On 6th April, the new Cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government was sworn in at the Irbil Parliament. Thus the new Prime Minister, Neçirvan Barzani, and his ministers have officially started their two-year term of office. Neçirvan Barzani has already twice held this post between 1999 and 2009. His Deputy P.M., a member of the PUK, had also held the same post from April to October 2009.
In his inaugural speech, the Prime Minister first of all stressed that the government drew its legitimacy from the people of Kurdistan and its Parliament and affirmed that he would continue in the efforts needed for pursuing the already impressive political, social and economic development that the Region has enjoyed since 2003. He also congratulated and thanked his predecessor, Dr. Barham Salih, and his Deputy Azad Barwari and all the members of the 6th Cabinet for the “considerable work that they have achieved during their time in office”, stating that their efforts had been appreciated “by us and the people of Kurdistan”.
Neçirvan Barzani outlined to Parliament his determination to carry out a new programme, with “strategies and initiatives that will take into account the political, social and economic changes that have taken place of the last few years. Recently we have seen democracy and justice beginning to emerge in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. The Kurdistan region welcomes any change that moves in the direction of democracy, freedom and human rights. By contrast, our Kurdish Spring began 20 years ago when the Kurdish people rose in revolt, with the support of the Kurdish political parties, and acted so as to put an end to one of the most dangerous dictators of the time in our country and chose to set up a State of law, democracy, freedom without the support of foreign countries”.
After recalling the historic role in the democratic process held by the two Kurdish leaders, Massud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region, and Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, the Prime Minister gave an analysis and assessment of the present situation in Kurdistan, stressing the necessity for an “objective evaluation” of this situation as well as that of the preservation of the unity of the citizens, alluding to the internal conflicts and past external alliances.
“Today, we are going through a historic and crucial period period of our history. Our people have never had as much hope for the future as it has at present. We still have, however, some challenges to take up. Unity amongst ourselves and a united voice on national issues will be the principal factors for our success.
Our political relations in the days of our armed struggle were useful in establishing freedom in this country. Today, however, these relations must be revised and renewed so as to bring them in line with the political realities of our times. This adaption is not easy or painless but we have to draw to learn from the past”.
Neçirvan Barzani described his role as the head of a government of the people of Kurdistan as a whole and as the °junction point of the political parties” wishing by this to remove suspicions of clientelism that have constantly punctuated Kurdistan’s political life, which has long been divided between the KDP and the PUK.
After summing up the various stages of setting up the Kurdistan Region’s political and legal establishment from 1992 to the present, the Prime Minister recalled, while referring to 2003, that following that fall of the Baath regime the Kurds had decided to take part in building a democratic and federal Iraq in which their rights and freedom would be protected by a constitution. However, at the moment, they had many reasons for asking themselves whether or not this system could really serve their interests.
“Unfortunately, Iraq is still faced with the threat of political instability. As a Region we still have some important and unresolved problems with the Federal Government. We are insisting on the fact that the Federal Government must meet the demands of the people of Kurdistan in a transparent manner, in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution”.
Amongst the major issues of contention between Irbil and Baghdad, the Prime Minister cited Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution which should decide whether Kirkuk and other Kurdish regions should be attached to the Regional Government by means of a referendum; the Region’s budgetary allocation, and the law on hydrocarbon resources, that is to say the manner in which Kurdistan can manager, prospect and operate its own resources as well as a “real partnership is exercising power”. This last point is directly aimed at the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who is accused by a wide range of political opinion of concentrating power solely in his own hands.
Without naming any opposition party in particular, Neçirvan Barzani recalled the necessity for all Kurdish parties to present a “united front” to “the Federal Government, particularly in Parliament”:
“We want to set up a united front to negotiate with the Federal Government. At the moment there is no consensus on a united stand for negotiating with Baghdad. The situation requires that we hasten to form a High Council for negotiating with Baghdad. It should be the duty of all the political parties, both those in the government and those in the opposition to participate in this Council so that a consensus be created to enable restarting negotiations with the federal Government. This is a problem that concerns the people of Kurdistan as a whole and we have a historic responsibility for facing up to it”.
Returning to particularly to the question of the territories whose restitution is demanded by the Kurds, the Prime Minister called on the Kurdish Block in the Baghdad Parliament as well as the Kurdish Ministers in the Iraqi Government closely to coordinate their actions with the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Moving on to the KRG’s relations with the neighbouring States hat he considered were “good”, Mr. Barzani affirmed his intention of pursuing the development of these relations “on the basis of mutual respect and of bilateral interests. Our relations with the Arab countries and with those of the rest of the world have developed considerably. Many countries have expressed their wish for establishing good relations with Kurdistan and we are pursuing our efforts to create friendly relations with all the countries in the world”.
