On 17 February, a peaceful demonstration of about 3,000 people, mainly young men, marched through Suleimaniah in response to a call from a youth organisation close to the Gorran party in protest at corruption an failings on the public services.
At first it ran quietly, but the end of the demonstration became tragic when a small part of the procession suddenly broke away and tried to carry by storm the Suleimaniah headquarters of the KDP, Massud Barzani’s party, which does not have much of a following in this province, Generally a PUK stronghold. The attackers broke into the building, and wrecked it, destroying the offices a computers on the first floor. The guards sought refuge on the roof, and fired into the air until the town's security forces arrived and deployed. As a result of some shots, the origin of which is uncertain, a young boy of 14-15 was fatally hit in the head. It is said that, of the hundred or so demonstrators round the building, about 50 were injured.
The pictures, filmed by demonstrators and journalists, quickly circulated on Internet and in the media close to the Gorran party. The virtually live broadcasting of this young lad’s death deeply shocked the Kurds although the videos were unable to really pinpoint who had fired.
A curfew was immediately imposed on the town while, as a reprisal, some unidentified people (undoubtedly KDP or PUK sympathisers) attacked burnt or looted the Gorran offices in Irbil and Duhok.
Very quickly, the political parties accused one another. The KDP accused the PUK, whose forces control the Suleimaniah, of not sending its forces on time to protect its offices and prevent the demonstrators attacking them. Prime Minister Barham Salih, that very evening, decided to send reinforcements to Suleimaniah. On 18 February, KDP forces were patrolling the city while Kosrat Rassoul’s PUK forces surrounded it. This didn’t prevent other demonstrations taking place — this time to demand the withdrawal of KDP forces.
On 20 February, another young lad died in Suleimaniah in a clash between KDP forces when the KDP offices were again stormed with the apparent aim of burning them. The “Zerevani” (special forces) fired and used tear gas. There some arrests took place. In the course of the night, some fifty men attacked a private radio-TV station, Nalia, in Suleimaniah. The premises were wrecked, burnt and a guard injured.
Demonstrations continued in Suleimaniah over the next few days, but more peacefully. On 21 February, nearly 5,000 people again marched, with public figures, artists, singers, and actors, waving slogans in favour of peace. Flowers were distributed along the route, even to the police.
The newspapers close to the government accused Nawshirwan Mustafa, the leader of Gorran, of having acted at the instigation of Iran that wanted, in this way, to avenge the demonstrations in front of its consulate last January in protest at the execution of a Kurd in Urmiah. The KDP News Agency, Peyamner, even accused him of happing met the Sepah (Iranian Intelligence) three days before the events, where the Gorran leader was at Penjwin, near the border.
Gorran retaliated by denying being the source of the disturbances and demanding that those responsible for the “slaughter” be brought to trial, while its sympathisers gathered round it offices to “protect ” them. The Government called for calm, condemned the acts of violence of the demonstrators and gunmen and promised an enquiry. Barham Salih visited the father of the first youth who was killed while President Massud Barzani telephoned him personally. Most of the civil associations and NGOs also called for a stop to the violence, fearing a renewal of the civil war.
On 23 February, a demonstration at Halabja resulted in one death, this time of a policeman, while another was wounded. It was not clear whether the victims of wild shots fired by the forces of order or whether, as the town’s mayor accused, from armed demonstrators (which the latter deny). Goran Adhem even claims to have videos proving his charges and even speaks of Arab troublemakers coming from Iraq.
This version of foreign infiltrations into the Region is circulated by the Kurdish security services, who talk of Iranian agents being the source of the disturbances, like Ismat Argushi, of the National Police, who states he has precise information about the penetration of “terrorists” coming from other Regions of Iraq and even from abroad.
