While the peace process with the PKK, initiated in March 2013, is marking time and that the PKK has announced a freeze in the withdrawal of its troops from Turkey and Ankara’s promised reforms have proved very disappointing, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s determination was, perhaps, to “prove his determination to put an end to Kurdish conflict at a time when things were not going well” as an anonymous source (allegedly “close to the government”) told the AFP. He added that the choice of Diyarbekir, this “cradle of the Kurds” was evidently intentional and ”symbolic”.
Moreover, the meeting came a few days after the unilateral declaration of autonomy by the Syrian Kurdish Party of Democratic Unity (PYD), a branch of the PKK, which had incurred the common disapproval of Turkey and the Kurdish government in Erbil. Several political observers assumed that the situation in Syrian Kurdistan would have been one of the major subjects tackled during this meeting, as well as the recurrent tension between Erbil and Baghdad, the oil agreements with Ankara and terrorist attacks by the Jihadist organisation the Islamic State of Iraq and the East (ISIE) which is fighting at once against the Baghdad government, the Kurds of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the PYD forces in Syria.
Cengiz Candar, a columnist of the Turkish daily Radikal, considers, for his part, that while Erdogan, on the one side, needs “Barzani’s help for settling his own Kurdish problem”, Massud Barzani also needs Turkey’s support against the Iran-Baghdad-Syria Axis.
The Party for Peace and Democracy (BDP), the main Kurdish force in Turkey, was pretty divided, for its part on the event. Some, like the president of the Diyarbekir BDP branch, Mehmet Emin Yilmaz, who led a counter-demonstration outside the local offices of his party, saw it a providing support for R. T. Erdoğan for the coming elections. Others, like the Member of Parliament Leyla Zana or the Mayor of Diyarbekir, Osman Baydemir, preferred to see it as a “sign of hope” and took part in the ceremony. Following this meeting, Osman Baydemir, gave a press conference jointly with Massud Barzani and declared that this meeting “was contributing to a peace based on a law of fraternity needed by all”.
However, Hugh Pope, Manager of the International Crisis Group (ICG) Turkish Project, saw the visit as a “challenge” to the PKK more than as Erdogan’s electoral manoeuvre:
“This visit aligns, in a spectacular manner, the new initiative of two major progressive lines within the Justice and Development Party (AKP): the normalisation of relations with the RGK and the efforts to find a more inclusive national discourse in Turkey, especially with regard to the Kurds. This is a challenge to the PKK to the extent that Massud Barzani (who made his speech in his own language wearing traditional Kurdish costume) represents a very different “Kurdist” ideology to that of the PKK. It is, nevertheless, interesting to note that holding such a meeting at Diyarbekir dedicates this city as the principal Kurdish city in Turkey”.
According to Hugh Pope, this visit had the aim of keeping the Kurds within Turkey while wishing to give a new impulse to the peace process:
“It is clear that the AKP hope that this will help it in the future electoral cycle. However, to really win a majority of Turkey’s Kurds, Erdogan will have to go forward with a structured policy having as objective the full right of educating the Kurds in their mother tongue, an open debate and action for decentralisation, the abrogation of all discrimination in the Constitution, making the anti-terrorist law conform with European standards and lower the electoral threshold from 10 to 5%, this letting the principal Kurdish party have equitable access to political life”.
In his speech, the Turkish Prime Minister affirmed: “the peace process will go forward” with the support of “his brothers of Diyarbekir” and called for their “support”:
“How have the Turks and Kurds come to tear one another apart? Turks and Kurds must never again tear one another apart”.
As for Massud Barzani, his speech also called for continuing the peace process:
“I am glad to be amongst you in this dear city of Diyarbekir. I would like to thank Prime Minister Erdogan for this invitation. This is a historic visit for me. I bring with me the warmest greetings of Kurdistan to Turkey and I also bring the warmest greetings of Erbil to Diyarbekir, which is so dear to us.
