On 3 September, the Guardians of the Revolution announced “the renewal of operations against the Kurdish rebels” in the border zones with Iraqi Kurdistan, particularly in the Sardasht region without specifying whether the Iranian Army had, once again, crossed the border. For their part the local authorities of Iraqi Kurdistan confirmed the renewal of Iranian shelling, which had killed a shepherd and destroyed several houses.
On 5 September, the same Revolution Guards claimed to have killed 22 PJAK fighters. On the same day, without confirming or denying this report, the PJAK (Party for a free life in Kurdistan) asked for a temporary cease-fire.
“We have taken the initiative in proposing a cease-fire for a limited time so as to open negotiations with the Iranian party and settle the problems dividing us” declared Sherzad Kamangae, PJAK spokesman in a phone call to AFP.
An official communiqué from the Party, on the PJAK web site, said, “If Iran does not accept this cease-fire it will be responsible for the fighters’ reprisal. The latest events show that war would not resolve our problems but rather make them worse”.
The mayor of the Kurdish border town of Soran, Karmanj Izzat, stated to AFP that “as from 21.00 (18.00 GMT) yesterday (4 September) Iranian artillery shelled several areas along the border region of Sidkan, causing the death of one woman and injuring two people”. According to the mayor, the shelling was continuing on 5 September.
On 6 September, the day after the cease-fire announcement, the Iranian Government, through the Revolution Guards, demanded “clarification” on the nature and conditions of this truce.
“The terrorist group PJAK’s cease-fire proposal is not clear and the government of the (Iraqi) Kurdistan autonomous region, which is acting as intermediary, must clarify it as soon as possible. As soon as the conditions of this cease-fire have been clarified The Guardians of the Revolution will announce their decision, whether or not to accept it”.
The Revolutionary Guards’ communiqué, published on their Web site Sepahnews, specifically demanded the total withdrawal of the PJAK fighters from the border zones “so as to enable the full restoration of security to the borders of the Islamic Republic”.
The explanation of this call for a cease-fire could be linked to the death of the PJAK assistant commander in chief, Majid Kavian, alias Samakhou Saraldan, that occurred on 3 September and announced by Iran on the 7th. Born in 1982, Majid Kawiyan, a member of PJAK since 1999, was killed during a bombardment. The death of PJAK’s second in command was then confirmed by the Kurdish movement, which mentioned a piece of shrapnel that had killed Majid Kavian.
However the cease-fire was rejected by Teheran and, far from stopping their offensive, the Iranian forces expressed their intention to continue fighting till they had eliminated PJAK — which they claimed they were on the point of achieving. Thus, General Ahmed Reza Pourdastan promised, “in the next few days complete security would be restored to the borders. This group is, henceforth, in a weak position and its activities have been considerably reduced”.
The territorial forces of the Revolutionary Guards announced, for its part, that it had captured “the principal base of the terrorists, on the heights of Jassussan, in the Sardasht region along the borders” and that the area occupied by PJAK was under control.
However, a PJAK leaser, Saeed Khan, denied the gloating content of these communiqués: “We had announced a cease-fire as we had seen the dangers hanging over Iraqi Kurdistan. Consequently we have evacuated these zones. This shows that we are not afraid of Iran and that we are ready to repel any attacks. We are now on Iranian soil” (according to AFP. Moreover PJAK stated it had killed 600 Iranian soldiers.
Iran, however, denies that PJAK has moved back to Iranian territory and affirms, on the contrary, that “the Revolutionary Guards’ many vigorous operation against the PJAK terrorist group have enabled the North-west of the country to be cleaned of counter-revolutionaries and to take control of the whole border line. In the course of these operations the counter-revolutionaries have suffered heavy losses and been obliged to leave Iranian soil”, declared General Mohammad-Taqi Ossanlu, a commander of the Pasdaran land forces.
From the first days of the attack, the president of the Kurdistan Region, Massud Barzani, had called on “the PKK and the PJAK to cease their military operations from our soil and to give up the idea that they could secure their rights by armed force. We support the rights of the Kurdish people but not by armed struggle since it will come to nothing. We urge the PKK and the PJAK to secure them by peaceful means”.
Referring to the repeated demands by Turkey and Iran that it send Peshmerga troops to fight their compatriots, Massud Barzani rejected any eventuality of fratricidal warfare: “Two countries ask us to control our borders to eliminate any problems between us, but we fear sending forces would cause war between Kurds. It is thus impossible to send troops. We are trying, with President Jalal Talabani, Turkey, Iran, the PKK and PJAK to find a solution and so put an end to this war”.
The PKK’s attacks have not weakened since the bloody clashes that had incited Turkey to operate once again in Iraqi Kurdistan. On 12 September, some simultaneous attacks against a police station and a barracks caused 5 deaths and a dozen wounded at Semdinli, in Hakkari Province. The governor of Hakkari reported 2 Kurdish fighters killed in these attacks, adding that “reprisal operations” were under way.
