The campaign for the Turkish General Elections was far from being peaceful, punctuated as it was by bomb attacks, bloody demonstrations and clashes between the Army and the PKK.
Thus, on May 4, in the course the funerals of four guerrilla fighters in Diyarbekir, a procession of several thousands of Kurds clashed with the police who fired in the air to disperse them. A police vehicle was attacked by the crowd and three police officers were beaten and a fourth injured with a knife.
The next day, on 5 May, it was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s own car that was targeted by an attack that was not claimed by any group. While in the middle of a campaign tour, the Prime Minister was subjected to fire from a submachine gun and a grenade. The ambush occurred soon after the vehicle had left the town of Kastamonu, (Black Sea region). The daily paper Taraf stated that, according to security sources, the attack was carried out by a six-man PKK commando, a charge taken up by two other dailies, Milliyet and Sabah. However, the authorities did not make any specific charges, although usually prompt at accusing the PKK as responsible for any attacks, real or imaginary, that take place on Turkish soil. This time the Prime Minister merely mentioned vaguely “associated of a terrorist organisation”. It should be mentioned that the Black Sea region is not usually the theatre of PKK operations. Thus the Turkish police accused some extreme Left organisations of acting on behalf of the Kurdish guerrilla outside its territory. However, the Black Sea region is also a stronghold of the Turkish extreme Right, and harbours many sympathisers of the Grey Wolves (MHP).
On the same day, the Kurdish party (BDP), in a campaign meeting at Diyarbekir, condemned the military operations of the previous few days, the arrests of several activists and threatened to boycott the elections. The Turkish Prime Minister immediately reacted by saying: “The BDP is trying to attain its objectives with the support of terrorists”.
Finally, on 6 May, the attack on the Prime Minister’s cortège was claimed in a PKK communiqué: “as a reprisal for the terror being exercised by the police of the Kurdish people” (Firat News) stating, oddly enough, that the target was not the Prime Minster but the police.
At the same time, the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, threatened, from his prison cell: “Either serious negotiations will begin after 15 June or a great war will begin”. However, as this is not the first time that this kind of ultimatum is made prior to an extension of the cease-fire, the threat had little effect on the Turkish political scene. As against this, the editorial writer Mehmet Ali Birand, considered that the BDP statement about a possible boycott of the elections should be taken seriously: “This would throw doubts on the legitimacy of the elections” and Mr Erdogan would be very embarrassed, since he wants to demonstrate a democratic election in which everyone takes part. However, two parties are getting some advantage from this tension on the Kurdish question. Erdogan want to steal votes from the ultra-nationalist MHP, so he is conducting a nationalist campaign as attacks the Kurds, who are accused of threatening national unity. As for the pro-Kurdish BDP party, “it is flexing its muscles to show that it is defending its community” (AFP
The clashes with the army are continuing, with two PKK members shot down in Mardin, one policeman killed and another seriously injured during an attack by the Kurdish movement at Silopi on 7 May.
On 13 May, twelve Kurdish guerrillas were killed while a commando was trying to cross the Iraqi Kurdistan border near Sirnak. On 14 May, a Turkish soldier was killed by a mine during a sweep in the Hakkari Mountains. On 16 May, there were demonstrations in several towns throughout Turkish Kurdistan to protest at the death of these twelve Kurds, while hundreds of demonstrators crossed the border to collect the bodies of the fallen fighters and take them to their families for burial. The security forces intervened and succeeded in taking over four bodies being carried by the demonstrators. At Diyarbekir, Siirt, Istanbul and in Batman province, there were several clashes with the police.
On 23 May, another attack against the Prime Minister was foiled, this time while he was conducting a campaign tour in the Kurdish region. A remote controlled bomb containing 26 Kg of explosives was found and defused under a bridge, in Sirnak province, which the prime Minister was due to cross on his way to make an election speech. On 26 May a bomb attack took place, this time in Istanbul, causing 8 injured, two of the seriously. The bomb was placed on a two-wheeler and exploded at 9 am under a bridge, near a bus stop, in a posh quarter on the European bank. “The explosion cost one woman her foot an another is suffering from burns in the breathing system” (Anatolia News Agency). According to the security services, “the fact that the explosion occurred near a police school suggests that it probably was targeted at the police”. Once again the Prime Minister implied that the PKK could have been behind this attack.
