Less than a month after the effective beginning of the PKK’s withdrawal from Turkey, a first clash was reported in unverifiable circumstances, since it came from an Army communiqué — a border post is said to have been attacked by Kurdish fighters in Sirnak Province and a soldier was slightly injured.
The PKK had, however, complied more rapidly in starting its withdrawal than Murat Karayılan had initially announced. The PKK military command had, in fact, indicated on 28 April last that next autumn was the most probable date for withdrawing while Ocalan had expressed the wish that it be completed by the end of summer. As always, it was the “hope” from Imrali that prevailed over the Qandil timetable and the Turkish drones showed, as from the beginning of May, the first pictures (quickly broadcast on Youtube) of Kurdish fighters preparing to withdraw to Iraqi Kurdistan by gathering in the valleys so as to be ready to cross the border in small groups.
These pictures were confirmed by an AKP member of Parliament, Galip Ensarioğlu, who recalled that the same kind or withdrawal had taken place in 1999, when Ocalan had called for a first cease-fire and an end to the guerrilla. But, according to Galip Ensarioğlu, the Turkish Army, on that occasion, had killed over 500 Kurdish fighters, in addition to those in certain pockets of resistance, like Dersim, where Hamili Yilderim’s troops had refused to “surrender”. Whether or not these figures have been swollen, the fact is that all the PKK’s cease-fires have, so far, been unilateral — the Turkish Army having always continued its operations. This month’s doubts were thus double: would the PKK unanimously give way to the demands of Ankara and Imrali by withdrawing without fighting and would the Turkish Army, this time, let the Kurdish troops pass (disarmed or not, this point being quite unclear, although demanded by Erdogan)?
On 7 May the PKK confirmed that the withdrawal would begin the next day and Selahattin Demirtaş, co-President of the BDP, affirmed that the manoeuvres had already begun. They are due to continue for several months, since the PKK has about 2000 fighters in Turkey.
The first withdrawals took place without Karayilan’s fears (that the “dark forces” i.e. of the “deep State” might provoke incidents and force the Kurds to defend themselves) being justified — at least during the month of May . . . The Turkish Prime Minister, for his part, has not ceased repeating that “the rebels will not be touched” on the one hand and that their disarmament should be the PKK’s priority.
One week later, the first group (9 men and 6 women) had arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan from Van. The pictures of the fighters being welcomed by their brothers in arms were broadcast in the media and on Internet — which allowed the Iraqi government to protest at this “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty with as much effectiveness as when it used to protest against Turkish military operations at Qandil. In passing, it could be seen that they had brought their arms with them, despite Erdogan’s wishes.
The bad weather, the snow, rain and cold had not easer the progress of the first units, who took 7 days to reach the border. The statements these fighters made to the press unsurprisingly echoed the new political line recommended by Ocalan: the new era ahead, the new peace and that the PKK was not giving up the struggle but trusted its leader.
A day later the second group (15 people)arrived from the Botan region (the Cizir/Cizre area near to the Syrian –Iraqi borders). The pouring rain had, similarly made their progress hard and the officers of this unit mentioned the very active presence of troops and “village guards” but without any attacks.
For all that, it was not that the Army observed a total truce. According to Firat News, the PKK’s press agency, there was artillery and mortar shelling on 17May at Yüksekova (Hakkari), though no losses were reported and Turkish reconnaissance planes unceasingly circled the region. On 24 May three villages in the Lice district (Diyarbekir) were searched by Turkish troops who arrested several people without giving any reason.
However the PKK withdrawal was continuing, at a fairly slow rate since on 27 May the arrival of a 6th group of 16 fighters, including 10 women, was announced. There were the same speeches of unconditional allegiance to Ocalan, the same ceremonious welcome by the Qandil HQ — the repetition of these performances being, almost certainly, to strengthen all the troops (new arrivals as much as those based on Qandil) in the conviction that all was for the best and that it was not a matter of surrendering but of a “new stage”. It served also to show the Kurdish public, those that watched the PKK TV channels, for example, that the guerrillas remained loyal to Ocalan and followed the leader’s new line.
The 16th group reported the same bad weather conditions and also very close Army surveillance.
If the PKK continues to withdraw in groups of 10 to 15, some 130 to 140 groups will have to arrive gradually. Thus, if they continue to arrive so slowly, 4 to 6 months would seem a realistic time span for withdrawing the 2,000 or so fighters to Qandil, even if the weather improves.