25 February was to be a day of generalised protests (even in Iraq) but, in Kurdistan, saw no movement except in Suleimaniah and the area around it. The Kurdish Parliament, meeting in emergency session, demanded, through its Speaker, Kamal Kirkuki, that the government protect the citizens and security forces and that it stop stigmatising the protesters as “anarchists”. The last remark was a reply to statements by officials of the KRG, including Prime Minister Barham Salih, bluntly accusing or suggesting a “hidden hand” behind the demonstrations (implying either Goran or neighbouring countries or both) and describing the movement as sedition” (fitna) or anarchy or vandalism.
During this session Goran, not surprisingly, called for the government’s resignation — a demand it had made on 29 January before ht troubles began, hoping for a Kurdish “jasmine revolution”. For the moment, this is the only party that supports the demonstrations (at least as “sympathising” with them) the other parties satisfying themselves with opposing it or adopting a position of wanting to mediate between Goran and the Kurdistan Alliance. This includes the two Islamic lists, the Kurdistan Islamic Group and the Kurdistan Islamic Union, whose leader, Omar Abdul-Aziz, accused the government of “softness” and of showing itself “incapable”, calling on a minister, in a direct question, to “prove his sincerity to the citizens”. He also expressed himself in favour of fresh elections, called for the resolution of the problems of electric supply and clarification of the fates of some dozens of people who had “disappeared” during the inter-Kurdish clashes during the years 1994-97, as ell as the public disclosure of the revenue from oil and gas sales in the Region.
On the same day, at Kalar (150 Km from Sulrimaniah, the events of 17 February were repeated when a group of young demonstrators marched to the KDP offices and threw stones at the guards, who fired back. According to Awerne, an opposition newspaper, 13 people were wounded by bullets and 4 by stones, including 3 policemen.
On 27 February, President Massud Barzani, on his return from Italy, spoke I the same spirit of appeasement, with condolences to the victims and a reaffirmation of the right to peaceful demonstration, the equality of all citizens and a condemnation of all violence.
Meeting urgently at the beginning of the disturbances, the Kurdistan Parliament adopted a 17-point resolution, condemning the violence of 17 February, both by the demonstrators and by the KDP. This resolution was at first presented as unanimous, but it seems that Goran then retracted since its spokesman, Kardo Mohammed announced their refusal to sign it arguing that their demands had not been taken into account in the text and that his party would later make a separate statement.
In its resolution, Parliament:
1. Condemns, bans and declares criminal any violence or use of firearms against citizens or attack on government buildings and those of political parties as well as any damage to public or private property.
2. Demands the immediate withdrawal of all mobile forces that were sent to Suleimaniah on 17 February, or to other towns in Kurdistan, and their return to their initial bases.
3. Calls for the release of all those who had been detained because of their participation in the demonstrations, the authors of crimes must be placed in the hands of the police and the courts.
4. The government must, in accordance with the law, compensate all the people, parties and institutions that suffered damage in the course of the attacks and violence.
5. Demands that the protection and organisation of demonstrations are the sole responsibility of the internal police and local patrolmen. The identity of these forces (name, identity card and place of work) must be public and no one may mask his face or cover the windows of vehicles.
6. The Pehmergas must be forbidden to take part in internal political conflicts and must fulfil their national mission of protecting the people of Kurdistan.
7. A government commission of enquiry must be set up headed by a magistrate of the Court of Appeals and made up of independent and professional public figures. It must publish its findings as soon as possible.
8. There have been failings in the management of the situation by the police and the Asayish (security forces) whose officers responsible for these must be legally charged after the enquiry has reached it conclusions.
9. No demonstrator may be detained for his participation without due process of law.
10. The decision to send military forces must only be taken in the event of external dangers.
11. The authors of the burning down of the Nalia TV channel of the Goran radio must immediately be brought to trial.
12. With the aim of achieving radical reforms, proposals must be drawn up by the Parliamentary blocks and commissions, with the help of the Council of Ministers and in partnership with the political parties and the civil organisations, universities and independent public figures. These proposals must be presented to Parliament for debate and carried out as soon as possible.
13. The government must, immediately, take a series of important and urgent measures to improve the daily life of the population, set up social justice and increase political rights and freedoms.