The net day, the Turkish Minister of the Interior, Idris Naim Shahin, stated to the press that a an infantry attack could follow the air raids, even though a meeting had recently taken place in Baghdad between Iraqi, Turkish and Kurdish leaders.
However, behind these threats of reprisals and the “war-like line” openly displayed by Ankara whenever the PKK is mentioned, the press has widely reported that audio recordings showed that secret meeting took place in 2010 between the Turkish government and the Kurdish movement, without any intermediary, but under Norwegian sponsorship. Replying to journalists, the Speaker of the Turkish Parliament, Cemil Çiçek, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, far from denying this, quoted the example of Great Britain and its negotiations with the IRA, as well as of Spain and its meeting with ETA: “The Turkish State and its institutions are doing what other countries like Great Britain or Spain have done about terrorism, that is all”.
Even though they break a taboo in Turkey of according any “recognition” to a Kurdish organisation with which it should negotiate, the admission of these meetings has, for the moment led to nothing. Indeed, since the Parliamentary elections and the imprisonment of BDP members, a political solution seems at a dead end — which has led to a fresh outbreak of violence.
On 20 September, another attack, in van Province, caused two deaths and three wounded amongst the Turkish forces. At the same time, in Diyarbekir, an isolate sharp shooter armed with a Kalashnikov, opened for on some policemen right in the centre of the town, killing one and mortally wounding another, as well as two passers by. Since the gunman fled, it was impossible to tell whether this was the act of a mentally disturbed person or of a militant.
However, the attack that made the greatest impact. Claimed this time by the enigmatic group “Hawks of Kurdistan’s Freedom” (TAK), that often seems to operate without any control by the PKK, caused 3 deaths and 15 wounded, this time in the very centre of the Turkish capital and not in Kurdish territory. In an email addressed to the pro-PKK news agency, Firat News, the organisation states that this attack is just the beginning and that others would follow in Turkish towns.
On 23 September, some Turkish planes once again bombed the Iraqi Kurdistan border area. The PKK spokesman, Dozar Hammo, stated to AFP that the bombing was aimed at Mount Qandil and that no one was injured.
The exploitation of Kurdistan’s hydrocarbon resources is a permanent source of conflict between Baghdad and Irbil, since Iraq wants to imposed that all decisions be centralised while the Kurdish Region defends its free management of its own wealth. A new draft law on hydrocarbons approved by the Iraqi government on 28 August last, has sparked off sharp reactions from the Kurdish side and the President of the Kurdish Region has demanded that it be withdrawn:
“The Presidency of the Kurdistan Region condemns this manoeuvre and calls on the Council of Ministers immediately to withdraw this Bill as it is contrary to the Constitution. We call on the Speaker of Parliament to reject this Bill, presented by the government and to with the legislative work (on the earlier Bill presented in 2007) taking into account the amendments proposed by all parties including the reservations expressed by the Kurdish Alliance”.
The drawing up of this law is an unending action-packed serial between the two governments mainly coming up against the oil agreements the Kurds conclude of their own accord with foreign groups, as well as on the sharing of costs and benefits of these operations. Last May, an agreement was reached on the sharing issue. However, though the Kurds are more inclined to be flexible about sharing the income produced by exploiting hydrocarbons becomes quite determined when it is a matter of controlling their resources, controlling them and signing contracts with foreign companies.
In practice, the Iraqis can hardly impose their control by armed force in Kurdistan. The trial of strength is, for the moment, played out on paper. The contracts made with Kurdistan are not endorsed by the central government, which places the foreign companies in a dilemma: to carry on regardless of Iraqi approval exposes them to retaliatory measures and excludes them from oilfields in the South — on the other hand the Kurdistan Region is, at the moment, the only Iraqi region that is experiencing constant and prosperous economic development, which attracts international companies.
. The conflict therefore is expressed by reciprocal vetoes and bans. On 11 September, the Iraqi government announced that Kurdistan had decided to stop exporting any oil produced from its soil, whereas production, that had been interrupted for a while, had recommenced last February and that production was 135,000 barrels a day — and was approaching the Kurdish target of 200,000. This renewal of operations put an end to a freeze of Kurdish exports that had lasted since October 2009 as Irbil and Baghdad had been unable to agree on remuneration for the foreign operating companies.
St the time of that renewal, in February, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, had agreed that his government endorse the contracts already signed without Baghdad’s agreement. However, a law approved on 28 August last, was considered by the Kurds as yet another attempt to regain control of Kurdistan’s natural wealth by a central government that, throughout its history, has never concerned itself about development in Kurdistan. To this must be added the climate of mutual suspicion and political tension revived by the impending withdrawal of US troops, which hardly provide grounds favourable to agreement.
