Putting an end to the discussions over the possible re-election or extension of his Presidential term of office, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s President resolved the issue by postponing the Presidential elections while maintaining the parliamentary General Elections, as planned, for September 2013.
The opposition obviously didn’t miss the opportunity of attacking this delay as “illegal” and undemocratic, as Mohammed Tofiq, head of Gorran’s Political Relations Committee described it. Other editorial writers even spoke about a “coup d’état”.
For its part, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which has shared government office in the Region for several years past but has decided this year not to form a joint list with the KDP, has preferred this solution to that of a referendum on the new constitution. It said it considered the latter option could endanger social peace, as stated by Arslan Bayiz, Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament and a member of the PUK.
In a public speech addressed to “citizens of Kurdistan” Massud Barzani made the point that his decision was due to his concern not to leave Iraqi Kurdistan in a “constitutional vacuum”, while repeating that he did not wish to be a candidate at the next Presidential election.
These are the terms of this important speech by Massud Barzani, made on 16 July 2013:
“Dear People of Kurdistan,
Political entities and organisations of civil society,
The happiest decision of my life was when, at the age of 16, I became a Peshmerga for the freedom and the national and democratic rights of the people of Kurdistan.
Being a Peshmerga was my life’s greatest source of pride. I have, since then, held many responsibilities. In fighting I have served the interests of my people with the values and soul of a Peshmerga.
I am also proud of having called on the Kurdistan Front, at the start of our people’s uprising in the spring of 1991, to hold free elections so as to enable the people of Kurdistan to chose its own destiny. All this resulted in some aims that I set myself during my struggles as a Peshmerga, during the period of the revolution in the mountains. It was also a national duty to apply the principles of democracy and set up a democratic political and administrative system.
Since then, the people of Kurdistan, as well as all the loyal parties of the Region, have initiated the democratic process. Today, with the help of God, the support of the loyalists, the struggle and endurance of our people, we are seeing some significant improvements in all aspects of life for the people of Kurdistan. That is why, today, Kurdistan enjoys a good reputation regarding its policy, security and coexistence.
The Kurdistan Region has gone through long discussions on the nature and the concept of its political system, and the project of its Constitution. In order to provide another example of adherence to the democratic process and to the law, I wrote to the Electoral High Commission asking it to organise parliamentary and Presidential elections for September of this year. That was clearly to carry out my obligations. The date of these elections was set for 21 September 2013. However, before and after this, there were differences of opinion regarding the mechanisms of the Presidential elections in Kurdistan. These differences were whether the President should be directly elected by the people, in respect of Law N° 1 on the Kurdistan Region’s presidency, adopted in 2005, and in the draft Constitution, or whether the President should be elected by Parliament, which was the view of several political parties. This generated discussions between the political parties as well as on the draft Constitution, which, unfortunately, let some parties to aggressive acts in the course of the political process and finally led to a crisis.
Moreover, I wrote a second letter, on 25 May 2013, calling on all the Kurdistan political parties to give their views of the draft Constitution. Following reception of their answers, I asked Parliament to meet all sides of the political trends of Kurdistan society so as to reach a consensus. I hoped, in this way, to find a better platform for working in common and showing our people and to the peoples outside Kurdistan, another example of the democratic process in Kurdistan. Moreover I sought to make easier a consensus between the political trends and other elements of the Kurdistan community to enable them to properly present their comments and arguments.
Letting the different parties send in their remarks had the aim of finding a general consensus within and outside Parliament. The views of each would have established a better road map and a more suitable platform for the draft Constitution and the elections. Moreover, I wanted to inform the people of Kurdistan, in all sincerity that I, personally, had no intention of being re-elected, that I observe all the laws and that I will confide the Region’s Presidency to whoever would then be elected.
Unfortunately, the opposition did not support the process just as it prevented the other parties from taking part in the meetings organised by the Speaker of Parliament, thus making these efforts and the process to fail.
I really want to stress here that “consensus” does not mean “reach and agreement” between the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the three opposition parties. A consensus needs all these parties and other parties and elements of Kurdistan.
- previously, this draft Constitution was the result of discussions between 36 political parties and ethnic groups so, today, we must not marginalise them — Kurdistan does only include the five groups already cited. Here again, I am asking all the parties to think about the question of the Constitution and I offer them my total support. Let us prevent a political crisis so as not to disturb the peace that our people is enjoying. Let us use all our strength and all our means to seize every opportunity our region has available for our people and for our nation.
