In addition to the armed violence, the lack of food and medical treatment has also hit Syrian Kurdistan.
The news agencies close to the PYD or PKK or Russia have even reported, mass massacres mentioning even 200 to 300 civilians massacred by the Jihadists in the first week of August. This led Massud Barzani to warn that the Iraqi Kurds were ready to come to the rescue of their Syrian brothers if it appeared that “innocent Kurdish civilians, women and children were threatened by death and terrorism”.
On 13 August the Kurdish forces signed an agreement with the National Coalition of Opposition Forces and of the Syrian Revolution, a transition authority founded in Doha in 2012 that is trying to bring together and co-ordinate the diverse components of the Syrian opposition, both political and military. The agreement covers an exchange of prisoners and the return of all the belligerents to the positions they controlled before the outbreak of hostilities. However, the Coalition has limited control in the field within Syria, particularly when it’s a matter of controlling the Jihadist movement and militia.
On 14 August, a delegation of Members of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament crosser the border to carry out an enquiry into the mass massacres of Kurdish civilians reported by the PYD. The Committee charged with preparing for the National Kurdish Conference also sent an enquiry delegation.
Two weeks later the nine members of this enquiry mission published their report that stated that it had found no proof of there massacres, that they had found only 17 to 25 bodies following armed clashes. A copy of this report was sent to the daily paper Rudaw, which published its conclusions. The people questioned by the committee (about fifty in number) during its 5-day enquiry if a number of Kurdish areas that had been mentioned as scenes of the massacres, did not talk about 450 victims, as related by the PYD’s media, a few of them going so far as to estimate 80 deaths. However, the Syrian Kurdish areas were described as “dangerous” and as suffering from “instability and a lack of security forces”, which is daily forcing some of the inhabitants to leave their homes and work-places.
“The situation is particularly dangerous for the Christians, dozens of whom have been kidnapped — 48 at Hassaké and 15 at Qamishlo in the last two months”.
The names of the armed groups that attacked the Kurdish regions are Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Fighters for the Freedom of Syria (Shams) and the Salahaddin Ayyubi Brigades (Kurdish Jihadists).
While these mass massacres do seem to have been an exaggeration or a rumour inspired by panic, what is certain, however, is the enormous influx of Kurdish refugees into the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. While, on 15 August, the UN High Commission for Refugees reported 750 people crossing the Tigris at the Pesh-Khabour border point, on 16 August there was an enormous crowd of “between 5000and 7000 people” rushing the for the border. The overwhelming majority were women, children and old men from the areas around Aleppo or Hassaké. Claire Bourgeois, the HCR representative in Iraq speaks of a “human river”.
Adrian Edwards, the High Commission’s spokesman, then declared to the News Agencies that the humanitarian teams, both UN and local, had been obliged to go there urgently with supplies of water and food and that the reasons for this sudden influx was not yet clear.
Refugee camps had hastily to be built in Erbil Province to house a final figure of 15,000 refugees (to be added to the 155,000 already there, mainly at Duhok). Some thousands were settled in the unfinished Quru Gusik camp (Erbil) although it lacks basic infrastructures, and others at Suleimaniyah.
Little by little, questioned by reporters and the NGOs, the refugees reported shortages of food, water and electricity, the high prices and unemployment (all regions are gradually being economically paralysed). To this must be added the fighting between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — both sides indulging, moreover, in looting — or fighting between the FSA and the YPG (the PYD armed forces). The news of the gassing of a whole quarter in Damascus could also have started a panic reaction.
On 19 August, 5 days after the first influx, 30,000 Syrians, mainly Kurds, had crossed over into Iraqi Kurdistan, some coming from as far away as Damascus or Aleppo.
Faced with this mass arrival of refugees, the Iraqi Kurds tried, while welcoming the people who had arrived, to dam the flood — Massud Barzani calling to the Syrian Kurds to stay put “to defend their land”.
“You know that, since the beginning of the revolution, tens of thousands of our Kurdistan brothers from Western Kurdistan have come into our Region and we have sheltered them in refugee camps. Nevertheless, the international community regrettably gives no help to these refugees. Recently a great number of these refugees have flowed into our region and are continuing to do so. I must thank and congratulate the Kurdistan Regional government for the assistance it has given these refugees by offering them transport and temporary housing.
However, having said this the issue is still very sensitive, because we do not want to see Western Kurdistan emptied of the Kurds who inhabit it. So our people should remain there, defend their country and secure their legitimate rights”.
Meanwhile a quota of 3000 people a day was on 20 August at the Pêsh Khabour order post, although people on the spot estimate that 5000 people crossed in a single day and on 23 August Adrian Edwards estimated that since mid-August 40,000 people had arrived and that by 27 August it might have reached 50,000. The refugees were all in the same state of exhaustion and dehydration under temperatures of 45°c.
