On 26 May last, Massud Barzani, President of Iraqi Kurdistan, made a speech to commemorate the 26 May 1976 uprising when he and his brother Idris had taken up the torch of resistance to Baathist Iraq following the collapse of the insurrection lead by his father Mustafa Barzani. In the course of his speech, Massud Barzani replied to his critics regarding the controversial referendum for confirming the Region’s Constitution. The opposition accuses him of seeking a third term of office or at least to considerably extend his second term.
Massud Barzani recalled that the draft Constitution had been approved in 2009 by the Region’s 36 political parties and by 96 members of Parliament, with only one vote against.
“Recently we have expressed our views on this subject in a very flexible way. We asked all the parties to give us their views and comments on the Constitution but we did not have any positive response. It seems that some parties that say they reject the change from a parliamentary regime to a presidential one have not studied the written draft carefully. Thus the first Article states that the Kurdistan Region’s government is a parliamentary one. I think that their opposition is based on political motives”.
Returning t the reasons for this late referendum, Massud Barzani explained that his government had “tried” to organise it in parallel with the July 2009 elections but that the Iraqi Electoral Commission had ruled against it. Since then, the various crises between Kurdistan and Iraq had complicated holding it.
“We have insisted on holding a referendum because we think that it’s the people’s right to decide. Indeed, the President of the Kurdistan Region does not have the authority to approve or endorse the Constitution — it is for the people to decide”.
Massud Barzani then called on all the region’s parties not to oppose the right of the citizens to “choose their constitution”.
However, the opposition has continued to rage and demand that the constitution should be amended instead of being put to the vote as it stands, arguing that the decision to hold a referendum to endorse the existing texts is a prerogative of Parliament and not just of the President in agreement with his government ant the Electoral Commission.
The PUK has kept quiet throughout the crisis, which has not prevented the KDP’s spokesman to state, in its place, that Jalal Talabani’s party “supported” Massud Barzani’s presidency. He also pointed out that his own party was “ready” to sign a “strategic” agreement with Gorran, the principal opposition party.
On 1st June, Massud Barzani put the issue to Parliament, first asking all the political parties to submit a draft constitution, with their observations and suggestions. They would then be placed before Parliament, which would have to decide whether or not to endorse them for inclusion in the final version of the Constitution.
This time the parties did not make any fuss, but all sent in their proposals. However, immediately after this, the two main parties, the PUK and the KDP announced that they had agreed to ask that the presidential election (planned for 21 September, at the same time as the Parliamentary elections) be postponed to give time for a new electoral law regarding Presidential elections as well as for any amendment decided to the Constitution.
On 30 June the Kurdish Members of Parliament began to discuss the 2-year postponement of the Presidential elections. This issue aroused the assembly to an unusually degree of violence as between the opposition and government parties and a brawl took place between Gorran members and those of the KDP and PUK. The Gorran MPs shouted fraud illegality when the Speaker of the house read the text of the resolution extending Massud Barzani’s and his own terms of office. A fight then broke out, that was soon interrupted by the arrival of the police. A Gorran MP, Abdullah Mullah Nuri, who seemed to be the cause of the clash, was then arrested, the other Gorran MPs accusing the police of bias in their action.
This did not prevent the extension of being approved by Parliament on 2 July.
Throughout the period of the demonstrations in Istanbul, the press and the Kurdish political leaders was debating the extent of their impact on the peace process, initiated by the imprisoned head of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, as might have been expected, the Kurdish provinces were not affected, even though some Istanbul BDP local officials did take part in the Gezi Park events and that the PKK stated several times that the police violence there were contrary to “the democratic process taking place”.
However, the statements of support for the Gezi Park movement had no effect on the withdrawal of the PKK groups from Turkey. On 13 June, after a meeting with Abdullah Ocalan on the 7th and a visit to the officials in Qandil, Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-president of the BDP, announced that the first phase of the process had been completed and that the second phase, that of democratising Turkey, should begin.
“There have been no problems over the withdrawal, no interruptions, no tension or conflict. The first phase that Ocalan called for in his speech has been completed. Now is the time to talk of the second phase — it is time to put it into practice”.
Detailing he Constitutional and legal reforms needed, Demirtaş suggested a “mixed democratic package” that would put an end to the laws that ran counter to Human Rights, the penalties disproportionate to the offenses committed, the arbitrary and long periods of detention, concluding that he did not know what the governments intentions were that “at least 200 articles” had to be “amended”.
