At the beginning of August, Iraqi Kurdistan agreed to resume its oil exports to Baghdad (frozen since April) as a gesture it describes as one of appeasement. On the other hand Total (France) and Gazprom (Russia) have stood up to Iraq’s retaliatory measures and joined the ranks of companies like Exxon and Chevron who have decided to deal directly with the Kurds.
On hearing this news, the Iraq government has not altered the tenor of its warnings and threatened Total with sanctions. Thus Abdul Mahdi al-Ameadi stated to the press that they “were working on the cancellation of Total’s participation in the Halfaya contract” that it has been operating with PetroChina and Petronas since 2012 with an 18.75% Stake. The French company refused to make any comment.
For it part, Gazprom Neft announced, also at the beginning of August, its participation in two blocks in Iraqi Kurdistan: 40% in the Garmiyan block and 80% in Shakal. The Russian company estimates that the se two blocks will reach a production of about 3.6 billion barrels. As for buying Energy, which principally aims at Kurdistan, it announced, on 7 August, an increase in its interests in the region with a 240 million us dollar purchase. By agreement with Hawlêr Energy is has acquired a 21% participation in the Bina Bawi block, near Taq Taq — in addition to the 23% it already had.
The renewal of Kurdish exports to the central government is, for its part, conditional, according to the Kurdistan Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami, to payment of the areas that Iraq owes the Kurdistan Region, according to its government and that this gesture of “good will” by the KRG would not more than a month should the government continue to refuse payment.
Having been put out by last July’s announcement that a gas pipeline was going to be built that would enable the Kurds to sell their natural gas directly to Turkey and, eventually, to Europe, the Iraqi Prime Minister reacted in a way that was anything but appeasing by accusing Turkey of dealing with the KRG as if it was an independent State. Nevertheless, Kurdish oil exports were indeed resumed on 13 August although the Deputy Prime Minister, Hussein Sharistani complained that deliveries were only 116,000 barrels a day although the agreement had been for 175,000 barrels, saying that the Kurds “should pump more to make up for the period when they had ceased exporting”. As for the debts that Baghdad owed several companies operating in Kurdistan, which had been the reason for the freeze, Sharistani stated that an audit would be carried out on the companies “that the Kurdistan government said needed to be paid”.
One of the principal reasons cited by foreign investors who preferred working in Kurdistan is that much less advantageous conditions were offered by Baghdad. Questioned on this point, Hussein Sharistani replied that Baghdad might review its contracts: “We agree that the terms of these contracts are tough and put pressure on the companies. The last auction was not a success”. In fact, last May, a dozen blocks were put up for auction but only four contracts were signed. The Deputy Prime Minister indicated that they were working on a new model contract “with more attractive conditions for investors”. According to him, the Iraqi contracts include less advantageous fixed prices for foreign companies that would be more profitable to the Iraqi economy, whereas Kurdistan was said to be giving a greater share to the companies entering into partnership for oil production and would later have to increase the prices.
On 20 August, Canada’s ShaMaran Petroleum Corp announced Total’s acquisition of a 20% share of the Taza block, in Suleimaniah Province, in addition to 35%of the Harir and Safeen blocks acquired in July. On 21 August, the US government emerged from its lukewarm reserve by recalling that oil companies “should not bypass the authority of the central government. Regarding our own companies, we continue to tell them that signing contracts for drilling or production in any region of Iraq whatsoever without the agreement of the Iraqi Federal authorities exposes them to the danger of legal proceedings”, declared to the press Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson. “Evidently companies will make their own decisions regarding their own business, but until we have federal legislation in Iraq to regulate matter, they are taking risks”.
On 28 August, three days before the 31August ultimatum announced by Ashti Hawrami, the Kurdistan regional Government again threatened to stop exports of crude to Baghdad if Iraq did not pay its Kurdish creditors. Baghdad replied that Iraq had accepted to pay the local producers up to a total of 560 million dollars but that the officials were still waiting for the green light. “We have allocated 650 million Iraqi dinars from the 2012 budget to pay the companies but, so far, we have not received this order” said Fadhil Nabi, Assistant to the Iraqi Minister of Finance.