14. All the parties must play their part in calming the situation and putting an end to the attacks of media by political parties.
15. Calls for the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior, and the Minister of Peshmergas to be heard by Parliament for clarification and questions on accordance with legal arrangements and procedures.
16. Wishes to organise and support a national political dialogue between the political parties and organisations have are represented in the Kurdistan Parliament, so as to set up an political and judicial understanding enabling laws that have national political dimensions to be amended.
17. Demands the creation of a special commission made up of all the parliamentary blocks so as to hold enquiries and enable auditions, at the demand of demonstrators.
Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini died on 10 February at the age of 89 years at Uppsala Hospital, in Sweden, where he was living in exile. Born in 1922, in the small border town of Baneh, in family of religious dignitaries, the Sheikh actively took part in the development of the Kurdistan national liberation movement by joining Komala as from the early 40s when he was still a young man.
In 1946 he took part in the process that led to the setting up of the Mahabad Republic and then perpetuated his commitment by being constantly present as a fellow traveller and a moral and intellectual referent alongside the fighters and activists of the sacred Kurdish cause.
During the events of 1978-79, that led to the fall of the monarchy, he showed consistency and strictness in the defence of the fundamental principles of democracy, a State of laws, and the associated corollaries of freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and of opinion, an equitable distribution of wealth in society, confining religion to the area a of private life, this invalidating the stand almost unanimously adopted by his judicial colleagues, muftis and others as well, naturally as insisting on the sovereignty of the citizen and equality between men and women.
The Sheikh played a leading role as political unifier in Iranian Kurdistan during the revolutionary period of 1978-80 by facilitating the participation in the Kurdish national movement of broad Moslem and apolitical sections of Kurdish society.
As against Ayatolah Khomeiny, who embodied the leadership of the Iranian Shiites and of the Islamic Republic, Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini was the emblematic religious figure of the Sunni Kurds, who demanded a secular and pluralist democracy that would represent the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Iranian population.
The Master’s thinking took an number of forms based on the centrality of Divine providence, that is the source of all forms of life, inspiring the human body and soul with the desire to progress in intelligence and in harmony with his immediate environment thus making the universality and marvellous achievements of the latter more effective. He firmly believed in the ability acquired by men of taking control of their destinies by virtue of primacy of the principle of free will. The human being develops by way and inconsequence of a privileged and personal relationship with his creator that does not allow any form of intervention coming from outside, especially when imposed by religious organisations or institutions; hence the necessity of a separation of the private sphere (spiritual and religious) from the public domain.
In accordance with his last wishes, the Sheikh’s mortal remains were sent to Iraqi Kurdistan, to Suleimaniah, where he was buried. The principal leaders of all the parties in Kurdistan, Kurdish and Iranian intellectuals, were associated in mourning him and paid tribute to the memory of this great patriotic figure of Kurdish religious and political life.
On 26 February, an international conference entitled “The fate of Christians in Iraq: what perspectives?”, organised by the Kurdish Institute of Paris took place in the Senate. Religious public figures came from Iraq or from Kurdistan; members of the Kurdish government and experts on the situation of the Christian communities in the East took part and spoke.
The conference was opened by Mr. Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, who remarked that the idea of this conference came following the massacre perpetrated by terrorists claiming to members of the Iraqi branch of al Qaida. This was perpetrated at the Baghdad Cathedral of Our Lady of Assistance, which, on the eve of All Saints Day, resulted in about fifty civilians assassinated with two priests. Citing Pierre Rondot: “Kurds and Christians have lived for centuries on the same land and in the same villages”. Kendal Nezan stressed the commitment of the Kurds to defend the Iraqi Christians because of the centuries old cohabitation and shared connections between the different religious communities.