Still trying to put an end to the demonstrations taking place in Syria by alternating use of force and “political gestures”, President Bashar al-Assad officially restored their citizenship to 300,000 “stateless” Kurds on 2 May. When this was announced, demonstrations stopped at Qamishlo and Amude, but continued in other towns like Hassaké. Indeed, some people consider that this measure is insufficient. Thus the Kurdish singer, Omar San, born in Afrin, declared on the AKNews site that Syrian citizenship alone is meaningless: “The Kurds need many other things, going from electricity to health care. What will this “hollow citizenship” bring them if they have no rights? The neglect by the UN Security Council and some Human Rights Organisations regarding the Kurdish people’s rights is very regrettable”.
Similarly the Kurdish activist, Aras Yussuf considered that the Kurds must see full recognition all their rights as citizens living in Syria. He pointed out that the granting of Syrian nationality was only part of these rights. Regarding the ending of demonstrations in Qamishlo and Amude, Aras Yussuf also pointed out that as all the mobile telephone networks and other means of communications have been cut, this alone could have put a brake on street demonstrations.
However, even if Internet access is even more restricted than in other Arab countries, a form of resistance using Facebook and Tweetter does exist, and the Web sites of free Kurdish organisations, be they from Iraqi Kurdistan or the diaspora, relay this. Thus Kurdish Rights.org gets round the censorship and supervision of the web to display regularly the latest news about demonstrations. Behind the pseudonym of KurdshFreeMan or else that of Reber there seems to be a Kurd from Aleppo, who cautiously refuses to give his age or civil activity. He describes the state of affairs and the centres of Kurdish agitation in the country.
According to Reber, the town with the least demonstrations, be they Kurdish or Arab, is Aleppo. Indeed, for the last thirty years this town has been controlled with an iron hand by the security forces and the population lives in terror of the State Militia. On the other hand the most turbulent is Qamishlo: 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organised on 20 May, for the so-called Azadi (Freedom) Friday. At Amude, about 8,000l took part in that Friday celebration and 5,000 at Koban, which in the small towns like Serê Kaniyê and Derbassieh there were about 3,000 demonstrators. About 150 tried to demonstrate at Afrin, but were immediately surrounded by the security forces.
As to the attitude of the Syrian Kurds towards the Syrian Arab revolts, Reber considers that opinions are divided as the Kurds are waiting to see the way things develop. Having been politically organised for decades in Syria, most of them are members of some organisation, either political or of in defence of human rights, they can easily mobilise several thousands in the course of a day to demonstrate in the towns. However the aims of the Syrian revolution raise Kurdish expectations as a minority that is suspicious of both the Arab world and the Islamic fundamentalists.
Questioned by AKnews about the fact that, for the first time ever, these Kurdish demonstrators were waving the Syrian flag and not that of Kurdistan, Reber replied that resolution of the Kurdish question in Syria “lies in Damascus and must only be resolved in Damascus — the Constitution must arbitrate the issue. We are in Syria, not in Kurdistan and our problems have their sources in Syria. I want a democratic government, I want the Constitution to recognise that there are Kurds in Syria and give them their social, cultural and political rights. We want free and honest media. The protection of Syrian citizens must be a government priority”.
As for the hitherto answers of the Syrian regime to the Kurds compared with the repression in the Arab towns, it has several reasons. Firstly, the regimes propaganda that the demonstrators are Islamic fundamentalist cannot be applied to the Kurds, the overwhelming majority of whom have never engaged in religious fundamentalism. Moreover, entangled as it is by its repression of the Arab towns, the government did not want to open a “second front” in the Kurdish towns. Finally, Syria is facing heavy international pressure and the fact that many Kurds live on the other side of its borders, either in Iraqi Kurdistan or Turkey and dissuaded it from adding another r flow of refugees who, in this case, would meet with support from compatriots as well as from Kurds living outside the Middle East.
Another sign of this “Kurdish distancing” with regard to the Arab opposition is the announcement of a boycott by Syrian Kurdish opposition groups of a meeting, that began on 31 May at Antalya, of the principal Syrian Arab opposition groups — “sponsored” by Turkey.
The declared aims of this meeting are “unite the energies” of all Syrians, whatever be their ethnic or religious affiliations or political opinions, to achieve a democratic change. Those expected to take part range from major public figures like signatories of the Damascus Declaration, former Members of Parliament, Moslem Brothers, and representatives of the independent association of industrialists and businessmen. Some Kurdish activists were expected as individuals but the representatives of the Syrian Kurdish political parties declined the invitation.
