Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliamentary elections, set for the 21 September, took place without any major incident and the polling stations closed at 5 pm. The turn out was high (74%). Over a thousand candidates were standing representing about thirty parties and movements, which shows the political and cultural diversity of Kurdistan.
Very soon, as the first estimations appeared, it was clear that the opposition party Goran (Change), led by Nawshirwan Mustafa, had undoubtedly succeeded in replacing its rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Jalal Talabani — absent Fromm the political scene for several months for health reasons.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party, led by Massud Barzani, President of Kurdistan, remains in the lead, with 37.79% of the votes, followed by Goran with 24.21% and the PUK with just 17.8%.
The Islamic parties, Yekgirtu and Komal won 9.49% and 6.01% respectively. The remaining minor parties shared 4.69%of the vote.
The results, in each province were as follows:
— Erbil voted overwhelmingly for the President’s party, with 49.22% while Goran and the PUK won 18.4 and 12.89 percent respectively. The two Islamic parties were about equal with 6.55% for Komal and 6.51% for Yekgirtu, giving 13.06% for the religious parties and leaving 7.42% for the rest.
— Duhok, unsurprisingly, voted overwhelmingly for the KDP with 70.03% of the vote. Next came Yekgirtu with only 12.77% while Komal only scored 1.08%. The PUK and Goran, which do not have deep roots in this province, won 5.67 and 2.88 percent respectively, the other organisations sharing the remaining 7.56%.
— The biggest change was in Suleimaniyah. Here Goran won 40.8% of the vote, while PUK, with 28.66% in its historic stronghold became the man opposition party, well behind its dissident former offshoot. The KDP won 11.03%, Yekgirtu 10.27% and Komal 8.22%. Indeed, it was in this province, considered to be the most urbanised progressive, that the two main religious parties won the highest score, with 18.49% between them. It is also here that the outsider minor parties won hardly any votes (0.78%), which suggest that the electors, very involved in favour of a change in those in office, concentrated on a “useful vote”.
Compared with the 2009 elections, the KDP won 8 seats (38 as against 30 in 2009) while Goran, while gaining 70,000 votes lost a seat, going from 25 to 24.
The other parties that won more seats were Yekgirtu (+4) and Komal (+2). All the other parties either lost or only won one seat, the biggest loser being the PUK that lost 11 seats. In 2009, standing in alliance with the KDP and the active presence of its President Jalal Talabani had enabled it to do much better.
Regarding the minorities, who have special reserved seats: the Turcomenians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and Armenian speakers had respectively 5 seats as in 2009 and I for the Armenians.
This 2013 Parliament will have 34% of women members, as a 30% minimum quota in favour of women being in force under the Kurdish Constitution.
As soon as the Electoral High Commission had announced the results, the PUK leaders democratically accepted their defeat, saying that they were “entirely responsible” for it in a public statements by Kosrat Rassoul, Vice President of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Party’s N°2 man, and Barham Salih, former KRG Prime Minister. Hero Talabani, Jalal Talabani’s wife, who holds an important post in the PUK Political Committee, announced her resignation on 30 September, stating that the party needed fresh blood in its leadership and that she hoped to be the first to set an example.
The KDP, the clear winner of the elections, will probably form either a government of national union or at least a broad coalition to ensure Kurdistan’s political stability in a particularly dangerous environment.
During the summer the PKK, through its new interim leader, Cemil Bayik, had announced that, failing “concrete” Turkish measures to advance the peace process by 1st September, he would considered that it had been buried.
On 9 September, a communiqué from the executive council of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KÇK) and published by the Firatnews News Agency announced that the withdrawal of the Kurdish armed forces have been frozen without, however, ending the cease fire or challenging Abdullah Ocalan’s political message.
“Our movement believes in the project of democratisation presented by the leader Apo on Newroz day. It is the only way to establish brotherhood between the peoples living in Turkey and to resolve the Kurdish question as well as create a Democratic Union of the Middle East. The suspension of the withdrawal aims at pushing the Turkish government to treat this project more seriously and to do what it must”.
The KÇK also called on “the Kurdish people and the democratic powers* to strengthen their struggle and urge the AKP government to “abandon its irresponsible attitude and to take the necessary measures for democratic success and for a solution of the Kurdish problem” so as to achieve completing Ocalan’s “historic step”.
Reaction by the Kurdish BDP party were more conciliating and Gulten Kişanak was more measured in her assessment of the setback, describing the process as being “neither dead nor progressing” and just stating that there were “problems and tensions” (AFP).
“We cannot say whether the process has been killed or just stopped because negotiations with Ocalan are continuing”.