There have been many exchanges of all kinds. We have shared the same the same mode of living and had many traditions in common. In many villages in Kurdistan there was, alongside the mosque, a church and sometimes a synagogue as well. Many Kurds have Christian grandmothers — I need only cite one example, to pay tribute to his memory: of the great leader of the Iranian Kurds, Dr. Ghassemlou, whose mother was an Assyrian. That can tell you what personal, family and cultural bonds have been woven between Kurdish Moslems and Christians in Kurdistan. I know that the Christians in Kurdistan are, today, amongst the freest in the Moslem world. They can freely practice their religion, they can build new churches, teach their language to their children. They have their own media and their own political parties.
Unfortunately these Christians of Kurdistan are only a little part of the Christian communities of Iraq. In the rest of Iraq the Christian communities are going through a difficult situation, with little security. The object of today’s meeting is to prevent the disaster that would be the exodus of these Christians to neighbouring countries or to Europe. Is, indeed, the exodus a solution? What must be done by the central government in Baghdad to protect these communities more effectively? Does it have the means? Or is their temporary settlement in Kurdistan, while awaiting better days, a possible, a realisable prospect? Does Kurdistan have the means to accommodate them, to find work for and make an effort to integrate the tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of Christians living in the rest of Iraq?
Do they, indeed, wish to come and settle in Kurdistan? And in that case what must the European Union do to accompany this effort to protect and provide security for Christians? We are convinced that, if they settled in Kurdistan, they would still be on the lands of their ancestors and in better times, they could always return to their homes in one town or another in Iraq”.
Senator Bernard Cazeau, President of the France-Irak Inter-Parliamentary Group then took the floor, first of all recalling the long history of the Christians in Iraq as well as the “completely indigenous” character of their different Churches. “Christianity in Iraqi in no way a foreign body, but part and parcel of its identity, as indeed in the Lebanon, in Egypt, in Syria and in Palestine”. Another characteristic of these Christians is that of their role in “the emancipation of the Arab world”.
As from last century, the Iraqi Christians were to play a considerable role in the emancipation of rights and freedom. Some have played an important part among the precursors of Iraqi Arab nationalism. Thus many of them, trade union delegates, intellectuals or politicians were active in favour of an independent, democratic secular and social State, open out on the world. Despite their strenuous struggles in favour of the Arab cause, one is forced to observe that the Iraqi Christians have been excluded from political life since independence. They were only allowed to work in investments and the economic spheres. In 1920, the British authorities carried out a census of the religious composition of the Iraqi population. The Christians made up 20% of it. In 1980 there were still a million living there. Today they are only 500,000. It is estimated that of this Christian community, 2 million at present live abroad. Since the American invasion, 750 Christians have been killed. In a country where everything is based on mediation between communities, the most numerous, the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunni Arabs automatically secure more political powers. The Christian community only holds a single Ministry, that of the Environment, in the new government. In a weak position since the war, their conditions have deteriorated. 250,000 of them have left the country, others have migrated North. Indeed, whereas the Kurdistan region had about 30,000 Christians in 2003, this has trebled in 7 years. To such an extent that there are said to be over 100,000 living in one of the three provinces of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, namely Duhok, Suleimaniah and Irbil. Every month new families arrive, having fled Baghdad or Mosul, to settle there. What perspectives are there for them?”
Like the participants as a whole, the Senator said he was opposed to “any exodus of Christians from Iraq”, citing the cultural and social catastrophe implied by a mass departure from Iraq as well as the loss of a great number of human skills:
Many of them are engineers, doctors, businessmen or have irreplaceable qualities needed for the revival of Iraq. For my part, I believe it is essential energetically to promote dialogue and mutual respect between the communities, particularly by developing education and by distributing information material that deals with the anti-Christian stereotypes and prejudices. Everything must be done to protect the persons and goods of the Christians in Iraq by actively seeking and severely punishing those guilty of attacks whenever possible. Because, there is really hiding, behind these criminal actions, an attack on one of the pillars of the young Iraqi democracy — that of multi-culturalism”.