Regarding the Regions internal reforms, the Prime Minister announced his intention of having Kurdistan’s provisional constitution reviewed “by all the political parties, jurists, experts and all the social and religious components of our society so as to have a Constitution will bring together all the people of Kurdistan so develop a system for our people’s future. Since this will be Kurdistan’s first Constitution, it will have to be approved by referendum so that the people can freely decide whether or not to vote for it”.
Another reform envisaged was easing the current centralisation by delegating certain powers and a budget to the provincial councils, to the districts and sub-districts. The Prime Minister promised to meet the heads of the various parliamentary groups to discuss this process and the drafting of a Bill to define the forms of decentralisation.
Addressing one of the principal and recurrent criticisms of the KRG, that of corruption, Neçirvan Barzani reminded the House that audits and enquiries had been carried out by international organisations and institutions at the request of the Kurdish government: “Although the Kurdistan Region was praised by international organisations as being better than the rest of Iraq, we are working to eliminate it (corruption) without ignoring it — corruption is not so serious that we cannot face up to it and it will be dealt with”.
Another point of frequent criticism of political life is the power and influence of political parties over government institutions. Neçirvan Barzani promised a “clear policy” on this issue, pointing out that efforts to this effect had already been undertaken by the two preceding governments. He thus undertook that the government would not interfere in decisions of the courts and to exercising of the law in general, and was also envisaging reforms of legal institutions.
Reacting to the complaints by the population regarding the continuous increases in prices and in the cost of living, the Prime Minister recognised that the private sector was practicing unregulated price increases without any apparent reason. He promised to deal severely should these be due to speculators, while recalling that two years previously, a law regarding the rights of consumers had been passed. He undertook, in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning, to ensure that its application would be more effective: “We will work with the Planning Ministry to set up a commission to watch and control prices, the quality of goods imported into the Kurdistan Region. We must work so that both tradesmen and consumers can profit from a free market policy and that people be able to buy essential products at equitable prices”.
The government hopes to continue to provide credit and mortgages to people wishing to get married, to build a house or successfully carry out various projects as well as setting up, through the Finance Ministry, a system enabling a greater financial support to old age pensioners.
Regarding the growing needs for fuel and electricity supply, the current shortages are, essentially, due to the Region’s rapid growth, especially compared with the existing infrastructures. However, while promising to pursue efforts in this area, Mr. Barzani recalled the importance of protecting the Region’s environment and ecology. To this end, an Environmental Commission should check how far Kurdistan’s nature protection is in conformity with international criteria. Regulations regarding town planning and the allocation of social housing will also be set up. Tourism is also one of Kurdistan’s promising resources and must be supported and improved.
One of the most underdeveloped sectors is that of food production and processing.
“Unfortunately we have not, so far, been able to guarantee our people a secure food supply. We will do our best to ensure security of food supply. However, the KRG considers that the resumption of agriculture is a most important task and we will do our best to ensure such security of food supply by encouraging domestic food production and less dependence on imports to reach a satisfactory level of self-sufficiency in this area”.
Regarding improvements in Human Rights, Child Protection and Women’s Rights and the problem of domestic violence, the Prime Minister wished to see a greater participation of women in the KRG.
Regarding the co-habitation of different religions and ethnic groups in Kurdistan, the Government re-iterated it determination to ensure religious tolerance and freedom.
“We say quite clearly that the majority of our population is Moslem. The Islamic religion is part of our precious traditions and we will not allow any misuse of freedom in order to attack due respect for Islam. At the same time, however, we will not allow religion to be instrumentalised for political ends and to attack democracy. In our view, religion is a force that must encourage peace and brotherhood between peoples and not to create enmity and discriminations. Thus we will also not allow any lack of respect to the other religions in Kurdistan.
Kurds, Turcomen, Arabs, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Assyrians and Armenians must all live together peacefully in the Kurdistan Region and we must respect one another mutually. History testifies to the unity and fraternity between Kakai, Yezidi and Fayli Kurds. Our Kurdish identity unites us all and forever. The KRG respects all the component parts of Kurdistan’s society and it is the duty of everyone to support the rights of all. The KRG belongs to all and is proud of the rich mosaic of our society”.
Finally Neçirvan Barzani recalled Article 35 of the Iraqi constitution regarding freedom of the press and media to conclude with a criticism of the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights for his lack of enthusiasm in casting light on the Anfal genocide campaign and in particular in finding mass graves in so far unknown locations.
The new Council of Minister retains most of the Minister from the 6th Cabinet, which had bee appointed after the 2009 elections except for 9 new arrivals.
