Although, for the last eight months, the Iraqi leaders have failed to agree about forming a new government, on 8 November the outgoing Prime Minister’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, announced that Nuri al-Malaki will be re-elected to this position since the principal Shiite parties and the Kurdish Alliance had reached an agreement. It remains, however, to secure the agreement of the principal Sunni Arab block, al-Iraqiyyah, which will secure the post of Speaker. Its leader, Iyyad Allawi, will have to choose someone from his list to replace the Kurdish M.P., Fuad Massum, who has been acting Speaker since the elections.
The heads of the Principal Iraqi political blocks, then went together to Irbil, at the invitation of the Kurdistan Region President, Massud Barzani, to officially endorse this agreement at the end of a three-day meeting. The main problem was to reconcile the stands taken up by the Shiites, led by Nuri al-Maliki with those of the Sunni Arabs on the al-Iraqiyyah list, who wanted to be represented in the government on an equal footing with the former. As Iyad Allawi explained: “We must rapidly form a government that reflects the election results and we must have equal rights and duties in power (sharing), without anyone have a whip hand over the others”.
One of the principal grievances against the outgoing Prime Minister made by his Sunni Arab rival was that of having “monopolised and exercised powering a very personal manner”, even demanding a revision of the Constitution legally limiting the political powers of the head of the Iraqi government. It should be noted that these criticisms of el-Maliki’s “excesses” and his attempts to concentrate all state power in his own hands were also frequently expressed by the Kurds in the preceding period.
However, Nuri al-Maliki refused to consider any changes to the Constitution, arguing that a viable political partnership could only be set up between “real partners devoted to the Constitution. Turning over a new page is conditional on respecting the Constitution — it is an indispensible condition of partnership”.
Thus at the end of the three days envisaged for this Irbil meeting, only the Kurds and Shiites had succeeded in reaching and agreement. The Sunni Arabs remained undecided whether to choose the post of Head of State, for which Jalal Talabani, the outgoing President was also a candidate with Kurdish and Shiite support, or that of Speaker of the House. Consequently, two further days of discussion were decided, to enable the discussions to take place in Baghdad. As Massud Barzani announced to the press on 8 November° “The allocation of the three leading roles must be discussed tomorrow and the day after and important matters must be decided in the next two days”.
The “important things” were very soon made explicit by Roj Nuri Shawish, the Deputy Prime Minister, in an interview given to the Arabic daily As-Sabah: “They consist mainly of amendments to the Constitution, of reforms in the workings of the government, of guarantees demanded by the Kurds, of the future of the Responsibility and Justice Commission (given the responsibility of finding former Baathists) and the powers of the future national Council for political strategy”.
Despite the optimistic tome adopted by the Kurds, the Iraqi press expressed scepticism about the likelihood of success of what it saw as an umpteenth meeting that would produce nothing concrete. As the daily al-Dastur headline said: “The Irbil meeting: one step forward, two steps back”, considering that “the political leaders have not offered anything new to meet what the Iraqis have been expecting in the recent period. All they have done is go over the same old problems with putting forward any solution”.
However, at the end of a final meeting, this time in Baghdad, Nuri al-Maliki was reaffirmed in his position of Prime Minister following an agreement with the Sunni Arabs in which the latter agreed to leave the role of President of Iraq to Jalal Talabani and take on that of President of Parliament.
Another compromise was the creation of a new Council that would handle the issue of internal security, which would be presided over by a member of the al-Iraqiyyah list — an ideal originally put forward by the Americans to avoid isolating the Sunnis from the government.
Finally, on 11 November, Ussama al-Nujatifi, a Sunni Arab from the Iraqiyyah list, was elected President (Speaker) of the Iraqi parliament by 227 votes (out of 295) while Jalal Talabani was also reconfirmed as President of Iraq by 195 votes (18 of the ballot being declared invalid).
However, the session was mainly marked by the unexpected boycott by sixty-odd Iraqiyyah list M.P.s who raised the question of the non-observance of one of the conditions set by their list, namely that they wanted to vote of the agreement reached with the other lists on the composition of the government before electing the President of Iraq.