I will make every effort to set up a new platform so as to achieve a consensus. The people of Kurdistan and the political parties have seen that I had already made considerable efforts to achieve a consensus regarding the Constitution before it was adopted in 2009 so that it secured the agreement of all the parties in Kurdistan. I insisted on the fact that all the ethnic and religious groups should find their place in this constitution and that is what took place. Then Parliament approved the draft Constitution. Here again I wanted to set up a platform for a consensus that went beyond the differences within the political parties.
Unfortunately, the opposition’s behaviour for the last four years hassled a considerable number of people to conclude that the opposition will not e satisfied with anything and that in its view “consensus” means imposing its views on others, which contradicts the standards of politics and democracy.
The three opposition parties should know that there are other components of Kurdistan besides the KDP and the PUK, and that they have also experienced hard times and that these parties made sacrifices to defend the existence of our people and the very name of Kurdistan.
Moreover, today, we can see many other legal parties that have something to say about the development of Kurdistan.
The three opposition parties cannot, in any case, be allowed to prevent others from expressing their point of view before the highest institutions of Kurdistan or to humiliate these parties by their discourse in any way —this is totally undemocratic. Thus I am asking all those associated with the opposition to act on the basis of accept the views of others.
My dear and valiant people of Kurdistan.
On 30 June 2013 the Kurdistan Parliament adopted two laws that extended the Parliament’s and the Presidency’s terms of office, which has led to the postponement of the Presidential election. Here and now I want to repeat that I have never had any interest in assuming any public office whatsoever. I have no intention, today, of exchanging my history of struggle for the freedom of Kurdistan for anything else. It is better to be known for ones struggle and ones sacrifices for ones people and nation than ones ranks, position or titles.
Have signed the law extending Parliament’s term of office to prevent any legal or constitutional vacuum occurring in the Kurdistan Region. The term of office of the Presidency of Kurdistan has thus been extended by the Kurdistan Parliament. The Kurdistan Alliance (KDP and PUK) as well as the other parties, ethnic groups and independents have all voted for this law except the opposition.
I now find myself with this responsibility, which is the result of the alliance between the KDP and the PUK as well as with a certain number of parties and ethnic groups in the Kurdistan Parliament, who decided to extend the residential term of office for two more years — a decision that was taken without any direct intervention from myself . . .
Moreover, I have the moral obligations of these responsibilities and duties through my long cooperation with my dear friend Mam Jalal, which is the continuation and reinforcement of our alliance.
I sincerely hope that Mam Jalal will rapidly his health and soon return home, where everything will become more stable. I am fully aware of the obligations born of the alliance between the KDP and the PUK. This alliance has really led to a considerable stability and development in Kurdistan. At the same time this alliance made the Kurds more active in effecting the changes that have taken place in the Region and in Iraq. As Mam Jalal is not here in Kurdistan today because of his health problems, I feel I must also assume his responsibilities so as to maintain and reinforce our alliance as a symbol of loyalty to the years of joint work and struggle for our people and our country.
Moreover, taking into account the anxiety of the ethnic and religious components of Kurdistan, faced with a sharpening of the political crisis, and in order to preserve Iraqi Kurdistan’s stability, as well as that of other parts of Kurdistan, I have decided, after consultation with most of the political forces of Kurdistan regarding the extension of the Presidential term or office, not to reject this law.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that I approve of the legal form and the content of this extension of the Presidential term of office, which is why I have not signed it.
To obey the votes of the majority of the Kurdistan Parliament and so as not to cause it any inconvenience, I am announcing to my beloved people that I will only remain in office as a temporary measure and will fulfil my duties until this 4th Assembly begins its work and reaches a consensus. At that moment, I will ask the Parliamentary Speaker of this 4th Assembly, in the light of the letter that I sent to the present Speaker on 12 June 2013, to follow the machinery for amending the draft constitution and holding the presidential elections immediately after the elections of 21 September 2013. The new President of the Kurdistan Region will be elected and this we will give all our trust in whoever has won the confidence of the people of Kurdistan. Vice-President Kak Kosrat Rassoul and I will provide full support to the future Speaker of Parliament.
We must, all together, erect a great example of democracy. No one should remain in office forever and we will never allow this idea of an eternal president. I strongly believe that every time someone leaves an office people should ask why he or she has left rather than why they did not leave.
Dear people of Kurdistan
I assure you that you alone can decide your destiny and that no one can take that right away from you.