The 7th Cabinet’s Composition:
Prime Minister : Nêçirvan Barzanî ;
Deputy Premier Minister: Imad Ahmad Sayfour ;
Minister of’Agriculture et des ressources hydrauliques ;
Ministwe of Youth and Culture: Kawa Mahmoud Shakir ;
Minister of Education: Asmat Muhammad Khalid ;
Minister of Electricitéy: Yasin Sheikh Abu Bakir Muhammad Mawati ;
Minister for Religious Affairs and Trusts: Kamil Ali Aziz ;
Minister of Finances and the Economy : Bayiz Saeed Mohammad Talabani ;
Ministwe of Health: Rekawt Hama Rasheed ;
Ministwe of Higher Education and Research: Ali Saeed ;
Minister of Housing and Reconstruction: Kamaran Ahmed Abdullah ;
Minister of Justice : Sherwan Haidary ;
Minister of the Interior: Abdul Karim Sultan Sinjari ;
Minister of labour and Social Affairs: Asos Najib Abdullaj ;
Minister for the Anfal Martyrs: Sabah Ahmad Mohamed (Mamoste Aram) ;
Minister for Municipalities and Tourism: Dilshad Shahab ;
Minister of Natural Resources: Abdullah Abdulrahman Abdullah (Aştî Hawrami) ;
Minister for the Peshmergas: Jafar Mustafa Ali ;
Minister of Planning: Ali Sindi ;
Minister of Trade and Industry: Sinan Abdulkhalq Ahmed Çelebi ;
Minister of Transport and Communications: Jonson Siyaoosh ;
Chairman of the Council of Ministers: Fawzi Franso Toma Hariri ;
Secretaire of the Cabinet: Mohammad Qaradaghi ;
Head of the Department for Foreign Relations: Falah Mustafa Bakir
President Office for Investments : Herish Muharam
Political and economic tension is hardening between the governments of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Last month, the French oil company Total had expressed the possibility of signing oil contracts with Irbil, which once again aroused the fury of Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Sharistani, who still rules the country’s oil resources. The latter then reminded all concerned of the sanctions that could be incurred by foreign companies that chose to bye pass Baghdad, namely the breaking off of any contracts already signed with Iraq or the freezing of any future agreements.
“I have not spoken to Total, but I have noted that the Oil Minister or Ministry has informed Total in very clear terms that it will be treated in exactly the same way as the other companies. If it signs a contract to exploit an oil field anywhere in Iraq without the approval of the Iraqi government it will be considered to be in breach of Iraqi laws and treated appropriately”. (AFP source).
For its part, the Kurdistan Regional Government threatened to stop exporting its oil to the capital. Hussein Sharistani also threatened the Kurdish leaders to cut off the budgetary funds they receive (17% of the Iraqi Federal budget): “I advise them, before making threats, to take into amount of oil revenue they receive from the rest of the country, which is much more than they produce themselves”.
The Deputy Prime Minister also accused the Kurdish Region of failing to supply the 175,000 barrels of crude, which it had committed itself to supply in 2012.
“If this level is not achieved they will have to suffer the consequences and there will also be a financial compensation due to the Finance Ministry. The total value of the oil that has not been exported in 2011 is 2.547 billion dollars, and that of the oil that was not handed over in 2010 is 2.012 billion dollars. That is a great deal of money, which will create a budgetary deficit if it is not paid. The government must examine the procedures to protect the Iraqi people’s heritage. Iraq’s unity, its sovereignty and its money cannot be (the subject of) compromise”.
Indeed, the Kurdistan Regional Government had warned, in an official statement, that “oil exports from the Kurdistan Regional Government were reduced to 50,000 barrels a day and could stop in the course of the next month if the Federal Government in Baghdad continued to block payments to the producing companies”.
The Oil Minister, Abdel Karim al-Luaybi, moreover, accused the Kurds of “fraudulently” selling the bulk of their crude oil to neighbouring countries, in particular via Iran, and so on to the Gulf and Afghanistan, where it is sold at a lower price than the official rate.
Another thorny issue between Irbil and Baghdad was the presence in Kurdistan of the Sunni Arab Vice President of Iraq, Hashemi, who has been accused by the Prime Minister of terrorism and conspiracy, and who refused to be tried in Baghdad and Kurdistan had refused to hand the fugitive over to the central authorities. Finally, on 1st April, Tariq Hashemi left the Region to find asylum in Qatar.
At the same time, the Kurdish Region’s President, Massud Barzani, visited the United States. Welcomed to the White House by the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, he also met the US Defence Minister, Leon Panetta. He also had a brief meeting with the US President. While the subject of these meetings was not made public, it is very probable that the series of Iraqi political crises was at the heart of the discussions. However, the US Presidency limited itself to a communiqué stating: “the United States are committed by our historic and close relations with the Kurdish people in the context of our strategic partnership with a federal, democratic and united Iraq”.
