On September 12, the Turks voted by referendum whether or not to approve the amendments to the Constitution, which was still that imposed by the 12 September 1980 coup d’état. These changes aimed at changing the judicial apparatus and reducing the Army’s hold on the State.
The principal Kurdish party, the BDP had called for a boycott of the referendum, mainly in protest at the absence of any explicit mention of the Kurdish people in the Bills, while other Kurdish parties with a much smaller following had, despite their reservations, considered that approving the amendments was a positive step.
On polling day there were a few minor clashes in some towns like Mersin, between demonstrators boycotting the referendum and those going to vote, but these were limited to some stone-throwing and the use of tear gas by the police.
The main issue involved, namely the extent of the turnout and the final result, went further than the amendments themselves. It was, in fact, for the AKP, the party in office, a “vote of confidence” by the electorate and a positive signal to the European Union.
Turkish democracy is at the most important turning point in its history”, declared Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Thus, the amendments allow Army officers to be brought before civilian courts, to prevent the banning of political parties (a measure from which the religious as well as the Kurdish parties have often suffered) and to allow the government and Parliament to have some say in the composition of the all-powerful Constitutional Court, generally considered to be a Kemalist stronghold.
The reasons why the “Turkish man in the street” either approved or opposed the amendments are pretty varied. Some wanted, once and for all, to put an end to the spectre of Army coups d’état hoped for the advent of a genuine civilian authority. Others voted against it from mistrust of what they considered to be the AKP’s ubiquity in the political and, especially, legal institutions or else as a matter of principle out of distrust of a party stigmatised as being “Islamist” by its opponents.
As from the publication of the results the next day, both the Government and the BDP could cry “Victory”. The former because of the 58% vote in favour of the amendments, the latter by the success of the Kurdish boycott, described by the BDP’s co-president Selahettin Demirtas as a “historic victory” while demanding the drawing up of a totally new Constitution that would, in particular, allow Kurds to be educated in their own language and enjoy some political autonomy.
In Diyarbekir, the historic capital of Turkey’s Kurds, 70% of the electorate stayed at home. In other towns in the Kurdish region, such as Batman, Sirnak, Agri, Mus, Ardahan, Kars, Idir, and Van, the boycott was even great, especially in the Province of Hakkari, where only 7% of the electorate vote— and only 3% in the town of Yuksekova.
As often happens in crucial periods of tension between Kurds and Turks, a bloody bomb attack hit a minibus full of civilians in the Hakkari region. This conveniently enabled the hawks to denounce the “terrorists” and demand a return to a “firmer” policy against the Kurds. The PKK, for its part, denied any involvement in this attack, which caused 9 deaths, and accused the Turkish counter-guerrilla militia.
This movement had already announced, on 13 August last, a unilateral extension of its cease-fire to caver the month of Ramadan. It added, in a statement to the Firat News Agency, that it had no intention of altering this “until new and serious events take place”,
Om the opinion of the PKK spokesman, another attack carried out against the little village of Peyanus was probably a reprisal by secret militia inside the Turkish Army because of its almost total abstention for voting in the referendum. Only 6 persons voted here, which means that 99% boycotted it.
A few days later, on 20 September, the Ramadan cease-fire was extended as expected. At the same time, to celebrate the start of the school year, another boycott, this time of 5 days, was launched, this time by both the BDP and the PKK — a boycott of the schools by Kurdish schoolchildren in protest against the continued interdiction of education in their mother tongue.
The right to education in one’s mother tongue is a universal human right. It is a natural right for children to receive an education in their mother tongue. Thus it is right to humanity and to patriotism to take part in this 5-day school boycott. We call on our people to support this important campaign”, stated the PKK.
The Turkish Minister of National Education, Nimet Çubukû, protested at this movement, which he described as “exploiting” children for political ends. He also a warned that parents who were not sending their children to school were facing legal action.
Selahattin Demirdas, the BDP leader, retorted that the assimilation of Kurdish children perpetrated for years was a Constitutional crime.
The mother country of the Kurds is here. You cannot refuse a people’s demands for education in its mother tongue, which is an undeniable right and not a Constitutional crime. Those who assimilated millions of Kurds had committed a crime against humanity. We support education in their mother tongue as we want to affirm that we are not taking part of a crime against humanity”.
On 20 September, several thousands of Kurds marched through the streets of Diyarbekir in support of the school boycott. The march started at the Cigerxwin Cultural Centre to the Kosuyolu Park, with banners on which were written slogans in Kurdish such as "Em zimanê xwe dixwazin" (we want our language), "Bê ziman jiyan nabe" (no language, no life).
Thus classes remained empty in most schools in the Kurdish region — in Diyarbekir, Urfa, Jallari, Van, Agri, Mus, Idir, Bitlis, and Kars, while at Yuksekova some of the teachers also joined the movement.
On 2 September, the President of the Iraqi Kurdish Region, Masud Barzani, welcomed to his region the US Vice-President, Joe Binden, who was accompanied by the Ambassador, James Jeffery and the General commanding US forces in Iraq, Lloyd Austin as well as several White House advisers.