Ladies and gentlemen, today is a historic day — it is a day on which we are beginning to found a co-existence and both to accept one another.
One of the stages was when Mr. Erdogan came to Diyarbekir saying that the time for denying the existence of the Kurds was over. For me, as a Kurd, I am glad that a leader has arisen in Turkey to put is on the right road — the road of brotherhood.
Ladies and gentlemen, the peoples of the Middle East must coexist and live in peace together and accept one another reciprocally. Through co-existence we can make our countries more prosperous. We have tried war, and none of us has benefitted from it. The blood of a young Kurd must never again be shed by a young Turk and the blood of a young Turk must never again be shed by a young Kurd.
The bases of the peace process have been laid. Thank you Mr. Erdogan for having initiated it and I call on all my Kurdish and Turkish brothers to support this peace process. The struggle for peace is hard and this struggle can only be pursued by brave men.
I announce here that we, Kurds and Turks, are party to this peace process and support it. I have wanted for the last two decades to visit Diyarbekir and that is why I’m speaking to you this way. This day is clearly the result of peace and fraternity.
To conclude, I want to reaffirm that I am very glad to be here among you today. I wish you every success and prosperity.
And I would now like to say something in Turkish, although I don’t really know Turkish:
“Long live the fraternity of Kurds and Turks. Long live freedom. Long live peace!”
The speeches of the two political leaders were preceded by a joint performance of two very popular singers Şivan Perwer and Ibrahim Tatlises. Sivan Perwer’s return to his native land after 37 years of exile in Europe was a moment of intense emotion of that day. The ceremony ended with a collective wedding of several hundreds of young couples at which Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, Massud Barzani and the Member of Parliament Leyla Zana all presided.
While at the beginning of November the Syrian land and Air forces pursued their attacks on the quarters of Damascus held by the Free Syrian Army, the Kurdish PYD/YPG forces continued to repulse the Jihadist militia of the Islamic State of Iraq and the East (ISIE) in North-East Syria, in the mainly Kurdish province of Hassaké. Several villages round Serê Kaniyê (Ras Al Ayn, in Arabic) were taken back from the Jihadists by the PYD, which now controls (according to the Syrian Observer for Human Rights) a 25 Km band along the Turkish border.
In all, according to this London-based independent organisation, this makes 19 Arab and Kurdish villages that were regained form the Jihadists at the beginning of November as well as a petrol station at Sefrani and a grain silo at Al-Safih. With the final recapture of the Manajir zone, that makes the whole region round Serê Kaniyê that is now in Kurdish hands, the Islamic state of Iraq and the East falling back on Raqqa and the South-West of the Euphrates valley,
The YPG announced, for its part that it had inflicted many casualties on the Jihadists and well as captured ammunition and anti-aircraft weapons.
In the political field, the second Geneva conference has been the main pre-occupation. On 8 November, 9 Kurdish parties met at Hassaké to decide the conditions for their participation and the content of their demands. The nine parties present were the Party of Democratic Unity (PYD), the Syrian Kurd Democratic Union Party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, the Syrian Kurdish Freedom Party, the Syrian Democratic Party for Equality, the Syrian Kurdish Unity Party, the Syrian Democratic Union and the Progressive Democratic party of Syrian Kurds.
The Kurdish parties that are members of the Kurdish National Council indicated, at this meeting, their intention of going to Geneva with the Syrian National Coalition while the PYD representative, Şêxmûs Ehmed, maintained that the Kurds should be present at Geneva as a third party. Consequently no common position could be found.
Almost immediately after, the PYG and its affiliated organisations and allies announced unilaterally at Qamishlo the formation of an “autonomous Kurdish transition government” bye passing the Kurdish National Council (KNC).
A “Constituent Assembly” composed of 82 Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Chechens was formed and “Western Kurdistan” was divided into three administrative regions: Afrin, Kobanê and Jezireh. This follows their geographic layout, and each will have its own cantonal assembly whose representatives will sit in the General Assembly and will have representatives in the executive.