So, after eight months of hitherto fruitless negotiations to provide Iraq with a government, the “ethnic and denominational” sharing of power resumes the same pattern: a Kurdish President of the Republic, a Shiite as head of the Government and a Sunni Arab at the head of Parliament — and apart from the last, the same men have been renewed in their former roles.
The New Prime Minister will have a month in which to form his government.
In its annual report on Turkey’s progress towards qualifying for membership, the European Union made a severe assessment of the “Kurdish opening” that the Turkish government had proclaimed the year before so as to resolve the Kurdish problem in the country. In fact, the reporters considered that there had been no concrete actions in this direction even if, in other areas, the legal reforms were continuing, with Constitutional amendment and the restructuring of the constitutional Court and the High Commission of public Prosecutors and Judges. Trade Union legislation had been strengthened and measures to protect women and children had bee set up.
However, with regard to the Kurdish problem, the Commission stated that the government had barely done anything since August 2009 to give effect to its “Kurdish opening”: “It is important to support the attempts to resolve the Kurdish problem. In order to avoid disproportionate arrests under the cover of terrorist crimes and to improve the Human Rights situation in the region, some necessary changes must me made to the Anti-Terrorist Laws”.
The laying of mines and the system of “village guards” remain a source of concern. The proposed compensation of displaced people (whose villages had been destroyed) has had real effect in the field.
Attacks on freedom of expression and opinion of Kurdish media have not decreased. The report recalls that he enquiry regarding the attack on the Spendinli Bookshop (Hakkari Province) was suspended (the Army was becoming implicated) and that pressures exercised on Kurdish language papers or even ones dealing with the Kurdish question had increased. Thus, the Kurdish daily, Azadiye Welat (The country’s Freedom) has been seized several times and its journalists sentenced for “terrorist propaganda”.
Although some improvements had been observed, the attitude of the police during street demonstrations in Turkish Kurdistan continue to be sources of violence. Indeed, the forces enjoy a wide degree of immunity for their blunders and excesses on the basis of a law passed in 2007. The EU report stresses that this immunity harms the effectiveness of criminal and administrative enquiries on policemen who are alleged to have used excessive and disproportionate violence.
The banning of the pro-Kurdish DTP party as well as of several NGOs and other organisations show the need for constitutional reforms to provide further protection for freedom of opinion.
The report also mentions that some mayors from the BDP party and NGO representatives are at present being tried on the grounds of their membership of the Kurdish KCK organisation, itself accused of being a screen for the PKK.
While recognising some improvements in the use of the Kurdish language, the EU report recalls the fact that the use of any other language than Turkish remains illegal in political life.
The report also criticises the fact that it is impossible for the linguistic minorities (i.e. those not covered by the Treaty of Lausanne) to learn their mother tongue in either private of public schools. It also points out that those speaking other languages than Turkish cannot be employed in the public services, that there are never interpreters present at judicial interrogations even though this is authorised by the law
Orthodox Islamic teaching remains compulsory in Turkish public schools despite complaints from religious minorities like the Alevis, and in spite of ruling against this by the European Court for Human Rights in its optional protocol (N°1).
The representation of women in political parties and Trade Unions remains weak, even though some improvements have been noticed in the area of women’s rights, equality of the sexes and violence to women. The report also points out that Trade Union rights in Turkey are not in line with EU and ILO standards.
Nearly 200,000 children are at present in boarding schools, especially in the Eastern and South Eastern regions of the country. The commission expresses its concern regarding the safety of pupils in these schools, which often have inadequate or defective and equipment. It hopes that objective and transparent enquiries will be carried out to clarify some accidents that have recently occurred.
In conclusion the Reporters consider that the Turkish government has failed to set up the in any concrete measures for its “Kurdish opening”, which has, indeed, never really been carried out.
