While Iraq is in the middle of a crisis and its Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, if faced with both the discontent of the Sunni Arabs and the opposition of the Kurds to his conduct regarding Kirkuk and Diyala, it was announced on 18 December that the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, who is himself Kurdish, had suffered a stroke and that the prognosis on his state of health was un certain.
It was on leaving a heated meeting with Nuri al-Maliki that Jalal Talabani felt unwell and was rushed to Baghdad hospital. Soon after an official communiqué announced that he had suffered from a cerebral haemorrhage but that his condition was “stable”.
Jalal talabani is 79 years old and has suffered from poor health and overweight for several years leading to regular visits abroad for treatment. In 2008 he underwent a heart operation in the United States and in 2011 he was sent to hospital in Jordan suffering from dehydration and exhaustion. Last summer he was treated by a German team of doctors for three months and only returned to Iraq in September 2012.
Throughout the press, be it regional, national or international, the most widely contrasted prognoses were advanced, some papers speaking of “brain death” or a coma while othere were reassuring.
Cutting the rumours short, the Kurdish Member of Parliament Mahmud Othman denied any question of death. The arrival of a medical team from Germany, the same one that had treated him during the summer confirmed that the President was indeed alive, though without any more details except that his condition had improved. He was urgently transferred to a private clinic in Germany on 21 December.
The manager of the Presidential communications office, Barzan Sheikh Othman, pointed out that the “most dangerous stage” had passed. This was confirmed by Dr. Najmaldim Karim, a Kurdish neurologist who is governor of Kirkuk and is close to Jalal Talabani.
It is generally agreed that this accident has occurred at the worse possible moment, when Iraq is in the middle of a crisis and the Prime Minister is faced with a revolt from both the Sunni Arabs and several Shiite factions as well as the trial of strength taking place with the Kurds. The Iraqi Constitution (Art 72, 3) stipulates that in the event of the President being incapacitated, he should be replaced by one of the Vice Presidents while Parliament elects a successor within 30 days.
However, one of the two Vice Presidents, the Sunni Arab Tareq al-Hashimi has been tried in absentia and received five death sentences for “terrorism” and has been a refugee in Turkey since April 2012. The other one, Khodaei Al-Khozaei, who is also Minister of Education, is a Shiite politician of Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, His choice would completely unbalance the official consensus that tries to arrange that each of the main components of the population (Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Kurds) be represented.
Although choosing a Kurd as President is nowhere written into the Constitution, the election of Talabani to this position since 2005 has satisfied the various Iraqi political factions. Iraqi presidential powers are very limited, but his personality and talents as negotiator made him a public figure who could mediate and bring people together in a State so divided between ethnic and religious groupings that its very survival is often unstable.
Even if Jalal Talabani survives his stroke, he would probably not be able to play such an important political role. Moreover, succeeding him involves two roles — both as Iraqi Head of State and as leader of his party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has been going through a serious leadership crisis for the last few years.
Interviewed by the daily Rudaw for is 22 December issue, Mala Bakhtiar, who manages the PUK Political Committee, gave his views of the “post-Talabani” situation, which he considered must be envisaged as from now, even though the old leader’s personality makes him “irreplaceable”. This succession cannot be effected without profound internal and structural rearrangements if the PUK is to be able to face up to the new situation.
Regarding a possible takeover by Goran, the Party born of a split within the PUK, of members who might be more inclined to change camps after the end of the Talabani era, Mala Bakhtiar answered that the changes of membership between the parties have now been balanced and that some Goran supporters (250 according to him) had already asked to rejoin the PUK. On the other hand he rejected the idea of any fusion with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) or any likelihood of flight of PUK members to that party since the historical and political roots of the two movements were so different.
Indeed, those disappointed with the PUK have never gone to increase the score of the KDP in its historic strongholds but turned either to Goran or other opposition parties going from Islamic to extreme-Left parties.
Among the names that are going round as possible successors to Jalal Talabani, that of the firmer Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region and ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Barham Salih, is often mentioned, both for the Iraqi Presidency and that of the PUK, as well as that of Hoshyar Zebari, at present Iraqi Foreign Minister, who is close to the KDP and also a former Kurdistan Prime Minister as well as that of Fuad Masum, who is also a member of the PUK for the Iraqi Presidency.
Meanwhile the party in managed by Kosrat Rasu, the PUK’s N°2. Being 60 years of age he could be seen as a successor but his status of veteran does not carry a message of renovation the party’s renovation.
Finally, should Jalal Talabani accept his enforced retirement from all political life and is again able to make public statements; he could well also designate his own successor.
Serafettin Elçi, one of the senior members of the Kurdish politics in Turkey, a former Minister, leader of the Party for Participative Democracy (KADEP), elected to parliament from Diyarbekir as an independent in 2011, died of cancer on 22 December in an Ankara hospital. Born at Cizîra Botan, the capital of the Bedir Khans’ Kurdish principality. He was 74 years of age,
When his death was announced, many Kurdish political personalities went to the hospital to pay him tribute — members of parliament like Leyla Zana, Aysel Tuğluk, Pervin Buldan, Hasip Kaplan and Sırrı Sakık.
Moreover his death also gave rise to many condolences from the Turkish political caste. Thus President Abdullah Gul stated “The loss of Serafettin Elçi, who has worked hard for a resolution of problems through dialogue and for the consolidation of a environment of peace and brotherhood, will be felt in our political world”. The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visited his family to express his condolences and a ceremony in his memory took place in the Turkish National Assembly that was attended by the Speaker of the House, the President of the CHP party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the joint Presidents of the BDP party. Selahattin Demirtaş, the Deputy Prime Ministers Bülent Arınç, Ali Babacan, Beşir Atalay and Bekir Bozdağ as well as a great crowd of present and past members of Parliament.