However, the longer this takes, the greater is the danger of clashes in the field or of increasing political reversals. Indeed, the maintenance of the cease-fire is essentially due to Erdogan’s determination to continue the process and to his ability to make the Army (as well as the other security forces in the region) obey him.
Indeed, it was at the end of May that the Turkish Army announced that a border post in Sirnak Province had been fired at by the PKK and that the Turks had retaliated with helicopters. One soldier is said to have been wounded.
Who, is this time would have an interest in seeing the Imrali negotiations fail? Certainly not the Kurds of the region, whom whatever their bitterness and distrust of the Turkish State, do not want the fighting to recommence or their existence to become an inferno again. Nor is it likely to be a proof of Erdogan’s “duplicity”, since he has gone too far for a failure in this truce and the renewal of Army sehit (martyrs) to do anything but tarnish his credibility.
On 29 May, while visiting European Union representatives in Brussels, Selahattin Demirtaş stated that another encounter between Ocalan and the BDP was planned to discuss “latest political developments”.
In Syria’s Kurdish regions, clashes continued throughout Spring, more between units of the Free Syrian Army (sometimes including Kurdish brigades) and the YPG than between the latter and the regime’s troops, even though in the field, alliances, truces and clashes take place without seeming to follow any coherent strategy.
The “Kurdish front” can be divided into three pockets along the Northern Syrian borders.
- the region Qamishlo to Dêrik (North-East Syria) inhabited by Kurds, both Moslem and Yezidi, and Christians, on the Syrian-Iraqi borders.
At Qamishlo the Free Syria Army suddenly decided mid-April, to take this town of 200,000 inhabitants, the majority of who are Kurds with a considerable Christian minority. This is one of the few towns where the Baath from which the Baath has not withdrawn leaving it to the YPG, the Syrian PYD-PKK armed forces.
This time, the National Kurdish Council and the PYD unanimously insisted that the FSA and the Syrian Army fight one another far from Qamishlo, fearing further reprisal shellings of the surrounding villages, as occurred the last time the FSA took up positions in the region.
- Sere Kartiyê, more to the centre. This region in inhabited by a mixture of Kurds, Arabs and Christians along the Turkish border.
Half of the town is controlled by the FSA and half by the Kurds, who reached an insecure alliance after hard fighting between the YPG and the fundamentalist Islamic militia. The town has still not been completely made secure and the surrounding villages may be surrounded by more or less shifty groups. On 13 May, according to the pro-PKK Firat News, two villages, Salihiye and Melle Nuri, 20 Km North of the town and this very close to the Turkish borders, was surrounded by militia who evacuated the women and children before indulging in sacking their homes. The armed men carried fundamentalist flags inscribed with Allah u Akbar (God is Great).
In general these has been an upsurge of armed movements round the town, with attacks on villages on villages (both Arab and Kurdish) and kidnapping and detaining of civilians. Sometimes the motive is political: this the Arab village of El Soda, 22 km from Serê Kaniyê, was attacked on 6 May by groups that burnt the houses and drove out the inhabitants. According to the latter, they suffered this fate because of their “supporting the YPG”. As the PYD is a Kurdish movement, this “support” is treated cautiously. However, it is possible that as these Arabs did not fully collaborate with the Al-Nusrat Front or other Jihadist groups, they were accused of collusion with the Kurds on the basis of the principle that “those not with us are against us”. It is also possible that the Arab villages have more to fear from the fundamentalists than the Kurds as far as pillaging is concerned — the YPG also practices requisitioning, but in a disciplined manner. Some groups linked to Al-Nusra also set fire to a health centre in the Arab quarter of Mehet, for unknown reasons.
In any case, fighting was resumed between the YPG and the Al-Nusra Front at the end of May — initiated by the latter, it appears.
- Aleppo: the Sheikh Maqsud and Afrin quarters, in North West Syria, along the Turkish borders, is inhabited by Kurds, both Moslem and Yezidi.
In Aleppo’s Kurdish quarter of Sheikh Maqsud at the beginning of April, the PYD flag could be seen flying side by side with that of the FSA. An Arab officer testified to AFP that his men had been supplied with ammunition by the YPG and that they were fighting with the Kurds against the Baath by trying to block access to the city by the Syrian Army, which was making do with air raids.