Following al-Qaida’s bloody attack on the Baghdad Church of Our Lady of Deliverance, which caused 70 deaths and 75 injured, the islamist terrorists issued a “fatwa” against all the Christians in Iraq, setting of a wave of terror in this religious community and considerable feeling in the international community, even though violence against all sections of the Iraqi population is so widespread.
Massud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, again stated that Kurdistan was ready to welcome and protect those Christians who wished to settle there.
“I want them to know that the Kurdistan Region is open to them. If they wish to come, we will protect them and provide any aid needed. We are deeply distressed by the crimes of which they have been the victims and we condemn these criminal actions. These people are innocent and a precious part of our nation”.
Since 31 October, other attacks have targeted Christian homes in Western Baghdad, while, in Mosul, several Christians have been assassinated, either in their cars or their homes.
The President of Iraq, Jalal Talbani, also pointed out that the Christians could find temporary asylum in the Kurdistan Region, thus sparing them from permanent emigration — an offer many Christian families welcomed with relief.
“Life is no longer possible for us in Baghdad at the moment”, Milad Butros, who lives in the Southern part of the capital, explained to National, Abu Dhabi’s English language daily. “The government does not seem to be seriously concerned about protecting us here, so if no one wants us in Baghdad we will leave. The Kurds have offered us their protection, so we will go there. I couldn’t remain any longer in Baghdad, even if it were built of gold”.
Milad Butroas, aged 52, had already had two of his daughters kidnapped by al-Qaida fighters in 2006. He has not had any news about them since, despite intense efforts and the help of powerful Iraqi tribes.
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have already fund asylum in those provinces governed by the Kurds. Thus Ankawa, an Irbil suburb, is now enjoying a flourishing growth with a mainly Christian population, most of whom have arrived since 2003.
Moreover, in the province of Nineveh, which is not included in the Kurdistan region but is protected by Kurdish Peshmergas, some Christian villages have been build North and East of Mosul, by the Irbil government, to house refugees from that city.
“We hope that many Christians will come to the North (of Iraq)”, declared a Christian member of the Kurdish Parliament, Romeo Higari. “At least that way they will remain in Iraq. I reject the idea that the Christians must absolutely leave for Europe if they want any future. We have been living there for thousands of years, this is our country and we must remain here”.
Even Yunadam Kanna, the leader of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, who at one time had repeated Arab charges attacking “the Kurdish takeover of Nineveh territory”, no longer sees any other solution than a Northern exodus under Kurdish protection: “I am in contact with Christians at present in Baghdad — doctors, engineers, teachers — and they are ready to leave for Kurdistan. They are sorry to leave their city, but at least they will remain alive”.
Yunadam Kanna admits that the Kurdish offer is preferable to all the Christians going into exile outside Iraq. The Assyrian Democratic Movement had earlier enjoined the government to improve the capital’s security, for example by forming Christian guard units to defend the Churches and residential quarters, thus copying the Kurdish system of guards, armed and maintained by the Kurdish government, as much for Ankawa as for all the Christian and Shabak villages in Nineveh or the Yezidi villages of Sinjar — a system that, at one time, ha had disparaged.
With regard to Iraqi life, explained Muthama al0-Jafani, a Baghdad sociologist, the Christian exodus would be an economic disaster: “The Christians form a large part of the educated elite and, without them, the medical, educational and engineering projects in Baghdad would suffer. If the Christians leave, it will tear asunder the whole social tissue of Baghdad. This is a serious danger”.
On 27 November a conference was organised by the Paris Kurdish Institute on the subject of Iran in 2010.
The mass demonstrations that followed the controversial re-election of Mahmud Ahmedinjad as President of the Islamic Republic showed the extent of the urban population’s discontent and of the divisions that have at work within the Iranian regime over the last few years.
Despite their intensity, this 2009-2019 crisis also showed the “Ahmedinjad system’s” capacity to control, with the support of the Supreme Guide, virtually all the machinery the State and to mobilise the Pasdarans and the Bassijis as well as a series of para-State Foundations.