On his return to Kurdistan, the atmosphere between Massud Barzani and Nuri al-Maliki was no easier. In an interview given to the international Arab daily Al-Hayat, the Kurdish President again accused the Shiite Prime Minister of concentrating all power in his own hands (an accusation made by many other Iraqi politicians, including Shiites) and of preparing for a “return to dictatorship” — recalling that the Prime Minister is also Minister of Defence, of the Interior, and head of the Intelligence Services and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
Massud Barzani added that he would try to organise a meeting of the different Iraqi leaders at Irbil “to save Iraq”, implying that, should this fail, Kurdistan could well opt for separation from Iraq: “ This is not a threat or a bit of blackmail. I am quite serious — I will turn to the Kurdish people and sound them out by referendum. Whatever the price we have to pay, we will never accept a return to dictatorship in Iraq”.
Accusations that al-Maliki is carrying out a political purge have increased in extent with the arrest of Faraj Haidari, a Kurdish Shiite who has been president of the Iraqi High Election Commission (IHEC) since 2007. He was arrested by the police in a Baghdad courthouse, together with one of his colleagues, Karim al-Tammi. Faraj Haidari was able answer questions from AFP on the reasons for this unexpected arrest from the police station where he his being held in detention. A woman M.P. from Maliki’s State of Law Party has filed a complaint of corruption: “The case concerns three of four of the IHEC staff who had received, in a completely legal manner, a bonus of 100,000 dinars (83 dollars) for overtime worked. I have already been questioned about this in Parliament by Mrs Fatlawi. The judge dismissed her accusations but she filed a fresh complaint and this time the judge changed his mind. I do not think this is aimed at me personally but at the IHEC — against the democratic process”.
However, questioned about this case, the spokesman of the High Council of justice, Abdel Sattar Beyraqdar, said he had lied:
“They are suspected of having paid some employees of the land survey office, with IHEC money, to register some land in their names. Fraudulent use of public funds is punishable by seven years in prison”.
Faraj Haidari is considered to have become the State of Laws Party’s bête noire ever since the last elections (March 2011), when he refused a recount demanded by al-Maliki because his main rival, Iyad Allawi, had come at the top of the poll with 91 seats against Maliki’s 89. Already, on 30 July 2011, the Prime Minister’s party had demanded a no confidence vote against Faraj Haidari, alleging corruption, but had come up against the opposition of the other parties.
The Kurdistan Regional Government has publicly described these arrests as a “clear violation of the democratic political process” aiming at “calling into question the independence of the Electoral commission and killing the political process by taking over an independent institution. It seems that those in control of the government want to continue their long started efforts to increase centralisation, violate the Constitution and destroy the bases on which the new Iraq has been built”.
On behalf of Iraqiya, the Sunni Arab Parliamentary organisation, one of its principal parliamentary representatives, Haidar al-Mullah, directly accused Nuri al-Maliki: “It is the boss of the State of Laws organisation who is behind this. He wants to get across the message that the elections must be fixed or else take he will take vengeance on the electoral commission. This is also an indication that justice has just become a tool in Maliki’s hands”.
Finally, a last area of friction between the Kurds and the Maliki government — the sale of F-16s to Iraq by the US, agreed last December is sharply opposed by Massud Barzani so long as Nuri al-Maliki remains at the head of the country: “The F-16s must not come into the hands of this an. We want to prevent his from having these kinds of weapons and should he secure them he must leave office”. The Kurdish President, indeed, affirms that during a meeting with officers of the Iraqi Army, Nuri al-Maliki had threatened to use these planes to bomb Kurdistan: “They were discussing the problems between Baghdad and Irbil and the officers told him: 'Give us the order, sir, and we will drive them out of Irbil’ and he (Maliki) answered them 'Wait till the F-16s arrive’”.
However, the Prime Minister’s personality and policy are also opposed in other Shiite circles, particularly the politico-religious circles, from the most moderate to the most radical, such as Maqtada Sadr, who has constantly opposed, sometimes even by force of arms, the successive Baghdad governments, even though his list had joined Maliki’s great Shiite coalition in 2010. Although he is, at present, living in Iran, ostensibly for “religious studies”, he visited Irbil on 26 April, at the invitation of the Kurdish government, to discuss the political crisis as a mediator between the Kurdish President and the Iraqi Prime Minister. Jalal Talabani was also present as well as two leaders of the secular Sunni coalition, Iyad Allawi and Ussama Nujaifi.
In the course of their meeting Moqtada Sadr expressed opposition to a censure motion in Parliament to remove Maliki from office, as proposed by the Kurds and Sunni Arabs but supported the refusal to allow him a further period in office in 2014, as the Prime Minister had promised at the beginning of 2011 before adopting a vaguer position on the question later. One of Sadr’s close associated had, moreover, stressed that it would be impossible for the Prime Minister to secure a third term in office, as it would have to be first approved by a law passed by Parliament.