However, it is especially the reform package that the Turkish Parliament has to pass that appears to be a possible “first step” by Turkey. Gulten Kişanak expressed her annoyance that the BDP had not been consulted on the subject and doubting whether it could satisfy the demands of the Turkish Kurds.
In fact, the BDP is not the only party to complain about the about the opacity surrounding the drawing up of the reforms or the peace process. Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, leader of the secular and nationalist People’s Republican Party (CHP) also complained of having been pushed aside:
“Abdullah Ocalan is seated at one end of the table and Erdogan at the other end. They meet one another and bargain. The public is not told anything about what is happening”
On September 30 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan presented his reforms and all that can be said of them is that the opposition, both Turkish and Kurdish, were unanimously against them.
Use of the Kurdish language will not authorised in the public schools, only in private ones, which puts it on the same footing as the languages of religious minorities in religious schools (Greek and Armenian — but not Syriac) provided for by the Treaty of Lausanne.
The other major demand by the BDP, the ending of the 10% threshold for parliamentary elections, that would enable it to appear openly in parliament instead of in the form “independent” members, will be the subject of later Parliamentary discussion, according to the Prime Minster. He indicated that there were three options: maintaining the status quo, lowering the threshold to 5% or its total elimination, with voting for one member per constituency.
The 7% of the votes threshold that enables a party to be subsidised by the State might be lowered to 3%.
The fact that the letters Q, X and W, banned from any public display because not included in the Turkish alphabet will no longer be proscribed means that Newroz can now be written as such on Kurdish New Year posters and politicians doing the rounds at elections would be able to speak in their mother tongues — described as “dialects other than Turkish”
Localities with Aramaic, Kurdish or Armenian names that had been “Turkified” could use their original names again — including the emblematic region of Dersim.
The religious minorities gain virtually nothing except the assurance that the monks of Mor Gabriel monastery will not be expropriated, though the Orthodox seminary will not be re-opened (which the European Union had called for) nor will teaching of the Syriac Orthodox clergy be allowed.
As for the Alevis, their worship is still not recognised, Sunni Islam alone is recognised. Thus Alevi places of worship, their cemavi, will not be maintained or financed by the State unlike mosques, and Islam is still taught in public schools, as a compulsory, not optional subject.
As for the Sunni Moslem majority, women civil servants (apart from Judges, Public prosecutors, police and gendarmes) secure the right to wear the veil in their places of work.
The Council of Elders, set up by Erdogan himself to clarify and follow p the various stages of the Turco-Kurdish peace process and composed of a variety of public figures, artists and politicians, in its report had proposed a great number of measures — most of which have been loftily ignored. These included a general amnesty for Kurdish fighters, the abolition of the Anti-Terrorist Act, reforms to the legal and judicial system, a large-scale operation of removing mimes in the Kurdish mountains and countryside, the return of the Kurdish refugees from the Makhmur camp (Iraqi Kurdistan) where they have been since the 90s, restitution of confiscated land to the Yezidis and helping them to return, and the right of Assyrians to educating their children in their own language.
On 29 September 2013, a bloody suicide attack with two car bombs hit the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, aimed at the headquarters of the Asayish (security service).
According to eyewitnesses, five of the terrorists were in one of the vehicles that smashed into the security barrier and attacked the guards with hand grenades and guns. The Asayish immediately opened fire and two of the terrorists then came out of their vehicle. One of them wore a belt of explosives and was immediately shot down by a policeman, Hazim Madjid Mustafa, who was killed by the ensuing explosion. That was when a second vehicle, a minibus, exploded, killing four policemen, members of the Kurdish security services.
Six members of the Asayish were killed and 62 people, including civilians, were wounded. This is the first such attack since 2007, which also targeted official buildings.
One of the vehicles was registered in the Kurdish region, which in principle only applies to residents, but it could have been illegally lent to outsiders.
The Region was immediately placed in a State of Emergency and immediately cordoned off by then Kurdish authorities.
The attack was claimed by the Jihadist organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Jihadist movement very active in Syria and Iraq. However, the motives in targeting the Kurdish Regional Government are unclear. In Syria ISIS is mainly in conflict with the YPG (the PYD´s armed forces), with which the KRG has less than friendly relations — like its relations with Maliki’s government is Baghdad, which is also one of ISIS’s a favourite targets.
On 26 September, Amnesty International alerted international public opinion about the danger of execution facing six Kurdish political prisoners sentenced for the “crime” of being “enemies of God” and of having confessed to having “corrupting” ideas.