However, other checkpoints held by the YPG were closing access to Sheikh Maqsud to Syrian rebels, particularly to looters in the FSA ranks. The latter is, indeed, much more varied and disorganised than the Kurds. Violent acts by groups more or less affiliated to the FSA but behaving more like “war lords” in the field, also strengthen this distrust. On 13 April the body of a 34-year-old Kurd, Abrahim Khalil, who was an activist, was found in Sheikh Maqsud with clear signs of torture that had caused his death. He had been arbitrarily arrested and detained by a dozen other people.
Then FSA, on its side, remains mistrustful of the reality of its political alliance with the YPG that it suspects has a secret understanding with the Baath.
One result of this cooperation between the FSA and the YPG has been a fresh wave of Kurdish refugees from Aleppo to Afrin, which has opened its public buildings to families that don’t have any relatives in the area who can accommodate them. They live on humanitarian aid provided by the Supreme Kurdish Council. This body reported, on 10 April, that about 250,000 people had arrived in a dozen days following the Syrian Army’s bombing of Sheikh Maqsud (the Kurds form about 20% of the population of Aleppo). In all, Afrin’s population had risen from 600,000 before the war to 1.5 million, including refugees from Homs and Deraa. The principal problem is the absence of any international humanitarian aid, since Afrin is hemmed in between Aleppo and Turkey, which is disinclined to supply food to a region held by the PYD.
Control of the checkpoints is one of the causes of conflict. On 26 May fighting broke out between the YPG and one of the Moslem Brotherhood’s armed groups, Liwa al-Tawhid, the latter accusing the Kurds of letting “Shiites” (that is Alawis) from Nabel village pass through their check point to get food supplies or else that the YPG did not allow the FSA militia through to attack these Alawi villages. Indeed, the “Kurdish mountain” lies between Aleppo and the Sunni Arab zones and the “Alawi mountain”.
Among the FSA groups threatening to attack Afrin are also some Kurds that are very hostile to the YPG, like the Salahaddin Brigade, that considers the PYD are “traitors” who are acting as pro-Assad militia.
On both sides, despite the agreement over the areas controlled by the FSA and the YPG, accusations of checkpoint breaches or looting and violence are envenoming this precarious cooperation, which could, nevertheless, be reinforced by the imminent Syrian Army attack on Aleppo following its victory at al-Qusayr. The Kurds also complain about the fragmentation of the FSA between 21armed groups, which makes any application of agreements very difficult.
However, while the Kurds are more homogenous than the Arabs in the military field (mainly because there are few armed groups capable of passing themselves off as rivals to the YPG) the same is not true in the political field.
Exacerbated by the endless internal divisions that have dogged them since the beginning of the Syrian revolt, some Syrian Kurds organised a sit in on 24 April in front of the Erbil Parliament calling for the unification of the Syrian Kurdish parties. The demonstrators demanded that the Kurdish Parliament “exert pressure on the (Syrian) Kurdish movement to make it work more effectively in the interests of the Syrian Kurds”.
Four days later, Masud Barzani once again brought together the leaders of the parties in the Kurdish National Council and those of the Western Kurdistan People’s Council (an offshoot of the PYD, itself a branch of the PKK) to discuss the points of disagreement between the two sides. The PYD itself was absent, giving, among other reasons, its refusal to sit with representatives of the Azadi Party, with which it had some bloody clashes. The Syrian Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party (closely linked to the PUK) also refused to attend. The PUK and the PKK had recently drawn closer, at least on Syrian issues, to counter the influence of Barzani’s KDP in the West. On the other hand the PYD sent a delegation to meet the Kurdish President directly.
However, neither meetings nor delegations smoothed out the disagreements and the tone between the KRG and the PYD became even more inflamed when the YPG kidnapped 75 members of the Democratic Party in Syria (itself close the Barzani’s KDP) in a series of local raids. The majority of the Kidnapped members had recently returned from KRG training camps, which can explain this dragnet, since the YPG does not appreciate having its military hegemony challenged.
Other sources link these arrests to demonstrations organised by the Syrian KDP against the PYD on 17/18 May at Qamishlo, mainly to demand that the PYD release some young Kurdish opponents who they had been detaining for several months and demanding that it apply the Erbil agreements (on the joint management of the Kurdish regions and for a unified military command). The excuse given for these arrests by the PYD was their “illegal” crossing the Syrian border, the party claiming the right to control the movements of Syrian Kurds by their police force as well as their possessing arms.
