As arranged during the formation of the joint PUK-KDP list (Kurdistan Alliance), the current Prime Minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Barham Salih (PUK), will shortly be stepping down in favour of someone from the KDP, who is none other than his predecessor, Neçirvan Barzani.
In accordance with this agreement, that lays down a change of positions every two years, Mr. Barzani will have to have a PUK man as Deputy Prime Minister, and it is up to that party to chose its candidate.
Several names were rumoured for this post prior to the official nomination: Adnan Mufti, former Speaker of Parliament; Kosrat Rasul, Number 2 in the PUK, formerly Regional Vice President from 2005 to 2009; Imad Ahmed, a former Deputy prime Minister.
Having returned from abroad on 15 January, Neçirvan Barzani officially accepted, on 18 January, to again head the new cabinet. The KDP spokesman, Jaffar Ibrahim, announced that a meeting of the KDP and PUK leaders would take place on the 19th to decide on the rotation of positions and to decide the nomination of new ministers.
While the negotiations between the KDP and PUK should not give rise to any major problems apart from the nomination of a Minister for Internal Security, is mainly an internal PUK problem, political observers and the press were waiting to see whether the new government would reach an agreement with the three principal opposition parties: Goran, the Islamist League and the Islamic Union (the latter not having very good relations with the PUK).
Because of its electoral score, the Kurdish Alliance does not need to do deals with the opposition in order to rule. It is, however, in Kurdistan as in Iraq, to try and form coalition governments or even a “consensus”, either to forestall potential political disorder, or to offset criticism from opposing parties of any of the leaderships mistakes or to give the public the impression that the political hegemony of the two main parties does not prevent a certain plurality of opinions. Hitherto, however, such negotiations have always failed: the opposition parties announced, at first, that they would accept to take part in the government before withdrawing, calling for a “boycott” of ministries on the grounds that the party in office had not carried out the reforms that had been promised or had been demanded. The main reason for this is more, perhaps, the bad relations between the KDP and the Islamist parties and recent events in Zakho, in which KIU premises were burnt in reprisal for the attacks on Christian shops and villages have not improved relations between the KDP and the KIU, who accuse one another of responsibility for the disturbances.
Muhammad Ahmed, an Islamic Union leader thus expressed his reserves about joining the government: “Before these incidents, the KDP had asked us to join the government, but the incidents have changed everything”. He then added: “Unless we are certain that the next government will carry out reforms, it would be useless to participate in such a government”.
Other voices in the Islamic Union, however, such as Salahaddin Babakir, another of its spokesmen, declared to the daily paper Rudaw that his party intended remaining in the opposition but that the door remained open for negotiations.
Thus, even before his official nomination, Neçirvan Barzani had begun a series of visits to leaders of the various opposition parties, the most important of which was Goran. Nevertheless, following his meeting on 24 January, its leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa, announced that it would remain in the opposition.
Although long divided, the Kurds in Syria are beginning to get together and discuss their political plans for the future of Syria.
After several months of exchanges and discussions, the bulk of the Kurdish political parties have been able to form a Kurdish National Council that is intended to represent the Kurds of Syria to defend their interests and make their demands heard on political and diplomatic level.
As soon as it was formed, the Coucil launched a diplomatic offensive in Europe and the Near East. The President of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, Abdul Hakim Bashar, visited Paris at the end of January, after being invited to London by the British Foreign Minister. In France he was able to meet senior officials of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Replying to journalist from the French weekly Nouvel Observateur Abdul Hakim Bashar explained that his Council wished to be considered “together with the other minorities on an equal footing with the Arab opposition” and was seeking support from foreign governments to this effect. On 15 and 16 January last, the Kurdish National Council of Syria officially presented this demand to the President of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun.
Asked about the relative moderation of the Kurds in the demonstrations, the leader stated, on the contrary, that the Kurdish regions had organised demonstrations but that the Arab media did not film them.
The main lines of the Kurdish National Council of Syria’s demands are for a decentralised and secular Syria. As Abdul Hakim Bashar explained:
“We are calling for a policy of decentralisation because Syria is made up of many different ethnic groups and religions. Bashar al-Assad has tried to set us up against one another, claiming that if he fell Islamic terrorists would take over and many, indeed, believed him. WE are calling for decentralisation because it alone can guarantee the rights of all the communities — decentralisation in a united Syria.