Indeed, the latter, in a statement to the daily paper Ashraq al-Awsat announced in the name of 12 Kurdish political parties, their intention of boycotting the meeting because of its location: “Any meeting of this kind, held in Turkey, can only be detrimental to the Kurds of Syria, since Turkey is hostile to the aspirations of the Kurds, not only with regard to Northern Kurdistan but in all parts of Kurdistan, including that in Syria”.
The representative of the Kurdish Left Party, Saleh Kado, confirmed this concern by saying that Turkey had a “negative” attitude to the problems of 20 million Kurds in general and that Ankara must first resolve “the problems of 20 million Kurds living on its soil before seeking to get the Syrian Kurdish parties to agree to any united project to manage the present day events in Syria”.
Saleh Kado added that he Kurds in Syria had no confidence in Turkey or its policies and that, consequently, they had decided to boycott this summit. Another reason put forward was the presence of the Moslem Brothers at this meeting. The Kurds, indeed, have very little sympathy with the Arab religious movements, both because of their own religious culture, very distant to fundamentalism and because the Islamist movements advocate an “Arabisation” of Kurdish culture in the name of submission to the language of the Quran.
Yet another reason of this rejection is the indifference, of which the Kurds reproach the Arab movements, to their demands. Thus, two days before the meeting, the National Movement of the Kurdish Parties had put forward their own plan for democratic change and of reforms at all levels. However, this document was completely ignored by the non-Kurdish opposition.
Abdul Haq Youssef, one of the leaders of the Kurdish Yekiti Party also confided to the Web paper AKnews his doubts about this platform, declaring that he did not know any of its organisers who, indeed, had never contacted the Kurdish movement during the preparatory period.
Moreover, the Antalya summit had not invited all the Kurdish parties, but only five of them: the Democratic Party of Syria, the Kurdish Left Party, the Azadi Party, the Movement for a Kurdish Future and the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party. In view of this the invited parties have preferred to decline so as not to “fragment” the Kurdish opposition.
Some Kurdish parties, however, disapprove of this boycott. Thus the representative of the Movement for a Kurdish Future, Mohammed Hako, considered this absence from the summit “an enormous mistake”: “As Kurds, we must take advantage of every opportunity for debating our people’s future and nation. I am opposed to the fact of boycotting a summit that could have so much weight, especially regarding the critical and sensitive situation of Syria today”. This is why Mohammed Hako stated that he wanted to attend, but only in his personal capacity not as a representative of his party.
From the 1st to the 3rd of May, the 2nd International Congress of Kurdish Studies took place in Duhok, jointly organised by the Paris Kurdish Institute and Dohuk University. This Congress brought together Kurdish specialist working on Kurdish history, language and literature form all continents.
The 1st Congress have taken place in Irbil in 2006, with the aim of assessing the situation of Kurdish Studies in Western countries — mainly France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands the Scandinavian countries and the United States. However, the last decade has seen a considerable development of Kurdish Studies in these countries, where many theses and PhDs have been successfully produced on many different aspects of the Kurdish question or on various subjects regarding Kurdish history and society. These new theses and research works ranging from the forces population displacements to new forms of gender relations in society, the dynamics of urbanisation to the formation of municipal authorities aroused the interest of research workers, who were able to carry out their research both in archives and in the field.
Even it fit is impossible to give a full account of all the new research work, it seemed important that several spokespeople con and give evidence of the new trends in academic research in their respective countries.
This Congress’s second aim was to note and analyse the effect of several new high-level research programmes on Kurdish language and literature, in Europe and also in Turkey. Whereas for the last ten years, several institutions such as Exeter University’s Centre of Kurdish Studies (UK), Göttingen University (Germany) and the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisations (INALCO, France) have continued and intensified their language teaching, three Turkish universities have opened Departments of Kurdish language and literature —for the first time in the Turkish Republic’s history. These are the universities of Mardin, Mush and Hakkari.
The Congress enabled the various specialists to discuss their teaching methods, a necessity for consolidating these initiatives and to strengthen their academic quality. It also saw the beginning of cooperation and exchanges between the European and American universities and those of Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Present at the Congress’s opening session were the Minister of Higher Education and Research, Professor Dilawer Ala’adin, the Minister of Education, Safeen Diyazee, the Minister of Culture as well as the President of Duhok University, Dr. Asmat M. Khalit and the President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, Mr Kendal Nezan all of whom addressed the Congress.