However, on 31 August, an Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Roj Nouri Sahweis, a Kurd and a political veteran, announced that the Kurdistan Regional Government was ready to engage in further negotiations with Baghdad to put an end to this crisis. Expressing his optimism, Roj Nouri Sahweis told Reuters that the Kurds could envisage an end to the conflict if the 2007 Bill on Hydrocarbons, which gave a broader sharing of power between the Kurds, the Shiite and the Sunni Arabs were finally passed. Moreover, according to this Deputy Prime Minister, the Kurds considered that reaching agreements with foreign companies without referring to the central government was a right given to them by the Iraqi constitution whereas Baghdad still based its claims on the “former oil legislation dating to the Saddam Hussein period” when the State was highly centralised.
Finally the Kurdish government accepted to postpone its ultimatum to September 15.
After taking over most of the Kurdish towns in Syria apart from Qamishlo, the new coalition of Syrian Kurdish parties had to organise themselves and run these localities, in principal deserted by the Syrian authorities as well as undertake the difficult task of sharing power between the different components of their movement. On 2 August, the External Relations Committee of the PYD (the Syrian branch of the PKK) called for the peaceful creation of a self-governed Kurdish region that could serve as “a refuge and base for all the Syrian revolutionaries so as to free Syria” and that “this democratic establishment must be considered as a contribution to building a new united, democratic and plural Syria” while ensuring that it was no longer a “threat to regional and global stability” and rejecting accusations of “separatism”.
For his part, another Syrian Kurdish leader, Abdulhakim Bashar, at the head of the Kurdish National Council (CNK) in an interview given to the daily Rudaw gave his own version of the recent events in Syrian Kurdistan by refuting, for example, the term of “liberation” of the Kurdish regions. According to him ”not one Kurdish town has been liberated” and the Syrian security forces are present there, even though the Kurdish flags have been raised on official buildings that continue to work as before. Abdulhakim Bashar even states that the civil servants there continue to be paid by Syria. The CNK leader’s criticisms are mainly about the PYD’s failure to observe the Irbil agreement, especially with respect to the power sharing and carrying out a common policy. Asked how he envisaged Syria’s future, Abdulhakim Bashar considered that, sooner or later, the Syrian President will fall but that the Baathist regime would fight on to the end and could make the country sink into a civil war between Alawiites and the rest of the Syrians, but that the Kurds should remain outside that civil war. He also considered that any direct Turkish Army intervention in Kurdistan was unlikely, even against areas held by the PYD.
Another Kurdish leader, Abdulbassit Sayda, in this case a leader of the Syrian National Council, the principal representative of the Syrian opposition, also commented on the latest developments of the Kurdish question there by repeating that his people’s rights would have to be recognised in the constitution. However he did not specify the nature of this recognition, although last July the Kurdish parties had left the Cairo Conference in the face of the Arabs to recognise them as different “nation”.
As he visited Iraqi Kurdistan on 1 August so as to meet the Kurdish National Council, President Massud Barzani and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, on the subject of the Syrian crisis, Abdulbassit Sayda pointed out, at a Press conference held in Irbil’s Divan Hotel, that all the participants of that four-cornered meeting supported the Syrian National Council’s project. Abdulbassit Sayda added that he had asked the Turkish Minister to settle the Kurdish question in Turkey in a peaceful manner and asked President Barzani to welcome Syrian refugees without distinction of origin. (Hitherto the majority of refugees seem to have been Kurds, without knowing whether this was because the other Syrians tended spontaneously to go towards other Arab countries without going through Kurdish regions whether the Kurdistan Regional Government preferred to open its borders to its compatriots and to religious minorities — as it had done for the Christian refugees from Iraq.) The CNS President, moreover, criticised the Baghdad government for having deployed troops on its forgers to prevent refugees from crossing.