By distancing the discussions from the nuclear issue that often is the front-page issue of the European newspapers, this seminar aimed at presenting some basis elements for understanding the Iranian situation since Ahmedinjad’s first term in office (2005) and, without claiming to be exhaustive, to answer a whole series of questions:
What are the roles of the legacy of the 1979 revolution and of the Iran-Iraq war in the “millenarian” turn it has taken under Ahmeinjad?
How does the Velayet-e fiqih (government by jurisprudence), the regime’s supreme organ, legitimise his power?
How have the organs of power developed during this decade?
What about the social and economic inequality between the different provinces?
How should we understand the new forms of protest of certain of the country’s non-Persian and/or non-Shiite communities?
How can we map out the different political and social movements in the Persian population?
What is, today, the situation of the feminist struggles, which were so important in the period around the year 2000?
Who are the actors in the “cyberspace” that, in view of the strict control of the press, has become the main vector of much of the communication and socialisation in the urban centres?
The first Round Table, chaired by Jonathan Randal, former Washington Post special correspondent to the Near East, included Hashem Ahmadzadeh, lecturer at Exeter University (UK), Thierry Coville, Professor at the Ecole Superieur de Commerce et Management Negocia et Advancia, in Paris, Christian Bromberger, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Provence and Ahmed Salamatian, former Iranian Member of Parliament. This table discussed the dynamics of the 2009-2010 crisis.
According to Ahmed Salamatian, one should see a constant factor in the Iranian situation since the Islamic Revolution, namely “the complete dependence of the State on oil” a dependence that, in fact, can be traced back to 1926, “when BP organised the 1926 coup d’état”. This dependence has meant that it could ignore the people to make its economy work while facing the same kind of opposition from “the street” — an opposition that has been almost unchanged since the beginning of the 20th Century.
“This State has always had a considerable and fixed income because of the constant demand for oil. Imagine what would have been Louis XVI’s position had he not needed to raise more taxes — he would not have been obliged to summon the Estates General. So Iran’s leaders did not need to consult the people and raise taxes in order to make political decisions. However, since 1905, the population has been seeking to control its own destiny — subjects want to become citizens. Thus in 2009 the same slogans being used in the streets of the major cities as in the constitutional revolt, which was mobilised to defend a Parliament being shelled by the Shah’s troops.
However, one of the most spectacular changes of the evolution of Iranian society has been the accelerated urbanisation of the country since the end of the last Shah’s reign. Today 65% of the population is urban, which implies deep changes in Iranian society. “Thirty years ago, Iranian’s imaginary world —including its religious perception — was essentially rural. Now it is Teheran, a megapolis, that brings together the greatest number of minorities: Kurds, Sunni Moslem and Azeris! One has to be able to speak Azeri to do ones shopping in the city! There are over one and a half million Sunnis in Teheran. In Ispahan there is now a complete quarter of people from Sanandaj! During a visit to this city’s Free University I saw that the student hostels housed students of 17 different origins.
Among consequence of this urbanisation is the weakening of traditional bonds, the lowering of the at which young people get married (26 years), the development of a middle class that is so dynamic that its cultural influence goes far beyond its sphere of social activity, Now a family’s prime investment is in education.
Some can even say, as indeed, did Khomeiy, that if the Velayat-e Fiqih demanded, it could even forbid the Hajj! Since Khomeiny’s successor has taken office, the necessity of the Guide to be a model for imitation has been suppressed.
They have left the religious field to regard the Guide’s role to be that of ensuring better cohesion between the various Intelligence services — reading the daily reports of these services has replaced that of reading theological texts!
What now countries is far from the ideas of the hidden Imam — it is the survival of the military and Intelligence machinery thanks to the oil revenues”.
Finally, the new situation in the relationship of the Iranians with the authorities is the blooming of new Information technologies in a country that has 27 million internet users, with sites like YouTube and Facebook that have an audience par outstripping that of traditional media like the BBC or Persian radio. .