Dr. Fuad Hussein, the Kurdish Presidency’s chief of staff, stated, in a communiqué, that all those taking part in the meeting had launched an “appeal for the reactivation of democratic mechanisms for managing the countries business to avert the dangers that were threatening democracy. The meeting discussed the necessity for seeking solutions for putting an end to the crisis which was endangering the higher interests of the country by conforming with the Irbil agreement, Moqtada Sadr’s declaration and those articles of the Constitution defining the rules for decision making”.
More than a year after the movement of revolt that is shaking Syria, the Kurdish political parties and organisations still have difficulty in finding a place in the Syrian opposition as well as of agreeing amongst themselves about the priorities or nature of their demands. This is enhanced by the fact that the country that, alongside Qatar, is most actively supporting the insurgents is Turkey, seen as the main enemy of Kurdish aspirations.
As a result, there is a shilly-shallying between joining the Syrian National Council, which covers all the Arab opposition and refusing to join without a clear guarantee that Kurdish rights would finally be ratified in the “new Syria”.
Thus, when a 1st April meeting of the “Friends of Syria” was due to take place in Istanbul, the Kurdish National Council, one of the principal Kurdish opposition blocks, withdrew from the Syrian National Council citing the refusal by the Arab nationalists and the Moslem Brotherhood to include Kurdish demands in their political projects — perhaps also discretely encouraged in this by Turkey.
In fact, according to research worker Jordi Tejel Gorgas, a specialist in Kurdish policies in Syria, the Kurds’ distrust was as great for Pan-Arabism as for the Moslem Brotherhood kind of activism (Kurdish Sufi brotherhoods, on the other hand playing and important role in pro-Kurdish policies) as it is for Turkey, from which “they expect nothing good”.
The failure, since 2009, of the promises and hopes that the AKP had aroused with its project of open mindedness on the Kurdish question has persuaded the majority of Kurds that no solution or political détente could be expected from Ankara.
The Kurds in Syria “in no way consider Turkey to be a 'neutral’ actor in the region, nor as a model for democratisation”. Moreover, the Turkish media, just like the their intelligence services, point to a possible alliance between the PYD (the Syrian branch of the PKK) with the Alawi regime, since the PKK is seeking a fallback base in case it can no longer hold out in Qandil, in Iraqi Kurdistan as diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government develop. Indeed, PYD leaders, like those of the PKK, have clearly and frequently said that in the event of any Turkish military intervention on Syria, they would take up arms against the Turkish troops.
The PYD position that its struggle is not only on behalf of the Kurds in Syria but covers the Kurdish question as a whole is, basically, a return to the PKK’s “strategic” choice during the 1990s when Ocalan was a guest of Syria and diverted the demands of the Syrian Kurds in favour of the PKK’s fight both in Turkey and in Iraqi Kurdistan, while in open alliance with Hafez al-Assad. The other Kurdish parties are now accusing the PYD of playing the same cart on behalf of Bachar al-Assad, and preventing and even physically attacking Kurdish demonstrations against the regime.
“The attitude of the PYD/OKK in Syria is very revealing”, explained Jordi Tejel Gorgas. “All in all, the PKK hopes that the regime will not fall, so that their loyalty will enable them to impose their hegemony in the Kurdish regions”.
However, despite their divisions and political indecision, David W. Lesch, who teaches Middle Eastern history at San Antonio’s Trinity University considers that the Kurds in Syria have intelligently played their part since the beginning of the revolt:
“I suspect they are biding their time, watching events so as to be able to play a role whether Assad is overthrown or not. They may also be watching their Iraqi brothers to find a direction to take and be inspired by the way they have been able to ensure themselves a prosperous and independent existence in the middle of the chaotic post invasion Iraq”.
Kurdish distrust of the Syrian National Council has been strengthened by an interview given to the Kurdish daily Rudaw by the Council’s director Burhan Ghaliun, in which he denies the existence of a “Syrian Kurdistan”: ““Syrian Kurdistan” does not exist”. Syrian Kurds will secure their rights like the rest of Syrian citizens”. Burhan Ghaliun also rejected the possibility of a federal status being granted to Syria’s Kurds, describing this project supported by several Kurdish parties as an “illusion”: “It is impossible to apply the Iraqi model in Syria”.
The commotion and vehement protests that these statements aroused in the Syrian Kurdish opposition led the official spokesman of the Syrian National Council, Ahmed Ramadan, to back down on Burhan Ghalioun’s remarks: “The Syrian Kurds are inseparable from their brothers living outside Syria, whether in Iraq, Turkey or Iran”, he stated to the same paper Rudaw, a few days later. The spokesman qualified the stand taken by the CNS leader, stating that, unlike the present regime, the opposition recognised the existence of a Syrian Kurdistan, even though it is included within the Syrian borders: “The Syrian regime was unable to deny the existence of a Kurdistan as a geographical area but it always eradicated the area’s cultural, historic and demographic characteristics. However, the questions of federalism and autonomy must in no way be discussed for the time being because the Kurdish parties in Syria have aims that do not correspond with Syrian realities”.
