As Iranian shelling of Iraqi Kurdistan territory has recommenced, Kurdish and Iraqi officials protested and demanded that Iran cease violating their country’s sovereignty, taking advantage of the visit to Baghdad by Iranian Vice President, Mohammed Reza Rahimi.
Iranian attacks on border villages in Irbil and Sulemaniyah Provinces have forced the inhabitants of about twenty of them to flee from their homes.
However, the Iranian government replied that it reserved the right to “attack and destroy the terrorist bases in the border regions” on the grounds that PJAK, the Iranian branch of the PKK that was fighting against Teheran, had bases there. It even directly accused the Kurdish President of intentionally supporting and protecting the PJAK bases on his land.
For his part, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massud Barzani, condemned these attacks. A delegation of Iraqi Kurdistan members of Parliament visited the village of Choman, 10 Km from the Iranian border that had particularly suffered from the shelling. In a public report they noted that the Iranian forces had built roads inside Iraqi territory in the areas they had bombarded.
On 18 July, a senior officer of the Iranians Revolutionary Guards, Delaver Ranibarzadeh, announced that they “completely controlled” three PJAK camps as well as the surrounding region, near Serdash, while military operations were continuing. Ranibarzadeh also stated that their objective was to eradicate the PJAK bases totally.
Apart from civilian casualties, the belligerents’ losses were unclear and obviously tended to vary according to the source. The Iraqi daily, Aswat al-Iraq published an estimate from an Iraqi military source indicating that about thirty Iranian soldiers may have been killed in the fighting.
For its part, Iran has only acknowledged the loss of a single Revolutionary Guard and three wounded, while “a great number” of PJAK members had been killed, including the commander of the Merwan camp.
For its part, PJAK declared to AFP that the Iranians had suffered heavy losses near Panjwin, in Suleimaniyah Province — between 150 and 200 killed or wounded while only admitting 4 wounded and 7 dead in their ranks.
The Kurdish authorities announced on 20 July that two villagers from the Choman region had been arrested by the Iranian forces and that their herds had been seized by the troops while 11 families had fled the fighting. Mamand Mami Xali, who commands the Kurdish Peshmergas in the area, indicated that the Iranians had penetrated at least a kilometre into Iraqi Kurdistan.
In another village, near Qaladize (Suleimaniyah Province), a man had been wounded and a school damaged on the same day. The village had been obliged to be completely evacuated. Mamand Mami Xali also reported that bombing could be heard at Haj Omran, in the Kodo Mountains, some 250 Km North –East of Irbil, as well as in other districts, as well as the deploying of “substantial forces including tanks and artillery”. Other villagers confirmed what the Kurdish Members of Parliament delegation had denounced: the building of roads and military bases that suggested the beginning of a long-term occupation of these border areas.
Overall, some 200 families living in the border regions have been displaced for security reasons and settled in temporary camps. Bernard Douglas, spokesman of the Office of International Migrations (OIM) pointed out that these families needed, above all else, “shelter and water”, and that the OIM had provided them with tents and beds while the Kurdish authorities had supplied water purification kits. “These families cannot long survive without help. (…) Many have had to abandon their crops and their herds”.
Political tension in the Turkish Parliament, following the boycott of the elected Kurdish Members in protest at the imprisoning of two of them has resulted in a fresh outbreak of armed clashes and political overstatements by the BDP.
On 8 July, a clash between the Army and the PKK in the Plumur regions killed one Turkish soldier and wounded three others. On 11 July two other Turkish soldiers were killed by Kurdish guerrillas as well as a civilian working for the Health Ministry, not in the course of a military but at a roadblock. Witnesses state that armed Kurdish activists had stopped the vehicles, later found abandoned by those occupying them
On 15 July, 13 Turkish soldiers and 7 PKK fighters lost their lives in fighting near Silvan, in Diyarbekir Province, making this the bloodiest clash between the Army and Kurds in the last 3 years. This triggered a series of “condolences” from the US White House. The Turkish Prime Minister cancelled all his appointments to hold a crisis meeting with top ranking officers of the Army, the Security Forces and the Minister of the Interior, Besir Atalay.