“Our sorrow is deep” stated the Kurdish member of Parliament Ahmet Turk. “Throughout his life Elçialways showed his awareness of the Kurdish people’s struggle for freedom. However, in politics he always gave priority to intelligence over emotions”.
The novelist Yashar Kemal, for his part, described him as a “hero” considering that the search for democracy in Turkey had lost “an honourable and coherent voice”.
In the daily paper Zaman (pro-AKP) the editorial writer Orhan Miroğlu recalled Serafettin Elçi’s exceptionally long political life — he was a Minister in the 70s and member of Parliament for Mardin for the Justice Party (AP). However, in 1977 he resigned in protest at the setting of the Second Front nationalist government led by Suleyman Demirel. He was also Minister of Public Works in Bulent Ecevit’s “centre-left” government.
When the 12 September 1980 coup d’état took place he was arrested and imprisoned for 30 months. He had already caused a scandal the previous December by publicly identifying himself as a Kurd — which was a first even for a member of Parliament at the time — and for having addressed the electors of Diyarbekir, who did not understand Turkish, in Kurdish.
Once released, he resumed his activities and political career but taking pains to put across his ideas in a country that had started waging its “dirty war” against the Kurds.
In 1994, although he had been put forward as a possible leader of the Kurdish HEP party, founded in 1991, he created his own party, the KADEP, nicknamed the Kurdish Motherland Party (as opposed to the Turkish Party of that name) which appeared to be an attempt to bring together several contradictory political trends round the Kurdish question. As the daily Sabah remarked on 18 May 1994: “As described by Elçi, this party will be a liberal democratic party, casting its net widely. It will seek to cooperate with business circles but without leaning to the Right. It will be close to religious electorate but will not seek to set up an Islamic State. It will promote Kurdish identity but will defend the country’s territorial integrity”.
Serafettin Elçi did not deny that his ideas were close to those that Turgut Ozal often put forward, saying: “What I am trying to do is similar to what Mr. Ozal wants to do. I can say that our ideas on the South East (Turkish Kurdistan) are the same. I do not wish to compare myself to anyone, but the public is free to make its own comparisons. We are seeking to give the State two guarantees: we believe that the political borders of the State must be preserved. We are against violence. They should not be worried about our party”.
However, as Orhan Miroglu remarked, given the political context of the 90s Serafettin Elçi could not succeed in imposing such an agenda on the Kurdish question nor succeed in convincing the Kurdish electorate.
KADEP was always close to the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party and its leader always had friendly relations with the Barzani family. The creation of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in a federal and democratic Iraq seemed to him a positive example of liberal democracy as opposed to the political trends prevailing in Turkish Kurdistan. This, however, did not prevent him from allying himself with the BDP for the June 2011 elections, in which he was elected in Diyarbekir. He hoped, thereby, to exercise a moderating influence in the pro-Kurdish party’s ranks but also to act as an intermediary between the Kurdish members of Parliament and the rest of the Parliament by using the regard that he enjoyed in the Turkish political caste although he had not sat in the Turkish Parliament for the last 20 years.
His funeral took place in his native town of Cizir. Many members of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party came to represent the KRG President, Massud Barzani.
The Paris Kurdish Institute, of which he was a regular guest at its Symposia because of his abilities, was also represented there.
On 5 December a majority of the members of the members voted in the Swedish Parliament to recognise the Anfal campaign conducted by the Saddam Hussein regime at the end of the 1980s as an act of genocide.
This measure was welcomed by the Iraqi Kurdistan regional Government. Prime Minister Nêçirvan Barzani described it as “humane” and “courageous” adding that Stockholm’s decision showed the Kurds and Kurdistan that they “they were not alone. This decision assures the Kurds that the world has not forgotten their sufferings and that it will no longer let them be killed in such massive numbers. I hope that this decision by the Swedish Parliament will encourage the Iraq Criminal Court to compensate the victims of Anfal”.
Sweden in the first country in the world to recognise Anfal as genocide. This result was the outcome of six years and eight months of efforts by the NGO Kurdocide Watch in Sweden (CHAK) to secure this recognition by Parliament, a campaign carried out in cooperation with the Kurdish community in Sweden and the support of Swedish members of Parliament and of members of Swedish parties of Kurdish origin. In the past parliament had twice rejected the proposal. On 8 November 2012 the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee finally met to discuss it and, after an amount of research and discussion concluded that the Anfal campaign was indeed, one of genocide against the Kurds.
The debate in Parliament took place on 28 November 2012. Some members of the Swedish Congress, the Presidents of eight political parties and fourteen political public figures confirmed that it was genocide. For timetable reasons the actual vote was adjourned to 5 December.
The Iraqi-Kurdish crisis is increasingly worrying the Americans, especially as the two protagonists support different camps in Syria and that the two conflicts could exacerbate one another. AS the Assistant Secretary of State admitted “the region cannot stand more conflicts”.
Thus on 7 December a crisis meeting was held in Baghdad between the US Minister of Defence, the US Assistant Secretary of State and the Iraqi Prime Minister the main theme of which was the tension with Irbil and the situation in Syria.
On 13 December the newspaper Shafaag News, basing itself on an anonymous source, reported that the United States and other countries were insisting that Nuri al-Maliki soften his stand and ease the tensions with the Kurds. Apparently the Iraqi Prime Minister is said to have rejected all offers of mediation, repeating that it was an “internal” matter.