In reprisal the Kurdistan government closed the Pesh Khabour border crossing as from 20 May, after demanding that the PYD release its sympathisers. In a communiqué on its official web site, it warned the PYD that it should cease to consider itself the only representative of the Syrian Kurds:
“No one can declare himself the representative of the Kurdish people of Syria before the holding of elections. We will no allow such conduct. If they (the PYD) do not change their attitude we will use other methods”.
A month earlier Masud Barzani had already condemned the PYD’s murders, arrests and kidnappings of members of other parties.
The border issue had already arisen in April when the Kurdish Supreme Council (KSC), especially its pro-PYD elements, had announced its intention of preventing the flow of Kurdish refugees from Syria to Iraqi Kurdistan. The reason given then was not the overcrowding of the Domiz refugee camp or of overloading the KRG’s capacity for receiving them but “the danger of a mass emigration” that would leave the Kurdish regions of Syria emptied of its original population and occupied by Arab refugees fleeing the violence in their own towns.
Behind this fear of the “Arabisation” of Syrian Kurdistan can, certainly be seen the memory of the “Arab belt” launched by Syria in the 60s or the now quasi insoluble Kirkuk issue and the forcible Arab colonisation that had uprooted thousands of Kurds. However, this fear of the collapse of the Kurdish population does not justify the PYD’s refusal to allow Peshmergas not affiliated to the YPG to cross the border in the other direction, as provided for in the Erbil agreements.
Indeed, the other members of the KNC attacked this decision as an attack on freedom and an attempt by the YPD and its armed forces to hide the reason for the flight of Kurds to the KRG — many of the Qamishlo Kurds can no longer stand the PYD’s management and political authorities as well as its rather partisan manner of distributing humanitarian aid by favouring its own sympathisers and activists, according to anonymous testimony collected by the newspaper Rudaw.
For its part, when it does not close this crossing point (which seems to be the situation today) the KRG seems decided to open a permanent crossing point (bypassing Baghdad’s authorisation) by building a bridge at the Pêsh Khabur crossing point to enable the Kurds to receive a permanent food supply by lorries instead of, as hitherto, by rafts or boats. At the beginning of May the bridge was, according to the Kurdish authorities, already half built at a total cost of 2 million US dollars.
However, in his warning to the YPD Masud Barzani declared that the power sharing provided for in the Erbil agreements should be a “bridge towards self criticism”. Not wanting to initiate fratricidal fighting between the KNC’s Peshmergas and the PYD, the Pêsh Khabur bridge is perhaps the only effective way of exerting pressure on the PYD, which would no longer be able to count on anyone other than the KRG for reinforcements of men and arms from the PKK if the latter completely withdraw from Turkey.
Thus, from Sheikh Maqsud and Afrin to Pêsh Khabour, the struggle of the Syrian Kurds hinges, for the moment at least, on the control of the troop movements (friendly or otherwise) and food supplies between the checkpoints and the border crossing — in other words on the control of the transport routes in a divided Kurdish region jammed between the forces inside the country and border incursions.
On 5 May, Mrs Hero Talabani, Jalal Talabani’s wife, went to Iran at the head of a delegation of senior PUK officials following an official invitation from Teheran. The object of the meetings with the Iranian officials, according to the PUK, was to “discuss bilateral ties and regional developments” — without further details.
This is not the first time that Iraqi Kurdish political leaders have visited Iran because of the close economic and political relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government at that country. However, Hero Talabani’s presence at the head of the delegation has, once again, aroused questions about the effective leadership of the PUK since the Iraqi President’s stroke in December 2012.
The haziness regarding his state of health encourages all sorts of contradictory rumours and news. Whereas those close to Jalal Talabani had announced, several months ago, that he had come out of his coma and had “miraculously” recovered all his faculties, the Iranian Fars News agency reported, last month, that he had just come out of his coma. Naturally, the Kurd’s denial was not long coming and on 9 May Dr. Najmaldin Karim, who is personally treating Jalal Talabani, reaffirmed that his conditions had not substantially altered since his last health bulletin in February. On that occasion his return to Kurdistan had been envisaged for 10 March (which in fact did not occur). Najmadin Karim also pointed out that he would soon be flying to Germany where the Kurdish leader is still undergoing treatment.