The first Round Table brought together the philosopher and writer Ephrem Isa Youssif for a historical exposition. Of the Christian communities of Iraq; the director of l’Oeuvre d’Orient, Father Pascal Gollnish, for an overview of the situation of Christian s in the Orient as a whole; Father Nejib Mikael, the Dominican Superior of Mosul presented the situation of the Christians of Baghdad and Mosul and the Bishop of Mosul, Mgr Emil Nona, that of the Chaldeans communities of Mosul.
Father Pascal Gollnish stressed the problems raised by a mass migration of Christians and, in particular, criticising the one-off initiatives of some foreign governments for receiving, here and there, some hundreds of refugees:
Such kind of announcement, given with diplomacy and smiles, must not give out signals that the terrorists are also giving, by other means! These announcements must not release the Western Powers, the international powers, from their responsibilities towards the Christians on the spot. What we fear is that, by announcing that they are going to welcome generously, some hundreds of Iraqi Christians, they are exempted from acting in the country, which, I believe, deserves some real action. After the Baghdad attack there have been, nevertheless, a certain number of international pressures for greater security of places of worship. These protests have had some results. It does not settle all the problems — that would be asking too much! But, in short, it should have been done much earlier. We all know that this Cathedral in Baghdad had already been the target of an attack. Why was it not made safer? These are, nevertheless, some questions that we have the right to ask.
Another issue raise several times in the course of the discussions, is the civil status of religious minorities in countries where Islam often remains the source of legislation: “There are problems when certain countries, like Egypt, had affirmed, some time ago, that Moslem law is the principal source of Egyptian civil law. This is a new reality— it wasn’t always like that. Civil law was a secular law, with applications for Moslems, in accordance with Moslem tradition, and applications to Christians in accordance with Christian traditions. It is worrying to say that Moslem law has become the principal source of civil law when this law has to be applied to non-Moslems. Lets take a country where Christians are fairly well off, like Syria: However, a Christian who marries a Moslem will have to be considered to be a Moslem. These are, all the same, questions that we can ask ourselves. There are questions regarding the rights of women. There are questions — as we all know — of a Moslem who has converted to Christianity and so puts his life in danger. I don’t want to draw up a list of these questions, because that is not my aim. I think that these questions must be raised, especially in France and in this temple of secularism, which is the French Parliament. I think that we have a right and duty to say that these questions can be raised in a spirit of dialogue”.
Speaking on behalf of the Chaldeans of his diocese, the Bishop of Mosul began by giving some figures: of the 4,500 Chaldean Christian families there before 2003, only 500 remain, the rest are refugees around Mosul or in the peaceful area of Iraqi Kurdistan or fled abroad.
Regarding the reasons for this persecution of the Christians, Mgr Nona put forward several possible interpretations:
At the beginning of 2003, after the entry of the military occupation forces, the other Iraqis regarded the Christians as allies of the invaders. This is one of the reasons for targeting the Christians. That is one of the reasons for aiming at the Christians. The second reason for targeting them is their religion. There are fanatical groups who are hitting out at Christians. The third reason is financial, economic. The best way for these groups to enrich themselves is by aiming at and attacking Christians. To do this they begin by threatening Christians for their money. The last reason is that Christians are targeted because they are weak and so not want to resort to violence. It is practically the only community that does not use force and violence”.
As for the possible remedies against terrorism, education and the complete revision of the school programmes is necessary, as well as some actions in favour of the most impoverished sections of the population.
The educational programmes in Iraq have changed somewhat in the last few years. These programmes have many factors that encourage terrorism, because these programmes, especially in the city of Mosul, have a religious orientation, and this education encourages fanaticism. It is very dangerous if the educational system becomes a centre for fanaticism. On the one hand, knowledge will regress and on the other it will create a soil favourable to terrorism. A Last point: the economic aspect. Terrorism grows where there is poverty. Iraq needs to renew its structures, to provide good public services and find work for those who are unemployed. In this way we can eliminate, or reduce terrorism and there will be a change in society.”