The Kurds, on the other hand are far from being opposed to American arbitration, so long as it does not call into question those articles of the Constitution that it steadfastly determined to defend: the Kirkuk question, Federalism and their independence in managing their resources. Yet positions are so entrenched on both sides that any diplomatic intervention has the advantage of stimulating some dialogue. As Mahmud Othman, a leader of the Kurdish Alliance in the Iraqi Parliament, said: “resolving the crisis between the central and regional governments requires efforts from abroad, be it from the United States, Iran or another country. It is too hard to find a solution internally”. (Iraqi National Press Agency).
Indeed, Iran, that the United States is so keen on marginalising, cannot be so easily excluded, whether from the Syrian Crisis or from Baghdad. The Kurds realise this and, despite their reconciliation with Turkey, have always managed to keep on good terms with that country, adopting an attitude of “we are, after all, good neighbours with everyone”. Thus, according to Mahmud Othman, if, at the end of last autumn, a Kurdish delegation met the Shiite Vice President of Iraq, Khodaïr Kodhae, Ammar al-Hakim, who heads the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council, and the Iranian Ambassador in Baghdad, it was in order to set up a face to face meeting between Nuri al-Maliki and Massud Barzani, in a “more peaceful political atmosphere”. “The problem can only be resolved one way — by making Prime Minister Nuei al-Maliki and the Kurdish President Massud Barzani meet at the same table”. Since both men, though formerly allies against Saddam Hussein are now at daggers drawn, this veteran of Kurdish politics nevertheless recognises that such a meeting needs time to prepare the ground and “friendly countries”.
In the field, the Iraqi and Kurdish forces are still standing glaring at one another, whether at Kirkuk or in the Diyala. Jabbar Yawar, the General Secretary of the Ministry for the Peshmergas, has repeatedly expressed Kurdish determination not to give an inch to the Iraqis in the field and not to withdraw until the forces sent by Baghdad have completely withdrawn.
The Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, the Sunni Arab Osama Nujaifi, had earlier met Massud Barzani in Irbil to discuss precise means of achieving bilateral withdrawal of all troops, but in fact nothing was carried out.
On the contrary, Massud Barzani°s visit to Kirkuk on 10 December and his inspection of Kurdish troops there greatly annoyed Baghdad. In his speech to the Peshmergas, the Kurdish President, wearing military uniform, spoke of the “sacred task” incumbent on them to “defend the future of the people of Kurdistan”. He thus insisted on “the importance of maintaining brotherhood and peace and serving all the inhabitants of Kirkuk”.
“We are against war and we do not like war, but if we are brought to making war then the whole Kurdish people is ready to fight for the Kurdish character of Kirkuk”.
Naturally this visit aroused the fury of the Maliki camp, as expressed by Yassin Majid, one of the leaders of his State of Laws coalition. According to him, President Barzani’s review of Kurdish troops in Kirkuk in uniform was “a declaration of war on all Iraqis — not only on Maliki but also on Talibani” — despite the fact that the Iraqi President had, from the start of the crisis, expressed his opposition to the deploying the Dijila forces and that he had been the target of a salvo of criticisms from politicians who supported the Prime Minister.
According to Yassin Madjid this “provocation” ruined “all the efforts of the Speaker of parliament, Osama Nudjaifi”. He even considered this visit was “even more dangerous” than that of the Turkish Foreign Minister last summer at Kurdish invitation without seeking Baghdad’s permission. Nuri Maliki’s coalition described this gesture as an “escalation” and as proof that Massud Barzani was not seeking to ease the tensions. It even compared him to Saddam Hussein.
The Kurdish Alliance’s Vice President, Mohsen al-Sadoun, retorted by casting doubt on Yassin Madjid’s sanity or intellectual capacities and recalled that Ahmet Davutoglu had received a visa from the Iraqi Ambassador in Ankara and so had not visited the country illegally. He also made the point that the Iraqi Constitution in no way forbade the President of Kurdistan from visiting Kirkuk or any other of the disputed regions, that Massud Barzani was, under the Kurdish Constitution, Commander in Chief of the Peshmergas and that he had reviewed the Kurdish forces deployed in Kirkuk in that capacity.
Apparently unimpressed by the accusations of provocation and incitement to conflict, Massud Barzani stressed still further Kurdish claims to Kirkuk by ordering his staff, his Ministers and all KRG organs to stop using the term “disputed regions” to describe those covered by Article 140 of the Constitution and replace it by “Kurdish regions outside the Region”.
This initiative inevitably aroused fresh condemnation from Nuri Maliki, who called it unconstitutional and called on all the State’s authorities to condemn it explicitly. He saw it as offensive to all those who had voted for the Constitution in 2005 — forgetting that, in voting for the Constitution they had also voted for Article 140, as the Kurds unfailingly stress.
Despite all this, there has been to interruption in contacts between Irbil and Baghdad and statements that an agreement could be reached or was on the point of being reached keep following one another — though without any concrete effect in the field — as Mahmud Othman predicted. On 15 December, Reuters reported an agreement for bilateral but gradual withdrawal of Kurdish and Iraqi troops, said to have come from Iraqi President Talal Jalabani and not denied by the Prime Minister. Ali al-Mussawi, Nuri Maliki’s principal adviser, added to this regarding the possibility of local management of the security forces in the disputed regions. However, no timetable has been set although the KRG has been cited as also being in favour of such a solution. Mahmud Othman, as usual sceptical, expressed his doubts, explaining, “The problem lies in the details. Everything depends on mutual confidence and a sincere determination to reach a solution — but unfortunately mutual confidence between the two parties is lacking”.
According to Mahmud Othman, while the USA and the Western powers will do everything to avoid the conflict degenerating into an armed conflict, Turkey, on the other hand could have an interest in the disintegration of Iraq, which would weaken but also place Irbil even more at the mercy of Ankara. Thus he supports Jalal Talabani’s proposal for joint withdrawal of troops, even if he is not over optimistic about the agreement being followed through. Moreover, Jalal Talabani’s stroke four days later, as well as probably ending his political career, could lead to fears that the agreement might also be buried.
