The climate of political tension and war-like violence has worsened in Turkish Kurdistan as Ankara threatens to send its land forces into Iraqi Kurdistan. The pro-Kurdish BDP party reported politico -legal balance sheet that speaks for itself" 10 mayors in office, 2 former mayor, 2 Presidents and 4 vice-Presidents of provincial councils and 29 municipal councillors are at present behind bars. Also, according to BDP, between 14 April 2009 and 6 October 2011, 7,748 cadres and members of its party were detained, 1548 of them in the last six months.
In the military field, far from having calmed the situation, the recent Turkish bombardments of PKK bases have in no way reduced the number of attacks. On 18 October, 24 soldiers were killed and several more wounded in a number of simultaneous attacks along the border, in Hakkari Province, This is the second heaviest assessment of deaths in the Turkish Army, the heaviest being 33 killed in 1993.
The Army operation, which was initially announced as being “large scale” and including land and air forces, in fact took place mainly on Turkish soil plus “a few points in Iraq” According to an official communiqué of 21 October. The operations involved 22 battalions, and though the General Staff did not give the number of soldiers involved, the Turkish press gave a figure of 10,000 men.
However, on 22 October an earthquake of 7.2 degree magnitude dominated the news, in Turkey. This hit the city of Van and the surrounding villages, including Ercis, the hardest hit.
As well as causing and estimated 600 deaths, the earthquake made thousands of families homeless, either because their houses had been destroyed or they feared to return because of strong after-shocks.
Initially the Turkish government refused international assistance, spontaneously offered by a number of countries — including Israel despite its strained relations with Turkey — before asking for caravans and mobile homes since it number of tents available for the disaster-stricken population was seen to be far short of the need.
However, the anger of those affect at the lack of tents and food is increasing. Thus at Ercis, a small town of 75,000 inhabitants that recorded 360 deaths, the population complained of discrimination in the assistance provided by the Red Crescent: the families of local elected officials (AKP) and of Army and police officers and even of tribes connected to the authorities are said to have received priority treatment in the distribution of tents and assistance, while the police seemed unable to cope.
The rescue teams, in a race against time, succeeded in extricating survivors two days after the quake, including a two-week-old baby.
According to Mustafa Gedik, who runs the Kandili Seismological Institute in Istanbul, an earthquake of 7.2 on the Richter scale in a region where the bulk of the buildings have no safety measures against earthquakes, could cause between 500 and 1,000 deaths. Fortunately, the quake occurred on a Sunday, when many families were out of doors and the boarding schools were empty
Some powerful after-shocks, including one recorded at 5.4 Richter strength, on 26 October, maintain an atmosphere of panic.
The Research Institute for Turkish Political Life (OVIPOT) interviewed on its site Çaglar Akgungor, a Doctor of political science who had defended his PhD thesis at the Institute of Political Research in Grenoble, France, in 2007. The thesis was, appropriately enough, entitled “Turkey facing the test of earthquakes since 1999, a socio-political analysis seen through the post-catastrophe media discourse” and Dr, Akgungor has taken part in several research and rescue teams.
In his interview, Dr, Akgungor considered that this was the most serious (together with that at Bingol in 2003) since the quakes of 17 August and 2 November 1999 that occurred respectively at Izmit and Duzce in the Marmara region. While he observes that the State is better prepared for this kind of catastrophe since 1999, with an increase in the number of rescue teams, he points out that, for the moment there is some vagueness in the evaluation of the operation of these teams in terms of training, equipment and organisation. Referring to the criticisms of the government regarding the ineffectiveness of the first rescue operations, this research worker qualifies these criticisms:
“I think that one can never be “very effective” in the first 24 hours following a catastrophe. You find yourself isolated, thrown on your own means of action, par of which has been destroyed or blocked for various reasons. The same is true of team members who are native to the area, as they are first of all preoccupied by the fate of their own family, which is quite normal. As for help coming from outside the catastrophe area, it’s like an army. Administrative mechanisms have to be put in motion, which takes time. However, one an “operation” is under way, it advances. Even the voluntary rescue teams, that are considered more flexible, took between 4 and 12 hours to arrive on site (the official UN standard is a maximum of 36 hours)”.