Masud Barzani wished to express both the “gratitude” of the Iraqi people and especially that of the Kurds for the role played by the United States in the liberation of Iraq. Joe Binden, for his part, expressed Barak Obama’s “feelings of admiration” for the Kurdish population of Iraq.
However, putting aside the respective polite greetings on both sides, the meeting essentially covered some of the sensitive points of Iraqi politics, such as the pending withdrawal of US Armed forces, the Kirkuk issue, and the present political vacuum in Iraq, which is making the resolution of the above-mentioned problems even more difficult.
While the majority of Iraqis are worried about the final departure of the US troops, the Kurds are probably those with the most to fear from this withdrawal, in view of their distrust of the two major Arab blocks (Shiite and Sunni) and their ideas of a “strong Iraq” — that is a centralised one that would undermine Kurdish autonomy.
The Kurds have some reason to be nervous on the subject of the departure of US forces”, confirms Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs with the Congress Research Department. “The departure of the United States would mean the loss of a substantial ally that is a guarantee of the KRG’s autonomy, since neither the Shiite or the Sunni Arabs want Kurdish autonomy, especially if they control their own oil resources”.
On the subject of the formation of the new Iraqi government, press leakages gave the impression that Binden’s visit was n order to convince the Kurds to give up their candidature for the Iraqi Presidency, in the person of the outgoing President Jalal Talbani, leader of the PUK. This was immediately denied by Alah Mustafa, responsible for Foreign Affairs in the KRG.
The future of Kirkuk is another crucial issue for future Arab-Kurdish relations in Iraq. A the census of the whole Iraqi population approaches, the different factions in this disputed province are becoming heated, since the census could also be seen as a preliminary step to the referendum demanded by the Kurds, in accordance with Article 140 of the Constitution. Thus, Mohammed Khalil al-Juburi, a member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, has declared his opposition to any such a census, accusing the Iraqi Government of having done nothing to check the validity of the Province’s electoral lists. Certain Arab and Turcoman groups have challenged the validity of these lists, which confirm that the Kurds form the majority of the population. “A Commission must be set up to check the electoral registers, and only after this will be take part in the census”.
Dr. Najmaldin Karim, Kurdish Alliance Member of Parliament for Kirkuk, for his part, considers any postponement of the census to be “unacceptable”.
Several districts with a Kurdish majority were detached from Kirkuk and their inhabitants deported. If any of the parties is entitled to complain, it is certainly the Kurds. Despite this, there is no political motive behind the census. It is just projected for planning purposes, for all Iraqis, including those living in Kirkuk”.
Dr. Najmaldin Karim also drew attention to the behaviour of neighbouring countries like Turkey, which were trying to meddle with this issue for fear of Kurdish independence and accused the local political parties that oppose the census of acting in accordance with the Turkish agenda.
According to him, “The Arabs and Turcomen are still accusing the Kurds of having changed the population distribution of Kirkuk. In anticipation of the elections last March, they had stated that 800,000 Kurds had occupied the town. If this had been true, then the Kurds would have won all of this region’s 12 seats to the Iraqi Parliament”.
In an interview given to the Arab daily Asharq al-Aswat, the acting Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Dr. Fuad Masum, head of the Kurdish block, confirmed that Parliament was “violating the Constitution” since it should have elected its Speaker a month after it was formed. However, this election is closely linked to the formation of the Government, as he explained:
The tradition of the Iraqi political blocks us that the Speaker should be chosen from one of the blocks, which then cannot hold the post of either President or of Prime Minister. All this has to be done by a single agreement in which the three leading posts are shared between the major blocks. If we were in an evolved democratic country, the party that won 50% of the seats plus one would have elected the Speaker and the candidates for President and Prime Minister would have come from the same block. Unfortunately, no block won that many seats, so no political camp can count on its members’ votes to form a government on its own. It needs a coalition which means that several blocks have to agree on the distribution of the country’s key posts”.
The question of forming the future government resulting from the elections, the issue of deciding who really won those elections, puts a strain on discussions and on any possible agreement. The Constitution says that the largest Parliamentary block has the right to form a government. But there are divergent interpretations of this. The leader of the Iraqiyya list, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, won the most seats for his list at the election. However the outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has the largest block by virtue of alliances between the different Shiite lists. The Constitution does not specify whether the “largest block” means the largest list, or the largest parliamentary block formed by the coming together of the various lists elected so as to form a majority. The Federal Court having been unable to rule on this issue, everything remains in suspense, with an Acting Speaker holding office by virtue of his age, pending an agreement between the Iraq’s various political factions.
Questioned about the chances of the three political leaders contending for the Premiership, namely Iyad Allawi, Nuri al-Maliki and Adel Abdel Mahdi of the National Alliance, Dr. Fuad Masum considered that while Iyad Allawi is undoubtedly his list’s candidate, there needs to be an agreement between the two rival Shiite lists to designate a single candidate. It is only then that discussions can seriously begin with the Kurds and Sunni Arabs. Despite recent threats by Iyad Allawi, Dr. Fuad Masum does not believe in a possible withdrawal of the Sunni Arabs from the present political process “since the dominant characteristic of al-Iraqiyya is both its secularism and its realism. The formation of a new government without al-Iraqiyya would seriously weaken it. The Kurdish Alliance is doing all it can to ensure that al-Iraqiyya is part of the future government”.