At the beginning of January, Kurdish military delegation led by Jabbar Yawar is due to beet senior Iraqi military leaders to discuss the crisis in the field and the possibility of mutual withdrawal front eh disputed regions. However, for the moment, Mahmud Othman is right as no agreement has been reached.
Pêsh Khabour, a Christian village in Kurdistan (in Zakho diocese) has been the centre of a confused controversy between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the PYD party, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK, over a possible bridge across the Tigris to link it with the Syrian border.
I fact, refugees continue to flood into Iraq from Syria, their number is now said to have reached 63,496 according the UN High Commission for refugees on 5 December. Of these, 54,550 are in Iraqi Kurdistan and 8,852 in Anbar Province of Iraq and 94 in other Iraqi provinces.
Thus the Kurdistan region shelters about 80% of these refugees and the winter, that is hard and snowy this year, could bring a further influx, this time fleeing the lack of fuel rather than the fighting.
The Syrian Kurds have thus asked the Kurdistan Regional Government to open its borders so that they can obtain supplies of food, medicines and fuel. Thus the Union of Kurdish Youth has sent a written request tot the KRG asking it to intervene and saver the Kurds in Syria “from tragedy, suffering, displacement, the destruction of houses and a slow death”. In their message they attack “the presence of armed groups claiming to be part of the Syrian revolution who have surrounded the Kurdish regions and are looting all the food that is being imported into Western Kurdistan so as to reduce the Kurdish presence there and change the change the course of a peaceful revolution in Western Kurdistan”.
The Kurdish National Council has also asked for the opening of this border point. Abdulbaqi Yousif, the representative of the Unity Party (Yakiti) has for his part and with two other Kurdish parties, approached the US Embassy in Damascus, Robert Ford, asking him to ease the opening of this border point. Abdulbaqi Yousif has also reported evidence that the armed forces of the PYD and the YPC “are levying heavy taxes” on imported food. According to him, the closing of the border is the KRG’s reply to these taxes “even a German NGO that was bringing humanitarian assistance to the Kurdish towns was seized by the PYD” he stated to the daily Rudaw.
It was at this point that a controversy broke out between the PYD and the KRG regarding the closing of the border between the two Kurdistans. The former state that the Kurdistan Region had closed the border and prevented the Syrian Kurds from getting supplied from Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Irbil government relied that it had not closed any border point for the simple reason that there wasn’t one with Syria but that the Presidential staff was dealing with the matter very seriously and was going to give its official reply to the possible opening of a passing point there — a decision that, legally, was solely incumbent on the Central government — with which it was on bad terms.
Despite Irbil’s denial, the PKK press agency, Firat News, broadcast a video that it claimed “proved” that he KRG had indeed closed the border. However the KRG replied that what had been filmed was one between Iraq and the Kurdish region. Irritated at this, the Presidential Office finished by published a communiqué on 7 January aimed at the PYD without naming it, attacking a party that was trying to impose its authority by armed force over the Kurds in Syria and using the border for dishonest transfers.
“We say quite clearly to our brothers in Western Kurdistan that we, the Kurdistan Region will not allow our border to be used for smuggling arms and illegal drugs”.
Which indicates that while the Peshmergas have orders to allow refugees, food and medicines to cross the border they are less permissive about movement of other than humanitarian transfers for the PGY and YPG, which could explain the campaign of attacks by the PDY.
There are several crossing points on the Iraqi-Syrian border but all are controlled by Iraq with the exception of Pesh Khabour (Fish Khabour in Arabic) in Duhok Province, which is controlled by the KRG. This Christian village, built round a Mediaeval Church (destroyed by Saddam but recently rebuilt) borders Turkey and Syria. It is separated from the latter by the Tigris, which forms a natural border. There is no bridge for crossing the border, which has to be effected by boats or rafts.
Were the KRG to envisage building a bridge to ease the passing or food and humanitarian aide, it would have to be in defiance of the Iraqi Army, with which the Peshmergas have been on the point of open conflict for several months — and particularly on this part of the border.
During all this, a visit by a delegation of the National Coordination Council (NCC) to the Iraqi Prime Minister has not helped to calm things down. This committee is recognised by Russia but not by the United States and the powers that support the Syria revolution that consider it façade controlled by the Syrian Baath. Originally several Kurdish movements were members but they have all withdrawn with the exception of the PYD. Indeed, it was the PYD leader, Salih Muslim, who came in person to meet Nuri al-Maliki who is held in contempt by both the Iraqi Kurds, who accuse him of wishing to end the federal Constitution, and by the Syrian Kurds (except the PYD) for his more or less implicit support of the Syrian regime. As the Kurdish National Council in Syria (KBC), through its leader Faysal Yousif, has sharply remarked “Maliki is considered an ally of the Syrian regime. Consequently the Committee of Coordination must reveal whether Maliki has promised to support the revolution or whether the they and Maliki have discussed other under the table subjects … The Syrian people has the right to know what the Committee of Coordination has asked of Maliki”.
Mustafa Osi, secretary of the Azadi Party and a member of the KNC also accuses the CNC “of not serving the Syrian revolution” but trying, on the contrary, “to turn the Syrian people against this revolution”.
The KNC considers that, on the basis of the agreements of cooperation and common action that, in principle, link his party to the other Kurdish parties since the Irbil agreement, Salih Muslim, should have informed and consulted with them before this visit and demands an apology. Its annoyance is all the greater because it had, itself, rejected an invitation from the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, because the PYD had not been invited.