In a statement to AFP, the Iraqi Oil Minister, Abdelkarim al-Luaybi, affirmed: “The Kurdistan Regional Government today stopped its oil exports, without giving any reason. This is a great loss for the Iraqi economy as well as for the Iraqi and Kurdish peoples in general”.
However, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, quickly denied, in a communiqué from the Kurdish government’s Ministry of Natural resources “having decided to suspend exports via the pipeline linking Iraq and Turkey. The temporary interruption of exports from Kurdistan is due to serious difficulties met by the Northern Oil Company (NOC — an Iraqi public company) over the last two days. Any other interpretation is false” It added “The Kurdish Government remains committed to the interim agreement signed with the Iraqi Federal Government on oil exports from the oilfields located in Kurdistan until a final solution can be found”.
In 1962, the Syrian Government decided to carry out a census of all the population of Hassaké Province on the grounds of who had “illegally” entered the Jezirah since 1945, but, in fact, to “Arabise” as much as possible its border areas. A large Kurdish community inhabited the province, mainly peasants, many of whom had no documents to prove their citizenship and land ownership. It should be remarked that, during the French Mandate, the Jezireh had taken in many refugees fleeing Ottoman massacres: Kurds, Armenians and Syriacs. Even in the 30s, it received other Syriacs fleeing reprisals following the withdrawal of the British from Iraq. However, only the Kurds were harassed by the census, which only lasted one day (many people had not been forewarned). As a result, several hundred thousand Kurd found themselves stateless overnight and their land confiscated and sold to Arab colonists.
These Kurds “without papers” are of two kinds in Syria: those registered during the 1962 census who had not been able to produce enough documents to prove their citizenship are considered “foreigners” (ajnabi). They have special identity papers that show they are not Syrian and are subjected to restrictions in access to education, jobs and marriage. However, the “maktumin” (unregistered) are those who were not recorded in the census. They have even less rights than the former: they cannot obtain any degree of other diploma and are often subjected to restrictions in movement in the country and even in their province.
It is hard to establish the total number of Kurds in Syria, as they are not officially recorded as such. Some research workers estimate that they form about 10% of the Syrian population. Of these, those stripped of their nationality in 1962 could be about 120,000, though UNO estimates they could be 300,000, with an estimated 149,000 ajnabi and 160,000 maktumin.
Whereas 2011 celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Convention that aimed to reduce the number of “stateless people”, a report in the Kurdish daily Rudaw covered the fate of these Kurds, stripped of any nationality or status. Bashar al-Assad finally decided to rehabilitate some of them and restore their citizenship last spring, without fully resolving the question. As this article shows, the granting of citizenship was completely unpredictable. One Kurd who was interviewed, together with his “grandfather and his children was born in Syria. But while some of his brothers and sisters retained their nationality, my grandfather and another two of his brothers were working in the fields and were not recorded”.
Paradoxically, “statelessness” is hereditary, from father to child — but not his property. “While I automatically inherited the status of stateless person from my father I could not inherit his property when he died. Our land was confiscated and given to Arab colonists. The Syrian government criticises the Israeli to the South, but do the same here in the North”.
Being stateless also blocks the way to many jobs, while Syria is suffering from a serious recession: “Although I had the luck to enter university, thanks to the director of my school, my studies will be useless — I will no have a valid degree. I will not be able to work in the public sector or to form my own firm”.
The Presidential decree of last March gave Syrian nationality to 6,000 (out of about 300,000) Kurds but their names are not yet written into the national register of citizens so they have no right to a passport but only to an identity card, as one of them states:
“I am glad to have my identity card, but so long as the procedure is incomplete I have no confidence in their action. Before my card could be given I had to go through an interview, answer many questions and was intimidated by the State Security. Citizenship should not be a privilege. It’s my right”.
The Turkish Ministry of culture and Tourism has indicated that restorattion of the Palace that overhangs the town of Beyazit (Dogubeyazit in Turkish) that had begun in November of last year, would be completed inn 2013. The total cost of this salvaging operation will be 8 million Turkish lire.
The Kurdish Prince Abdi Pasha ordered the building of this Palace in 1685 but it was only completed in 1784 by his grandson Ishak Pasha, nearly a century later. The building, which is a candidate for UNESCO’s World Heritage listing, includes 116 rooms, a mosque, audience chambers, private apartments (hareems) and a mausoleum. It was embellished with a central heating system. Its external decoration, covered with carvings, is a relic of the Jezireh mediaeval style, lavish and baroque, such as can be seen on both mosques, such as those at Sivas, Erzurum or Divrigi, and on Christian architectural monuments such as Akhtamar, or Deir ez-Zafaran at Mardin. There are abundant plant and animal motifs with Mesopotamian echoes (the remains of a Urartian fort are visible beside it). In the later buildings, some Western architectural influence appears.
Opposite the Palace is the tomb of Ahmede Khani, the great Kurdish poet who was a contemporary of the Beyazit princes and who died well before the Palace was completed.