As for the scenes of “looting” lorries and tents by destitute people, they are not very different to those that occurred in 1999 and also in many other countries except for Japan that has a very different State culture.
On the question of whether or not the initial refusal of foreign assistance was a mistake, he distinguished between political motives and those connected to logistics: “It must not be forgotten that, in international relations, accepting aid from abroad can be considered, politically, as an admission of weakness (…) Indeed, if foreign aid is finally accepted, it is probably for diplomatic reasons, to maintain good relations with the countries that had offered it. I would point out, moreover, that during catastrophes and emergency situations, the issue of accepting aid and of its effectiveness are often raised. Managing international assistance is an operation that requires the diplomatic co-ordination of a great number of organisations, which is not always simple whose effectiveness is not always feasible. One very surprising example, by the way, is that of the United States, the world\s most powerful nation, during the Katrina hurricane in 2005. It was literally incapable of managing the international assistance, which provoked a scandal when the States that had started to do so gave up sending aid even though the citizens of Louisiana still needed it”.
As for the problem, which is a recurrent one in Turkey, of the non-conformity of new buildings to anti-seismic standards, tougher legislation would not alter anything much. On paper, Turkey has adopted regulations that conform to international standards. The problem is applying them in the field, where corruption, privileges and unlicensed building predominate.
All in all, the earthquake cased 601 deaths, 2,300 inured and orphaned 153 children.
Mashaal Tammo, a Kurdish political leader and spokesman for the Future Movement, was assassinated in his house at Qamishlo on 7 October. According to the Human Rights Research Centre: “Four masked armed men entered Mashaal Tammo’s house and opened fire on him, his son and a colleague”, wounding the two latter.
At Qakishlo, thousands of demonstrators collected for a protest march a soon as the news was known and remained all the night before the hospital to which his body had been taken and where his son and secretary were being treated.
Mashaal Tammo, aged 53, who has long been a Kurdish opponent to the regime, was recently released after three and a half years in detention. Unlike other Kurdish parties, he had chosen to bring his party round to support the Syrian National Council, created last August in Istanbul, which covers the greater part of the regime’s political opponents.
The assassination was immediately condemned by the United States, which condemned an escalation in the Baath Party’s repression of its opponents. Similarly, France condemned the “brutal violence” of the Syrian regime.
Accused in this way, Syria denied any involvement in this murder, accusing rival “tribes” and Kurdish political groups. However, on 9 October, the Al-Qods (Jerusalem) Forces, a special 200 strong unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, sent to Syria to support the regime, claimed responsibility for the act. Members of the same Revolutionary Guards unit, shouting pro-Hizbollah slogan, opened fire on the huge crown of 50,000 demonstrators who came to attend Mashal Timmo’s funeral, according to some who were present.
In an interview to the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw, the research worker Jordi Tejel, lecturer at the International Institute of Advanced Development Studies, and a specialist of Syrian Kurdish movements about which he has written two books, considered that the consequences of this assassination could be tat the Kurdish parties would go over more openly to the Syrian revolt movement.
“It should not be forgotten that there are, at present, three blocks within the Kurdish movement that do not have a clear strategy regarding the regime. Some do not believe in the overthrow of the regime, evidently preferring to negotiate and secure concessions. This murder may oblige the Kurdish parties and organisations to adopt a more progressive stand”.
Of all the Syrian Kurdish leaders, Mashal Timmo was the most decided about joining the Syrian opposition hand had recently left the Kurdish Front, whose stand regarding the regime was too hesitant. He, on the contrary, was much closer to the Kurdish youth movements who, for their part. Are unreservedly involved in the street demonstrations. Jordi Tejel continued; “In my opinion, the real danger of break-up comes from the split between the young people and, let us say the traditional old Kurdish parties, and I will give you an example of this. Since September, two groups have emerged, both of which are armed. They have announced on Internet that they are going to fight the regime. There are, therefore, two armed groups that intend to go into action against the regime. In the regions main city, there are three local committees, mainly of young people, that cooperated with the Syrian opposition and criticise the other Kurdish parties because they do not share their point of view, because they do not have a clear strategy against the regime. I think that there is a danger that the Kurdish parties may split between the youth and the old elites.