At the end of this meeting the Syrian National Council and the Kurdish National Council signed a four-point agreement, including one on power sharing after the overthrow of the Baath. However, this agreement’s solidity seems fragile since the PYD has not signed it, not having been “invited to Irbil” as its leader stated, whereas the Syrian National Council’s President denied that there had been any Turkish refusal to accept the PYD’s presence at the meeting, asserting that all the Kurdish parties had been invited. It is true that, in the present situation, any direct and open meeting between Saleh Muslim (who officially only claims an “ideological affinity” with the PKK despite the pictures of Ocalan displayed on many official building “liberated” by the PYD) and Ahmet Davulpglu seems nevertheless hard to envisage at this time.
Indeed, rather than any Syrian reaction, it is Turkey that appears the military force most likely to threaten this new autonomy, real of symbolic, of Syrian Kurdistan by refusing the setting up of pro-PKK areas on its borders. Iraqi Kurdistan, on the contrary, is inclined to easing relations and establishing relations with all the Kurdish parties in Syria. Thus Safeen Dizayee, leading officer of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP — Barzani’s Party) declared in an interview in the Turkish daily Zaman (close to the AKP) on 3 August that Turkey should accept this new de facto situation in Syrian Kurdistan, comparing it with the political and administrative vacuum that existed in Iraqi Kurdistan after 1991, when Saddam had himself withdrawn from the three Kurdish regions left to themselves.
However, for the moment Turkey has not intervened on the Syrian borders and has limited itself to army manoeuvres with movements of tanks and armoured cars round the localities of Kilis, Hatay (Antioch) and Mardin. Ahmet Davutoglu, has gone one better on the suspicions of a secret understanding between the PYD and the Baath, by accusing Syria of arming the Kurdish fighters while, paradoxically, also alleging that they intend to occupy the political vacuum that the fall of the Baath regime would leave. However, the view expressed by the Turkish Foreign Minister is, all the same, as the Kurdish National Council noted, a shift from its rock hard resolution not to allow any Kurdish political entity to be set up on its borders. It is true that since 2003 Turkey has had to accept, Willy nilly, the increasing power of Iraqi Kurdistan, which today is unavoidable political force in the region. Learning, perhaps, from the lessons of the last decade, Ahmet Davutoglu declared that his country would not oppose an eventual Kurdish region in Syria if “all the country’s components agreed on this”. The Minister even expressed support for the observance of Syrian Kurdish rights in Syria — rather surprisingly in view of the lasting conflict inside Turkey! While on visit to Myanmar, he returned, before the press, to the subject of the Irbil meeting: “I told them ‘the leader of the CNS preside over the council as a Syrian Kurd, you (the CNK) are sitting here as Syrian Kurds. Sit down and lets finish with it. What divides us is the danger of terrorism and the possibility that one of you claims possession of some place or other. Elections must be held in Syria, a parliament must be formed that will include the Kurds, the Turkomen and the Arabs. You could, all together, come and say that grant autonomy (to the Kurds). That is your business. We are not opposed to that”.
Is Turkey anticipating the possible future setting up of a Syrian Kurdish entity which it would not be able to oppose, thus adopting a strategy of approving a state of affairs that it cannot, in any case, prevent? Or else is it counting on the other components of the future Syria not to allow the Kurds to achieve their desire for autonomy? Thus, it can be imagined that Ankara is trying, by cooperating with Iraqi Kurdistan, to encourage those Kurdish factions rivalling the PYD? This, at any rate, is the opinion of Jordi Tejel, an academic and specialist in the Kurdish question in Syria, who considers that Turkey is trying to “marginalise the PYD in Syria by establishing good relations with the Kurdish National Council, which is very close to Massud Barzanii”. (Reuters).