The Alawiites close to al-Assad fear they will have to face great problems if he is deposed. However, with decentralisation, their rights could also be preserved and if the opposition followed this approach with us they would be reassured.
We are also calling for a secular State whereas the Arab opposition is calling for a civilian State. However, a civilian State does not guarantee secularism. Islamist can also claim to demand a civilian State”.
On the issue of specifically Kurdish demands, the KNCS demands:
- recognition of the Kurdish people n the Syria Constitution
- abrogation of the racist and discriminatory decrees against the Kurds
- the right to self-determination, but within Syria unity.
On the issue of the preservation of “Syrian unity”, it involved, as with the Kurds of Iraq, of accepting the real facts of the situation imposed on the Kurds and so forming an Arab-Kurdish association within a decentralised State:
“Why? When Syria was created, this unity was made by force. We want to accept the present borders by free choice. We are the second largest ethnic group in Syria —we make up between 10 and 15% of the population and we want to be real partner in the country. The Arabs must stop saying: “this is good — it's bad for the Kurds”. It is not up to them to decide on our rights. Unfortunately, so far negotiations with the Arab opposition have been unsuccessful. They say that they will concede more after the change of regime but this worries us. We think that if they give us nothing now they’ll give us even less tomorrow nor establish more democracy.
If the Alawiites, the Druses and the Christians are not really involved in the Syrian revolution it is because the opposition has been unable to convince them that a change of regime is in their interest.
Two things will reassure them: decentralisation and a clear political vision that shows that the communities are partners. The Syrian opposition must not just dole out rights but all must be involved. This idea that “We are dominant and we grant you some rights” must be discarded”
On 28 and 29 January, over 200 Kurdish political leaders and activists, coming from all countries, met in Irbil at the invitation of the President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to discuss the situation in Syria and to agree on common objectives.
Amongst the leaders of the Syria Kurdish parties were independent public figures and, of course, leaders of the parties that have joined the Syrian Kurdish National Council.
The aims of this conference were announced by it chairman, Ali Shindin, on the AKnews web site: “The Kurdish leaders will discuss the Kurdish question in Syria, how to negotiate with the Syrian opposition and how to establish the rights of Kurds in Syria. The conclusions of this conference will then be submitted to the opposition group of the Syrian National Council so that they can negotiate with the Kurds in accordance with their presence and their weight both now and in the future”.
Indeed, Burhan Ghalion, the head of the Syrian National Council, had visited Irbil at the beginning of the month to meet Massud Barzani and soothe Kurdish concerns regarding the presence of Arab religious movements in the opposition. According to Rudaw, the Syrian had assured the Kurdish President of his intensions to guarantee the rights of his Kurdish compatriots in Syria. Abdul-Bast Sayda, a Kurdish member of the Syrian National Council’s Executive, who accompanied Burhan Ghalioun to this meeting stated that President Barzani’s attitude to the Syrian National Council “appeared to change” after this meeting.
In fact, the Kurds of Syria complain that their demands are neglected or brushed aside by the Arab opposition and ten Kurdish parties boycotted the meeting that founded the SNC, held in Istanbul last September either from distrust or from hostility towards Turkey. Those Kurdish movements that were absent then formed their own Kurdistan National Council but the Kurdish parties as a whole remain divided about whether to join the SNC.
Abdul Bast Sayda himself actively campaigns to rally as many Kurds as possible to the SNC and wishes for “the unification of the Syrian and Kurdish National Councils, envisaging a future meeting in Irbil, which would, moreover, enable the Iraqi Kurds to exercise some influence on the Syrian question and on the opposition instead of allowing a free field to Turkey alone.
However, in his speech to this conference, Massud Barzani stated that the Kurdistan Region did not wish to “interfere in the affairs of the Kurds of Syria” but that it was just offering help and support for their decisions. However he added “on condition that you remain united during this sensitive period and avoid internal conflicts. The situation is important for us since (Syria) is a neighbouring country, we have a long with it and over 2 million Kurds live there. It is important for us to know what its future will be”. The Kurdish president continued by saying that “the time of negating (the existence of) the Kurds is well past”.
While not present at the Irbil conference, the leaders of the Syrian National Council nevertheless sent a statement in the form of a mea-culpa that was read out, acknowledging that “all the political forces in Syria had denied the Kurds their rights and support for them had not been as much as t it should have been”. The SNC called for recognition of the Kurdish people as such for granting it its rights.