For his part, Cemil Çiçek, the Speaker of the Turkish parliament, violently attacked the Kurdish 'M.P.s (who announced a boycott of the session) by asking them “to chose their camp” between, in his words “democracy, peace and freedom” and “blood, hatred and barbarism”. However, Selettin Demirtas, while regretting the deaths attacked the absence of any political settlement of the Kurdish question, while the 36 Kurdish M.P.s refused to take the oath of office so long as their comrades remained in jail.
On 12 July, the CHP, which had also refused to take its seats in Parliament for the same reasons as the BDP, accepted that its M.P.s take the oath and also, jointly with the AKP, issued a call to the rest of the M.P.s who were continuing the boycott (i.e. the Kurds). However, on the same day the BDP also held a parliamentary session — in Diyarbekir, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan, thus defying Ankara. At that session it continued to demand the release of the imprisoned M.P.s as well as changes to the Constitution. In the absence of any reply from the government, the BDP declared that this Diyarbakir Parliament would continue to sit until their demands had been met. On 15 July, this “Kurdistan Assembly” proclaimed its “democratic autonomy for a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question”.
Thereupon, the legal reaction was immediate — a charge sheet was drawn up and issued for the authors of this initiative while the death in action of the 13 Turkish soldiers was inflaming public opinion and giving rise to fears of clashes between Kurds and Turks in those towns in which the two lived side by side.
Thus, in Istanbul, during an international jazz festival, the Kurdish singer, Aynur Dogan, was unable to perform before an over-exited audience who considered that her Kurdish songs were a “provocation” following the deaths of these soldiers. The singer was obliged to break off her song while part of the audience sang the Turkish national anthem.
This incident was taken up by all the Turkish press as well as foreign papers, which considered this a worrying deterioration in the relations between the country’s two peoples — particularly in the case of a public that, till then, was seen as open to other cultures. “These people, at a jazz concert, can be considered a more sophisticated Turkish public. They knew that someone was going to sing a Kurdish song and they could not tolerate it. This shows the depth of the trauma, not only amongst the Turks but, I believe among the Kurds” commented Soli Ozwl, political editor of the daily paper Haberturk. In his view, this incident is the sign of a growing polarisation as between Kurds and Turks, adding that even at the tougher period of the war in the 90s, there had not been this spread of inter-ethnic hostility in the towns of Western Turkey. However, now that thousands of Kurds refugees were there, the tensions had been exported from the Kurdish regions. Seli Ozel stressed the dangerous situation facing the AKP: “On the one hand the AKP is trying to integrate the Kurds into the economic system, which means that they are more than ever present which creates resentment amongst Turks who already had a position in the system. On the other hand, the Kurds are increasingly educated and are increasingly living in the towns of the West and South where they can express their anger more forcibly”.
Thus, some young Turks carried out intimidatory raids on an Istanbul shantytown, which has been mainly inhabited by Kurdish refugees for the last two decades. Ertugrul Kurkçu, a Turkish BDP Member of Parliament also made similar forecasts from a Kurdish point of view, speaking about the younger generations born during the war, whose families were displaced, killed or traumatised in various ways by the conflict. “Their hostility towards the present State setup is fiercer that that of the previous generation. Their rage is not without reason. They live in a very savage atmosphere, not only because of their physical living conditions but also mentally, without any respect for the government — or for society”.
Last July the Kurdish leader Meshaal Tammo, recently released from prison, gave an interview by phone to the Kurd Watch site, from which the following are extracts:
Question: There have been demonstrations in Syria against the regime since mid-March. Over 1,500 people have been killed and about 10,0000 arrested. What is the position in Syria?
Temmo: The real number of deaths and arrests could well be even higher. We are dealing with a police State. The number of victims of these State aggressions is never made public. An incalculable number of people have disappeared and I fear that many of them are dead. We know that the regime hits back with mass graves. Once it has fallen we are sure to discover new and horrible facts about the way this police State has worked.
However, quite apart from what is happening, a major part of the population has made its own decision. They want freedom, and they will succeed in having it. The regime can kill and jail thousands, it can plunder towns and villages, it can raze the to the ground. But it will never prevent the population deciding on a change of regime.
Question: For a long time we never heard anything from this country’s opposition parties. They have only begun to get organised in the last couple of weeks. Why?