Father Nejib Mikael, former Superior of the Baghdad Dominicans, at present Superior of a Mosul convent, spoke out against the illusion of an armed protection specifically for the Christians and that would not resolve the roots of the problem:
Protecting is short-lived. Protecting means a temporary solution. Protecting means uncertainty or inequality. That is why we call first of all, before protecting or putting a checkpoint in front of the churches (it would be impossible to put a check pointing front of every Christian household, would be not be right anyhow): the problem can only be resolved when there is agreement between the Iraqi leaders. International forces can intervene by force of by diplomacy with the government to really impose peace and a little judgement on these antagonistic forces that are fighting day and night amongst themselves. That is why they are protected in secure areas, but the whole population is living in fear of death. Today, protecting Christians is, above all, for the law to give them the possibility of living as equal citizens with all the others”.
As the Bishop of Mosul had already remarked, Father Nejib sees terrorism as the fruit of ignorance — but also of poverty:
When people have no money, they are ready to kill a human being for just $50. And many criminals who have been caught say: “every head is worth 50 or 100 dollars”. If they are asked why they did it, they reply: “Because I had no money. How else do you expect me to live?” Today, therefore, it is the government that has to be challenged. It must absolutely work to enable people to live. In a country like Iraq, such an oil-rich country, it is intolerable that there be a single man who goes to bed on an empty stomach. Its unacceptable”.
In the end, the indispensible condition for continuing to ensure the survival of religious minorities is to set up a genuinely secular State, in which non-Moslems would not be second-class citizens:
Iraq’s future depends above all on a single point: the separation of religion from the State. Religion is for religious men — the State is for all Iraqis. That is why citizens must really enjoy all the gifts: material and spiritual, human and social, to live as free human beings”.
Mgr Rabban al-Qas, Bishop of Amadiyya, asked to speak about the situation in the Kurdistan Region, described the policy of the Kurdish government to welcome the Christian refugees and help them return to their former homes in the case of those who had been driven out of Kurdistan in the years following 1961. The difficulties experienced by these new arrivals are, essentially due to linguistic problems — many only speak Arabic, since Iraqi legislation and conditions of employment did not generally favour their integration.
Those people who were clerical workers, teachers of doctors, those who had received higher education, can be employed in the universities or hospitals. The Kurdistan Government helps them find work. But a professor who has 40 years experience is appointed as if he had just graduated, because the central government only gives then their final assent after they have been appointed and Baghdad does not yet recognise appointment sin Kurdistan. Also, when they arrive, there is a language problem. For example a student who has studied in Baghdad or Mosul knows Arabic — but this does not exempt him from passing exams in Kurdish. He has to receive 59% in his school-leaving certificate — in Kurdish. Indeed, this is not only a problem for Christians but also for Kurds coming from Europe”.
Another legal problem, already mentioned by Father Nejib Mikael, is the inequality in the rights of non-Moslem minorities, which makes Islam the “default religion” that is automatically transmitted from a father to the children without the latter having any say, which penalises Christians in mixed marriages or obliges a whole family to change status in the event of the conversion of one of its members. The Kurdistan Constitution, which as not yet been signed, should offset this failing in the Iraqi Constitution.
Apart from these specific problems, the Bishop of Amadiyya insisted on the exemplary case of Kurdistan with respect to religious freedom and the necessity for continuing this promotion of toleration and diversity in the schools and educational programmes.
Purge the programmes of everything that attacks others by only referring only to Islam, creating a tension towards the other and fanaticism from this attitude that denies the existence of the other. A mentality must be created that accepts diversity because there is richness to be found in diversity. Today I must help my Moslem brother to learn, to know the values that could raise the level of the society in which we live, whether in Kurdistan or elsewhere”.
Two members of the Kurdistan Regional Government then took the floor: Fallah Mustafa, the KRG’s Minister of External Relations, and Dr. Fuad Hussein, head of the Kurdistan Presidency Council.