The disappointment and impatience of the Kurds is increasing at the absence of concrete measures taken by Turkey to bring back to life the peace process announced last Spring. Il the judicial area, no amnesty has been envisaged neither for the members of the Union of Communities of Kurdistan (KCK) nor for the retrial of Abdullah Ocalan as the latter demanded at the end of July. Indeed, an Ankara Court that specialises in Human Rights cases rejected this demand by a majority of its judges.
The delay covers, above all, the judicial reform package that is due to be debated in the Turkish Parliament in Autumn 2013. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced, during a press conference that the return of Parliament from its holidays could be brought forward to enable the reforms to be passed. The Kurdish BDP party is demanding that the new laws allow education in the Kurdish language, the lowering of the national threshold of 10% for parliamentary election and measures to encourage decentralisation in the Kurdish regions — and that they be passed before mid-October.
However, on the Kurdish side, they consider that the steps taken by the PKK with the withdrawal of its troops from Turkey have not been followed by any Turkish counterpart. Interviewed by the Arabic language daily A’sharq alAwsat, a PKK veteran, Zagros Hiwa, described the statement by the Turkish Prime Minister as nothing more than “early election propaganda”:
“Once the elections are over, Erdogan will go back on all his promises and appeals for peaceful and democratic settlement of the Kurdish question”.
According to Zagros Hiwa, the withdrawal of the guerrillas from Turkey has enabled the Army to establish itself in the areas left empty by the Kurds and so reconquer the land without firing a shot, by building fresh military installations and recruiting what he called “Kurdish mercenaries” — that is “village guards”, Kurdish militia employed by the government to fight the PKK. Similarly, many Kurdish political prisoners, some of whom are in very poor state of health, are still being kept behind bars.
“We are at the end of our patience”, concluded Zagros Hiwa.
However, political comments and analyses of the situation are not unanimous as shown by the remarks of Pervin Buldan, a junior member of the BDP leadership, to the Daily paper Radikal:
“The peace process is under way . . . We are going to enter the third and last phase, which is the most important. This will see the return of our youth and their leaders from the Qandil Mountains to Turkey so as to take part in the political process”.
Moreover Pervin Buldan thanked the AKP, Erdogan’s Turkish party, for “supporting the formation of a Kurdish State in Western Kurdistan” (that is in Syria) expressing the hope that one day the Kurds in Turkey would enjoy “similar freedom”.
Pervin Buldan was certainly referring to the visit by Salih Muslim, the Syrian YD leader, to Istanbul where he met members of the MIT, the Turkish secret service. This interpretation of a “support” for a possible Syrian Kurdish State is denied by the members of the PKK and the PYD. The Arabic daily, Asharq al Aswat published the remarks of an anonymous
PKK leader in which, on the contrary, he accuses Turkey of supporting Jihadist militia like Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS):
“That Kurdish leader (Pervin Bukdan) has clearly misunderstood the situation. Turkey may well have reluctantly accepted that the PYD assume temporary control of and administer the internal affaires of Syrian Kurdistan (…). On the contrary Turkey is clearly conspiring against that party (the PYD)”.
In reply to the accusations of “procrastination” by the PKK and BDP, Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses the same argument, namely that the guerrilla has not completely withdrawn from Turkey: “Only 20% has left Turkey and those were mainly women and children”. This last statement about the presence of children seems strange as, while the PKK fighters are of both sexes, they are committed to celibacy, unless it refers to adolescents who have taken to the mountains.
The PKK replied in an official communiqué that the withdrawal was continuing without specifying the number of fighters who had crossed the Iraqi borders.
The Kurds are not alone in criticising the government’s inertia. Lale Mansour, Vice President of the “Commission of Elders” set up by Erdogan to help carry out the peace process has called on the AKP to take “urgent measures” to avoid this ending in a dead end. Lale Mansour insists on the need for “advanced democracy” and “transparency” regarding public opinion, be it Kurdish or Turkish. Thus Mithat Sancar, vice-president of the delegation of “Elders” for the region of Marmara (well outside the Kurdish region) also stresses the importance of an effective democratisation of the whole country. “The government has omitted to make any statement on the timetable and on the measures that it is supposed to take in the process”.
According to Mithat Sancar, the end of the parliamentary year in Turkey, the reason given by Erdogan for deferring his “democratic package”, was not a real block to pursuing this process.
At the beginning of August, the Independent High Electoral Commission approved the procedure for the future elections in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, set for 21 September, even though it had initially been wished to postpone them to 21 November, at the same time as the Provincial Council elections.
The election campaign thus began at the end of August with a more moderate and less impassioned tone than in 2009, when the breakthrough of the new Gorran Party had changed the usual bi-partisan situation. Now that this party is firmly established in the Regional Government’s political landscape the question was whether Nawshirwan Mustafa’s new party would beat the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) on their home territory of Suleimaniyah.