Ahmed Ramadan added that the present regime had always wanted to get rid of all its Kurds (which is not really true as Alawiite policy always wanted to instrumentalise the ethnic and religious minorities so as to curb the Sunni majority) whereas the Syrian opposition, according to Ramadan, was proud of the Kurdish people’s identity: “The Syrian National Council is prod of the Syrian Kurds and of their flag”.
The new Syrian Constitution would include “articles that made specific reference to Kurdish culture and identity”.
On Tuesday 10 April, the publisher Ragip Zarakolu, who had been jailed under the Anti-terrorist Law, was released as well as 14 other defendants, by a decision of Istanbul’s 15th Criminal Court.
Ragip Zarakolu had been detained in the Kocaeli high security prison since 28 October 2011, following a wave of arrests that netted 49 people including the jurist Büşra Ersanlı. On 19 March 2012, the Istanbul Public Prosecutor, Adnan Çimen, called for imprisonment terms of 15 and 22.5 years respectively for Büşra Ersanlı (charged with being a “leader of an illegal organisation”) and Ragıp Zarakolu (for having “supported and helped an illegal organisation”). The Prosecutor had given the Istanbul 15th Criminal Court a 2,400-pages charge sheet covering a total of 193 people, 147 of whom were in preventive detention.
Along with Ragıp Zarakolu, a journalist working for the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, 13 other detainees were released while, at the same time, six people including a journalist working for the DHIA agency were released at Van by the same Court decision.
These arrests of intellectuals, academics, journalist and publishers had aroused a wave of protests throughout the country as well as in the US, France, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Greece.
However, many other prisoners of opinion remain locked up, including Büşra Ersanlı, Deniz Zarakolu, a research worker in political science and a number of students detained under an emergency law that dates back to the 1980 coup d’état. Moreover, these releases are only conditional and the charges against them are still in force. Ragıp Zarakolu is also due to be tried at Silivri on 2 July, despite the flimsiness of the charges against him.
Moreover these releases have not stopped other arrests being made in academic circles. Thus Müge Tuzcuoğlu, a woman journalist and anthropologist, was arrested which she was lecturing on “The history of Society ” at the BDP’s Academy of Political Science. No doubt, her sociological research work, particularly her enquiries on the consequences of the forced migrations of the Kurds did not have the good fortune of pleasing the legal authorities.
Demonstrations took place for the freeing of a number of Turkish university and high school students who are now behind bars. In particular, their professors and teachers have twice organised a sit-in lecture, surrounded by gendarmes and security barriers, before the Tekirdag “type F” (high security) prison, in which the majority of students are imprisoned. Despite their demand to the Prosecutor, the educators have been unable meet their pupils. They thus set out desks and chairs in front of the prison and waved placards with their demands. Bediz Yilmaz, who teaches at Mersin University, read out a roll call of the students detained at Tekirdag. Beyza Üstün, of Yildiz technical university declared, at the beginning of his lecture: “We have come for our students, who are imprisoned here. This is not the place for them — their place is in class” before continuing on the subject of the transformation of water into a commodity and the damage caused by hydroelectric generating plants, whose water reserves are not returned to nature:
“Everywhere water is in the hands of firms, under a 49-year lease. They have laid their hands on watercourses, despite the law, despite the protection regulations. Where does this water go? Into ducts and conduits. These conduits deprive the water resources of life, whether underground or on the surface. The population of Anatolia has revolted against this state of affairs. But there remain many who cannot revolt: the birds, the trees, the plants the creatures that live beneath under the ground. Who profits from the water that is so imprisoned in conduits? Other firms that buy it. It will never reach those who do not have money”. (…) “Moreover, 300 workers have lost their lives in the process of turning water into merchandise, without the press being upset at this”.
Ali Saysel, a lecturer at Bosporus University, also described the 21st Century as “the century of ecological crisis”.
At the end of these demonstration classes, those taking part wrote postcards for the students imprisoned in Tekirdag.
This campaign supported by a considerable number of members of the teachers Trade Union (Egitim-Sen) in Tekirdag. Another such class, in which Nükhet Sirman (Bosporus University) and Ayten Alkan (Istanbul University) spoke, was organised in front of Bakirköy Prison.
The co-ordinating team of theÖğrencime Dokunma! (Hands off my student!) campaign read out a press communiqué at 5 p.m. on 5 April in front of the gates of Istanbul’s famous Galatasaray high school.