This declaration did not have the support of the 15 Kurdish parties of the KNC, who were dismissed from this initiative and not even, they said, informed of it. Consequently its leaders had no hesitation about criticising it. One of them, Nuri Brimo, described this step as “hasty and unilateral” and judged that the PYG was “going in the wrong direction”.
The opposition National Syrian Council accused the PYD and its allies of being “a group hostile to the Syrian Revolution” and, through this action “separatist” and harming the struggle of the Syrian people.
Evidently Turkey attacked the autonomous government. “It is impossible to accept any such de facto declaration of an autonomous entity in Syria and this can only lead to a new crisis” declared the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, on 19 November.
The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, also disapproved this “fait accompli”: “We cannot allow Syria, that is facing chaos, to disintegrate”.
The principal support of the Kurdish National Council, Masud Barzani, the President of the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan, also immediately condemned the PYD’s bid, accusing it of being “autocratic” and of “marginalising the other Kurdish parties in the Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan called “Western”)”.
“With these events in Syria, we think that there was a good opportunity for the Kurds of Western Kurdistan, after decades of denial of their rights, including the right t citizenship. We could envisage an end to the oppression of the Kurdish people and a final guarantee of their rights. I am worried about the future of Western Kurdistan and there is a danger that this opportunity may be missed for these Kurds.
In the last few days the PYD unilaterally proclaimed its own administration for Western Kurdistan. We reiterate out stand that is that we will only support efforts coming from both sides. We will not negotiate with any unilateral decision. If the PYD continues to ignore the others, it is certain that it will be unable to face the coming challenges and dangers, on its own, which will, as a result, endanger the fate of the Kurds. If all the parties do not return to the Erbil agreements… the PYD will bear the responsibility for the loss of this historic opportunity.
The Syrian regime has provided the Kurds with any right for supporting the PYD. The time is coming when the Syrian opposition considers the Kurds as being also allies of the regime and this will bring our people major problems in the future. The fact that the PYD had joined the fighting has had the consequence that ten thousand Kurds have become refugees”.
On 15 November, in reply to these attacks the PYD made a new statement, in which it mainly replied to the accusations of the Syrian National Coalition, whose “hostile” attitude it criticised in turn. It recalled the recent remarks by Abdullah Ocalan on the Syrian question. For whom “the fraternity of the Kurdish and Arab peoples cannot be achieved under the influence of the present regime” and stressed that several groups within the Syrian National Council were politically influenced by the AKP. The PYD also reproached the SNC for its silence about the recent attacks on the Kurds by the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the East.
No doubt to show the popular base for this decision, the PYD also rallied thousands of its supporters on 20 November, in the town of Afrin, where they demonstrated against Masud Barzani’s statements.
Behçet Berekat, Vice-President of the Afrin People’s Assembly, the new autonomous local authority, attacked the attitude of Iraqi Kurdistan, affirming that they “denied the blood-stained revolution of hundreds of our young people. This denial is to deny the blood shed by these young people and to deny the work of our people”.
Behçet Berekat also considered that this message was “one of support for organisations acting in concert with gangs like Al Parti and Azadi (two Syrian Kurdish parties that are in the KNC and hostile to the PYD) and a promise to pursue the attacks against Syrian Kurdistan”.
On 25 November, the General Secretary of UNO, Ban Ki-Moon, finally set a date for the second Geneva Conference that, he said, would take place on 25 January 2014.
At the same time, despite their differences and both their acid statements, Masud Barzani’s KDP and the PYD nevertheless held discussions on 30 November. On the agenda of these discussions, in addition to the situation in Syrian Kurdistan, the peace process in Turkey and the holding of a National Kurdish Conference in Erbil were discussed.