The first session covered the history of Kurdish Studies during the 20th Century, dealt with by Professor Joyce Blau (France) and Professor Abdul Fettah Botani, Director of the Centre for Kurdish Study and Archives (Iraqi Kurdistan. Followed by Professor Celîlê Celîl (Austria).
Then came an overview of Kurdish Studies in different Western countries. France was represented by Professor Hamit Bozarslan (Paris, EHESS), the philosopher Ephrem-Isa Youssif and Jean-Marie Pradier (Paris VIII University). Germany was represented by Drs. Birgit Ammann (Fachochschule Potsdam, Berlin) and Khanna Omarkhali (Göttingen University), while Professor Mirella Galletti (University of Naples) represented Italy. There were also Dr. Michiel Leezenberg (Amsterdam University) from the Netherlands and Resho Zilan (Uppsala University for the Scandinavian countries. Kurdish Studies outside Western Europe included Kayaz Mirzoev (Alma Ata University) for the countries of the former Soviet Union while the United States were represented by Dr. Michael Gunter (Tennessee Technological University) and Janet Klein (University of Akron, Cleveland).
An overview of Kurdish Studies in the Middle East covered Syria with Professor Abdi Haji Muhammad (Duhok University), Turkey with Professors Kadri Yildirim and Abdulrahman Adak (Mardin University) and last but not least Kurdish Studies in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region were presented by Dr. Kamiran Berwari (Duhok University).
The second day was devoted to workshops on language and literature, with three distinct working groups. The first was entitled “Language and Linguistics”, in which Salih Akin (Rouen University) spoke on the use of Kurdish in the diaspora and Birgit Ammann on the Kurdish identity in the diaspora.
The second working group covered more specifically pure linguistics, in which Khosrow Abdollahi Madolkani (INALCO, Paris) discussed two types of infinitive in Kurdish and Baeiz Omer Ahmed the development of local dialects in Bahdinan. The third working group covered Kurdish as a language used in the media, tracing and analysing the role of satellite television channels in the process of unifying the Kurdish language, with contributions by Ruken Keskin (Kurd1), Abdul Rehman Kakil (Kurdistan TV) and Hewar Ibrahim Hussain Shali (Kurdsat TV).
The second workshop covered questions of literature and history. In the first panel on “Studies in Literature”, Sandrine Alexie (Kurdish Institute of Paris) treated the problems of translating classical Kurdish literature into French while Professor Muhammad Bakir Muhammad (University of Duhok) spoke about “Language logic in Kurdish poetry”.
The second panel dealt with oral literature, in which Professor Celîlê Celîl spoke about Kurdish folklore and Khanna Omarkhali discussed the Yezidi qewls (religious hymns). The third panel covered history and anthropology, with a contribution by Dr. Khalid Khayali on the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden, while panel 4 covered Kurdish language publishing houses, be they in Turkey or Iraqi Kurdistan like Avesta, Aras, Doz etc.
The Congress drew up a number of recommendations for the development of Kurdish Studies. A summary of these was presented to the Prime Minster of Kurdistan in the course of a welcoming reception he gave for the Congress participants on 4 May.
On 16 May the launching of a “Bedir Khan Encyclopaedia” was announced at the French Cultural Centre in Irbil. This project aimed at collecting and preserving the heritage left by the Bedir Khan family because of its historic role in the links forged between France and the Kurds, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the major role of the Franco-Kurdish team, round the review “Hawar”, that cooperated in developing the Kurdish language and its writing using Latin characters, thus named the “Hawar alphabet”.
After the defeat, in 1840, of Emir Bedir Khan of Botan by the Ottoman Armies, most of this princely family was sent into exile. This enabled them to benefit from an excellent education abroad to become committed to Kurdish cultural movements abroad.
The six-man High Commission charged with the carrying out this project includes Sinem Bedir Khan. The Commission’s first meeting took place on 22 April this year, and has already made an inventory of 3,000 pages and 1,000 photos or pictures and 46 books regarding the Bedir Khan family. A group of writers and journalists living in Turkey has been charges with seeking, in the Ottoman archives, everything relating to the Bedir Khan family. A similar search is being conducted in Syria.
The Encyclopaedia is expected to run to between 16 and 20 volumes and to take about three years to produce.