Long live Kurdistan!
Glory and immortality to the martyrs who sacrificed their lives to free Kurdistan
Vive le Kurdistan…
President of the Kurdistan Region
16 July 2013
Fighting between the Jihadists and the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the Party for democratic Unity (PYD) have hardened this summer, particularly in the mixed population areas like Serê Kaniyê, where Jabhat al Nusra has besieged the Arab quarters —the Kurdish ones being held by the PYD. Since war news comes either from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or the Islamises or else from the PYD, it is hard to have neutral and reliable information about the losses on either side or about the identity of the fighting the YPG, who are sometimes described as Jabhat Al Nusra or ISIS and sometimes simply as FSA units. It is thus hard to tell the real character of this loose conglomeration of armed forces that seems increasingly splintered in the field.
On 17 July the Kurds announced they had driven the Islamises from Serê Kaniyê, repulsing them all along the Turkish border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) estimates that the fighting could have caused 29 victims — 19 dead from Jabhat al Nusra and 10 amongst the YPG.
However, the expulsion of the Jihadists from Serê Kaniyê did not put an end to the fighting, the Islamism engaging in reprisals around the town, either against Kurdish villages or some checkpoints. Fighting has event intensified and the capture of an ISIS war lord led to an “exchange” of prisoners — between “Abu Musab” (of undisclosed nationality) and 300 Kurdish civilians taken as hostages by the ISIS, who threatened to execute them if their leader were not released.
On 29 July, SOHR estimated that the number of jihadist losses were about 70 and sounded the alarm at the “ethnic” Kurdo-Arab character that the fighting between the YPG and the Islamism militia was taking.
At the height of the fighting, Salih Muslim, the PYD leader, publicly announced his party’s intention of creating an “autonomous provisional government” for the Kurdish regions, following the example of the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous zone created from 1991to the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Salih Muslim insisted on the “provisional” character of this arrangement, denying that he had a secret plan for a future declaration of independence. He also affirmed having discussed this government with the KDP and the PUK, the two parties that govern Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as with the PKK which itself is conducting negotiations with Turkey. According to Salih Muslim those with whom he is negotiating support the project, even if they have made no formal statement.
In any case, as could have been expected, Turkey did react on 27 July though a warning issued by prime Minster Recept Tayyip Erdogan against the PYD’s “dangerous actions”, following a meeting at Istanbul between Salih Muslim and the Turkish secret services (MIT).
In an interview with the daily paper Radikal, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davatoglu, summed up Turkey’s position in three points:
“We expect three things of the Syrian Kurds: firstly that they do not cooperate with the (Baath) regime. If that happens, there will be increased tension between Kurds and Arabs, Secondly, not to set up a de facto entity based on sectarian or ethnic lines without consulting the other groups. If such an entity were to be set up, all the groups would want to do the same and a war would be inevitable.
Turkey’s third “expectation” is that the Kurds be not involved in activities that “endanger the security of Turkey’s borders”.
Regarding the Islamist groups, and in particular Jabhat al Nusra, Ahmet Davatoglu spoke of a “betrayal of the Syrian revolution”, perhaps because Turkey has decided to distance itself from these less popular and most controversial groups of the Syrian revolution while the PYD has long accused it of supporting these units against the Kurdish fighters.
“I think that their behaviour is a betrayal of the Syrian revolution, however we have always supported the legitimate Syrian opposition and will continue to do so”.
Salim Muslim’s optimistic account of his meeting with the Turkish secret services, which he considered “positive”, as given to the daily Milliyet, contrasts with the warning made by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Not only his statement that Turkey had promised humanitarian aid for the Kurdish regions but also his affirmation that it had “altered its attitude” regarding the PYD — citing as proof his presence in Istanbul.
On 30 July, the assassination of ù Syrian Kurdish politician, killed by a car bomb that exploded in front of his house at Qamishlo, aroused a variety of speculations and accusations. Isa Husso was a member of the Kurdish Supreme Council, an organisation that brings together some parties close to the PYD. This seems to favour the suspicion of Islamist responsibility, as is suggested by a YPG communiqué, dated the same day, which calls on the Kurds to take up arms against the Jihadists.
The peace plan, jointly announced by Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish government does not seem to have produced any concrete results in the field. The legal proceedings against Kurds suspected of membership of the PKK are continuing, Thus, on 9 July, 13 leading political figures, mostly members of the BDP party, were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months imprisonment by the Diyarbekir (the High Criminal Court.