Tammo: We must not forget that the Syrian regime has fought these dissident parties for 45 years. It has deprived the opposition of any freedom of movement. Till now, the Syrian opposition has always acted illegally, and for their activities its members have been persecuted and arrested. This opposition has no experience of legal activity. We live in a country where only one party can speak and where diversity of opinion is suppressed. The opposition parties have suffered many setbacks. Many of its members have been in prison for years or had to leave the country. In these conditions, dissident activity is difficult. That is why the opposition is so weak. It is only now that its members are learning how to communicate with one another. It is only now that the people are beginning to learn and express their opinions and to respect those of others. That is why to took some time for the opposition got round to organising. Meanwhile, a new generation of Syrian society has grown that does not share the same fears as the old one. These young people will build a new Syria.
Question: The opposition parties are not only weak but divided. In the last few weeks there have been various meetings in the country and abroad, at Antalya or elsewhere, that several opposition parties have boycotted. On 27 June a coalition of 8 Arab parties was formed, but other groups, like those of the Damascus Declaration have distanced themselves from this alliance. Finally you yourself organised a committee with other people to organise a national conference. How can this disunited opposition come together?
Temmo: All that is true. Nevertheless, all these meetings and the formation of these groups are necessary and suited to the present situation. We must know who can act and who cannot, and we must also envisage what this new Syria will be like once the regime has been changed. We need a new Constitution. We need to redefine our external relations and much more besides. The whole opposition is working in this direction. It is possible that certain groups have problems with other ones but one thing brings us together: the desire to be free. The coalition I and others have formed should be preparatory to a conference of national salvation. This conference should be an alternative to the regime. In our coalition, the parties are hardly represented: it is rather the young people who are carrying out the Syrian revolution. That is why I believe that we can bring together many opposition groups. Certainly, they will not all take part but the most important will, including several Kurdish parties, groups stemming from the Damascus Declaration and many others. Together, we will push the revolution forward. What unites us is that we do not want to negotiate with the regime and that we see ourselves as an alternative to the existing government. We want open discussions between ourselves about the new Syria. A civilian and democratic Syria must be built in which the different ethnic groups will secure their rights. Our meetings are open to all who share our aims. They will not take place in secret. Everyone must be able to take their part in the discussions.
Question: Apart from the young activists, the bulk of the opposition parties have not, so far, demanded that the regime resign. How can you bring people round the same table if the end of the regime is not one of your objectives?
Temmo: Every day more and more are calling for the regime’s resignation. The more the government kills and jails people, the more the opposition parties and the Syrian people outside all political organisations call for this government’s resignation. Increasingly, people think that this government has lost all legitimacy. Hardly anyone now wants to negotiate with this regime.
Question: Are there any plans for the post-Bashar period? Is the Syrian opposition working on concepts for a new Constitution or new laws on parties or organisations?
Temmo: All the opposition parties agree about this: there must be a new Constitution. This Constitution must reflect the cultural diversity of the Syria people. Laws must be drawn up regarding parties, voting, the press, and so on. These are the bases of any modern civilian State. I think that those groups that want a modern, civilian and democratic State will win the day. The first step in this direction is a new Constitution.
Question: How does the Syrian opposition see the relations between the State and Religion?
Temmo: Whether you like it or not the greater part of Syrian society is religious. Religious but not radical. Erdogan’s successes have influenced the population more than all the rest. The people and groups with whom we want to organise the national salvation conference would like to show that their religion is open to differing ideas and notions. We want a new and progressive constitution. Religion must play a secondary role in it.
Question: Europe and the USA have been reluctant to talk about sanctions against Syria. Why?
Temmo: They fear that, after a change of regime, there will be chaos. They fear a civil war and other disturbances. The Syrian government has fuelled these fears and has even spread propaganda that the Middle East would collapse in chaos if Bashar al-Assad’s government fell. As time passes, the West will conclude that a change of regime will not only contribute to Syria’s stability but also to that of the region. Those that criticise the regime argue in the same way.
Question: What must the Europeans and the Americans do in the present situation?
Temmo: They can do a lot. They can impose an economic embargo and exercise more political pressure. They can support the opposition. We do not want any foreign military intervention. We will resolve our problems ourselves. However, the Americans and Europeans can, with a correct evaluation of the situation, y speaking clearly and unequivocally, contribute to a situation in which the regime where the regime will no longer kill and jail people blindly.