“Mr. Muslim had not taken out attitude regarding this invitation into account nor does he observe the Irbil agreement. He has gone to meet Maliki without consulting the National Council. Although his membership of the CNC is some excuse, he could at least have refused to meet Maliki”.
Rejecting these criticisms, Salih Muslim said he was “free to make his own decisions and took orders from nobody”, saying he represented “an independent political party, with its own agenda and plans” adding (in contradiction to this) that “I did what was expected of me”.
The PYD leader stated to the press that Nuri Maliki recognised the legitimacy of the Syrian revolution and that the Shiites considered the Syrian Baath was different from the Iraqi Baath, that he had fought against.
However, as the Kurdish criticisms became more persistent, he ended by reporting an invitation from Jalal Talabani that, in the circumstances was transferred to Nuri Malaki. Salih Muslim also indicated that the aim of his visit was to secure Iraqi humanitarian aid for Syria and the Kurds, which turns the spotlights onto the idea of a future bridge at Pesh Khabur: Was the sole aim of the visit to have Iraq open another corridor that would enable the PYD to avoid depending on the KRG for its supplies? For the moment this visit to Baghdad has not produced any concrete result.
The successive statements and denials of the last month show, more than anything else, that relations between the PYD, already tense enough with the Kurdish National Council are becoming more acrimonious with the Kurdistan Regional Government that, hitherto, had maintained an attitude of arbitrator in the Inter-Kurdish quarrels in Syria.
Iran’s 2009 “Green revolution” has had heavy consequences for civil society. This is underlined by a recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), entitled: “Why they left”, published last December. The report publishes the testimony of dozens of Human Rights defenders, journalist, bloggers, lawyers who have been threatened and targeted by the Security and Intelligence forces because of their stands against the government.
This government pressure has consequently led to a flood of asylum seekers in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. Thus Turkey saw the number of Iranian refugees rise by 72% between 2000 and 2011. Iraqi Kurdistan is also often chosen, especially by Iranian Kurds.
Indeed, amongst those active in civil society, Human rights activists are the most targeted in Iran, accused of being used by foreign powers. The most oppressed ethnic minorities are the Kurds, the Azeris and the Arabs of Ahwaz. NGOs that defend their rights are also exposed to persecution, arrests and severe sentences.
HRW notes that, because of Iran’s repressive policy towards its minorities and what they call “cross border cultural relations” the majority of the activists belonging to ethnic minorities fleeing to Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan since 2005 are above all Kurds.
HRW also cites as an example the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan (HROK) founded in 2006 by Sadigh Kaboudvand. It once had as many as 200 reporters covering all the Kurdish regions of Iran who published their articles in Payam-e Mardom (The People’s Message — now banned) of which Sadigh Kaboudvand was the general manager and chief editor. He was arrested by the Intelligence Service on 1 July 2007 and taken to section 209 of Evin prison (Teheran) that they control. He was kept in solitary confinement for 6 months.
In May 2008 the 15th Chamber of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Sadigh Kaboudvand to 10 years imprisonment for actions against national security by founding HROK and an additional years imprisonment for “propaganda against the system by spreading news, opposition to Islamic law by stressing sentences such as stoning and executions and for having argued in favour of prisoners”.
In October 2008, the 54th Chamber of the Teheran Court of Appeal confirmed the sentence and. Since then HRW has unceasingly demanded his release and his urgent need for medical attention.
Shahram Bolouri, 27 years of age, took part in demonstrations protesting against the fraudulent Presidential elections. He explained to HRW that he had covered the acts of violence perpetrated by the police against the demonstrators and broadcast photos and videos by various media. Prior to this he had been a member of a Kurdish Association, a Teheran based NGO had worked with several civil society organisations.
On 23 June 2003, agents of the Security and Intelligence Services searched his home in Teheran transferred to the and arrested him. He was detained for 8 months in Evin Prison, 45 days of which were in solitary, in Sections 209 and 240 of that prison that are run by the Intelligence Service before being transferred to the general section. He had been subjected to severe physical and mental torture by the guards.
“My solitary cell [in Ward 240] measured 2.5 by 1 meter. It had a toilet and no windows. Prison guards would often come in and order me to stand, sit, and perform odd tasks just because they could. One of them once said to me, “You look like an athlete. Select your sport. Stand up and sit down for me. One hundred times, and make sure you count!” He made me do this several times even though I had a busted leg. I was sweating profusely but they didn’t let me shower. After two weeks the same guy opened the door to my cell and said, “Why does it smell like shit in here?” He ordered me to go take a shower and wash my clothes”.
On 6 February, over 6 months after his arrest the authorities released Shahram Bolouri for an extraordinarily high bail of $US 200,000. HRW mentions that several cases were reported of enormous sums demanded of families for bail as a form of psychological harassment of both detainees and their families. Shahram Bolouri said that the financial pressures exerted on his family were often worse for him than what he endured personally.
In October 3010 a Teheran revolutionary Court sentenced him to 4 years jail for “assembly and collusion against the State, for having taken part in demonstrations, having communication with foreign media and spreading news”. After he had appealed, his sentence was increased by 6 months in June 2011. As the pressures and harassment against his family were worsening, Shahram Bolouri decided to leave Iran. He filed a request for asylum at the UN HRC office in Iraq on 15 July 2011 and is now seeking a host country where he could have the status of a political refugee.
Media Byezid is a student activist and blogger, expelled from Ispahan University after having taken part in the 2005 student demonstrations and having taken part in Mehdi Karrouci’s campaign in 2008. On 12 June 2009, he was charged with checking the poll count together with others who had taken part in Karroubi’s campaign. His team and other activists who had campaigned for Moussavi noted irregularities and reported them to the authorities. Some officials of the Ministry of the Interior answered them that they would be held responsible for any “disturbances”.