“This is the first time that a society experiencing the Islamic Utopia has reached the stage of wanting to escape from what has become a nightmare — an excessive religious ideology, a real disillusion …
Today the choice is not between a religious power structure and an a-religious society but rather between a civil society seeking ways of living together and an authority that has realised that it cannot survive with becoming militarised.
Hence what is important is its geopolitical position, not the nuclear issue”.
Professor Hashimzadeh then took the floor and raised the issue of minorities in Iran, taking the Kurdish question as an example, and the extent that they had or had not taken part in the elections since 1979. “The tendency if for the periphery to integrate when the centre opens up. However, when the centre closes up again the periphery reacts by boycotting. Just after the revolution, there were negotiations between the Kurds and Mr. Rajvi, who said he was prepared to accept the Kurdish delegation’s 14 points. However, Mr. Rajavi was not able to take part in the elections and the other candidates were faced with a Kurdish boycott. It should be noted that 80% of the Kurds, who are Sunni Moslems, cannot stand for Presidential elections. Kurdistan was the only region on Iran when Rafsanjani’s candidature did not win most of the votes”.
What broke the boycott policy of the majority of Kurdish organisations was the more favourable attitude towards the cultural rights of ethnic minorities adopted by the candidates Mussavi and Karrubi in the 2009 elections. These rights are covered by articles 15 and 19 of the Constitution, the first mentioning the right to being taught in a language other than Persian and the second referring to “ethnic identity”. Thus many Kurdish students (there are 70,000 of them in Iran) supported the candidature of Mehdi Karrubi (who is, himself ethnically Lori).
However, it should be noted that the rural areas were relatively passive during the “green revolution” protesting at Ahmedinjad’s election, which was essentially an urban movement.
Professor Christian Bromberger took up the question of minorities, recalling that “in the 2006-2007 elections the Guide’s slogan was “national unity, Islamic cohesion” that is implying the “classical repression of any concern for ethnic pluralism”.
This policy of “determined” ethnic unification recalls the seizing of power by Reza Shah (1925): “As from Reza Shah’s time on, Iran has been carrying out a determined policy of ethnic unification. ´National Unity` means that Persian is considered the sole language and that even diversity of clothing was banned, The term “Ostan” to designate a province comes from the Sassanide period. Thus Ostan does not designate an ethnic group and this is deliberate”,
The problem of ethnic minorities is increase twofold by that of religious minorities, since apart from the Azeri's, most of the non-Persian Moslem ethnic groups are Sunnis and the Shiite Azeris not only bar the Sunnis access mot only to s religious expression but also to political representation as well as economic development. “It should be noted that there is not a single Sunni mosque in Teheran! Similarly the government does not have a single Sunni minister. In referring to the Sunni areas around Iran, they talk of an “Eastern Sunni arc”, essentially in Central Asia. To the political difficulties experienced by these peripheral ethnic groups must be added their poor economic situation”.
The demands of the various ethnic groups vary in accordance with their surface and population size, their history, and the slogans of their political movements, going from “cultural events, radical demands for autonomy to the violent actions”, such as those of the Kurdish PJAK, which the State deals with by executions and by shelling Kurdish villages in Iraqi Kurdistan, following the Turkish example.
“However, there are other less visible procedures. Thus, the ´week of sacred defence` consists of a parade of minorities in traditional clothing, while as soon as a local association is created by a minority group, the Centre creates its own, official, associations. The same technique is used for reviews and other publications. The Centre knows very well how to take over local festivals as well as activities taking place in the ethnic groups’ community centres in Teheran, where religious or pro-State discourse is regularly introduced”.
Regarding the situation of the Kurds, Christian Bromberger remarked on the cultural and political vitality of Kurdish society in Iran, with an almost feverish editorial and associative life.