As for the “moderation” of the Syrian branch of the PKK and even of its attempts to restrain the Kurdish movement, this should be seen as part of a strategy of falling back on Syria at a time when the PJAK bases are suffering from Iranian attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan and the PKK itself is threatened by a pincher movement between Iran and Turkey”.
An Iraqi government decree forbidding flying of the Kurdish flag from official building in the town of Khanaqin, is inflaming feelings and aggravating the conflicts around the future of the disputed Kurdish regions between the Central government and the Kurdistan Region.
On 16 October, about 700 Kurdish demonstrators marched from the town centre to the head offices of the Iraqi authorities, waving Kurdish flags and shouting: “Long live Kurdistan” and “Khanaqin is Kurdish”.
As for the town council, it has quite simply refused to observe the decree, signed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as soon as it was informed of it on 11 October. Hitherto, the two flags, Iraqi and Kurdish, have flown side by side on all official building.
The Kurdish Region Government immediately supported Khanaqin. Thus on 15 October, the Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament, Kamal Kirkuki, declared it was “unacceptable to violate the sacred character of the Kurdish flag”.
On the spot, the municipal authorities warned Baghdad that withdrawing the Kurdish flag from government buildings would be seen as a “provocation” by the population and ran the risk of unleashing political disturbances in Khanaqin.
“The flag affair” could even extend beyond Iraqi borders, since the Kurdistan office of Religious Affairs has even announced, in an interview to the daily Aswal al-Iraq that a group of 150 Kurdish pilgrims had the intention, during the coming Haj, of raising the Kurdish flag on Mecca’s Mount Arafat as a sign of protest against the Iraqi government.
On 22 September last, the President of the Kurdistan Region, Masud Barzani, visited Kanaqin and stressed that it was, legitimately part of Kurdish territory, when Peshmerga units were sent to Diyala Province to protect the Kurds there from terrorists. Arab nationalists had disapproved of this visit, despite Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which provides for a referendum that would allow the people of areas outside the KRG to be incorporated in it if they so wished. There are 175,000 Kurds, mainly Shiite, living in Diyala province, where they had long suffered both as Kurds and as Shiites, from the Baath regime, and its campaigns of Arabisation and deportation. In 2006, the Khanaqin local authorities had demanded that the town be returned to the official territory of Iraqi Kurdistan.
This dispute over the Kurdish flag is this just a stage in the latent series of skirmishes between Baghdad and Irbil over the areas of Kirkuk and Diyala, the strategic issues of which are as important as their oil issues.
However, relations between the Iraqi political parties could be complicated by the most surprising stands that are sometimes expressed by politicians who define themselves as Arab nationalists. Thus Hassan Alawi, a writer and Member of the Iraqi Parliament on the al-Iraqiyya list, openly supports Kurdish independence. Al-Iraqiyya, the second largest political force in the country, after that of Nuri al-Maliki, is a coalition of Sunni and “secular” Shiite Arabs, generally considered pro-Arab and therefore disinclined to supporting Kurdish aspirations to independence, as is shown by the unfriendly relations between the elected representatives of the Kurdish Alliance and of al-Iraqiyya in mixed regions like Nineveh and Mosul. However, the N°2 on this list does not hesitate to wish in the future to concede Kirkuk to the Kurds and even to wish for Kurdish independence for the greater good of Iraq, which could then become a centralised state.