For the moment, even if Turkey is unpopular with all the parties in Syrian Kurdistan, at least those that tend to favour an understanding with the rest of the opposition are obliged to accept Ankara’s influence e on the future of the revolt, even against their will. Abdul Hakim Bashar, who represented the Kurdish National Council at Irbil, recognised that the position taken by the Turkish Minster showed some steps forward. As for the United States, it hasn’t expressed any views for or against Syrian Kurdish autonomy. However, Hilary Clinton, on a visit to Istanbul, stated, at the end of August that the USA opposed the PKK seizing power in Syria and supported Turkey on this issue. Ahmet Davatoglu, standing next to her, returned to the threat of a “political vacuum” that could be a windfall for the PKK, which could well explain his sudden understanding of the Syrian Kurds’ claims in Syria. If this vacuum has to be filled, it would be better that it should be by Kurds close to Massud Barzani and ready to negotiate with the Syrian National Council.
An unexpected visit by the Turkish Foreign Minister to Kirkuk aroused Baghdad’s anger last month. Visiting Iraqi Kurdistan on 1 August for the four-cornered meeting with the KRG, the Kurdish National Council of Syria and the Syrian National Council, Ahmet Davutoglu, on 2 August, made a detour to the city of Kirkuk, claimed by the Kurds but still Under the control of the central government.
The Kurds have been trying, since 2005, to secure the application of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, that provides for a referendum for the population of several districts outside the Kurdistan Region whose population is mainly Kurdish, to let them decide whether or not to be included in the Region. In this they have met with considerable opposition: that from the Sunni Arab population of Kirkuk, which is quite open, that of certain Turcoman parties and the more or less frank opposition of the central government. The latter is concerned at losing its direct authority and control over this oil-rich province, especially as the dispute over the exploitation of hydrocarbons continues to be acrimonious.
Equally sharp is Turkey’s opposition, since it fears that, by regaining Kirkuk, the Kurdistan Regional Government, might make a step towards independence and ensure its autonomous fuel and power supply. Although posing as “protector” of its Turkomenian fellow Turanians, Ankara has always let it be understood that it expected to have some say in what, however, a purely internal Iraqi affair.
The Turkish Minister’s visit was helped and organised by the KRG as a gesture of openness to Ankara. However, in fact, this visit aroused the ire of Baghdad rather than Irbil. The central government has, indeed, been highly offended by this visit.
“It is not in the interest of Turkey or any other party to under-estimate, to violate the rules of international relations and fail to conform with the most fundamental standards of relations between States and their representatives” reads a text published on the Foreign Minister’s Internet site.
“All this was done without informing the Foreign Minister and without his approval or going through the official and diplomatic channels to organise this visit”. Talking of “flagrant interference in Iraq’s internal affairs” the Minister added that Turkey should “the consequences of its actions” and for “the negative effects on the relations between the two countries”. The Iraqi Minister also sent a letter of protest to the Turkish government.
Replying to the accusations of “interference”, on the ATV broadcast, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, found it “quite normal that a Minister carrying a diplomatic passport should visit this regional administration (the KRG) and then travel another 40 km to meet some compatriots”. However, this failed to appease the Iraqi government, and on 7 August its spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, announced a “revision” of its relations with Turkey: “The cabinet has studied recent developments in Turco-Iraqi relations and has decided to revise its relations in the light of these recent developments in a new cabinet meeting that will take place as soon as possible”.
The first stage: the formation of a commission charged with investigating the consequences of this controversial visit, which will be presided by Deputy Prime Minister, Hussein Sharistani who, as former Oil and Hydrocarbon Minister and still in charge of all fuel and power related questions and a long standing adversary of the Kurds, is a relentless opponent of their determination to manage their natural resources themselves. This choice sets the tone of the commission, since Sharistani was the first to attack as illegal the recent Turco-Kurdish agreement to build a gas pipeline.
During his visit to Kirkuk, Ahmet Davutoglu met the members of the Tucoman community and leaders of the Turcoman Front, which has been supported for years by Turkey and so hitherto fiercely opposed to the inclusion of Kirkuk in the Kurdistan Region. The Minister gave them a long speech, in a style at once lyrical and vague on the multi-ethnic and religious identity of the city, without touching on the contentious issues such as the referendum or of taking a census of the population. He only spoke of “Turkey’s help” in rebuilding Kirkuk and ensuring peace, without any concrete details.