In its final declaration, the Syrian forces’ violence against demonstrators was attacked and the importance of cooperation between the Kurds in and outside Syrian stressed.
Despite this, those taking part remained divided on several points, starting with the issue of foreign military intervention in Syria. Thus Jawad Mella, the General Secretary of the Kurdish National Congress called for the creation of an autonomous government in Syria and said he was in favour of foreign intervention to drive out Bashar al-Assad.
“International intervention is the only solution because we have already had the experience of Saddam Hussein who would never have fallen without external intervention”, he stated to AFP. “The Syrian Baath has a similar character to the Iraqi Baath and nothing can eliminate it but external intervention. It’s the only solution”. Saadeddin al-Mulla, a leader of the Democratic Party, pointed out that foreign intervention was already taking place in Syria — by Iran, in support f the regime and by Turkey in support of the opposition. Thus UNO could use Chapter VIII of the Charter that provides all kinds of measures, including military intervention, in the event of threats to peace of aggression against a country.
Hamad Darwish, secretary of the Syrian Kurdish Progressive Party also supported calling on UNO: “If the Arab League cannot impose its solutions the issue should pass on to the Security Council, that cannot remain a simple spectator of what it happening in this country”.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party, however, expressed its reservations on this question, as expressed by its leader Abdul Hakim Bashar: “It is too early to talk about international intervention. I think that we should seek a national solution before any international pressure in the political and economic fields or those of media or diplomacy”.
On the issue of self-determination for the Syrian Kurds, the President of the Kurdish National Council of Syria, Abdul hakim Bashar, repeated what he had said in Paris about decentralisation within a united Syria, and said he was in favour of a referendum on the subject: “It is up to the Kurdish people to decide what it wants and its right of self-determination will be made in the context of Syrian unity and on the principle of decentralisation”.
Saadeddin Mullah, a member of the Syrian Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, also supported the idea of a referendum, in which the options would be “decentralisation, autonomy or federalism”.
As for Jawad al-Mullah, a leader of the Kurdish National Congress, he supported an autonomous government in Syria, more along the lines of Iraqi Kurdistan: “However, as for the moment, the political parties are not agreed amongst themselves, it would be better to leave this issue to be dealt with after the regime has fallen. There will then be a referendum to determine whether the Kurds wish to remain in the Syrian framework or opt for their independence”.
For his part, Hamid Darwish, secretary of the Kurdish Progressive Party of Syria, rejected the model of a brad autonomy such as exists in Iraqi Kurdistan: “We will not secure the same things as the Iraqi Kurds, because the circumstances are different. We are demanding that our national rights be written into the Constitution and that they be approved by our Arab brothers”.
On 2 January, the blog writer Rojin Mohemmedi was released from Evin Prison (Teheran). She had been in detention since 23 November 2011, accused of propaganda against the regime. A medical student in manila, she had been arrested at Teheran airport on her return and kept in solitary confinement in N°2 square of Evin Prison, which is controlled by the Army of the Guards of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC).
However, the pressures, intimidations, arrests ad arbitrary sentencing are continuing in Iran, aimed in particular against activists for peace, feminism or human rights — and bloggers.
Ronak Saffarzadeh is a Kurdish feminist activist, who recently took part in the campaign of “A million signatures for the abrogation of laws that discriminate against women”. She is also a member of an association working on teaching Kurdish women to read their mother tongue, the Azar Mehr Kurdish Women’s Society. On 8 October 2008, she was arrested by the security forces for distributing leaflets calling for Kurdish language education and denouncing the practice of “honour crimes” on the occasion of International Children’s Day. The authorities came to arrest her at her home, searching the house and confiscating all he things. After a year and a half detention, she was finally, sentenced to 6 years and 7 months imprisonment by the first Sanandaj Revolutionary Court on 13 April 2009. She was, however, found Not Guilty of the principal charge of “moharabeh” or “enemy of God” which would have meant a death sentence. Nevertheless she was found guilty of membership of PJAK and of “propaganda against the regime”. In August 2009 the Court of Appeal confirmed the whole of her sentence and sent her to the Sanandaj Central Prison, amongst criminal prisoners instead of political prisoners, which put her life in danger. Ronak Saffarzadeh was attacked and wounded several times there.