“Recently we have been seeing arrests, detentions and trials that disturb our consciences. An important part of this repression, which has become particularly alarming over the last year, has been concentrated on university students.
The number of students arrested is growing daily in Turkey. It is difficult to get reliable and up to date information because of fresh arrests, releases, and expulsions from university following disciplinary enquiries. While all this is worrying, what must be stressed is less the frequency as the strategy at work behind these repressive actions, namely the determination to discipline and failing that to eliminate the students. The bulk of the offenses attributed to students are grouped under the bogeyman term of “terrorism”. Actions that are presented as evidence are not only the fact of engaging in “normal” activities in the context of freedom of expression (drafting a press communiqué, protesting against decisions of the Council for Higher Education (YOK), taking part in a demonstration or a commemoration…) but also lecture notes, books, water supply bills, or even such everyday actions like having a haircut, carrying an umbrella, dancing the halay or selling tickets for a concert are used to blacken them.
The students — most of whom have been detained for several years in high security prisons — are struggling to be able to be able to continue their university education, get back their lecture notes and books and sit for their exams.
The 'disciplinary regulations for higher education students’, a product of the military coup d’état of 12 September 1980, is used as an additional instrument of repression against the arrested students. Several university authorities have become notorious for their voluntarism and impatience at punishing these students — whose alleged actions are often not even the subject of a public trial — sending them away or excluding them from higher education by means of these disciplinary enquiries.
It is completely unacceptable to transform students who just protest at or question the educational schemes imposed by the State into “terrorist” suspects without presenting any reason for supporting the disciplinary arrangements or presenting any proof, Nor is it acceptable that students be disciplined by state violence or to lose them in interminable legal procedures.
The prime duty of universities, as places for producing science on the basis of freedom of thought and expression, should be, above all, to protect their students. We, academics from all over Turkey, declare that we will not be silenced while our students (whose arrests and detentions are still increasing) become targets who can be deprived of their freedom and snatched away from their university and from their lives”.
“The Feathers”, Salim Barakat’s last novel, translated into French by Emmanuel Varlet (twelve years after its publication in Arabic) and published by Actes Sud, has been very highly praised by the critics.
Born at Qamishlo, in Syrian Kurdistan, Salim Barakat is an Arabic-language Kurdish writer, although practically all the imaginative world, the framework and locations of his novels are about the Kurdish world and mainly the region of his birth.
Salim Barakat lives in Europe, after a turbulent life that led him to the Lebanon, where he joined the Palestinians, to Cyprus and, finally to Sweden. He has written over 35 books, novels and collections of poems, only 5 of which have been translated into French: The Iron Cricket (1993, Babel 2012); Sound the Horn (1995) that was inspired by his childhood and youth; The Lords of the Night (1999), a surrealist and fantasy novel, whose action takes place in a Kurdish village; the Caves of Haydrahodahus (2008), a fairy-like tale that takes place in an imaginary world, close to Fantasy.
“With “The Feathers or The evidence that eludes Mem Azad during his far off and droll escapade” Salim Barakat returns to his old “Kurdish” inspirations, made up of autobiographical reminiscences seen through and intermingled with a half poetic half fantasy epic:
“Mem, a young Kurd from Syria, is sent by his father to Cyprus, where he must contact a mysterious character “The Great Man”. Six years later he still has not fulfilled his mission. Worn out by his unlikely quest and to the trials of exile, he thinks of ending his life. Then his memories of Qamishli unwind in his mind, his colourful birthplace, his father’s trials and tribulations, those of his people, cheated by history, the legends told by his father of a golden age when the Kurds were said to have lived free and prosperous …
Six years earlier, Mem lived in Qamishli with his twin brother Dino. Foreigners in their own country, the Syrian regime had always denied them the right to be Kurds. The lived a precarious and hopeless existence. Then, one fine day, Mem mysteriously disappears and little by little doubts arise: Has Mem gone to Cyprus? ? Or was it Dino? Was Mem’s life just his brother’s dream?
In a magnificent prose carried by an epic inspiration, mingling historical figures and legendary heroes, in which birds, plants angels and streams speak, Salim Barakat has probably given the Kurds (but, paradoxically, in Arabic) the most powerful novel of their quest for freedom and dignity”. (Actes Sud)
In her blog on literary events, Rebbecca Benhamou, who was a journalist on Arte (the highbrow TV channel) and an assistant at Héloise d’Ormesson publishing house, praises the novel’s power “without any indulgence” and the dignity of a “curious tribute — a tribute that reads like a fairy tale” composed of “the Kurdish spirit via a stream of metaphors, encounters, images, legends of a people who have been humiliated a thousand-fold” in a tale of “back-and-froing between a thousand-fold dreamed and loved Kurdistan and a pale reality in Cyprus”.