“After 75 years I have come to Kirkuk as the first Foreign Minister (to come here). You have waited for us for a long time, but we promise you that you will not have to wait so long in the future. Before coming here I listened to the great master Abdulwahid Guzelioglu (a Kirkuk Turkomenian poet and singer):
“The mountains have taught me perseverance
Iron chains cannot bind me but Kirkuk can
Kirkuk is as important to us as it is for this Kirkuki singer.“
“Iraq is a close friend of Turkey. The Iraqis are our brothers; Turkomenians, Assyrians, Kurds and Arabs. All Iraqis are dearer to than life. When a tragedy or some bad news comes from Iraq it breaks our hearts. When a terrorist attack takes place in Kirkuk and our Kirkuki brothers are victims, believe me ours hearts burn with an unquenchable fire. If you live happily and in peace, we too, in Turkey, are happy. If a thorn pricks your fingers, we, in Turkey, feel your pain.
I have always wanted to come to Kirkuk, but could never do so by force of circumstances. I discussed this with the Turkish Prime Minister and decided to come to Kirkuk without prior announcement. If God is willing, I will come back again. I bring you the greetings of the President, the Prime Minister the government and the people of Turkey. Kirkuk has a special place in our hearts. I met the members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council and told them that Kirkuk is one of our most ancient cities. Kirkuk is a city in which Turcomen, Kurds, and Assyrians live together peacefully. There may be people who want to spread sedition and break this fraternity but you stand up against such people and preserve Kirkuk as a city of co-existence and peace. The Turcomen are natives of Kirkuk, and nothing will be able to drive them out of it. Kirkuk is Kirkuk with all its communities. No one can do them injustice. The authentic Turcoman culture of Kirkuk not only benefits Kirkuk itself and Iraq but also Turkey. Kirkuk is always in our minds and we have grown up, as children hearing stories about Kirkuk. To come to Kirkuk has always been in our hearts.
We have been able to take certain decisions with the Provincial Council today. With Gods help, Turkey will do its best to help in the reconstruction and security of Kirkuk. Kirkuk is the symbol of the unity and integrity of Iraq. If peace prevails in Kirkuk, peace and stability will prevail in Iraq. And if Iraq is stable and at peace, the Middle East will be as well. God granted Kirkuk many treasures and natural resources. This city must be rebuilt with its resources. Not only in Iraq but also in the whole world. Kirkuk must become an example of wealth and prosperity; Turkey will always help Kirkuk to achieve this. We will serve Kirkuk”.
Interrupted by a Turcoman who asked him to come to their assistance to prevent “the annihilation of the Turcomen of Kirkuk”, the Minister simply replied that that would never happen. “Kirkuk will never be without Turcomsn”, before continuing by affirming that Nedjmeddin Karim, the governor of Kirkuk, had given him a “free hand” as well as “other friends” for him to do “everything necessary to ensure peace”.
The only concrete announcement, in the end, was the twinning of Kirkuk with Konya, Davatoglu’s birthplace.
Baghdad also expressed its “surprise” at the KRG’s attitude: “We are surprised at the stand of the region´s government in facilitating this visit without advising the federal Government and this infringed its constitutional responsibilities.
Is this a consequence or a coincidence? The Turcoman Front, whose relations with the Kurdish parties have improved since last spring, announced the possible formation of a joint list with the Kurds and with Arabs really “native to Kirkuk” for the coming Provincial Council elections, that is a list in opposition to that of the Kurdish Alliance’s principal rival, Iyad Allawi´s Iraqi National Movement.
Throughout the 20th Century, to sing in Kurdish meant to sing in exile or else to face at numerous legal problems. This has never prevented Kurdish singing from retaining all its vitality and marrying, through political and patriotic themes all the ups and downs of life in Kurdistan as well as traditional love songs. Since the beginning of the 2000s, partly through the expansion of Internet and satellite TV that encourage contacts and exchanges between Kurds wherever they be, and also because of the new possibilities for shows and various kinds of performance in the Kurdistan Region, we are witnessing a renewal of prestige and attractiveness of Kurdish singing. This is not really a resurrection, since via the great singers of Erevan and Baghdad radios it has never ceased being heard.