They then left for Teheran to take part in the post-election demonstrations. It was on his return to Saqqez on 7 November that Media Byezid’s problems began.
“I got a call to meet someone at Payam-e Nur University in Saqqez when I returned who said he wanted to meet me. When I went there I noticed a green car with two persons who approached me. One of them said someone had complained that I was harassing them on the phone and I need to be questioned by [the police.] They put me in car, shoved my head down, and sped away. I later found out they were Ministry of Intelligence agents.
We went to the local setad-e khabari105 of the Ministry of Intelligence. I was blindfolded. The interrogator came into the room and began accusing me of having contacts with Kurdish guerrilla groups. My father was in Koya [Iraqi Kurdistan] and I had crossed the border illegally into Iraqi Kurdistan several times. He accused me of having contacts with PJAK [Kurdish Party for Free Life of Kurdistan] and other banned Kurdish parties. When I refused to admit these contacts he slapped me and said, “This is not your aunt’s house!” Then he said they had been tapping my phone for a while and played recordings of my conversations”.”
Byezid said his interrogation lasted 7 or 8 hours. The Authorities beat him and harassed him several times over the 13 days during which he was in detention at the Intelligence Ministry. They finally released him but continued to summon him for interrogations till he left the country
Hezha (Ahmad) Mamandi is an activist for Kurdish rights and one of the oldest members of the Human Rights Organisation of Kurdistan (HROK). He was initially sentenced to 11 months jail for various charges of endangering National Security. Intelligence officers arrested him several times in 2005 because of his activity in HROK and with other local groups.
“I was at Mahabad’s Azad University and I was collecting signatures (in 2006) when several Intelligence officers arrested me along with another colleague. Put us in a car and drove us to the local detention centre. We were interrogated for two weeks. They asked many questions about HROK and its relations with America. They beat us several times but took care not to hit us in the face. I was not able to see a lawyer. After 2 weeks I was sent, with my colleague, for trial by the Mahabad Revolutionary Court. The court session lasted 3 or 4 minutes. When we tried to speak to the judge he drove us out of the courtroom. We were transferred to the Mahabad Central Prison where, a little later, I discovered that I’d been sentenced to 20 months jail for actions against national security and having disturbed public order”.
On appeal, his sentence was reduced to10 months and he was released in 2006. He resumed his responsibilities in the HROOK but after the arrests in 2006 and 2007 of Sadigh Kaboudvand and Saman Rasoulpour, two of the organisations leaders, the group reduced its activity.
In 2010, after the execution of Farzad Jamangar and several other Kurdish activists, Mamandi and his colleagues in HROK help conduct a strike in Iran’s Kurdish regions. The strike was a success and this irritated the authorities. He, along with others, was identified as ringleaders. On 22 May 2010 he fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Amir Babekri was a teacher and journalist at Piranshaht, a town with a mainly Kurdish population in Western Azerbaijan Province. Amir Babekri joined HROK in 2005 and worked on various issues affecting Kurdish rights. A Revolutionary Guards unit came to arrest him in December 2010 at the primary school where he was teaching.
“Three armed men stuck me into a Toyota and took me to the local detention centre. There they tried to implicate me with some Kurdish parties. I denied this. They threatened to send me to Urmiah if I refused to cooperate. I told then to go ahead and do it. They hit me several times the last night before sending me to Urmiah but I was not tortured.
(In the Urmiah detention centre) there were 40 of us in two rooms. The authorities accused some of us of having links with the PJAK. There were interrogations every day and we could hear screams. I was interrogated for 18 days in all but I was transferred in a car to another detention about 5-6 minutes away for interrogation. I was blindfolded. Like the others I was subjected to all kinds of ill treatment. Sometimes they threw us out into the snow. At other times they handcuffed us to a wall and forced us to sland on tiptoes. They also beat us on the head with sticks”.
Amir Babekri had to answer many questions about his contacts with HROK. He was finally force to admit he was a member of HROK but refused to give the names of people with whom he worked clandestinely. He was finally accused by the authorities of being an “enemy of God” (moharabeh — punishable by death), membership of an illegal group and of having secretly gone to Iraqi Kurdistan. It took 2 or 3 minutes to read his charge sheet to the Urmiah Court; he had no defence counsel and saw several officers of the Revolution Guards present in the courtroom.
He was tried 4 months later and his trial lasted 30 minutes, This time there was a lawyer present. The charge of moharebeh was not pressed but he was found guilty of “propaganda against the State” and of membership of HROK. His sentence was fifteen months in prison.
Because of constant pressure exerted on him and the fact that he could no longer teach at Piranshahr, Amir Babekri decided to leave Iran and to file a request for asylum at the HCR office in Iraqi Kurdistan on 15 July 2010.
An activist for Kurdish rights, Rebin Rahmani was arrested by the security forces on 19 November 2006 at Kermanshah. It the time he was working on research project on drug addiction and HIV in Kermanshah Province. After his arrest he was about 2 another months detention in the Intelligent Dept, premises. He was interrogated by both the Kermanshah agents and those of Sanandaj (Sine, in Kurdistan Province) and was subjected to both physical and psychological torture.
In January 2007, a revolutionary Court sentenced him to 5 years prison for “actions against national security” and “propaganda against the State”. The trial took just 15 minutes and there were no lawyers. On appeal the sentence was reduced to 2 years.
Rebin Rahmani, who was detained in Kermanshah’s Dizel Abad Prison was then several times transferred to the Intelligence Ministry’s local premises to be subjected to further interrogations, always under torture, and periods of solitary confinement. They also threatened to arrest members of his family to put pressure on him. He twice attempted to commit suicide by the authorities never succeeded in adding further charges to his case.