Unlike the previous election, this time the PUK decided not to form a joint list with the KDP while reaffirming its will to continue its political alliance with Massud Barzani’s party and thus, essentially campaign against its rival, Gorran. However, the PUK started with the major handicap of having always been officially presided by Jalal Talabani, even if it was his political committee that ran things since his withdrawal from local politics. Now, the Iraqi President’s attack of cerebral haemorrhage, rumours of his death have been constantly circulating, fed by his absence from any public appearance since December 2012 — rumour regularly denied by his family as well as by the KRG authorities.
Jalal Talabani’s absence also leaves a vacuum in the Presidency of Iraq. Iyad Allawi, at the top of the Iraqiyya List in the Baghdad Parliament, has asked that an Iraqi delegation composed of Members of Parliament, journalists and members of civil society be allowed to go to Germany so as to meet Jalal Talabani. Meanwhile, on 25 August, a delegation of 35 Kurdish academics tried to meet Jalal Talabani at the Charity Hospital in Berlin where he is still being treated. The medical staff only gave them a message from the President assuring them that he would meet them “in a few days time” — which has not yet happened.
In June 2013 some of the victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attack on Halabja, in Iraqi Kurdistan, filed a complaint against X for genocide and crimes against humanity, aimed at some French companies suspected of having supplied harmful materials to the Iraqi government of the time. This attack, which took place on 16 March 1988, caused over 5000 deaths in less than 48hour.
On 26 August, the Paris Public Prosecutor’s office filed an order for an enquiry to be opened against X on the grounds of “complicity with murder”, “complicity with attempted murder” and “possession” of the products of these crimes, according to a legal authority cited the Agence France Press (AFP). Because it cannot be applied retroactively, the “crime against humanity”, which is no longer part of the legal code since 1994 was not admissible. Whether or not the facts can be proscribed has not yet been decided by the judges.
The two lawyers representing the twenty plaintiffs David Père, a Frenchman and Gavriel Mairone, an American, state they have “over 100,000 documents” enabling the manner whereby Iraq had been able to supply itself with chemical weapons to be traced. These cover the period between 1983 and 1988, that is from the start of the mass massacres in Kurdistan by the kidnapping and secret execution of 8000 members of the Barzani tribe, then the war with Iran (with the use of chemical weapons) and finally the Anfal decision (deportations, mass executions, gassing of populations). These events essentially occurred during the last years of the war with Iran and have already been made known to the public.
The documents held by the lawyers (some of which have hitherto remained secret) are this said to implicate 427 companies in all countries. According to Mr Mairone, 20 of them in full knowledge of their use, amongst which some French companies whose names have not yet been made public.
The Kurdish poet Shêrko Bekas died on 4 August of a cancer in Stockholm, where he had been undergoing treatment for several months.
Shêrko Bekas was born in 1940 at Suleimaniyah of a family with a great love of literature and culture. His father, Fayik Bekas (1905-48) was a patriotic poet who had several times been arrested and jailed.
Orphaned at seven years of age, Shêrko Bekas went through his primary and secondary schooling in Suleimaniyah. In 1959 he left to study in Baghdad at a technical college.
He started writing at the age of 17 and published poems in the paper Jin (Life) and short stories in a review called Hetaw (The Sun). Very quickly his poems stated appearing in prestigious Kurdish literary reviews like Rojî Muwë (New Day) and Hîwa (Hope).
Threatened with imprisonment in 1965 by the General Aref regime he took to the mountains and joined the resistance movement, broadcasting on the Denge Shoreshê radio ((The Voice of the Revolution) and was also one of the editors of the paper Dengî Peshmerge (The voice of the Peshmergas).
In 1970, following the March Agreement between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish movement, Kurdish writers were again able to express themselves and publish freely in Iraq. In April 1970, together with the novelists Hussein Arêf and Kake Mem Botanim and the poets Jelal Mirza Kerim and Jemal Sharbajêrî, he wrote a manifesto entitled “Marsad” (The Telescope) in which the five men expressed their aspirations and their literary programme:
“We want our works and our literary creations to be adapted to the spirit of our times, taking into account new concepts and doctrines and holding up a mirror or genuine reflection of our Kurdish society as part of human society as a whole.
Our manifesto will thus be the junction point of all the trends and new ideas. These will meet, despite the diversity of their convictions and their philosophical and ideological commitments or their intellectual stands regarding humanity and life.
We are not rising blindly against our heritage, indeed we think that the authentic national heritage serves as a resolute support for the new creations and tendencies. Our new productions and were born and grew out of it”. (Marsad N°1, Baghdad 1970)
In 1974, however, war broke out again in Kurdistan and he had once again to go underground. After General Barzani’s defeat in 1975, he returned to Suleimaniyah before being placed under house arrest in Western Iraq, well away from Kurdistan. However he continued writing and his poems were passed around secretly in Kurdish resistance circles.