A veteran of Iraqi politics and one of the founders of the Iraqi Baath Party, Hassan Alawi does not believe in any possible return to dictatorship in Iraq, contrary to the accusation made by Nuri al-Maliki’s opponents. “Saddam was the product of a specific historic period that is now over. In terms of personality, a dictatorship is not a garment anyone can wear. Dictatorship requires charisma and strength. A dictator must not have any character failings and must not be hesitant. He is someone who isolates himself from his circle. Dictators are not sects. That is why it is difficult to find a dictator who is anyone else’s agent, because dictators only work for themselves, not for others. They man form alliances with great powers, but they never become their agents because, essentially they are only working in their own interests. It is difficult to find these traits in Maliki. Maliki is not that kind of person and the period is different from that of Saddam. To declare a new dictatorship is emerging in Iraq is over-schematising politics. Dictatorships only emerge in centralised States”.
Asked by the daily paper Rudaw about Iraq’s possible return to a centralised state system, Hassan Alawi said he was in favour of this but pointed out that it could never happen in Iraq so long as a “Kurdish question” remained.
“The only way for Iraq to become a centralised State again is for Kurdistan to proclaim its independence. I am a fervent Arab nationalist wish for an independent Kurdistan while hoping for a centralised Arab State. The thing that has prevented Iraq from becoming a centralised State is the Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan must fully emerge before Iraq can become a centralised State again. Kurdistan has no connection of any kind — of people or land — with Iraq and has never really been part of Iraq. It is only part of Iraq on political maps, not geographic ones. Kurdistan is not part of the Arab geographic space”.
On 4 September a Kurdish prisoner, Aziz Khakzad, was secretly executed in Kerman Prison, despite the fact that his original sentence had been reduced to 5 years imprisonment and that neither his lawyer of his family were informed of his hanging.
Aziz Khakzad, was 29 years of age. Arrested in 2007, he had been sentenced to death by the Khoy Revolutionary Court for “assisting a Kurdish party” and as an “enemy of God”, a “crime” that, if confirmed on appeal, carries an automatic death sentence. However, on appeal he was sentenced to 5 years and sent from Selmas to Kerman Prison, where his execution took place in flagrant illegality.
On 22 October, Amnesty International launched an appeal from its London offices, in favour of two other Iranian Kurds, Lughman Moradi and Zaniar Moradi, whose death sentences. confirmed by the Supreme Court, had been originally passed on 22 December 2011 by the 15th Chamber of the Teheran Revolutionary Court. They were found guilty of being “enemies of God” by the Iranian courts, convicted of membership of the Kurdish Komala Party and of the son of a mullah from Merivan. Their first trial only lasted 20 minutes and the two accused had lodged an appeal. On 12 October 2011, the Teheran Supreme Court confirmed their sentences.
Zaniar and Loghman Moradi were arrested on 17 August and 17 October 2009 respectively. During their first 9 months detention in the Ministry of Information premises, they were never notified of any charge of murder. In December 2010, they were transferred to Karaj Prison to the North-west of Teheran. It was there that they both drafted a letter recording the tortures to which they had been subjected and the threats of sexual abuse I the secret service prison for 25 days, to get them to confess to a murder that they deny. Neither of them received any medical care of medicines that they required.
Amnesty has demanded a fair trial for these two condemned men, recalling that one of them was only 17 years old when arrested.
Finally, Human Rights watch published a letter from another Kurd, Jamal Rahmani, a Human Rights activist, arrested in 2008. In this letter, Jamal Rahmani explains that his confessions were extorted under the threat, in particular that of executing his brother if he did not confess.
Aged 29 years, Jamal Rahmani joined a local Human Rights defence organisation in 2006, and in 2007 the Iran Human Rights Activists association (IHRA). On 14 June 2008, plain-clothes police entered his student lodgings at Shahreza, in Ispahan Province. Without any warrant for his arrest, he was arrested together with a fellow tenant and taken to the Intelligence Services detention centre for that town. Jamal Rahmani said he remained there for 24 hours, handcuffed and bound to a chair before being transferred to Ispahan’s Dastgerd Prison.