Another Human Rights activist, Muhammad Sediq Kabudvand, was transferred to the hospital of Evin prison, where he had been detained for the previous 5 years. M. S. Kabudvand was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for “breaches of national security”, for having founded and run the Kurdistan Human Rights Defence Organisation. He was also the chief editor of the weekly Payam-e Mardom, a Kurdish-Persian bi-lingual weekly, which dealt with political, social and cultural issues. He got an extra sentence of one year for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”. His wife, interviewed by the daily Zamaneh, pointed out that in 54 months she had not received permission to visit him and that for 2 years all individual visits to him were forbidden. Muhammad Sediq Kaboudvand is in a poor physical condition and needs some surgical operations both on the heart and the prostate.
The Supreme Court, moreover, confirmed the death sentences passed on two Kurdish political prisoners, according to local sources relayed by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. On 22 December 2010, Zanyar Moradi and Loghman Moradi, detained in Mariwan’s Rajaee Shahr Prison was sentenced to death by the 15th chamber of the Teheran Revolutionary Court, charged with “moharebeh” (enmity to God) and for the murder of the Marwan Iman.
Having been allowed to speak briefly to his family by phone, Loghman Moradi confirmed this sentence, adding that since he had only been told this orally and not in writing, he still hoped that t was just an attempt to intimidate him. The lawyer for both prisoners also expressed his surprise on learning about these sentences. Loghman Moradi and Zanyar Moradi had previously confirmed in letters they had been able to send that all their confessions had been extorted under torture.
Speaking about the charge of murdering the Mullah of Marwan’s son, Zanyar\s father listed the irregularities and very artificial aspects of the case: “My son was arrested 20 months ago and it was only 17 months later that he was only charged with murder and terrorism. However, all the people of Marwanand even the victim’s family know full well that it was not Zanyar and a few young men who did this. All the people of Marwan know that these recent murders are only due to the regime and nothing to do with these young men”.
Similarly Loghman Moradi’s father, Osman Moradi, confirmed the tardy manner of these charges: “For the first 9 months of his detention by the intelligence services there were no charges of murder on the charge sheet. Even later, for the 7 months in which he was in prison, nothing was said about this. Then they took him back to the Intelligence Ministry again and kept him there for 25 days. He was tortured and ill-treated to such an extent that he acknowledged the murder. I mean that he admitted it to escaped that situation. They needed 17 months to secure this confession”.
In general, any form or opposition or protest, be it social or political, incurs the regime’s anathema, which has not weakened the hardness of its repression. The Kurdish regions, like all those that house large numbers of ethnic minorities, are particularly targeted. Thus on 31 January, Human Rights Watch attacked the arrest of several dozens of Trade Unionists in Teheran, in the Province of Kurdistan and in the city of Tabriz.
“Independent Trade Unions have played a major role in the protection of workers under Mahmud Ahmadinjad’s presidency” explained Joe Stork, responsible for the Middle East at HRW. “These recent arrests are a continuation of a long and revolting tradition that targets these independent trade unions to ensure total State control of these groups”.
Any opposition to this repression leads to other legal measures. Thus an eminent trade union activist of Sine (Sanandaj, in Kurdistan) was arrested as well as a leader of the Union of Free Workers of Iran. The latter was arrested after he had gone to the Sanandaj’s Public Prosecutor’s office to enquire into the fate of two other trade unionists earlier in the month.
The annual report of the NGO, Human Rights watch, for the year 2011 highlights, for Turkey, the contradictions between Turkey’s foreign policy that: “endeavours to promote Turkey’s regional interests in response to the pro-democracy movements of the Arab Spring” while “human rights have suffered setbacks within its own borders. Since 2005, reforms in favour of human rights are no longer the government’s priority. Freedom of expression and association are attacked by legal proceedings and by the jailing of journalists, writers, and certain Kurdish political activists”.
Despite the political changes being planned with a view to resolving the Kurdish question, announced with great flourish in 2009, the issues of human rights and those of minorities have regressed since 2005, the NGO added. There has been a growth in armed violence and a renewal of PKK attacks on the Army and the police on the one hand and the renewal of Turkish bombing of Iraqi Kurdistan against guerrilla bases, which have not taken place since 2008.