Professor Thierry Coville, gave a thorough analysis of Iran’s economic situation, which he outright described as “bad”, particularly with two shocks in 2008: firstly “a massive and demagogic injection of oil dollars into the economy by President Ahmadinjad, which brought on a rate of inflation of between 10 and 20%, followed by a brake on the economy. Then, following the financial crisis of 2008, as oil prices had slumped because of the generalised reduction in demand for oil due to the general economic slow-down, the price of petroleum slumped. Thus the IMF, who had initially predicted a 6% rate of growth, had to revise it to 2% for 2010. The sanctions imposed by the international community, particularly the banking sector, have also weighed on the economy.
Nevertheless, Iran has enough means for coping with such situations. Over 65% of its income comes from oil, and the recent increase in price (from 70 to 80 $/barrel) is much to its advantage, allowing the country to avoid indebtedness (less than 10% of the GDP) and to build up substantial monetary reserves of between 80 and 100 billion dollars. Moreover, its exports towards neighbouring countries are booming.
Reviewing the ills from which the Iranian economy is suffering, Thierry Coville highlighted several: inflation, the poor shape of the banking system, the budget deficit and unemployment.
“Inflation remains the main problem, and it had an effect of the 2009 election campaign. The Iranian Central bank forecast a reduction in the rate of inflation from 20% in 2009 to 10% in March 2010, but no one believes it! For example, Iranian citizens are faced with a 22% increase in medical treatment — which means that it is the middle classes who suffer most from the situation.
The Iranian banking system is in a very poor shape. The development of lending has been a total failure — the IMF estimates that the assets of Iranian banks are almost worthless. For the last two or three years there has bee a considerable growth of private banks. This may be or bye-pass the sanctions, but the borders here are very vague. Thus a number of foundations are closely linked to the Pasdaran. There is a considerable budget deficit: officially it was 6% of the GDP in 2008 and 4% in 2009. These figures are highly suspect (…) Te rate of unemployment was officially 9% in 2009 and 14% for 2010, but in reality it is much higher”
The effect of sanctions has less impact on the groups close to the regime (…) since over the last 20 years they have found ways of getting round them, but the private sector is suffering seriously from them. Thus “the black market exchange rate collapsed in 2010, whereas till then it was almost identical with the official rate. This is probably linked with anxiety about sanctions, but the Iranian banks are no longer able to find external partners, even in the Arab Emirates: foreign banks fear American reprisals if they work with Iran. Thus Iran is increasingly working with Asia, mainly with Russia and China, but also with Turkey”.
The demagogic economic measures Ahmedinjad often took had perverse effects, such as the massive imports, which harmed local industries.
We can expect great social and economic difficulties to hit the poorest sections following the new law ending subsidies on basic needs like water, wheat, flour, milk and petrol. “It is intended to spread this cancellation over the next five years — but it starts as from this month. It is hard to understand why the government has felt able to launch this reform in the difficult conditions of which it is aware. It is proposed that the State will offset the resulting price increase, for the poorest sections, by direct personal grants. The Statistics centre has asked people to register on internet to determine their eligibility for such grants. The main dear is that this cancellation could lead to price increases of up to 50% and spark of a major inflationary wave. The social consequences are also potentially alarming. To cap it all, calculations indicate that these compensatory grants could cost the State more than it saves from cutting the subsidies”.
According to Thierry Coville, this economic deterioration, which affects the poorest, could lead to an “alliance between the green movement and the working class movement if the economic situation gets even worse. The 2010-2015 Five Year Plan is being discussed at this moment. Ahmedinjad has just been excluded from the Board of Directors of the Bank of Iraq. The recent purchase, by the Pasdaran, of the biggest telecommunications company has been strongly criticised and attacked in Parliament. A struggle is taking place between some moderate conservatives and Ahmedinjad. For its part, the government is stressing the fight against corruption with the slogan: “There are mafias in Iran”, which is, indeed, quite true. Thus the state of the economy is very much the part of the internal political debate”.
The Second Round Table, chaired by Marc Semo, a journalist of the daily paper "Liberation”, included Hamit Bozarslan, research director at the IHESS, Abdolkarim Lahiji, Vice President of the FTDH and Bernard Hourcade, research director at the CNRS (Iranian World Section). This Table covered the likely perspectives before the Iranian crisis.