Regarding the difficult negotiations taking place, Dr. Fuad Masum considered that the real problem is that there is no serious dialogue between the Iraqi political groups, that send all their messages and demands through the media, without any preliminary consultations.
All the discussions and agreements in Iraq have been through the media. It is not possible to reach agreements that are essential to the country’s destiny through the media. They must be reached in closed session and the resulting agreements then publicly announced. However, what is happening is that whenever discussions take place between politicians, one of the parties rushes to make statements to the press, then the other politician makes his own statements, which will differ from what the first one had stated, This can only lead to a zero result”.
On the question of whether Jalal Talabani will be re-elected to the Presidency, Dr. Fuad Masum stated that this is the only point on which all Iraqi blocks agree: “He is the only one who can hold this positioning the circumstances prevailing in this country. This is the view of both al-Iraqiyya, the State of Law and of the National Alliance”.
In a recent report, a senior UN official, Olivier de Schutter, has exposed the “unacceptable” conditions of the Kurds in Syria, following a visit to the country, and particularly to the Jezireh region, in which live 300,000 Kurds who have been deprived of all civic rights.
They cannot travel abroad, have no access to public employment, suffer discrimination with regard to education or medical treatment” stated de Schutter at a Damascus press conference.
This region has also been suffering from a drought since 2005, which has considerably impoverished its population. Four consecutive droughts, the worst of which was in 2007/8, is said to have obliged 50,000 families to flee their homes. The provinces that have suffered the most are Hassaké, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. The report estimated that, in all, some 1.3 million people have been affected, 95% of whom live in these three provinces. The very survival of 800,000 of these is seriously endangered: mainly small farmers, whose soft wheat has been seriously affected by yellow rust and small scale stock rearers who have lost between 80 and 85% of their livestock since 2005.
Many families have emigrated to the cities in the hope of finding seasonal or permanent jobs. Some estimate reckon that 29 to 30 thousands emigrated in 2009 and predict even higher figures for 2010, rising as high as 50,000 families. Those most hard hit by this rural exodus are the farmers of Hissaké.
One of the consequences of these migrations and this economic penury is the spectacular drop in school attendance. Some schools in North East Syria the rate of attendance has dropped by 80%. The UN rapporteur estimates that these emigrant families fulfil the criteria of internally displaced populations, as defined by the 1998 Principals of internal displacements and that, therefore, they have a right to support by the Syrian State, where they live, both during their exodus and when they seek to return to their land.
With regard to the food distribution recommended by the UN, the rapporteur highlights the tragic plight of the Kurds in Syria who are “without papers” and who, in consequence do not benefit from this aid in food supply. Olivier de Schutter recalls that the right to a nationality and of not being arbitrarily deprived of one is one of the Universal Rights.
On 1 to 3 October, the first Festival of short and full length films devoted to the question of Kurdish films will take place at Carrick-on-Shannon, in County Leitrim, Ireland.
This Festival, organised by the Leitrim City Hall, will screen 20 short and full-length films, documentary of drama. Amongst the organisers is Mustafa Gundoglu, who had also taken art in the organisation of New York’s Kurdish Film Festival.
Amongst the drama films programmed are “Min dit” by Miraz Bezar, “Welcome” by the French film director Phillipe Lioret, and “Whisper with the Wind” by Shahram Alidi.
Among the documentaries to be shown are “Close up Kurdistan” by Yüksel Yavuz, “David le Tolhildan” by Mano Khalil, and “Kurdi” by Peri Ibrahim, which tells the story of the exile of a former Peshmerga and his return to Kurdistan.
Amongst the 11 shorts, one of the most recent is “Rojin”, directed by Chiman Rahim, from Iranian Kurdistan.
A discussion will also take place about Kurdish films in which Miraz Bezar, Binevsa Berivan, Chiman Rahim and Peri Ibrahim will be taking part as well as the British director of “Kurdi”, Doug Aubrey.
The Kurdish population of Leitrim is not more than about a hundred strong, but it is fairly recent and tragic. In 1979, the Kurds in Iran took part in the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah. However, when Ayatollah Khomeiny turned against the Kurds, calling them “Satans”, several Kurdish towns and villages were destroyed and thousands of Kurds killed. A number of them succeeded in fleeing Iran, Some of these Kurds from Kermanshah found asylum in Iraq and were scattered among various refugee camps in Northern Iraq until 1982. Then, at the height of the war with Iran and the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, they were transferred to the Al-Tash desert in Western Iraq where they lived for several years under the most miserable conditions, without any international assistance.
In 2003, with the fall of the Baath regime, the general insecurity throughout Iraq ”particularly in this border region — threatened these Kurds as well. They were transferred to a UN High Commission for Refugees camp in Jordan. In 2006, Ireland was one of the few countries that accepted to take these refugees in.
The Kurds in Carrick, at once spectators and initiators of this first Kurdish Festival in Ireland are these refugees who had to leave Kermanshah over 20 years ago.