Mr. Fallah Mustafa began by affirming Kurdistan’s “moral duty” to help, today, the persecuted refugees because of the painful past of the Kurds and their having been victims of genocide:
Kurdistan has always been proud of its tradition of tolerance towards all religions and religious groups, of such varied and different beliefs. We Kurds have been the victims of the worst of oppressions, of violence and even of genocide. For this reason we have sworn never to perpetrate the same crimes and that never violence or intolerance would reach our Region. As a result, and faced with the recent persecutions in Iraq, all religions are warmly welcomed in Kurdistan. It is thus natural that persecuted groups should seek refuge and security here and we are proud of being able to help them in any way possible. We remember the material and moral help we have received in the course of our history and we think that we have the duty to give to those in need what was given to us in the past”.
He then described the material, logistic and financial difficulties of this policy welcome as well as the aid that could be provided, in particular, by the European Union and the United Nations.
Despite these difficulties, over 10,000 Christian families have fled the violence in the rest of Iraq and found refuge in Kurdistan since the invasion of our country in 2003. We are doing all that is in our power to help, but we lack resources for all this. We have to deal with immediate humanitarian needs, such as housing and food but also medium term needs in the field of education and social assistance. The Christian community of Kurdistan is doing a remarkable job in helping the integration and adaption of these new arrivals and to centralise the moral and material support of Christians from the rest of the world. We warmly welcome the statements of the French Foreign Minister encouraging the European Union to provide us with help. We will be glad to accept all the support and aid possible from whatsoever country provides it. The help we are providing to this families has a cost, and we ourselves need additional help to enable us to provide these families with everything they need.
Several United Nations agencies and NGOs can enable us to ease the burden. We know that the UNHCR is working with Iraqi refugees outside Iraq, but it does not give much help to the displaced populations inside the country, specifically in Kurdistan. A committee was set up to deal with all the problems linked to people displaced inside the country and to develop some solutions to help them. We continue to provide medical aid for all the victims of violence outside our borders and we are trying to enable a safe evacuation for those who most need it. We are also setting up specialised programmes to support displaced populations and enable them to find work in Kurdistan. We have given special status to the children of displaced persons so that they can have access to our schools and universities”.
Dr. Fuad Hussein also evoked the Kurds’ painful past, in particular the war of 1974-75 in which the Kurdish population suffered Iraqi bombing raids:
This is precisely why Kurdistan has set up this policy. Sometimes people ask us why we have such an open door policy. To tell the truth some Kurds, some Arabs and some Christians doubt the fairness or benevolence of our policy. Some doubt our intentions; some even accuse us of duplicity. However, we believe in this policy because we believe in our own humanity. We believe in this policy because we believe in democracy. We believe in the diversity of our society, we are struggling for democracy and we know that we are not alone. It is together that we must fight; it is together that we must live. The policy that has been set up in Kurdistan, and in which we believe, has of course much to do with our history and also much to do with the future of our country, the country of Kurds, Turcomen, Chaldeans and Assyrians … It is a country of Moslems and Christians and Yezidis. We seriously believe in this diversity. That is why it seems to me that our society must welcome all kinds of groups and communities. Hence our policies must reflect the diversity of society...
When one talks about the political realities of Kurdistan we can state that, in accordance with our principles, all the groups in Kurdistan are equal, all the communities are equal. Of course we are not perfect, but this principle applies to all and not just to the Christians — to the Kurds and Yezidis equally. When I speak about the government’s defects, these apply to all the groups that coexist in Kurdistan. I do not speak about “refugees” — it is a term that I reject because the Christians are not refugees in Kurdistan. They are people who have been forcibly displaced or who have fled terrorist attacks in Baghdad or in other regions like Mosul. These people have been obliged to leave their homes and come to Kurdistan — but Kurdistan is also their country”.
For Dr. Fuad Hussein, the future of the Christians depends on the stability and survival of Kurdistan, which is also of indispensible value in enabling Iraq to turn the page on violence.