Hamit Bozarslanfirst of al asked two questions: why does Iran worry people so much? expressing his doubt that the only reason was the nuclear issue; and why was the period of Khatami’s presidency just a brief “aside” in Iranian political life?
Dealing with the second point first, Hamit Bozarslan made the suggestion that “Khatami was not up to the task of tackling the contradictions at the heart of the system. He chose the course of maintaining the stability of the State rather than that of democracy”.
He then developed the “contradictions” of the Iranian revolution, contradictions that, in his view, reached a “paroxysm” with Mahmud Ahmedinjad’s taking power.
“The Islamic Revolution represented both a new order inside the country and an ambition to export (its ideas). It began as a Left wing revolution, but we must not underestimate the impact of the Iraq-Iran war on the direction it then followed, especially as Iraq was, at that time, strongly supported by the West (…) In Iran, this revolution was transformed into a conservative revolution. Its radicalism comes directly from the field of battle with Iraq. At that time, the present president, Ahmedinjad, played an important role in the Kurdish provinces, even though he keeps quiet about it. We know little about this period of his life”.
Not having a “unified power” structure, Iran cannot be called a totalitarian State. According to this research worker, it is “riddled by three contradictory rationalities”:
The bureaucratic rationality. Ahmedinjad represents the generation that was in its 20s at the time of the revolution. It should be noted that, as soon as he took office, he had all the country’s Ambassadors and all the Provincial governors replaced. This represented a brutal closing down of the Khatami period.
The paramilitary and para-State rationality. Which is most worrying. It has three components: the Bassijis and the Pasdarans, which are forces at once official but acting outside the State, to which must be added the religious foundations, or martyrs’ foundations. This produces a coexistence of State-non-State or State-para-State peculiar to Iran.
Iran’s millenarian dimension. Totalitarianism is the combination of a millenarian utopia and a positivist rationality. Millenarianism plays a major role in the foundation of Shiism. However, to build long-term State institutions, it is obliged postpone the millennium. Here, on the contrary, we can feel a determination to anticipate the millennium. This millenarianism is self-perpetuating”.
Abdolkarim Lahiji, Vice President of the FIDH, also raised this question of a total State or a totalitarian State, like Hamit Bozarslan refusing to apply the latter term to Iran. He mainly analysed the part played by religion in today’s power structure: “Although the country has all the organs of a modern State: Parliament, President, judiciary, do these do three organs really work, or is there a fusion of Divine Law and human Law? Because there is a power higher than these bodies that draws its legitimacy from the divine sphere. The Head of State is a representative of this “hidden Imam” … Although the status of Mullah has no basis in qualifications, hierarchy or theology, this man, who has no popular elective legitimacy holds 80% of the power under the Constitution. Thus Parliament’s room for manoeuvre is limited because all laws have to be checked by a council of theologians appointed by the Supreme Guide. If any law is considered contrary to Islamic law it is declared nul and void. However Islamic law are defined nowhere — we are thus faced with a completely arbitrary situation”.
Regarding the forms of discrimination practiced in Iran, Abdolkarim Lahiji showed that they were both ethnic and religious, taking the example of Baluchistan, a Sunni region, which is the poorest and most lacking in any public services of all the country’s regions. “Nor a single one of the provincial governors (ostandar) or assistant governors (fermandar) in Sunni regions is a Sunni Moslem”.
These discriminations against Sunni Moslems (15 to 29% of the population) cover the whole country: “Although 20 to 25% of Teheran’s population is Sunni, there is not a single Sunni mosque there, while there are both Churches and Synagogues”.
As for ethnic discriminations, they are expressed by the denial of any cultural, linguistic or political expression: “Regarding minority languages, although they are theoretically allowed to be taught in schools, the law is never applied. There is even direct repression and a stage of siege has been existing for some time, with many arrests, the prisoners being sent away from their home regions to Teheran and tried in camera by “revolutionary courts.