Released in 2006,he learned that he had been expelled from university and could no longer continue his studies. He then joined the local branch of the Human Rights Activist in Iran (HRA) but using a pseudonym, as he feared being arrested again. Before fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan, he was able to interview several families and draw up reports for HRA, mostly on breaches of human rights committed by the Government in Iran’s Kurdish regions. He was also responsible for the HRA Web site.
In March 2010 there was a large-scale dragnet against human rights activists, including the HRA, in Teheran and other major cities. Rebin Rahmani succeeded in escaping because his cover was never revealed within HRA. However, in the same month, he took part in a demonstration against the execution of several Kurdish political prisoners and the local authorities placed him under surveillance. In December 2010 the security forces searched his home soon after he had taken part in a rally before the Sanandaj prison to protest at the execution of Habibollah Latifi. He then felt he had to flee to Iraqi Kurdistan and registered a request for asylum in Irbil on 6 March 2011.
Fayegh Roorast, a Kurdish activist and law student at Urmiah University was arrested in January 2009 for having cooperated with several organisations like the HROK, HRA and the One Million Signatures campaign. Intelligence agents had started to target him when Farzad Kamangar was sentenced to death in March 2008 as Farzad Kamangar was then giving several interviews broadcast in foreign media about the arrest of Farzad Kamangar, Zainab Bayazidi and other Kurdish activists for Kurdish rights,
On 15 January 2009, Intelligence agents attacked his father’s shop and arrested the latter. Soon after they came to Fayegh Roorast’s home and seized some of his personal belongings without arresting him. However, 2 days later he was summoned, with his brother, his sister and his aunt to the Mahabad offices of the Intelligence Service. He was accused of working with Banned Kurdish opposition groups like the PJAK. His family was released but he remained 17 days in detention.
“At the Mahabad Intelligence Ministry I was threatened and harassed every day. My interrogator played the good cop role who urged me to cooperate and than the bad cop role when I refused to do what he wanted. He hit me and threatened to take it out on members of my family and even to rape them. After five days interrogation and beatings he told me: “From now on you will not only be interrogated. Now I am responsible for teaching you”.
Fayegh Roorast was then transferred to the Urmiah Intelligence Ministry offices.
“The authorities kept me in solitary confinement for several days. There were three interrogation or torture cells in rooms at a lower level. I heard horrible noises coming from them. I was taken there 15 or 15 times. The place stank of urine and excrement, they subjected me to all kinds of torture, they suspended me by my wrists to a wall is such a way that I was forced to stand on tiptoe, they gave me electric shocks on the toes and fingers, they beat me. They asked me why I had lists of prisoners with me and why I was collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures campaign.
Fayegh Roorast told HRW that he had refused to give any names. The authorities released him at the beginning of 2010. He left Iran in the summer of the same year.
Yaser Goli was a student activist and secretary of the Students’ Democratic Union of Kurdistan. In 2006 Intelligence agents arrested him. He was given a 4 month suspended sentence. The University authorities prevented him from continuing his studies as a punishment for his political activities. In addition to his activity in the Students’ Democratic Union of Kurdistan, Yaser Goli was involved with several organisations of civil society, such as the One Million Signatures campaign, Azarmehr, the Kurdish Women’s Association that organises workshops and sports activities for women, and the human rights committee of the Students’ Democratic Union of Kurdistan.
At the end of 2007, while he was continuing his activities and protesting against the University’s decision to expel him, the security forces arrested him and transferred him to a detention centre in Sanandaj, managed by the Intelligence service. He was interrogated for 3 months, subjected to physical and psychological torture and kept in solitary confinement. In November 2008 a revolutionary Court sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment in exile (i.e. outside his own province, at Kerman, 1000 Km from Sanandaj) for being “an enemy of God”. He received temporary permission to go out on bail for medical treatment for a serious heart complaint. He and his family fled to Iraqi Kurdistan in March 2010.
Amin Khawala is a journalist. He worked as correspondent for Saqqez News Centre (SNC) and informed HRW of the pressures and threats with which reporters in Kurdistan Province were faced.
Ever since SNC began its activities in 2006, he was subjected to pressure from the authorities because of the sensitive subjects regarding the Kurds that the Centre treated. For example it had published lists of names dozens of smugglers shot down by the Iranian police and border guards as well as the names of government leaders involved in cases of corruption or of opposition or human rights activists arrested by the security forces. The SNC also covered, in Kurdistan, the political events that followed the fraudulent elections of 2009. The Security searched the home of editor in chief, Atta Hamedi, on 4 January 2011 and confiscated his personal belongings, while in April 2011 the Centre’s Web site was filtered.
PI was summoned and warned several times by the Intelligence Ministry. They threatened me and said I had blasphemed. They also accused me of being involved in criminal and terrorist activities. I had already received a suspended sentence of 2 years from a Revolutionary Court in 2011. They threatened to reopen the case and send me to prison as well so I fled to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Since Amin Khawala’s flight on 3 March 2011, the Iranian police have harassed and persecuted his family to force him to return to Iran.
Fatemeh Goftari was a member of Azarmehr, co-founder of Mothers of Kurdistan for Peace and has been active in the One Million Signatures campaign. The Inteligence Service arrested her in 2002 in Sanandaj and accused her of propaganda against the State. A Revolutionary Court sentenced her to 5 years jail but her sentence was finally commuted and she only did 6 months
On 14 January 2008 she was again arrested by the Sanandaj Intelligence. A Revolutionary Court sentenced her to 25 months for actions against national security. She spent part of this in solitary isolation in Khorassan Province, 1000 Km from her home. Following her release, she and her husband were constantly watched and summoned by Sanandaj Intelligence. Fatemeh Goftari finally left Iran in March 2011 after refusing a summons and escaping an attempt to arrest her during which she was struck.