In 1984 he again succeeded in fleeing to the mountains until 1986. He again broadcast on the Kurdish resistance e radio, tool part in founding the Union of Kurdish Writers and published in many of the reviews and bulletins that came out in the “free zones” held by the Peshmergas.
Invited to several European countries, he chose to settle in Sweden in 1987. In 1992, after the second Gulf War he returned to the partially freed Iraqi Kurdistan
He was appointed Minister of Culture in the first Kurdistan Regional Government.
Shêrko Bekas came to the fore as a renovator of Kurdish poetry, with his collection of poems Rûwange (Vision), which appeared in 1970. This broke with the classical metres introduced unrhymed poems and with his resort to “Poster poems” in 1975
His poetry has been translated into Arabic, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, French and English. His completed poetical works have been published in two volumes of a thousand pages, published in Stockholm.
He was buried in a national funeral in his native city of Suleimaniyah, in the city’s principal park, the Azadi (Freedom) Park. In addition to an enormous crowd, his funeral was attended by the Vice President of the Kurdistan Region, Kosrat Rassoul, the Assistant t General Secretary of the PUK, Imad Ahmed, and the former Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region, Barham Salih, along with a number of officials and government representatives.
However, this is only a temporary burial place because Suleimaniyah is going to build a “Cultural Estate”, a building that will house the graves of the province’s major cultural and literary figures.
A collection of his poems, translated into French by Kamal Maroof was published in 1995 by the Harmattan publishing house and we print here some of its poems.
The night of ancient tales
Scream the winds and run wild
like a woman terrorised.
Shut the eyes, the waves.
Torn to shreds are the clouds
dispersed like carded cotton
in the grey skies of the Euphrates.
The clouds are a white dove’s feathers
wingless she tries to fly
My heart is pomegranate squeezed of juice.
I’m seated this night close to the chimney in my room
Facing my agèd mother dear
Looking at her old weakened eyes.
This the night for stories
We’ll go visiting tonight . . . Las and Khazar*
I listen to my mum religiously
I listen — Las speaks, Las leaves
and I travel with him from one stream to another
from the foot of one mountain to another
from one mountain to another I travel with him
and when the wings of sleep flutter in my eyes
I hear the Euphratès and him
still sob and cry.
At the very end
Las leaves, putting great leagues behind him.
* A pair of lovers in a Kurdish epic.
When the leaf of a tree died, so died one of my letters,
When the mountain spring died, so died my words,
When died a garden of my dream, so died a phrase,
O ten-year-old girl
O daughter of Heleden*
When they killed you
a dozen of my poems died at once.
* A village in Suleimaniyah Province.
No name of town
nor of street
No telephone number
nor of letter box
do I have
Along my way
Green letters come to me
from far away . . .
and from nearby
My poems are postmen of love
And my address
The trench of the last martyr
On a certain day
The earth gave birth
To a volcano
And it gave birth to Kurdistan
And Kurdistan gave birth to Ararat
From Ararat are born the Kurds
From Kurds are born these twins
pain and defiance
and from these was born
Yilmaz Guney’s own way.
The first and last cries
One minute, thirty seconds some tic tacs
Before eleven o’clock
The sky was like the soul of Mewlewî*
Clear and pure
Like the hose d’Ehmed Mukhtar** would ride
The beauty of spring was in the neighing of the horse
And the peak of Gulan
Had placed a rose-star taken from Shem***
Onto the hairs of Goran****
One minute thirty seconds some tic-tacs
Before eleven o’clock
Under the ceiling of a room
In Halabja there lived
A family, father and mother and a little girl
A few tic-tacs . . . before eleven o’clock.
The mother rocked the cradle
The little child smiled
The father lay
Listening to a tape.
Eleven o’clock has sounded
Ding dong, twice or thrice
A smoke like the heart of Ibn ’Ujah
And the air, dying
And the Spring, dying
The father, the mother and the child
At eleven o’clock
Beneath the ceiling of a room
There in Halabjah
Have become three stones
A single statue
After eleven o’clock
A town resembles
A strangled dove
Its wrung neck beneath its wings
Its voice stifled
In a Southern town
No birdsong, no cheeping chicks
No outcry, not a sigh
Not a soul is breathing
After eleven o’clock.
Only the cry of a voice within this town
Reached the ears of the mountain
Through all the arsine*****
Struggling to reach
The shores of life
Only this voice
After eleven o’clock
The voice of magnetic tape
In the room
Playing the hymn to arms
And the men who fight
* A Kurdish poet (1806-1882)
** A Kurdish poet assassinated in 1935.
*** Name of a crown in a Kurdish epic.
**** A Kurdish poet (1904-1962)
***** A Poison gas.