However, the BDP’s optimism about the peace process is not shared by the guerrillas. This on 20 June one of its leaders, Murat Karayilan, attacked the lack of any concrete steps by the Turkish government and the increased military operations in the Kurdish regions as well as the building of fresh army posts.
“The State is doing as much as it can to sabotage the process. It is preparing for war. This is a serious problem for us”.
Murat Karayilan stressed that the PKK had fulfilled all its commitments for the peace process but that the State, for its part, had done nothing in three months and that a considerable number of Kurdish political leaders were still locked up.
Thus the BDP, this time has been hard on Qandil’s heals in pressing Ankara to start the other phases of the peace process. This on 22 June another BDP leader expressed his party\s dissatisfaction following a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay and Minister of Justice Sadullah Ergin.
“WE have said that it was important to take concrete measures to ease anxieties or at least to make a statement of intent before Parliament closes for the summer.
However, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main advisor, far from wanting “to appease” anyone retorted to the BDP’s criticisms by accusing it of exploiting the Gezi Park demonstrations
“The BDP and the PKK are trying to take advantage of this occasion. They are exerting pressure on the government via the Gezi incidents”.
The advisor, Mr Akdogan, also rejected in most undiplomatic terms the accusations of increased military activity in Turkish Kurdistan: “They have exaggerated so much that they will end up believing their own lies”.
On 23 June Abdullah Ocalan himself emerged from his silence by announcing that the peace process had entered its second phase while he was meeting a BDP delegation that included Selahattin Demirtaş and Pervin Buldan. The PKK chief said he hoped that “the State would correctly evaluate its proposals regarding the second stage and would draw the right conclusions”.
Nevertheless, Turkey’s actions are still in suspense and the month of June has been a bad one for the Kurds.
This on 27 June Diyarbakir’s 6th High Criminal Court sentenced nine members of the Union Of Kurdish Communities (KCK) to a total of 108 years and 8 months imprisonment and a fine of 74,880 Turkish lire.
Each of the accused was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months jail for “a crime committed in the name of an illegal organisation of which they are members”, 3 years for “being in possession of dangerous substances”, 2 years and 6 months for “damaging public property” and a fine of 8,320 lire each.
On the other hand, 23 members of the KCK were released by decision of Diyarbakir’s 8th High Criminal Court.
Earlier, on 11 June a Diyarbekir Court charged with investigating the massacre of Uludere (Roboski), in which 34 young smugglers were killed by air raids in December 2011, declared that it did not have jurisdiction and transferred the data to a military court which is this given the task of trying an army blunder, the deliberate intention of killing civilians having been set aside in the course of the enquiry on the basis of a secret report.
On the other hand, five cousins of the young victims have been charged with attempted murder for having in anger, thrown stones at the Assistant Prefect when came to present his condolences to the village.
To top it all, the families of the victims were sentenced, by another Diyarbekir Court, to pay a fine equivalent to 1300 euros, for having later gone to the site of the massacre, located in Iraqi territory, thus having illegally crossed the border for a few kilometres, instead of having gone through the border checkpoint, five hours walk away.
However, the most tragic incident occurred on 28 June when Turkish security forces opened fire on a demonstration organised in the village of Kayacik (Lice) to protest against the building of an army checkpoint. A young man, Medeni Yıldırım, was killed and six people were wounded including a young girl of 16.
The Governor of Diyrbekir, Cahit Kirac, reported the Army version, namely that 200 demonstrators had marched towards the building site to set fire to the workers’ tents, that the soldiers fired a warning shot and that a “riot” was taking place.
Two days later, the BDP organised demonstrations in several towns to urge the government to “do its part” in the peace process.
The PYD’s Kurdish forces are increasingly engaged in an external battle against the Free Syrian Army (FSA), but are also trying to repress an internal revolt by Syrian Kurds that support the Kurdish National Council and that are fighting against the political and military stranglehold of its Asayish and YPG units.
On the FSA front, following the refusal by the Kurdish forces to allow Arab militia (and the Kurdish Salahaddin Battalion) to pass through Afrin Mountain to attack Alawiite villages, Afrin was besieged and placed under an embargo by the FSA. It’s humanitarian situation became very worrying, aggravated by the great number of refugees camping in the town, making do as best they can, using public building where possible. The number has increased following the attacks by government forces on the Kurdish quarter of Sheikh Maqsud, in Aleppo and food is particularly short.