Question: If a change of regime takes place, what will be its relations with Israel? How will the Golan question be managed? We often here the opposition say that Syria has Israel’s interests and has not once fired at Golan in 40 years. Does that mean that the opposition will wage war on Israel?
Temmo: No. The present opposition wants peace and the Golan question must also be resolved peacefully. There must be an internationally observed peace treaty. We no longer want to exploit this conflict for propaganda aimed at diverting attention to our real problems. We want to sincerely want to resolve Syria’s internal problems.
Question: Turkey and, above all, Prime Minister Erdogan, is exerting heavy pressure on Syria at the moment. Some voices are arguing that Turkey could set up a security zone for Syrian refugees along its borders with Syria. What does the opposition say?
Temmo: Turkey has its own interests to consider and wants to play an important role n the Middle East. It wants to become a regional great power — that is also why it is taking such a clear stand. The Turkish government does not want to repeat the mistakes of the past and has taken a stand beside the Syrian people. At the same time, we realise that Turkey was more committed before the elections that after. We hope that this commitment is support of our population will increase. We share a common 800 Km border with Turkey and when you take that into account it is understandable that recent events in Syria should also be important for Turkey. Kurds live on both sides of the Syrian-Turkish border — Turkey does not want additional problems. It can also play a role in this transition phase for the same reason. With regard to a security zone, such a thing would be hard to carry out without a UN resolution. Such a security zone cannot be created unilaterally by the Turkish government. It must be supported by the international community. We hope, however, that things wont have to go that far and that the Syrian people will bring the regime down first.
Question: The Syrian security forces have been killing demonstrators for the last three months. It is even feared that there will be a repetition of the 1982 events at Hama. How long can this last? Will things reach the point of civil war?
Temmo: The 1982 events will not be repeated. We are living in a different period. Today the people are on the barricades throughout Syria and not just in one town. The central issue is elsewhere: for how much longer will the Syrian troops take part in the murder of peaceful demonstrators? Some soldiers have already left the army and refuse to open fire on the population. If this continues, the Army will disintegrate. At the moment there are demonstrations in 14 provinces. The Army can kill 10 or 20 people a day and arrest 200, but it can’t reduce the people to silence this way.
Question: What role in the revolution was played by the prisoners'’ hunger strike, in which you took part in March 2011 at ’Adra prison?
Temmo: This hunger strike certainly served to trigger national demonstrations. The political situation was such that it only needed a spark for the whole population to express its discontent. We were aware of this and we wanted to take part. When we began the hunger strike we only had one aim: incite the people to rise against the regime.
Question: The opposition parties do not seem inclined to play any role in these demonstrations. It is rather the young people who are getting mobilised via Internet. What is holding the parties back?
Temmo: We must not forget that many of these young activists are also members of opposition parties. It is true, however, that these parties are not playing a leading part. The parties must get more forcibly mobilised in favour of the revolution. We must work at that. The youth who are leading the revolution have very effective networks and are well organised. They are very motivated and are working in a very professional manner. They know what they want and have decided that this regime must go — and that is what they are working for.
Question: Till now, we supposed that that the Kurdish parties were the best organised opposition forces and that they would play an important part in the regime’s downfall. In reality, this is far from being the case. You yourself have not called for taking part in the demonstrations. Why?
Temmo: That, unfortunately, is true. The Kurdish opposition was the best opposition group in Syria and was very active in the context of party politics. As from the start of the revolution, the Kurdish parties could have played an important role but the missed the opportunity. On the one hand the regime behaved very skilfully with the Kurds, and on the other several Kurdish party leaders contributed to the weakness of the Kurdish opposition. Several Kurdish parties still have not taken up clear stand regarding the regime. Some still feel that it would be preferable to negotiate with it. This, naturally, weakens the demonstrations in the Kurdish regions and, consequently, the number of Kurds out on the streets. This does not mean that the Kurds will not secure their rights in a new Syria. The Kurdish youth has actively taken part in and been very useful to the Syrian revolution. We — the Future’s Movement, the Kurdish Party for Freedom in Syria (Azadi) and the Kurdish Unity Party in Syria (Yekiti) have taken part in the demonstrations from the start and will continue to do so in the future. Our young members are demonstrating just like the young members of other parties and the independent protesters. As was the case throughout Syria, we deliberately decided to let the youth take charge of organising the demonstrations. The Future Movement, Azadi and Yekiti organised demonstrations in Syria at a time when no one dared protest public. We are glad that our youth are now playing an important part.