The three singers of whom were are next going to speak each has a particular originality, an origin that is “transversal” or off beat compared with the “Kurds of Kurdistan”: Yalda Abbasi is a Kurd from Khorassan, while Ilana Eliya is one of those Jews whose roots are in Iraqi Kurdistan and whose musical repertory and language are essential marks of their identity in Israel. Ilham Al-Madfei has Kurdish origins but considers himself rather to be an Iraqi, who has made a career for himself as an Arabic singer. Nevertheless he lives in the Kurdistan Region, both a place finding his roots and as a haven where Iraqi singing could be preserved.
Yalda Abbasi was born in 1987, in Machhad, of a Kurdish community settled in Khorassan (Eastern Iran) since the 17th Century that now consists of 2 million Kurdish speakers. While Khorassan has a very rich repertory of traditional Kurdish songs, Yalda Abbas tries to renovate the ancient epics by adopting the style of the Kurdish bards (baxsi) — a more contemporary style that is closer to the other Kurdish groups so as to continue this heritage for the new generations, despite the obstacles that the Khorassan Kurds face in trying to use their own language and culture (as well as the Iranian ban of women appearing on the stage.
Yalda Abbas has been singing and playing since she was 12 years of age and brought out her first album in Kurdish, strongly encouraged by her mother. She hopes to bring out two more and is optimistic about the future of Kurdish singing in Khorassan, where it has enjoyed marked success in recent years: “The style of Kurdish music that has been passed down to us by our ancestors and that we are passing on to future generations” (Rudaw).
This shows that the repertory of Kurdish songs is rooted in ancient classical poetry, although new Kurdish poets like Hassan Rushen, Ismail Hassanpour and Ali Reza are giving new and contemporary vigour to singers.
Ilana Eliya is called “the queen of Jewish Kurdish music” by her fans. Born in Jerusalem, in a Iraqi Kurdish family that arrived there in 1952, she was at first attracted to Western music before opting for the Kurdish repertory, influence by here father, a synagogue Cantor who was deeply attached to the Judeo-Kurdish sung liturgy. He was, in fact, an inveterate collector of this sonorous heritage via the radio, who continued to listen to Kurdish music on Radio Kurdistan’s short wave broadcasts. She was also indebted to her mother for learning classical music, the guitar and taking singing lessons
Despite this, however, because of still lively social interdicts against women appearing on the stage, especially in religious circles, she did not immediately launch into her career until her father’s death. However, success eventually arrived and though Ilana Eliya has never yet performed in Kurdistan, she gives concerts abroad. Thus last June she performed at the Bernie Grant Cultural Centre, in Tottenham, where she sang in Hebrew, in Kurdish and Aramaic, at the invitation of the Gulen Society, that promotes Kurdish culture.
Then there is the singer nicknamed the “Baghdad Beatles”, Ilham Al-Madfei, who has been living in Jordan for the last 33 years, decided to end his country of exile to return that of his origins, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Born in 1942, in Baghdad, Ilham Al-Madfei is a guitarist, singer and composer. His music is a synthesis of Western and classical Iraqi styles. Having learnt the guitar at the age of 12, her first formed a rock group called the Twisters, in 1961. Going to study in London, her performed at the Baghdad Care where he met some colleagues called Paul McCartney, Donovan and Georgia Fame.
Returning to Iraq, he developed a style that was intermediate between Western and Eastern but the coming to power of Saddam led him to leave Iraq and finally settle as an exile in Jordan in 1994. Interviewed in Cairo by AKNews Last August, he announced his intention of settling in Iraqi Kurdistan. He explained his choice by his pride of his Kurdish origins and by the fact that, for him, Kurdistan had been the “country of dreams” that his family visited every year when he was a child and of which he still had dazzling memories, particularly of Salaheddin, Shaqlawa, Sersing and yet other places.
He now hopes, on returning to contact contemporary Iraqi poets from whom he could commission texts with the intention of forming a music group in Kurdistan.