In “Le Monde des livres”, Catherine Simon speaks about the “Kafkaian threnody” in which “the major dates of the Kurdish people’s history, a thousand times in revolt, a thousand times crushed, subjected to domination by the powerful (the Turks, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Iraqis…) make up an obsessive theme” and all written in “a disconcerting prose, dense as a thorny thicket, light as that “little ash-coloured feather” that emerged from Mem’s suit case, that “suddenly rose turning in the air before dropping back swinging and coming to rest again on the crude folds of the lining” and his “powerful and refined writing”.
“I was taking all my clothes out of the leather suit case when, suddenly, a little ash-coloured feather shot up out of the depths of the luggage, rose in the air spinning before dropping back swaying and settling on the bottom again, on the creases of the lining. The leather worker had evidently not thought that I would examine his work so closely by examining, paying particular attention to those coarse threads, intertwined and frayed because he had snapped them off by hand with a sharp jerk instead of with scissors.
I plunged my hand into the bottom of the case and brought the feather of to the light and then saw that it was not really ash-coloured, after all. I looked at it from all sides. A mixture of grey and white. Quite tiny. Frayed. I was just about to get rid of it when, changing my mind, I opened my fingers and let it fall back into the suitcase.
Instead of wondering who could have thrown it into the middle of my clothing, I allowed myself to be fascinated by its slow swaying down into the dark depths of the case and my its colour, alternately uncertain and clear, depending on the light — which led to letting it fall back again on the leather lining with its coarse oversewing.
How could a simple feather arouse so much questioning in me?
“Tine lasts a long while” (Gelecek Uzun Sürer) a film directed by Oscan Alder, starring Gaye Gürsel, Durukan Ordu and Sarkis Seropyan, was released in France on 18 April.
“Sumru is working on a Master’s thesis in ethic musicology at Istanbul University. She has settled in Southeast Turkey (Kurdistan) for a few months to study the Anatolian elegies and their history. In Diyarbakir she meets Ahmet, a seller of prated DVDs, who had filmed the painful testimony of Kurdish survivors. Samru is haunted by the painful memory of her first love, a Kurd who disappeared mysteriously.
Together with Ahmet, in the context of this war that is still not admitted as such, she will have to face up to her own past and her country’s history.
“One of my principle motives for making this film”, explained its director, “was to try and give a meaning to the present and to the past through these poems (the elegies) which are at the heart of our history. While Sumru is looking for these elegies to understand the sufferings of a whole people, she reopens a personal wound linked to her past. This tale is important because it shows the diversity of these societies as well as how collective experience is reflected in the lives of individuals. I want to look at Turkey today straight in the face, by means of this unnamed war (against the Kurds) that has been going on for the last thirty years, in the course of which 17,500 political murders were committed and classed as “unsolved cases”.
Jean Roy, in l’Humanité considers the work to be “one of great delicacy”: “It begins with a magnificent shot. A horse is galloping through the countryside with all the pride of an unbroken thoroughbred. There is a sudden shot and the animal falls flat on the ground, dead. Who could have been so unfeeling? It s impossible to say, especially as a single horse, perhaps the same one, reappears, stealthily, in the last instants of the film. It is thus a metaphor. The work begins with the distinctive theme of misfortune, of cruelty, of an ignominious act…”
Jacques Morice, in Telerama, describes the film as “allusive and sensitive. The extent of the countryside, the sense that existence is, somehow, in suspense, — all recalls, in a minor key, the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, of Wim Wenders and Theo Angelopoulos (the last two are, indeed, quoted in the film. Ozcan Alper, of whom this is the second full-length film, does not dissociate meditation from commitment. If for no other reason, it is invaluable”.
The film’s world première was at the Toronto International Film Festival. It also won several prizes in Turkey, particularly at the Adana Festival (the Yılmaz Güney Prize for the Best Film, the Critics’ Prize for the Best Film, the Best Actor Prize, the Best Music Prize and the Best Imagery Prize) and took part in the Berlin Festival.
Born in Artvin, in Turkey, Özcan Alper has the particularity of being born of a minority of a minority. Comes from a community on the Black Sea coast called the “Hamshin” that, while still retaining the language and some of the cultural traits of the Armenians, had converted to Islam and so are rejected by the rest of the Armenians. After studying in the Trabzon High School, he went to Istanbul University, at first studying physics then the history of science till 2003.
While studying, he took part in cinema workshops organised by the Mezopotamya Kurdish Cultural Centre and the Nâzım Hikmet Culture House in Istanbul. In 2000 he secure a job as assistant to the film director Yesim Ustaoglu. “Time Lasts a Long While” is his second full-length film; following on “Sonbahar” (Autumn 2008) that tells the tale of a young student who is a political prisoner.