Question: Is the Kurdish opposition as well as the Arab opposition hiding behind the young people? You want to create this country’s future but are delaying at a critical phase of the revolution, leaving all the responsibilities to the youth. Isn’t that very contradictory?
Temmo: In our case, the Future Movement, there is no contradiction here. We are taking parting the demonstrations. The three above cited parties could, without delay, issue a statement calling on the people to demonstrate. We are not doing so because we want our youth to become active and take independent decisions. We are thus showing them respect.
Question: The Future’s Movement withdrew from the 12-party group because it considered the others were too hesitant in supporting the revolution. In what way is the Future’s Movement now different from them?
Temmo: we left the group because of the position some of them took regarding the regime. They wanted to meet the government and carry out negotiations. We refused to do this and simply said: “You can’t talk to a regime that kills its own population”. The idea of entering into negotiations with the government is still regularly out forward by some Kurdish parties. We have different political ideas. We can only work with groups that refuse to meet the government. All our actions must be directed toward the regime’s fall. We say so openly. We have the same position here as the youth in the streets. The majority of the Kurdish parties do not have this position. There are political differences. At this time, we Kurds, the parties and the other social groups, must play an important role in this decisive phase of the revolution. We can only do this if we adopt a coherent stand and encourage the revolution more strongly. We are working to achieve this end. We are active at the national Syrian level. We must affirm this as Kurds and defenders of their interests as a distinct people. Today the road t the future is open.
Question: Has the position of these Kurdish parties weakened by their not actively taking part in the demonstrations and, consequently, in the revolution?
Temmo: Obviously their position is weakened. If their stand is weak, it is because several Kurdish parties have not yet adopted a clear line regarding the regime. Not only are they not supporting the revolution but they are acting against it.
Question: How is it that demonstrators in Syria are being fired at except in the Kurdish regions?
Temmo: The regime has already some experience of dealing with us. When they fired on demonstrators in the Kurdish regions in 2004, hundreds of thousands of Kurds came down into the streets in Damascus as well as Aleppo. Murdering the demonstrators unites the population. The government knows full well that if a Kurd is killed in a demonstration in the Kurdish region, hundreds of thousands of Kurds will take over the streets. However weakened and split these groups may be, in such a situation the Kurds stick together. That is why the government does not intervene in the demonstrations in the Kurdish regions. They want to avoid this at all costs.
On 2 July, a Press Conference was held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in the name of the country’s Kurdish community, to make public opinion aware of the dangers of de-culturing and dispersion weighing on their community.
Tahir Suleymanov, editor of the Diplomat daily, read an appeal to the Azeri President Ilham Aliyev written in the name of the Kurds, before the journalist and members of the public present. In this appeal he stressed the need that the Kurds, in common with the other ethnic groups living in the country, have for schools where teaching is in Kurdish as well as TV programmes or stage plays in their mother tongue so as to preserve “their national identity”. Tahir Suleymanov also pointed out that there was not a single Kurd amongst the 125 members of Parliament in Baku.
The Russian media, also present, pointed out that, hitherto, Kurdish demands had never been heard publicly, as this community preferred, on the contrary, not to stress its origins “out of cautiousness”. This cautiousness can be explained by the close political links between Turkey and Azerbaijan, since the Kurds are seen as being close to the Armenians while the conflict over Upper Karabagh has heightened nationalist tensions on both sides. Thus the Russian News Agency suggested that Tahir Suleymanov’s initiative must be supported by the PKK, although the Azeri parliament has always refused to officially describe the Kurdish organisation as “terrorist”.
The number of Kurds living in Azerbaijan is estimated at about 70,000, less than 1% of this republic’s populations. An autonomous local entity, “Red Kurdistan” had been formed between 1923 and 1930 under the Soviets. It included areas now in Azerbaijan, between Nagorny-Karabakh and the Azeri borders with Armenia and Iran. However, at the end of the 30s, most of the Kurds of Transcaucasia were transported, on Stalin’s orders, to Kazakhastan, where a Kurdish community still lives and is much more culturally active and visible.