In the course of peaceful demonstrations, dozens of people are assassinated. Some lawyers have been jailed for practicing their profession in defending political prisoners”.
Finally, in the opinion of Bernard Hourcade, the international community’s sanctions and the opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme only reinforces the regime and prevent the Iranian society as a whole from maintaining contacts with the outside.
“The sanctions lead to a withdrawal from Iran. France now forbids academics to go there. This withdrawal is letting the Iranian middle classes down. The nuclear issue is just an excuse — specifically, the Iranian weapon serves to justify Israel’s (…) There are 30 other countries throughout the world that have nuclear programmes on the same scale as Iran’s …”
Thus, in Bernard Hourcade’s view, “this western policy only strengthens the Iranian radicals. The sanctions also lead to the emigration of opponents, which is counter productive)÷_ Giving Iranians visas to enable them to emigrate is a solution of despair (…) What the Iranian government fears most is not being bombarded by Israel, nor the sanctions but contacts with foreigners”.
From 10 to 14 November 2010, the 14th Gelawêj Cultural Festival took place at Suleimaniah. Several literary public figures, both Kurdish and European, had been invited Georges Slassinakis, the founder and President of the International Society of the Friends of Nikos Kazantzakis. Mr Slassinakis, who came from Switzerland, said he was °delighted by the hospitality and welcome he had received from the organisers and the martyred Kurdish people”. On his return he wrote a article on his stay in Kurdistan, for the Festival, of which the following are extracts.
From 10 to 14 November 2010, the 14th Gelawêj Cultural Festival took place at Suleimaniah (a town in Eastern Kurdistan). It included exhibitions of books, paintings, calligraphy, music and traditional Kurdish songs, as well as an impressive number of literary lectures and conferences. Inaugurated by Mrs Hero Talibani, the wife of the President of the Iraqi Republic, and attended by a great number of well-known public figures of cultural and political life, it was a great success.
A number of writers, poets, academics and French-speaking research workers were invited by Dr. Mohsen Ahmed Omar, head of the French Department of the language Faculty of Irbil University, himself a writers and translator. Amongst these were André Velter (France), Ahmad Mala (Spain), Fawaz Hussein (France) and Georges Stassinakis *Switzerland).
On 10 November, Georges Stassinakis, president of the International Society of Friends of Nilos Kazantzakis (ISFNK), inaugurated the Book Fair.
Then on 12 November, he gave a lecture, in French, on “Nikos Kazantzakis and the world” followed by an interesting discussion about nature, women, politics, spirituality and Kazantzakis’ stand about the Kurds.
In the course of the Festival, the president of the ISFNK met many Kurdish, Arab, Iranian and European writers, poets and translators. He observed, with great pleasure, their perfect knowledge and admiration of Nikos Kazantzakis’ works. We must bear in mind that eight of his novels have been translated into Kurdish (from Arabic or Persian): Alexis Zorba, Freedom or death, Christ Recrucified, The last temptation, Report to Greco, The poor woman of Assisi, the Rock Garden and The Rivals.
The most moving moments of the Festival were: on 12 November the visit to Suleimaniah Prison, in which thousands of Kurdish patriots were atrociously tortured and executed, today a symbolic site of pilgrimage. Then on 13 November, we visited the museum-monument of Halabja. A martyred village that was subjected to an aerial bombardment with gas and chemical weapons, which killed outright about 5,000 women, children and old men.
These massacres, perpetuated by Saddam Hussein and his confederates, will always remained engraved in the memories of all men and women who cherish freedom.
On November 15, Georges Stassinakis met Dr. Frédéric Tissot, the French Consul General, and Amélie Banzet, the Director of the French Cultural Centre in Irbil. He gave them seven of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novels, The dissident, his biography written by his wife, a CD of a French Belgian TV broadcast and the text of one of his own lectures on “Kazantzakis and France”.
Following these fruitful meetings, Professor Mohsen Ahmed Omer, local representative of the ISFNK for the last year, decided to create a local branch of the ISFNK in Kurdistan, over the next few months.