Two of these prisoners have been transferred to solitary isolation cells and four others are threatened with similar transfers, which implies that execution is imminent, according to Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Assistant Director for the Middle East and Africa Department of Amnesty International. They are at the moment held in the Ghezel Hesar Prison, in Teheran.
Iraq is the country that has the highest record for using capital punishment, just after China. In 2013, more that 400 executions took place and many prisoners, including many Kurds, are in danger of experiencing the same fate.
On 1 September, the International Peace Day, The Aachen Peace Prize was publically given to three award-winning Schools. Tow of them German and the third to the Duhok International School, directed by Mgr. Raban al-Qas, Bishop of the Zakho-Amadiyya diocese.
His speech thank-you speech, delivered in English, was then translated into German during the ceremony. This is what he said:
“I would like to thank the Aachen Peace Award for allowing me to be here today to represent the International School in Duhok.
It’s a great honour to receive this award; it is of great importance for the school, which stood out among all the schools in its area (Middle East and Iraq especially), and has a unique meaning and place for future generations who will attend the school and will know that the school has accomplished its intended purpose. This purpose, for which we all strive, is to find the best way to secure peace.
Founded in 2004, the school was the fruit of my personal and living experience as a clergyman of society in Kurdistan since 1973 — a society that demonstrates love, peaceful living and brotherhood despite all the difficulties it has experienced. Kurds, Christians, Yizidis, Turkmen, Kakayis and many others live together regardless of religion and ethnic differences, aware of the difference in the way people live in Kurdistan and the other parts of Iraq. Millions of Iraqi families are emigrating from Iraq for many reasons. The first of these is the fragile nature of their security —, they are emigrating because of the reigning terror, the unemployment and the aimless education system. Kurdistan, however, is now a safe refuge, so many Christians are now coming to Kurdistan instead of emigrating. They are returning to their original villages and can find their right to employment, education and peaceful living with which to support their families. This secure environment is the aim and aspiration of the Kurdistan Region’s leadership, which is adapting to this new situation of the influx of displaced families into the region. This region, which suffered greatly in the past, has recovered and is growing in the best way possible. Learning from its 40-year experience, it has built my own philosophy and ideology, which has been poured into the young hearts of the students attending the school today, to fulfil the aims of building a peaceful and healthy society without any discrimination.
What we see on the news everyday tells us clearly where the situation in Middle East is heading. We hear about wars, conflicts and disputes within the people of one country, we've witnessed the Arabic Spring; this bitter experience which resulted in an endless blood bath and turned into a pale winter in which the people are suffering immensely in countries like Egypt, Syria and other places.
Since Iraq was liberated in 2003 it hasn't witnessed any real period of peace —we just hear of killing, kidnapping and explosions targeting everyone who lives and breathes in this country. You remember the attacks that were committed against churches and mosques — no one in the society is spared be a religious leader, political character, an employee working to support his family or a student going to school. This is the result of religious fanaticism, which opposes all views or interests but their own — which nobody knows clearly. We hear about people killing each other in the name of religion everyday but why? Where is this taking us? Have we lost our humanity and respect for each other? We are in a dire need to love one another.
All humans are born free; no one has the right to impose any restrictions that obstruct the freedom of conscience, whether in choosing religion, political views or self-expression. These are the ABC of the simplest human rights each person should have.
With this need of peace in this area and the reason why I'm standing here before you shows the contrast in what the school is doing and what's happening in the area to which it belongs. We are all part of this world and contribute to it in one way or another. For the school, we have chosen to hold each other's hands and sail together in this boat the destination of which we know and for which we have taken steps to reach.
Every student at the school knows that what he learns during his school days is beyond what he studies for academic knowledge — it’s the love and acceptance of his fellow student, his teachers and eventually everyone he interacts with where he lives. As new students are accepted every year, the school continues to spread positive awareness of respect and tolerance between students so as to participate, in a good way to civilization. A constant effort is made to this end by the administration, the teachers and the students themselves. We are thankful it has paid off as is shown to the world by this International Award today.
In a troubled world that needs peace, we must promote the basic concepts to embrace humanity; we should learn and teach loving others, being kind, generous and forgiving. If we work on planting these seeds into the minds of youth, it will grow into a world where everyone’s heart is pure, mild and without hatred.
Finally, I would like to thank the committee at Aachen Peace Award and the citizens of Aachen who made all this possible with their help, support and relentless efforts to show peace everywhere. Thanks to everyone who came from Aachen to be with us — the reporters, press and the people who made the documentary and your presence here today. I present the regards of Iraqi Kurdistan to all of you; I hope we can all be builders of peace and freedom in this world.
God bless you all”.
+ Bishop Rabban Al Qas, Principal of International School in Duhok.