Civilians have also suffered from armed violence. Two bomb attacks in Ankara and in Siirt, respectively claimed by the TAK group (an illegal armed movement disavowed by the PKK) and by the PKK caused 5 deaths. HRW notes, “The non-resolution of the Kurdish question remains the biggest obstacle to progress in progress regarding human rights in Turkey”.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly are too often flouted using accusations of “terrorism” to intimidate, legally harass, or jail journalists, publishers, NGOs and academics: “Prosecutors frequently start proceedings against individuals for non-violent speeches or writings. Politicians sue their critics for “defamation”. The courts pass sentences without taking the protection of freedom of expression sufficiently into account. A complete revision of all the laws restricting freedom of expression remains pending”. The report also recalls the arrest of journalists like Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, academics like Busra Ersanh and the publisher Ragip Zarakolu.
The wave of imprisonment launched against the Union of Kurdistan Communists (KCK/TM) in April 2009 “was intensified in 2011 and directed at the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) although the latter was a perfectly legal party. Hundreds of people are in preventive detention and thousands face trial for terrorism following a whole series of arrests of members and officials of the BDP (which won 36 seats in the June 2011 general elections) — always on the grounds of links with the KCK”.
HRW also noted that nearly 15,000 Internet sites are still blocked in Turkey, “either for pornographic content or for pro-Kurdish or other political content, the decision for this being either by the Courts or by the Ministry of Telecommunications”.
In Iran, the Kurds are paying a high price under the legal and penal repression, which is general throughout the country but is more particularly aimed at minorities. In October 2011, early 20 Kurds were in the “death rows” awaiting execution. The majority of those found guilty of offending opinions, be they political, feminist or human rights activists run the risk of being trial as “enemies of God”, which is punishable by death.
Discrimination against minorities also covers religious minorities, which also affects the Kurds who are largely Sunni or varsan. In general “the government restricts political or cultural activities throughout the country, against the Azeris, the Kurds, the Arabs and the Baluchs. These restrictions also cover any organisation commited to social issues”.
Finally, HRW assessed the effect of Iranian and Turkish military operations that, in the course of 2011 “have killed at least 10 people, wounded a dozen others and forced the displacement of hundreds of civilians”.
The Human Rights situation is clearly better in Iraqi Kurdistan, even though some demonstrations took place in Suleimaniah resulting in at least 10 deaths and over 250 injured.
On 20 April, the Regional Government of Kurdistan “published a 19-page report that established that the security forces and demonstrators were responsible for the violence and that the forces “had not been prepared for controlling the situation”.
However the principal criticism of the KRG made by the NGO was the treatment of the press by the security forces. The journalists regularly complain of arbitrary arrests, blows, harassment and threats to confiscate equipment, particularly during demonstrations they were covering
Another problem, specific to certain regions of Iraqi Kurdistan is that of the excision of young girls that can affect 40% of them depending on localities. However, on 21 June the Kurdistan Parliament passed a law against domestic violence that includes several measures making this practice a criminal offence, along with forced marriages or marriage of children, verbal, physical or psychological abuse of women and girls.
In Syria, armed violence is spreading over most of the country. Hitherto the Kurdish areas have been the least affected. Citizenship has been granted to the “stateless” Kurds of the Jezirah, but if the state of emergency has been lifted, “the bloody repression taking place shows the determination of the government to crush dissidence and to reject any reform that could diminish its authority”.
Khanim Amen, nicknamed Haji Khanem by the Kurds, is also called “the lady of Colours" by Dutch gallery owners n English. Born in Suleimaniah, in 1939, she has become, at the age of 75, a recognised fainter in Holland, particularly in Amsterdam, where she is now living.
Haji Khanem did not seem destined, at first, for an artistic career, even though she was attracted, in her childhood, by handicrafts: weaving, pottery and interior decoration. However, her father having forbidden any formal training, she was married at sixteen and only learned to read much later, at the age of forty, in adult education classes, while working as a midwife and nurse, and weaving carpets that were sold at festivals.
Arriving in Holland as a refugee after the First Gulf War, in 1991, she learnt Dutch and took part in several local artistic activities and then began to expose her work.
Her first professional exhibition took plave in 2005 and she has since exposed work in art galleries and cultural centres. In November 2011, her pictures were exposed in a London art gallery. A BBC programme was devoted to her work last December and the programme has since been widely spread over Internet both in the Anglo-American and Kurdish press.