As is nearly always the case, some Kurdish political parties that rival the PYD have even condemned the clash with the FSA. However, their criticisms of the Syrian branch of the PKK does not does not make them any more inclined to allow the Kurdish areas to be occupied militarily by the Syrian Arabs who they fear — especially the Islamist groups — would plunder and attack the civilians, as well as laying them open to reprisals by the government forces.
As against this, the FSA battalions accuse the YPG of “breaking the treaties and agreements” that have been continually made and broken since the beginning of the year but also of secretly supplying the Alawiite villages (that adjoin the Afrin Mountain) with arms and supplies.
The most serious incidents, however, concern the attacks and acts of violence against members of parties the rival the PYD. The latter have regularly reported such acts for the last two years and complained of kidnappings, intimidation and even murders.
Thus on 10 June d’Abdulhakim Bashar’s Kurdistan Democratic Party accused the PYD of having kidnapped 6 of its members as they were going to Afrin.
Between 14 and 17 June, the same party celebrated, in several Kurdish villages, the anniversary of the foundation of the Syrian Kurdistan Democratic Party (SKDP) by Osman Sabri and Daham Miro. This party had split in 1965 into the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdish Progressive Democratic Party, said to be close to the PUK, though both consider themselves the heirs of the SKDP. On this occasion, d’Abdulhakim Bashar’s party, that is seen as close to Barzani’s KDP, was attacked during its celebrations at Afrin by several dozens of sympathisers or members of the PYD, who attacked them with knives and clubs, smashed the stage and broke up the event.
On 17 June other kidnappings carried out by the YPG were reported on the KurdWatch site, notably that of Walat Isma’il al Umari (an activist of the Kurdish National Council) and of Serbest Najjari (a member of the Amude co-ordination Committee) and of Dersim Adham ‘Umar (a member of the Tahsin Mamo battalion, a militia attached to the Yekiti Party).
The three men were arrested by the YPG during a large scale raid on Amude: check points had been set up round the town, houses and shops were searched. The PYD media described these arrests and searches as anti-drug operations — at a time when several youth movements were calling for protest demonstrations from 17 to 20 June.
Nevertheless, the PYD did not end this series of actions and on 23 June it erected checkpoints round the village of Tall-Ghazal. Here a villager and his son, Haywai et Mustafa Abdhu Hammu, who had not stopped at the check point were killed by the YPG, that open fire on them and then on other people who were going to help the two victims, wounding some of them. One anti-PYD activist told KurdWatch that the village where the execution occurred had long been “a thorn in the side of the PYD as it was one of those places not controlled by the PYD as most were sympathisers of members of Abdul Hakim Bashar’s Democratic Party or of the Azadi party or the Movement for the Future — all political organisations hostile to the PYD. The same source also stated that the PYD was actively looking for 4 villagers who were members of these parties.
Three days later, the young man Dersim Adham, arrested at Amunde and kept in detention by the PYD’s Asayish unit, was released while two other activists arrested at the same time were kept in detention. Since these YPG raids, demonstrations against the PYD have been regularly organised in the town by the Kurdish youth movements that support the Kurdish National Council. All these demonstrations demand the freeing of their comrades held by the PYD’s Asayish. On 20 June there was even a kind of Occupy Gezi that took place in Amunde, since these young men set up tents in the town centre and started a hunger strike. In retaliation, the PYD organised a counter-demonstration and, inevitably, since the rival marches crossed one another, the PYD supporters wanted to attack the other procession but were kept under control by the Asayish who, on this occasion, were able to prevent things getting out of hand. On the same day, a demonstration at Kobani demanded that the PYD put an end to its attacks on the other Kurdish parties.
Since the pro-KNC demonstrations and the PYD raids were continuing it was inevitable that things would lead to more serious trouble. Thus 28 June was a black day: from early in the morning the premises of an independent youth movement, Zelal, was burnt down and a witness accused sympathisers of the PYD of carrying this out and of a YPG vehicle of preventing people from putting out the fire. Rodi Ibrahim, the manager of the premises, was the subject of a death threat pained on an adjacent wall. At the same time, the premises of women’s centre at Qamishlo, Roni, was burnt down — a centre in which Rodi Ibrahim’s wife is active.