“The prison has 3 stories. The first story housed ordinary prisoners while the second was reserved for political prisoners. The third story was for prisoners who were members of al-Qaida. During the first few days of my detention I was subjected to much violence and accusations of being a terrorist and counter-revolutionary. One night a guard entered my cell, blindfolded me and took me down to the prison basement, where I was immediately sexually assaulted and beaten, which happened on all the interrogations that followed. After a few days, my co-tenant and I were transferred to Sanandaj Prison (in Kurdistan Province).we were locked up in a tiny cell lacking in any sanitary conveniences. We were obliged to bang on the door for that and sometimes we had to wait for hours before the guard opened the door and allowed us to use the toilettes ” which they sometimes didn’t for whole nights — and rarely when the guards were on holiday. Food was rarely provided and was disgusting so I often had an empty stomach. There was a small light that constantly illuminated the cell and in the morning the guards woke us very noisily. I was interrogated relentlessly. They threatened to hand my brother Karim and I would not confess. At that time Karim was a student activist, imprisoned in Kermanshah Prison. They then arrested the girl I was in love with and threatened to ill-treat her if I didn’t cooperate. At first I did not believe these threats but my interrogators gave me very specific details about this girl to convince me that they really had arrested her and were able to harm her. I suffered unbelievably during that period in which they threatened my family and those I loved to force me to confess”.
Moreover there are 18 other Kurdish political prisoners still under sentence of death in “death row”.
Since 2007, 10 Kurdish activists have been executed for membership of banned organisations. Prior to Aziz Khakade’s death the last hanging took place was that of Ferhad Tarim, on 27 January 2011, in Urmieh Prison and that of Jussein Khizri that took place secretly on 5 January wand was only officially announced on the 15th of that month.
They were both sentenced for membership of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (IKDP).
Another 7 prisoners had been sentenced for membership of the PJAK between 2007 and 2010. They all attack the intense use of torture to extract confessions.
On 2 October, the first premier of the ballet “Mem and Zin” took place, staged by Ferhi Karakecili.
Fethi Karakecili is an artistic director, dancer, choreographer and teacher. Born at Urfa, in Turkish Kurdistan, he obtained a degree in folk dancing at the Turkish National Academy and his Masters in dancing at Istanbul Technical University. After teaching for 7 years in Turkey, at Gaziantep and Istanbul, he left to complete his academic career path in Canada, at York University, where he is now completing a PhD in ethnic musicology while teaching in the Department of Dance, Music and ethnic cultures. Fethi Karakecili is preparing a thesis on the rituals and music of Kurdish marriage, both in Kurdistan and in the Diaspora. He is also founder of the Dilan Dance Company and is staging, this month a ballet based on “Mem and Zin”.
Asked about his choice by a Canadian-Kurdish newspaper, the Kurdistan Tribune, the choreographer pointed out that throughout his childhood he had been lulled to sleep by Kurdish tales and epics and remembers having heard the story of Mem and Zin for the first time at the age of 7 years, from an illiterate Kurdish storyteller of the Urfa region. Since then his interest in Kurdish folklore has constantly grown but that, because of the oppression and negationism weighing on the Kurds, he had been obliged to read, in secret, Ahmedê Khanî’s book that was passed around illegally. It was at this time that the dancer promised himself to stage this great book.
Fethi Karakecili says he was surprised at the interest his show has aroused in the international press and in academic, artistic and Kurdish circles. “We have has an excellent response from the public and the media. I was interviewed by the Telegraph (UK), Radikal (Turkey), the Toronto Star (Canada), the ANF (Kurds in Europe) and over 100 local papers in Turkey. As a result, the bulk of our tickets have been sold to a multi-cultural and not just Kurdish community”.
The “Mem and Zin” ballet includes three styles of repertory: folklore, contemporary and classical with dancers coming from various disciplines. The music is played by musicians coming from many parts of the world: “Be it for the music or the dancing, I have made an effort to include artists from a variety of horizons and “colours”. You can see there stylistic touches from other dances (east Indian, Capoera, afro dances) in each of the dancers”.