The situation of these refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan is subject to the KRG’s dependence on the rest of Iraq. In fact, Iraq did not sign the 1951 Convention of Refugees and thus it is the HCR that is responsible for registering and handling requests for asylum in Iraq. However, the majority of Iranians registered in Iraq as refugees did so in the Kurdish Region. In October 2012 they numbered 9636. Most of them are Kurdish and many have been there since 1980.
A HCR official in Irbil explained to the HRW investigators that the countries likely to accept these threatened Iranians, especially the European ones, show little enthusiasm for this fearing of problems of integration in the host country and the conviction that these Iranian Kurds had been in Iraqi Kurdistan for many years and were thus well integrated there and the idea is generally accepted idea that the Iraqi Kurdistan Region is a safe place and that asylum seekers had adequate access to basic needs. The Iranian Kurds that arrived in the 1980s and had not been rehoused in other countries are not naturalised Iraqi citizens.
The Iranian Kurds complains about the HCR are about this feeling of indifference and the idea that the offices make little effort to find them a country of asylum since the KRG is a “safe” area. Many of them have secretly emigrated to Europe without waiting for the HCR to find them a country of asylum.
In the last five years only 36 Iranian Kurds have found a country of asylum whereas their numbers have continually increased. In 2007 there were 500 registered, in October 2012 the average number being registered every week was between 9 and 10 Iranian refugees.
The HCR stated to HRW that they were working satisfactorily with the KRG and had a positive opinion of the way the Kurdish region treated the Iranian asylum seekers. One official said he had not heard of any threats or expulsions in the region, another said that sometimes refugees had been threatened with expulsion to Iran is they had caused “security problems” but that the HCR had intervened in these cases and that, in the last five years, no one had been expelled to Iran for such reasons.
However the Iranian Kurds complain to HRW that they had been “warned” by Kurdish police or intelligence officers to abstain from political activities or to be less openly critical of Iran.
One Iranian asylum seeker anonymously said that he had several times been “warned” by the residents office or by the Asayish (police) to abstain from attacking the lack of human rights in Iran and that a leading official had clearly said that the KRG “would not sacrifice its relations with the Iranians” even if the safety of an Iranian refugee was involved. Other witnesses confirm this policy of threats that aims to restrict the right to move freely or their status of residents, so as to discourage the asylum seekers from pursuing their militant activities.
The procedure for obtaining the right to reside in the KRG is simple: if a refugee enters Iraqi Kurdistan he must first register with the HCR who will give him a written certificate recording his request. He then has to go to the local police to secure a 10-day residential permit. Then he has to go to the KRG Directorate of Residents for an interview. If he obtains a security clearance her will have residential permit, renewable every 6 months. If he has difficulty is securing this clearance he will receive a permit that is renewable every month.
To secure this clearance, the Iraqi Kurdish authorities demand from the refugees letters of support or recommendations from the Iranian opposition in exile in Kurdistan or from Iraqi Kurdish political parties like the KDP or PUK. Many activists dislike this kind of approach and do not want to be linked to a party.
Without such “sponsorship” it seems difficult for refugees to secure a permit as a permanent resident. He could either be considered to be a simple “migrant worker” or else enrolee in a political party. Another Iranian refugee complained that his residence permit had not been renewed after he had demonstrated several times against Iran and against the KRG authorities that had threatened him with expulsion.
Finally the refugees report that pressures are exercised on their families in Iran once the authorities there discover that they are in Iraqi Kurdistan. Some have even received threats by telephone and much fear that the Iranian secret services could take it out on them directly on Iraqi territory, but the HCR is unable to see whether these fears are well founded.
The HRW has asked the KRG to ease these restrictions regarding activists that engage in non-violent political activity. It also asks for an end to the requirement of “guarantees” and “protection” from Iranian parties in exile or from Iraqi Kurdish political parties as a condition for securing or renewing residential permits. HRW asks that restrictions of movement and residence be on an individual basis and only on grounds of “public health” or “national security”.
In its recommendations to other countries likely to host asylum seekers, namely the European Union, Canada, Australia and the USA, it gave them to understand that some refugees from Iran were not able to “integrate locally in Northern Iraq” and that they should reconsider settling them.
Commenting on the refugees in Turkey, HRW pointed out that that country had refused to let Dr Ahmed Shaheen, UN reporter on human rights in Iran, to enter the country to meet asylum seekers and called on Ankara to lift this ban and to register and welcome Iranian refugees in a more satisfactory manner.
The famous Egyptian actor, Adel Imam visited Irbil on 4 December as the guest of the Satellite Television channel al-Aadel and a Kurdish businessman, as a tribute to his role in the series “Nagy Attallah’s team” as well as for his career as a whole.
Accompanied by his son Rami, the superstar of Arab films urged the Kurds to spread their culture worldwide so as to support their cause.
Speaking at a press conference the Egyptian actor stated “he knew all about the problems faced by the Kurds and to be aware of the rights which they demanded and their wish for”, stressing that the Kurds should express themselves more through art and culture at an international level: “This would greatly support the Kurdish question”.
Adel Imam said he was pleased with his visit to the Kurdistan region, expressing the affection that links him to the Kurds. He said that, in the course of his travels: “When people in Turkey, Iran or Iraq came to embrace me I always ended up by discovering that they were Kurds. My relations with the Kurdish people are unending, whether by email, speech or phone calls they express admiration for my art. I am sure that you love Adel Imam and Adel Imam loves you too” he ended, addressing his fans in Kurdish.