However, the most violent clashes took place later in the evening at Amude and ended with the PYD imposing a curfew on the town after forces had opened fire on the demonstrations that had taken place, causing three deaths and dozens of injured, according to KNC activists while the PYD stated that their fighters had been ambushed by an armed group and that one of them was killed. This was denied by those sympathising with the demonstration, including a journalist, Massoud Akko, who told AFP that he did not think the demonstrators were armed.
According to the account by another journalist, at about 7 pm hundreds of the inhabitants had gathered in the streets to demand the freeing of those being detained by the PYD. The Asayish then opened fire, causing six deaths about thirty injured. An amateur video that was broadcast shows armed men on a white pickup firing at the crowd, whose shouts can be heard. The shots can be heard as well as the crowd chanting “shabiha” (pro-Baath militia) to the YPG.
In any case, the curfew that followed was indeed imposed by the PYD’s Asayish. Nîshan Malle, another activist, and an Internet informant of AFP said that no one was allowed to go out of doors and that there were snipers everywhere. The curfew and the lack of medical supplies made it very difficult to provide care for the wounded.
The Kurdish National Council immediately condemned this incident as “shameful” and “resulting from the division amongst the Kurds” and appealing for every possible effort to be made to avoid any escalation, and the Syrian National Council made the same appeal.
In Erbil, the President, Massud Barzani, held a meeting on the next day, with representatives of the Syrian Kurdish parties, to try and end the tension.
Mustafa Guma, the leader of the Azadi Party, stated to the Kurdish daily Rudaw, that so long as the PYD did not put an end to its policy of coercion in the Kurdish regions, the situation of the Kurds in Syria could only get worse.
“The YPG already considers itself a government. However, our people cannot accept this. It considers the YPG is just a political group and nothing more”. Dealing with the innumerable accusations of intolerance and attacks on freedom of opinion made by all the parties of the KNC about the PYD, Guma repeated that the PYD wanted to be the only force to control Syrian Kurdistan, despite the Erbil agreements that, according to Guma, are just used by the PYD to “promote its own road map and to set aside all the other Kurdish groups”.
The PYD President, Salih Muslim, continued to maintain the version of an “ambush” by armed groups and blame the attacks on the Islamic militia Jabhat al Nusra with which the PYG has frequently clashed for the control of Kurdish and mixed towns. The PYD also accuses the other Kurdish groups of supporting the FSA or of fighting along side them in the case of some battalions.
More surprisingly, the US State Department published a communiqué condemning the Asayish’s actions thus endorsing the version of the Amude demonstrators, described as “peaceful”. The communiqué mentions 6 deaths, dozens of wounded and 90 activists detained.
“There is no justification for these attacks or of the attempts of the PYD to repress the freedom of expression and demonstration by silencing those who peacefully defend the cause of human rights. We are concerned at the reports of acts of torture practiced on those detained by the PYD and we demand the immediate and unconditional liberation of the imprisoned activists”.
Since Syria has been racked with war for over two years and that accusations of very serious acts of violence and even of crimes against humanity have been abounded against both the Syrian government and some of the FSA militia, it could seem surprising that the US bother about some events in Amude, a little Kurdish town hitherto spared the fighting. Nevertheless, Washington evidently couldn’t resist the opportunity of taking a swipe at the PYD, whose stand on Syria is closer to Russia’s than its own. On 25 June the former US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, even presented Abdul Basit Sayda, (a Kurd but member of the Syrian National Council) as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian Kurds at the Geneva Conference, while Moscow supported the Kurdish Supreme Council, an offshoot of the PYD but also considered a front for the Kurds that collaborate with the Baath.
Countering this condemnation, the PYD repeated its version of an attack by Jabhat al Nusra, speaking about a “conspiracy” while its forces were on their way to Qamishlo and that during this attack, fighters and civilians on both sides had lost their lives.
Regarding the arrests, the PYD spoke of “suspects” who had subsequently been released, except for the guilty ones: “These precautions were taken by the Kurdish security forces so as to stop the chaos and restore security and stability in the town”. It also rejected the charges of torture, affirming that the Asayish respected human rights during their interrogations. As proof of this it showed a video showing the interrogations, in Kurdish, of Dersim Adham, Walat Isma’il al-’Umari and of Serbest Najjari, arrested on 17 June and broadcast on the PKK and PYD sites, in which the detainees can be seen being interrogated regarding their identities and their political activities.