As far as the guerrilla is concerned, Murat Karayilan was replaced at the top of the PKK by Cemil Bavi and a woman alter ego Bese Hozat, in line with the new parity rule. This was seen by many political analysts as the choice of a leader who would be “more hawk than dove”, perhaps because, in the period immediately after Ocalan’s arrest he led the trend that wanted to continue the armed struggle, despite the PKK boss’s call to surrender. Subsequently the interim Presidential Council was won over to Ocalan’s line and the rivalries in the PKK command ended by Cemil Bavik being retired in favour of Murat Karayilan.
No tangible explanation has been advanced for this change of leadership and Murat Katayilan remains at the head of the military wing, but it has naturally been linked to the peace process initiated last March. It is, however, impossible to say whether or not this implies a distancing from Ocalan’s policy or is a warning to Turkey, which is accused of not observing its own commitments to this process.
The communiqué announcing the election of the new Council announces, in any case, the will “to pursue the peace efforts” and has called for “everyone to take part in the democratic struggle so that all could live together in a brotherly manner on the basis of the previous resolutions supporting Ocalan’s appeal”.
However, on 20 July, the tone hardened and the PKK sent Turkey a “last warning”, enjoining it to undertake “concrete measures” to enabling the peace process to advance or else “be held responsible” for its freezing.
Seven days later the titular leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, made a statement taken up in a press, considering that the peace process was continuing as seriously as possible but that Ankara would have to make some concrete gestures before Parliament reopens in October.
Meanwhile, on 24 July, an interview of Sabri Ok was published in the German daily Deutsche Welle. SabriOk is one of the members of the KCK executive. This is the organisation the Turkish government has launched a series of mass arrests and trials on the grounds that it is organically linked to the PKK. In this interview he gives the general feeling of his movement, mingling reservations and disappointment.
According to Sabri Ok, Turkey has, so far, given “no signs of good will” in this process which is due to take place in three stages, the first of which was the cease fire and the beginning of the withdrawal of the guerrillas, which according to Sabri Ok has been effective.
On the other hand, there has been no advance in the second stage, despite the setting up, somewhat precociously, of a “Council of Elders”. The PKK’s demands regarding this stage are “fairly short term” — freeing sick political prisoners, which can be regarded as “a humanitarian action”, and at longer term the freeing of Ocalan, the right of Kurds to education in their mother tongue, the constitutional recognition of the Kurdish people and the lifting of the 10% electoral threshold, which would enable the BDP to have seats in Parliament in its own name instead of through M.P.s elected as “independents”.
As against that, according to Sabri Ok, Turkey has initiated none of the reforms and has taken advantage of the withdrawal of the guerrillas from its land to strengthen its military presence in the Kurdish regions and continue its controversial programme of building dams, particularly the one at Ilisu.
As for the withdrawal of the guerrillas, it is described as gradual and arduous because of the constant surveillance by drones and the length of the journey for some of the units. Thus one group, that has already left Turkey, came from Dersim and took 56 days to reach the border. As for the rumours that some units had been transferred from Turkey to reinforce the YGP in Syrian Kurdistan, Sabri Ok described them as pure “speculation”.
However, while Sabri Ok pointed out that, according to Ocalan, if Turkey had not taken any steps by 15 October, the de facto cease-fire would end on the 31st. As Cemil Bayik set his ultimatum for the 1st September, this seems to confirm a political hardening on the part of the PKK armed wing.
Five young Kurds were executed on 3 July in a prison at Urmiah and their bodies given to their families. Death sentences against Kurds are every day occurrences in Iran, but this time they were villagers sentenced for smuggling, not for political crimes.
On the same day, two other Kurdish villagers were killed and two others wounded by Revolutionary Guards, who then opened fire on the inhabitants of a village on the borders of Kermanshah, who had run to the scene of what seems to have been an extra-judicial execution. The week before, seven people were killed in the same way and, according to the Kurdish Association for Human Rights, 37 people were executed in 2012.
Iran has been intensifying it s policy of repression of smuggling in Iranian Kurdistan —which is often the only means of survival for destitute families while the economic crisis is rife throughout the country (40% of the population is living below the poverty threshold and unemployment is over 20%). This is especially the case in regions neglected by the central authorities such as the Kurdish regions. Iranian Kurdistan suffers from economic under-development, which is also due to the policy of repression and the depopulating of the border areas — as when forests fires are deliberately started by the Army to forcibly displace the peasants
While the Iranian government is investing little in the Kurdish provinces, it does not skimp when it comes to their militarisation. A new security force has been set up in the region, the “Razim”, with the approval and support of the Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei. Its task will be to ensure the security and stability of Iranian Kurdistan — which the Kurds consider means reinforcing the pressures on their freedom and fundamental rights.