In contrast to the sharpness of the remarks made all through the month, the PYD representative in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Jafar Hanan, considered that these tensions were not sufficient to hinder the negotiations taking place and to finally bury the Kurdish National Conference, nevertheless has been postponed sine die for the third consecutive time.
During the 3 months presidency of Hassan Rouhani, 200 detainees, including two Kurdish political prisoners, have been executed and 7 others sentenced to death.
Since the Iranian President took office last August, there has been a spectacular increase in executions (200 since August 2014 and 278 since his election in June 2013). Already last October, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and the Iran Documentation Centre had jointly issued an appeal on the subject of the dramatic increase in the carrying out of death sentences: “It is paradoxical that, at this time when relations between Iran and the international community are improving, the number of executions is increasing in Iran. Many of these prisoners in death row have been subjected to torture, forced confessions and irregular trials. Requiring a stop to these executions and respect for the law should be at the top of the agenda in the dialogue between the international community and Iran”. (Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesman of the Iran Human Rights Centre). On 8 November the World Coalition for the abolition of the death sentence published a statement condemning these “arbitrary” executions and also calling on the international community to include the issue of the death sentences in Iran on their agenda.
Apart from detainees sentenced for “drug trafficking” (most of them being, co-incidentally, members of persecuted ethnic minorities, like the Baluchis or the Arabs of Ahwaz) the majority is composed of Kurdish activists and political prisoners. Thus, in the last ten days of October, 40 people were hanged in several towns throughout the country and only on the 3 and 4 November 12 prisoners were executed.
Amongst these, Shirko Moarefi, a 34-year-old Kurdish political prisoner, was hanged in Saghez Prison. He had been convicted of being an “enemy of God” on 1 November 2007 and, following international pressure, had hitherto escaped having the sentence carried out though confirmed on 14 November 2009 and on 1 May 2011. Also in Saghez prison, another political prisoner, Mutelib Ehmedi, is said to have been placed in the pre-execution cell. Five detainees accused of murder were similarly executed at Kermanshah.
The Iranian High Court recently approved the death sentence on another Kurd, Mansur Arwend, detained in Urmia Prison. He had been arrested two years earlier at Mahabad and accused of membership of a Kurdish organisation. His brother, Ismail Arwend, confirmed that the sentence could take place at any time, while also saying that his lawyer was suddenly unavailable, having changed the number of his mobile phone and so no longer had any contact with the detainee’s family.
Regarding the simultaneous hanging of several Baluchis on 26 October last, Florence Bellivier, the president of the World Coalition against the death sentence, considered that “the death sentence in Iran is often passed in violation of international laws. In this case (the execution of the Baluchis) none of the guarantees had been observed — neither those provided by international law or those of local law”. Fur Arabs from Ahwaz Province were also taken to a secret destination, which is usually an indication of imminent execution. Reports from local NGOs suggest that 12 Kurdish political prisoners are, at this time in danger of imminent execution.
Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the fate of two Kurds, Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, whose death sentence had been passed on the basis of confessions extorted by torture to force the two prisoners to confess to the murder of an imam of Marwan in 2009 and to taking part on some alleged armed actions wit a Kurdish organisation. These executions have aroused the indignation of Kurdish public opinion and demonstrations have taken place in several towns of Iranian Kurdistan and repressed violently. Thus in Marwan on 5 November, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) attacked several people who were demonstrating in the Sheirengewe district and carried out several arrests. The demonstrators carried placards written in Persian, English and Kurdish saying “Do not execute Kurdistan!”. According to witnesses the army was then deployed in the main streets of the town to prevent gatherings.
Demonstrations also took place outside Iran, at first in Van (Turkish Kurdistan) then, on 9 November, in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the Iranian consulate was attacked by stone throwing by a group of people who had gathered in front of the building to protest at the hangings. The Erbil police rapidly intervened.