Finally, 10 days later, photos showing the President, wearing an ordinary suit and surrounded by his medical team, were published and quickly did the rounds of the Kurdish and Arab social networks and press sites. These showed Jalal Talabani, in everyday clothes, seated at a garden table in a park surrounded by his doctors.
A week before the photos were spread around, the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council had announced that the Public Prosecutor had asked the Speaker of the Parliament, Osama al-Nujaifi, to act legally in his place, because of “the President of the Republic’s long absence from his duties”. Such an action would have been done in accordance with the measures of Article 72/II/c, based on Article (1) of Law N°159 of 1979 (as amended). Indeed, article (72 / II / c) of the Iraqi Constitution does state that in the absence of the President of the Republic from his duties, whatsoever be the reason, a new President be elected to complete the term of office of the incapacitated president.
Immediately following the Supreme Judicial Council’s announcement, Muqtada as-Sadr, at the head of Shiite religious party prone to sometimes extreme actions and often in conflict with the Shiite Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, officially supported the nomination of an “alternative” Iraqi President, so as to resolve, in his view, problems such as “the rampant corruption in the country, the postponement of elections (in the Provinces of) Mosul and Anbar, the penalisation of the Baath, the attacks on demonstrators, the return of Baathists to office, the acquittal of the resistance, the depenalisation of actions targeted at the occupiers, the Central Bank, the ration cards, arms and sonar trafficking and to examine the cases of innocent detainees who had suffered torture”.
In reply to this petition, the Speaker of Parliament, Osama al-Nujafi, a nationalist and fairly secular Sunni Arab from Mosul stated that he “would not hesitate to take all the constitutional measures necessary to find an alternative solution for the position of President Jalal Talabani” and that he had transmitted the Public Prosecutor’s petition to the Parliament’s Legal Councillor: “We will examine all the conclusions on this question and will take measures such as to question the medical team regarding Talabani’s health and his response to treatment. We have received news of an improvement of his condition”, added Osama Nujaifi, who did not seem in too much of a hurry to tackle this problem, contrary to the Sadrists.
Since the Constitutional tensions and constitutional are always present between Baghdad and Erbil, the Kurds, obviously, hope that one of their people should be again elected to the Presidency. However, the considerably worsened relations between the Sunni and Shiite Arabs also mean that a Kurdish President would undoubtedly have the support of the Sunnis. It should be recalled that the Deputy Prime Minister, who is a refugee in Turkey, was sentenced in his absence for “terrorism” (which he denies) and that demonstrations in several Sunni Arab towns were bloodily repressed by the Iraqi Army. Jalal Talabani had successfully asserted himself as President of the Republic at a time when civil war was tearing the country apart, and his qualities as a diplomat and his great knowledge of Arab politics had helped to ease these Iraqi internal conflicts and sometimes those between Kurds and Arabs.
Since many in politics accuse the Prime Minister Nuri Maliki of monopolising all the key posts in Iraq, a Kurdish President can thus seem desirable to all his opponents, even if this 2005 “consensus” is not written into the Constitution, although many Kurds often tend to take it for granted.
The whole problem is to find a successor “acceptable” to Nuri Maliki and his cabinet but also someone capable of asserting himself in the present tense atmosphere. From this point of view, a Kurd from the PUK would undoubtedly be preferable, from a pro-Maliki point of view, to a member of Barzani’s KDP. The PUK also has closer historic relations with Iran than the KDP. Thus Ahmedinjad’s successor would be more likely to support him and get the Shiites to do so. The recent meetings in Teheran of Barham Salih and now of Hero Talibani could well have been about this succession.
In any case, the name most often put forward by the Kurds is that of the General Secretary of the PUK, Barham Salih, who was Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government from 2009 to 2012 but, above all had been Deputy Prime Minister to Nuri Maliki from 2004 to 2009.
However, a month after the Iraqi Public prosecutor’s petition and after Nuri Maliki’s return from Erbil, where he went to meet Masud Barzani for an umpteenth attempt at reconciliation, things are still unchanged: Jalal Talabani has not returned from Germany, has not made any public appearance and if the question of an “alternative solution” has been dealt with as well as that of Kirkuk and all the disputes between the Kurds and the Arabs, nothing has been disclosed about them. The Kurdish member of Parliament, Mahmud Othman, has, indeed, criticised the form of this meeting as being “ambiguous and opaque”.