Baghdad will not be able to dispense with this role being played by the Kurds. The Kurds can contribute to changes in Baghdad. I say this because, unfortunately, the dominant ideology of Iraqi societies — and, I insist, there are several of them — well the dominant ideology of Iraqi societies is not a democratic ideology. I do not claim that Kurdistan has arrived at full and complete democracy but, on the other hand, I can tell you that we believe in democracy, that we are struggling to make it happen. However, to be quite frank, the situation is not the same in other regions of Iraq, and if we want to set up a democratic process in Baghdad, if we want the Christians to remain in Iraq, because we believe that the Christians, like the Kurds, and like others, must be able to remain in their country, then we must help the Kurds to set up a better political system, better living conditions and we must help the Kurds to help Iraq. Moreover, I think that other countries, France in particular, can help us — can help the Kurds to help the others”.
On 9 February, the Turkish sociologist, Pinar Selek, was again standing trial in Istanbul for an act of terrorism that, for the last 13 years, she has denied committing, and for good reason — the attack never took place!
On 9 July 1998, there was indeed an explosion and fire in the Istanbul Bazaar, which is said to have caused seven deaths and 127 people injured. This was, at first, attributed to a “terrorist group”, and the PKK was immediately blamed by the authorities. A “suspect” was arrested and, under torture, admitted having laid a bomb. He also gives Pinar Selek’s name as that of his accomplice.
Pinar Selek was arrested on 15 July, on her return from a field investigation in the Kurdish regions of Turkey on the PKK fighters. She was imprisoned and tortured to make her confess and give the names of people she had interviewed in her field investigation. It was only later that she learnt, in her cell, that she was being accused of the “Bazaar bomb attack”.
Imprisoned for two and a half years, and subjected to torture, the sociologist denied any involvement. Meanwhile, it was established that the fire at the Bazaar was simply due to a gas leak … which didn’t prevent the Turkish police to continue the legal proceedings, even though, on the evidence of the experts, the accused was released in 2000. However, the Police Prefecture set an expert to the court to “testify” that a bomb was the cause of the explosion, basing itself on “evidence” that were shown to have been forged, such as the alleged “crater” caused by the explosive device.
In 2005, the Public Prosecutor demanded a life sentence. She was acquitted by the Istanbul 2nd Assize Court in 2006, all the scientific experts having totally refuted the thesis of a bomb attack. However, the Prosecutor appealed and the case was sent to the Court of Appeals. This was done three times in succession, after each acquittal, without advancing any new evidence for renewing the charges.
Released after her second trial, she has again been put on trial, by a decision of the Court of Appeals, before the 12th Chamber of the Istanbul High Criminal Court on 9 February. Although now living in Germany, Pinar Selek insisted on returning to Istanbul to appear before her judges.
At the end of the trial, Pinar Selek was acquitted for the third time, as well as the person who had originally denounced her. This did not prevent the Istanbul Criminal Court’s Public Prosecutor from appealing against this to the Court of Appeals two days after the acquittal. And of again demanding a life sentence, with a minimum of 36 years to be served in full.
On 25 February, Pinar Selek visited Paris to take part in a meeting of Reseachers without Borders to give evidence of this.
The source of all this judicial relentlessness lies, no doubt in the research subjects and stands taken by the sociologist, who has always worked on sensitive subjects or even ones that are tabooed in Turkey — the Kurdish question, the Armenian genocide, the place of the Army in the Turkish State and political system. Pinar Selek is also a “committed” research worker, be in for feminist or anti-militarist causes. In 1996, she founded a society, the Street Workshop, aimed at receiving several marginalised or homeless groups in Istanbul, all of whom live in the streets: prostitutes, transsexuals, transvestites, gipsies, street children, ragmen, street sellers etc. Several other academics took part in these workshops of discussion and artistic expression.
However, her most “sensitive” work has been her field enquiries among Kurdish activists to understand their life paths, the reason for their commitments as of their armed struggle, giving them the chance of expressing themselves in the published interviews. It is thus possible that her activity among groups marginalised by a Turkish conservative society, such as sexual minorities, have also alienated her from her circles close to the AKP. In any case, the government in office has always shown itself to be inactive in aces of judicial harassment.