Sheikh Janab, a Goran party cadre, said he was optimistic about the steps taken, which he considered “a start”: “The political situation in Kurdistan requires such an agreement and reconciliation”.
However, the content of the meeting have remained secret. It is just known that Goran proposed certain conditions to the PUK in return for which a union in Baghdad of the Goran and Kurdistan Alliance Members of Parliament (where Goran has 8 seats) could strengthen the Kurds, especially as the question of support for Jalal Talabani as President will also be raised.
Nawashirwan Mustafa, one of the PUK’s veterans and now leader of Goran, has not n=yet net Jalal Talabani directly. Sa’di Ahmed Piré, one of the PUK leaders does not think that his president would be opposed to such a meeting. Recently, however, the Kurdistan Alliance, which includes the KDP as well as the PUK, has filed a suit against a Goran newspaper, Roznama, following a front page article that it published accusing the two parties in office of smuggling crude oil to Iran to replenish their funds. The KDP is demanding such high damages and compensation that it could only result in closing down the paper. Some observers are wondering whether this reconciliation is another way of silencing criticism of the government’s corruption — Goran’s principal election argument against the Alliance. However, according to Mohamad Tofiq Rahim, a Goran spokesman, the party’s line will not change, even if there is some political detente.
On 7 August, Amnesty International appealed to the Syrian authorities either to release or legally and officially charge a Kurd who has been detained for two years without charge or trial.
Local witnesses express fears that Abdekbaqi Khalaf may have been tortured by the State Security forces.
This political activist was transferred from Damascus’s Central Prison to the State Security’s premises to “confess” to the murder of two Syrian Security agents in the Kurdish town of Qamishlo early in 2008 — a crime he has denied from the start.
We are very worried following reports of repeated tortures that Abdelbaqi may have suffered during his interrogation by agents of the State Security to make him confess to a crime he says he never committed”, stated Philip Luther, Assistant Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department of Amnesty International. “These allegations must be the subject of an independent and impartial enquiry as soon as possible and those responsible must be brought to court”.
Abdekbaqi Khalaf must be able immediately to meet a lawyer of his choice and have access to all the medical care he may need” added Philip Luther.
Formerly member of the Syrian Kurdish party People’s Unity (Ittihad ash-Shaab) Abdekbaqi Khalaf had founded a clandestine library of books in Kurdish, which is forbidden in Syria since then Kurds in this country suffer from all kinds of discrimination and prohibitions, breach of which unfailingly exposes one to arbitrary arrest, torture and illegal detention.
Abdekbaqi Khalaf has been refused any contact with his lawyer and his family has been unable to visit him, probably so that the too evident signs of torture be not seen or because his state of health does not allow it.
In September 2008, some masked men kidnapped him while he was closing his clothing shop in Qamishlo. He had previously warned friends that some Security agents were watching his movements.
Until the beginning of 2010 this activist was detained in solitary in an unknown place. He is said to have been hung from his wrists and chained to a wall during his first week of detention.
Torture and ill treatment are widely practiced in Syrian places of detention and interrogation centres. In the last two months there have been four cases of death during detention, possibly due to torture. Moreover, several dozens of Kurds are imprisoned and accused of having killed Security agents even though, as in Abdekbaqi Khalaf’s case, their political activities were more in the cultural and intellectual field.
Thus two brothers, Nidal and Riyad Munthar, who wished t create an association to encourage Kurdish culture and books on the Kurdish question have been arrested on the same charges. These two had also started a clandestine library (a project supported by Abdekbaqi Khalaf) to lend books and publications by Kurdish authors.
The documentary by Bulent Gundiz, “Evdale Zeynike”, which won a prize in Sri Lanka and took part in the New York International Film Festival is now being shown in Ireland.
The documentary relates the life of Evdale Zeynike, the “father of the dengbej”, that is of the Kurdish bards who recite from memory epic poems several thousands of lines in length, often without musical accompaniment.
During the Vesak Buddhist Film Festival in Sri Lanka, held between 18 and 22 June, Bulent Gunduz’s film was in competition with 13 other short and full feature films from different countries, both fictional dramas and documentaries. It won the first prize.
It was also noticed by film critics at the New York International Independent Film Festival has now been invited to Ireland’s International Film festival.
Through short scenes based on what is known of the life of this dingbej, the documentary portrays and gives a history of traditional Kurdish oral literature. It is also the first documentary on the subject.
The film was shot by a team of fifteen, who went to film in on location at Van, Bayezid, Igdir, Agri, Toprakkale, Tutak, Hinis, Hamur, Tekman, and Karayazi — all the places where Evdale Zeynike used to perform during his nomadic itinerary. It is shot entirely in the Kurdish language — a first in this kind of film.
This 72-minute documentary also extols the women dengbejs and interested professionals by its technique as well as its content.
Talking about his film and its success in these festivals, Bulent Gunduz said he was very glad to have been able to take “this epic child of Mesopotamia to the other end of the earth. Evdal will sing, for the first time in centuries, banned kilems (poems sung to music) to the inhabitants of New York. This makes me indescribably happy. This festival shows once again that oral literature and the dengbej tradition are not only the heart of Kurdish culture but also part of the cultural heritage of humanity”.