The daily paper Al Destur, nevertheless affirmed that a list of names had been examined by Nuri Maliki and the KRG President regarding Talibani’s “replacement” without any further information except that Nuri Maliki’s Parliamentary block, The State of Laws. Had not expressed any reservations about the possibility of Barham Salih assuming this office. A future visit by Masud Barzani to Baghdad may clarify this point unless they will need to wait for the PUK to decide on its other presidential candidate — for the Presidency of Kurdistan. Indeed, the date fort his election, originally set for 21 September has just been postponed to allow the Constitution to be amended and for the issue of whether or not it is legal for Barzani to stand as candidate for a third term of office has been resolved.
In this case, it is not unlikely that there could be an exchange of good offices between the KDP and the PUK, the former supporting the nomination of Barham Salih as Iraqi President in exchange for the support of the PUK Parliamentary group for a constitutional amendment that leave the field free for Masud Barzani to stand and then to manager another coalition government.
On 9 May, the Dohuk International Lycée founded by Monsignor Rabban, was appointed prizewinner of the 2013 Aachen Peace Prize.
Created in 1988 by a group of 46 people who wished to promote, praise and help men and women who work for understanding between peoples and for restoring confidence between hostile groups, this Prize is given without any criteria of religion, ideology or political membership. Today the Aachenerfriedenspreis has 350 members and 50 organisations, institutions or parties and the city of Aachen.
The Committee published the reasons of its choice on its web site, namely that “many communities have lived in Kurdistan for many centuries: Kurds, Christians (Chaldeans, Assyrians and Aramaic), Turkomenians, Yezidis, Shabaks, Armenians, Feyli Kurds Mandeans and also, until the 50s, Jews. From 1961 to 1975 fought a war for their self-determination. In retaliation, the Iraqi government destroyed thousands of villages. In 1970 a partial autonomy was granted to the mainly Kurdish North Iraq. The Anfal campaign (the code name for a genocidal campaign waged by the Baath Party under Saddam Hussein) caused, according to UNO estimates, 180,000 Kurdish victims. The whole of the region’s population was victimised by this violence. Those who could, sought asylum abroad. Many Christians fled to the South of the country, to Baghdad or Basra. After the Second Gulf War, in 1991, the Kurds gained a considerable degree of autonomy — with their own constitution, freedom of religion and protection of the ethnic minorities.
The Chaldean Bishop, Rabban Al-Qas was born in 1949 at Komane, a village in Amadiya Province. We witnessed the bombing of villages, the deporting and massacring of the Kurds. After autonomy was secured after 1991, he founded a local organisation that played a part in rebuilding some of the villages and churches in their region of origin. Rabban Al-Qas is both a charismatic and practical man who’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty. His vision is that of the peaceful co-existence of ethnic groups and religions. In the traditionally multi-ethnic and multi-cultural region of Iraqi Kurdistan, it is possible to establish a culture of tolerance and peace in the community, which would be so important for the future of children and the young. He is convinced that dialogue, respect and reconciliation practiced from an early age are the fundamentals of tolerance and confidence.
We can build many houses, here and elsewhere. But, for me, the most important thing is making people aware in order to change society — thanks to education. After decades of civil war we can now establish common rules for peace and development”.
Rabban Al-Qas undertook the founding of a modern, vanguard school in line with his concepts: girls and boys study together. The principle of sex equality applied. The girls are strengthened and supported in their social blossoming to the extent that is possible, so as to remedy the fatalist belief of destiny regarding the role of women in society and the existence of an alleged masculine domination. Ethnic or religious membership is of no importance. The cultural roots of all are respected. The separation of politics and religion are essential and take place at school. Education is a socio-political task in which religion has no place.
Rabban Al-Qas was able to persuade the Kurdish government of the soundness of his idea. In 1999 the latter gave the Chaldean Church a suitable plot of land at Duhok, the capital of Duhok Province, close to the Turkish border. The city (about 450,000 inhabitants) is safe, prosperous and endowed with a university.