“The demonstrations were supposed to take place in a park, but several of the protesters changed the marches route and went on to attack the consulate”, explained the Erbil chief of police, Abdul Khaliq Tala’at, to the daily paper Basnews. “We arrested a number of the demonstrators who attacked the consulate”.
On 13 and 14 November, a symposium jointly organised by the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI) and the Arab World Institute (IMA) took place in Paris — on the 13th at the IFRI premises then on the 14th at the IMA building. Entitled “The new Kurdish Dynamism” the symposium’s subject was presented in these terms:
“The ‘Kurdish Question’ is once more in the forefront in the Near and Middle East. The consolidation of the Iraqi Kurdish entity gives a fresh impetus to demands that so far have been limited to the area of social, cultural and political rights. In Syria the a worsening of the war that has been raging since March 2011 has given rise to forecasts and scenarios that a short time ago could hardly be envisaged. Similarly in Turkey, divisions taking place in the old national equation are lifting the historic taboo on ethnic, and cultural diversity, opening the perspective of a reform of Turkish citizenship. The Kurds, as a people, a political entity or an economic actor are now taking their destiny in their own hands — they carry weight in any reconfiguration of the Middle East Region”.
Thomas Gomart and Dorothée Schmidt (IFRI) and François Zabbal (IMA) welcomed the participants and the public on the morning of 13 November for the first session: “the Kurds: dreams and Projects”. Former Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, opened the first day’s discussion with a speech entitled “The strength of the new Kurdish dynamic”.
The first Round Table, “The Kurds faced with the States: between oppression and strategies of autonomy” was moderated by Jean-Christophe Ploquin, chief editor of the daily La Croix and led by Michiel Leezenberg, of Leyden University, whose contribution dealt with “The Iraqi Federation in unstable equilibrium”. He was followed by Kadri Gürsel, a journalist from the Turkish daily Milliyet, on “The ups and downs of the Turco-Kurdish peace process”. Then Abbas Vali, of Boğaziçi University examined “The Kurds and the Syrian Crisis”, while Clément Therme, of Geneva University tackled the case of the “Iranian Kurds: between integration and ethnic demands”.
The second Round Table was opened in the afternoon of the 13th with Marc Semo, a journalist from Libération as moderator. The theme was “the regional and international effects of Kurdish dynamism”. Those taking part were Arthur Quesnay, of Paris I University on “The integration of the Kurdish guerrillas into the Middle Eastern conflicts”, Denise Natali, of the National Defence University, on the subject of “The Kurds in American national strategy”, Gareth Winrow, of Oxford University on “The Kurds and the Energy situation” and finally Ofra Bengio, of Tel Aviv University whose contribution was on “Israel and the Kurds”.
This first day was closed by Falah Mustafa, Foreign Minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) who set out “The objectives of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s diplomacy”.
The second session, “The new Kurds” took place at the Institut du monde Arabe. It was opened by Jack Lang, former Minister of Culture and president of the Institut du monde arabe, and Denis Bauchard, of IFRI.
The third Round Table, “Kurdishness, Arabness and Turkishness: murderous identities and how nationalisms are fed by opposition” was moderated by Dorothée Schmidt (IFRI). Those taking part were Djene Bajalan (Oxford University) reviewed “The building of Kurdishness and the Kurdish question: from fragmented society to nation”, Jordi Tejel (Geneva Graduate Institute) who described “The formation of Kurdish political identity in Baathist Syria (1964-2013): between national integration and opposition by proxy”, while Olivier Grosjean (Institut français du Proche-Orient in Amman) on “The building of identities and policies of hostility between Kurds and Turks” and finally Cyril Roussel (Institut français du Proche-Orient in Amman) dealt with “The regional integration of Iraqi Kurdistan with its neighbours: Syria, Turkey and Iran”.