Brayim Zewayee, one of the cadres responsible for public relations for the Iranian KDP recalls that Kurdish from all parties are waging civil and political activities without having recourse to arms (apart from the PJAK in certain years). This does not really need an armed riposte from the central government: “Instead of tackling the economic and political problems the government uses the Army to impose it power” (quoted from Ridaw).
In fact, the Iranian troops and tanks have been deployed this summer along the whole of the border with Iraqi Kurdistan. This recalls the previous armed incursions into territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government against the bases of the PJAK (the Iranian branch of the PKK) although a cease-fire was agreed in 2012.
Last August, PJAK declared that it was ready to send troops to fight the Sunni Jihadist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and back the PYD. However, the perspective of an autonomous administration of the Kurdish regions (controlled by the PYD and its Asayish) was hardly to the taste of Teheran or Turkey, with the particular fear that returning volunteers might enter the Iranian Kurdish provinces.
Moreover, although its timetable has been constantly postponed for several months, the National Kurdish Conference, due to be held in Erbil with all the Kurdish parties from all Kurdish regions also worries both Turkey and Iran, especially the latter. Interviewed by the Arabic language paper Niqash, Jaffar Ibrahim Eminki, the spokesman of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq, stated regarding the visit to Iran by Nêçirvan Barzanî, Prime Minister of the KRG: “Like Turkey, Iran is keeping an eye on the Conference and does certainly not want it to interfere in its own internal affairs”.
While the Conference has been postponed once more (this time because of the KRG elections), a member of the Iranian KDP, Muhammad Nazifi Kadri confided to the newspaper Basnews that Iran did not want the Conference to take place even though it was the responsibility of all Kurdish parties to ensure its success.
With the election of Ruhani and the possible renewal of dialogue between Iran and the USA, the issue of minorities might be abandoned by the West, much to the displeasure of the Kurdish parties. The present leader of the KDP Iran, Mustafa Hijri, is particularly concerned at this possibility. As for relations between Teheran and PJAK, these will partly depend on Turko-Iranian relations, which have turned hot and cold several times, especially with regard to Syria.
The Kurdistan Jews who immigrated to Israel in 1950/51 have always been keen or keeping alive their traditions and culture and it seem this passion has been transmitted to the younger generations, especially through music and songs. This is shown by the great number of groups and singers who perform in Kurdish and Aramaic — a language that is only normally spoken by their parents and grandparents. With globalisation and contacts with the diaspora, these Israelo-Kurdish artists arouse the interests of their non-Jewish compatriots. Thus the newspaper Rudaw met and interviewed the singer Hadassa Yeshurun, born of Iraqi Kurdish parents, who sings in Kurdish and Aramaic.
“Songs and poems are the most important elements in any culture. I greatly love the Kurdish and Aramaic cultures, so when I sing I favour those two cultures even though I also sing in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew. I feel that it is my responsibility to protect Kurdish culture from extinction through my songs. I enjoy singing in Kurdish and Aramaic because when I do so it makes my Kurdish fans happy — I see tears in their eyes and I realise that, after all these years and trials, something can give them pleasure”.
Hadassa Yeshurun explains that the Israeli Kurds maintain contact with other Kurds throughout the world, especially the Kurds living in Iraq and Europe. Speaking about Israeli Kurds she describes a community that is very united and very attached to its customs, be they by Kurdish festivals or everyday life.
“There are now about 100,000 Kurds living in Israel. We celebrate Newroz, the Kurdish New Year and we go out picnicking. We have lessons of Kurdish dances and we spend our holidays together. We cook Kurdish dishes and look after the traditional Kurdish instruments that we use like flutes and drums. Unfortunately none of us speak Kurdish, especially the young generations. We speak Hebrew instead”.
Although she doesn’t speak either Kurdish or Aramaic, Hadassa Yeshurun learns by heart the words of her repertory as well as their meaning. She regularly listens to other Kurdish singers by whom she is inspired like Chopi Fattahm and Zakaria Abdullah and is at present working at memorising the repertory of the great classical singers like Hassan Zirek and Tahir Tofiq