In 2004, the Duhok International School opened its gates to 75 pupils. Its director is Bishop Rabban Al-Qas. The teaching staff comes from different ethnic and religious groups. The school is co-educational — girls and boys learn together, equality of rights and chances are applied. Neither ethnic, social nor religious origin plays any part. Five languages are taught: English, French, Arabic, Kurdish and Aramaic. English is used as the lingua franca between all the students. No religious instruction is given which is left to each religious community to supply.
“There is no place, amongst us, for religious conflict” explained to an Austrian delegation the Kurdish teacher Abdul Wahid A. Atrushi, a fervent Moslem, who is on the best of terms with the country’s Christians.
Mgr Rabban explains the philosophy of his model school: “All the pupils take part in one another’s cultural lives and invite each other, for example, to religious holidays. They need to learn cultural diversity at an early age and so bring up a new generation that can overcome hatred”.
Education for peace plays an important part in the practice of non-violent communication. The school’s first year (half of them girls) graduated to university in 2011. Most are studying in Iraqi Kurdistan; three are studying their degree at Dortmund but want to return to the Region after graduation, to be useful to their community. At the moment the school has 300 pupils. The Duhok International School is one of the most modern and best on Iraqi Kurdistan and the young generation has a “major role” to play regarding the maintenance of peace.
“The youth is the future of Kurdistan. What they learn at school they will carry over into society”, explains Bishop Rabban Al-Qas.
According to a research study carried out by Carmen Eckhardt, who published a report on the Christians of North Iraq, the Dohuk International School is the only one in the Middle East to carry out in such a coherent manner an education for peace. Above all, the children and young people of this school, who have been direct witnesses of the violence to which they have been subjected, are learning here in their daily lives, that friendship, laughter, learning and peace all go together.
Thus the Prize Committee of the Aachen Peace Prize judged the school to be “exemplary”. It needs international recognition to enable it to survive, because peace, in this region is fragile. The political situation in the Middle East is still threatening. The level of security in Iraqi Kurdistan is much higher than in the disputed regions of Mosul, Kirkuk and the rest of Iraq. Even here, the minorities still feel the lack of lasting economic and physical security.
The Aachenerfriedenspreis Committee concludes: “the emerging Kurdistan has created good conditions for a stable democracy and for observance of human rights. The attribution of the 2013 Aachen Peace Prize to the Duhok International School is a strong signal addressed to the country as a whole. The school is a model project for peace, reconciliation and understanding between ethnic groups and religious communities”.
Two Kurdish films were released in May and one of them was shown in Cannes.
On 1st May “Pari(s) d’exile” (a pun between “Paris of exile” and “betting on exile”) was released in France with the following summary: “Zirek is a Kurd from Turkey. Stateless in Paris for over a quarter of a century, he promised his father to send him his grandson, so that he can visit the native land to which he can no longer go himself. This five-day journey to Kurdistan revives his memories and his fears. He will mentally follow his son’s steps by phone, divided between the pleasure of rediscovering, through him, his country and its customs and his anxiety at this journey through a country still subject to a curfew.
The journey plunges him back into his past, starting with the airport at which he had himself first arrived in France twenty-five hears earlier. He will relive his life from his first steps as a refugee, filled with his certainty of soon returning home to his present situation of exile, to his separation from his family, his loss of illusions and of all hope. As he travels towards his father’s native Hakkari, the son begins, little by little, to rediscover his far off father. Their relationship, difficult at first, develops through their phone calls into a sort of connivance”.
Screen at the Saint-André des Arts cinema, the film has received critical praise from the press and specialised Web sites.
Thus Fiches du Cinéma (Cinema files) (on the Comme au cinéma Site) talks about “a film that is modest in conception, whose fragility provides some moments of rare emotion (…) Pari(s) d’exile is a somewhat enigmatic punning title that seems to tell us that, despite the haunting pain that grips all forced into departure, the danger of continuing to live is a tempting gamble. And, since life continues, a connection is needed. His son will become that link. With the future, of course but also with the past, thanks to this journey to Turkey which enables him to meet his hitherto unknown family and to give his father the souvenir of the roots from which he was torn.
However, Pari(s) d'exil is not, strictly speaking, a political film. You will find out virtually nothing about the situation of the Kurds in Turkey except through some newspaper cuttings that appear in a moment of hopeless anger. No, Zirek’s film is a swinging and shaking attempt at poetry that never really walks with both feet because one cannot have one foot in Anatolia and one in Paris without looking self conscious. However, Zirek sometimes directly touches intimacy because he only talks of things he knows. Thus his phone conversations with his son say more than they seem to. Zirek’s approach is very evaluative”.