However, after his release and during the demonstrations Dersim Adham publically accused the Asayish of torture, ill treatment and even spoke of Baathist “Arab” auxiliaries
For the moment, despite the optimism displayed during the meeting of the Syrian Kurdish parties with Massud Barzani, no agreement has yet been found between the Kurdish National Council and the Western Kurdistan People’s Council (that runs Syrian Kurdistan in the name of the PYD). The PYD raids continue and the KNC still demands the release of its still imprisoned members (about fifty of them). The PYD continues to say that all these incidents are a plot stirred up by Turkey to prevent the Kurdish Supreme Commission from taking part in the Geneva Conference, while the KNC tries to reach an understanding with the Syrian National Council.
Indeed, Abdul Basset Sayda, former president of the SNC, had a 3-days meeting with the Kurdish parties of the KNC at Erbil on 19 June in the hope of securing Massud Barzani’s support for the Syrian Arab opposition.
On 4 June, a Kurd of the Yarsan faith, Hassan Razavi, set himself alight in the town of Sahneh (Kermanshah Province) before a government building. He did this to protest against the ill treatment of one of a co-religionist, Keyumars Tamnak, detained in the Hamadan Prison, who had been forced to shave off his moustache — which is specifically forbidden by his religion.
Hassan Rezavi, who is 60% burnt, was transported to hospital, where he is kept under police surveillance. No member of his family has been allowed to visit him.
The next day, on 5 June, another Yarsan committed self-immolation in front of the same building. He was also taken to hospital but did not survive his injuries. He was buried the day after his death in his hometown of Sahneh, under the supervision of security forces. Despite this, a sit-in was organised in front of the same official building, which has been the scene of these self-immolations. It lasted two hours until the police forcibly dispersed them.
On 17 June, two other Yarsans immolated themselves in the town of Sahneh and the leaders of the Yarsan community were subjected to pressure and threats by the Intelligence Service.
The member of Parliament for the Province of Kermanshah (where the largest number of Yarsans live) sent an official protest to the Minister of Justice and apologised to the population of Sahneh.
The Yarsans, also known as the Ahl Haq (People of Justice) are a religious minority, most of whom are Kurds, though some are Azeri. They are regularly persecuted by the Iranian authorities that tend to regard them as “apostates” as well as being Kurds.
A documentary film on the events at Roboski (Uludere) was released in June, Bülent Günduz presented his film to the public in these terms:
“On 28 December 2011, the Turkish Air force bombed the village of Roboski, in Uludere Province, in South East Turkey near the Iraqi border, killing 34 Kurds, 19 of them children. According to the Turkish authorities they mistook them for a group of PKK guerrillas. As far as the Turkish government is concerned, it was just a blunder, an excuse that has never convinced public opinion, especially as no one responsible, civil or military, has yet been asked to account for this fatal bombing”.
Very moved by this massacre, the film director went to Roboski some weeks later to express his condolences and share the sorrows of the families. A year later, he returned to the village with the actress Handan Yildirim to attend a commemoration being held under the watchword “May our hearts turn to stone if we forget”. Arrested by the police, they had great difficulty in reaching the village, but nevertheless arrived in time for the event.
On this occasion, they filmed their meetings with the villagers, who were in mourning but also very angry. The film is both a duty of memory but also because of also and above all to break the deafening silence that has surrounded this crime, which is unpunished to this day.
Bülent Gündüz was born in Karayazi (Turkish Kurdistan) in 1976. After gradating from Kahramanmaras University as a civil engineer he quickly became interested in the media and the work of journalist in particular. After becoming a reporter for a local radio at Bursa, he became permanently addicted. He studied filmmaking and journalism in Istanbul then for two years became a journalist on the National TV Channel 6.
In 2001, he settled in Paris and in 2007 published a book on the Turkish media (Microphone-bearing soldiers, generals and Kurds) and became a journalist for a Turkish news site "aktuelbakis.com" and for the Turkish weekly Yeni Özgür Politika with which he still works.
In 2010 his first film EVDALE ZEYNIKE was released, for which he both wrote the script as well as directing it. This is a documentary on the life of a “dengbêg”, a 19th century poet-singer won several international prizes, and particularly the prise of “Best first film” at the 2010 New York Festival of Independent Films.