The fourth Round Table was entitled “The difficult unification of the Kurds by history, language and culture” and was presided by François Zabbal, of the Institut du monde arabe, chief editor of the cultural review Qantara. Boris James, of the Institut français du Proche-Orient dealt with “Building Kurdish historic memory” and Joyce Blau of the Paris Kurdish Institute covered the Kurdish question as a “linguistic issue”. The contribution by Salih Akin, of Rouen University was entitled “Fragmented culture and unitary aspiration” and the poet Seyhmus Dagtekin concluded this Round Table with “This ‘Other’ — the very condition for my own existence”.
This second day was closed by Kendal Nezan, president of the Paris Kurdish Institute whose speech dealt with “the Diaspora in Europe and Kurdish dynamism”.
On 5 November the group of Kurdish musicians Nishtiman (Country) produced an album under the Accords Croisés - Harmonia Mundi label while starting a series of concerts in France. This album has been favourably noticed by music critics.
The journalist and musicologist Bertrand Dicale reviewed the album and its eponymous group in these terms:
“Nishtiman is a pioneer and daring musical adventure that celebrates the unity and diversity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurdistan. Nishtiman simply means “country”. The music of Turkish Kurdistan, the music of the Kurds of Iraq, of the Iranian Kurds and of the Syrian Kurds are all known — as well as all the variations of syntax inspired by the geography of the Kurdish people, split up between four countries.
Nishtiman is thus a unique adventure that united musicians of several nationalities round the music, the language and the culture of the Kurdish people. A pioneer and audacious musical adventure although the political laws, the habits imposed by history and the routine of cultural circuits have always separated the Kurds, including on festival stages and on shelves of disk shops. Yet, for all that, Kurdistan really does exist musically speaking. Nishtiman suddenly makes this people and culture loom up in the world’s vast musical arena with a vision both contemporary and deeply rooted”.
In the periodical Telerama, Anne Berthod points out “certainly Syria is missing. However, three parts of Kurdistan reunited on a single disk is already a great deal in view of the rarity of projects celebrating Kurdish music. Over and above the symbol — “nishtiman” in the Kurdish language means the natal land, the country — it is the quality of this encounter that is so attractive. That of artists of different nationalities and dialects wanting to share a common heritage the better to display its diversity.
Amongst tem the Iranian Sohrab Pournazeri a singer and a prodigy on the tanbur lute and the hurdy-gurdy, his compatriot Maryam Ebrahimpour whose magnificent voice so well expresses classical songs, Goran Kamil, the Iraqi oudh player or the Turkish Ertan Tekin, a master oboe player (zorna, balaban, duduk). The Iraqi artistic director, percussionist Hussein Zahawy, has succeeded, by choosing these virtuosi of the new generation (but also including two French payers, Leila Renault on the double bass and Robin Vassy with African drums) has immediately escaped from simple folklore. The original repertory is based on compositions by Pournazeri, who reinterprets Kurdish traditions to make them accessible to everyone.
Swirling dances carried away by a wild elation, heartrending laments and ecstatic Sufi rhythms, virile scanning and broken hearts… this anthology of styles also enables alternating, with perfect balance, between collective items and solos. The uncluttered sound is enhanced by a meticulous production”.
Interviewed by Allan Kaval in the daily paper Rudaw, Hussein Zahawy explained that the group’s aim was to make the Kurdish music tradition known to a foreign public “in a musical journey through Great Kurdistan” with musicians coming from different countries and areas.
“We want to promote this culture, to show a cultural region by transcending the idea of State. We take no account of the political borders”.
As for the absence of musicians from Syrian Kurdistan, it is just due to the war. The five Kurdish musicians have been joined by two French musicians: Robin Vassy, who plays African percussion instruments and Leila Renault, a double bass player.
The repertory includes Kurdish mystical music like that of the Yarsans, popular tunes love songs and traditional dances.
Finally, the better to raise Kurdish music to an international as well as academic level, Hussein Zahawy wishes to see a high quality teaching of classical and traditional Kurdish music begin to be adopted by the music academies — in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, for example.