Noémie Luciani (Le Monde) presents Paris d’exil as a “Self portrait of a stateless person as a lonely acrobat”, recalling that Zirek “first appeared on French screens in a film by Yilmaz Güney, the great Turkish film director of Kurdish origin, The Wall, shown at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival. In this, Zirek had the part of a horrible guard responsible for supervising young delinquents in an Ankara prison, He was stripped of his Turkish nationality following his participation in this”. (…) Between some scenes tempered with fantasising (the traditional Turkish dance hallucinated on a boat on the Seine) and the conscious delirium of a left on his own and the voice off that, here and there calmly speaks some poetically meditative lines, the film seems made up from odds and ends. However, the human adventure that he uses as a red thread is told with such sincerity that seems easy and very moving to follow the exile through his labyrinth”.
Another well received film, My sweet pepperland, directed by Hiner Saleem, was selected for e Cannes Film Festival in the Un certain regard (A particular point of view) class.
Baran, a newly appointed police officer, has been posted to an isolated village the meeting point of Iraq, Iran and Turkey and the site of all kinds of trafficking and smuggling. He intends ensure that the law is observed. This former fighter for Kurdish independence has, therefore to confront the local gang leader. He also meets Govend, the village schoolteacher, a young woman who is both beautiful and independent . . .
Bruno Icher, film critic of Libération newspaper, humorously describes its screening at Cannes: “Thierry Frémaux, in a lengthy monologue, called the film team to come onto the stage, that is, apparently, at least a quarter of the population of Kurdistan, where the film was made”. He describes the film as a “contemporary Western, interspersed with a lot of burlesque. It should be stressed that the solidly chaotic context of the construction of a newly independent country, long occupied by Saddam Hussein’s troops, is a perfect setting for transposing there conquest of the West, here represented buy the immensity of with rocky space, ancestral costumes and more or less acceptable adventurers armed to the teeth”.
This Western aspect of the film is accepted by the director himself, who, in his press release, replying to the question of whether we could talk about “Easterns” as we talk about “Westerns” said: “Absolutely! I told myself that the frivolity of the Western gave me considerable freedom and that the natural scenery lent itself to exploring this genre. Moreover I think that Kurdistan today is quite like America at the time of the Wild West. Oil is being found. Roads are being built along with schools and infrastructures — and they are trying to ensure the observance of the law. Until very recently, each local warlord imposed his own law on his domain. Today the state embodies the same law for everyone and is bringing modernity to the country — greatly to the discontent of local potentates. There are, therefore, many similarities between Kurdistan and the Far West. We have seen a “No Mans Land” transform itself into a nation and endow itself with laws, a central authority and legitimate institutions. This new Kurdish State has gradually put an end to the trafficking in medicines, alcohol and food and it has accompanied social emancipation with the liberation of women. This is the socio-political context that enabled me to write this story in this way (…) An Eastern epic, but also a story about love and the status of women in a society still marked with archaism and religiousness. Indeed, the lack of equality between the sexes shocks me profoundly: I am convinced that no country can achieve democracy without equality between men and women. In my view it is an indispensible struggle (…) In some societies, a woman’s sexuality does not belong to her — and this is what I condemn, because she is deprived of freedom. Indeed, the woman must not be reduced to being a man’s honour: it is time to separate the question of honour from the sexual issue. If the veil must be imposed on anyone, let it ne the men! What is more beautiful than love chosen in total freedom? Women do not always have a choice. Furthermore, this deprivation of freedom also engenders suffering and frustration in men, who cannot asses the happiness they lose in such a climate (…) Over the last dozen years, the opening up of Kurdistan to the world, access to Internet, and satellite television has made attitudes develop considerably. Nevertheless, the question of honour remains resonant. This contradiction is shown with Govend’s father and brothers — and those who condemn her are above all worried about what others will think. Oddly enough, among the Kurds women have always worked and assumed economic and political responsibilities. However, the annexation of Kurdistan, the influence of neighbouring countries and some of their religious constraints, have provoked an appalling regression. Incidentally, I love the Kurds, because their whole musical tradition is one of praise and love of women! But all this before marriage...”