For the first time, the eighth “Bedir Khan Festival” was celebrated on 9 and 10 July in Paris (Sevres). The Festival’s theme was “Culture defines the Identity of nations”, and its aim was to set up cultural bridges between France and the Kurds, between Kurdistan and Paris.
Kurdish and French intellectuals and research workers, writers and publishers discussed, in a series of Round Tables, the contribution of the Bedir Khans to the blossoming and defence of Kurdish culture was well as contemporary issues like the situation of journalists in Kurdistan.
Throughout the period the debates, an exhibition of works by Kurdish artists took place, including Calligraphy and paintings by Namiq Ali Qadir, Burhan Sabir, Hemin Jameel, and Mohammed Fatah. Finally there was a Kurdish Book Fair in which all the publishing houses in Kurdistan presented their publication.
The Festival was opened by a musical event, the >Hymn to Bedir Khan played by Jamal Abdul and Anwer Qeredaghi. Then the inaugural speeches followed one another, with Mrs Khaman Asaad, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in France, Mr. Hamid Boubakir, the organiser of this Eighth Festival in Paris and the Mayor of Sevres. Mr. Hamid Hussein spoke on behalf of the Union of Kurdish Writers, Mr. Kendal Nezan; President of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, as well as a representative of the French Socialist Party also spoke.
A documentary entitled “This is Kurdistan”, produced and directed by Hawraz Muhammad was then shown, showing the real lives of intellectuals in Kurdistan since the uprising to the present.
After a “Kurdish lunch”, the first Round Table took place with >Najat Abdullah and >Luai Jaff as moderators. This covered the role of the Bedir Khans in encouraging and promoting Kurdish journalism, in which the following Kurdish writers and journalists took part: Malmisanij,> Mahmoud Lewendi, Dara Bilek, Ahmed Kardam and> Ahmed Demirhan.
The second Round Table, moderated by >Barzan Faraj covered the theme “>Journalism and media in Kurdistan Today”. It brought together several intellectuals and research workers, namely: >Hamid Badirkha, Abdullah Keskin, publisher of >Avesta Publishing Ibrahim Seydo Aydogan, Michael Thévenin, Karwan Anwar, Umed Ali, Behat Hesib Qeredaghi, Bengin Haco and >Hassan Yasin.
The second day kicked off with a documentary entitled “>Danielle Mitterrand in Kurdistan” by Hawre Aziz and Star Muhamad Amin. The came a Round Table on the subject of “The experiences of Kurdish Writers” moderated by Halkawt Hakem and Ibrahim Seydo Aydogan, Kurdish language lecturers at INALCO. Those taking part were >Mustapha Saleh Karim, Mihemed Mukri, Sherzad Hesen, Ehmed Mihemed Ismail, Fawaz Hussain, Firat Ceweri and >Muhsin Kizilkaya.
>Olivier Rouault, Nazand Begikhani, Jammy James, Ephrem Isa Yusif and >Najat Abdullah.
The third Round Table, chaired by Malmisanîj was on the subject of “Kurdistan — a window on the world”, in which the participants were Mr. Adnan Mufti, Speaker of the Irbil Kurdish Parliament, Hosham Dawood, Director of the Irbil IFPO.
The last Round Table discussed the position of women in Kurdish society, which was chaired by Mrs. Khaman Asaad, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in France,
The Bedir Khan family is one of the great Kurdish families that have devoted their lives to the independence of Kurdistan. In the vanguard of Kurdish development and of their political demands, they were initiators of the schools and other academic institutions. However, it was in the field of journalism that the family was most prominent, by founding the first Kurdish newspapers: >Kurdistan (1898), >Harwar and >Ronahî in the 1930s as well as >Roja Nû and >Stêr.
In addition the Bedirkhan Publishing House was founded in Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan on 22 October 2000 by Hamid Abubakir Ahmed, a journalist and it director of publication.
The previous “Bedir Khan Festivals” took place in April 2004 in Suleimaniyah, in 2005 in Duhok, in 2006 in Irbil. Then it began to take place outside the Kurdistan Region, beginning with Berlin in 2006, Cairo in 2008, Athens in 2009 and Washington in 2010. This year it was Paris’ turn.