On 17 December, 52 people were arrested in the course of a police raid carried out both in Istanbul and Ankara in the context of an enquiry into accusations of fraud is issuing public tenders. Of these, 29 were kept in detention in the premises of the financial brigade, including 2 sons of ministers in office while another son of a minister is being interrogated in the premises of the brigade against organised crime. The three Ministers whose sons have been arrested are the Minister of the Interior, the Minister for the Economy, Zafer Çağlayan, and the Minister of Town Planning & the Environment, Erdoğan Bayraktar.
Other public figures, prominent in political life or business, are also among the suspects, including the building industry magnate, Ali Ağaoğlu, the General Manager of Halkbank,
Süleyman Aslan, a businessman of Azeri nationality, Reza Zarrab, the mayor of Fatih (one of Istanbul’s boroughs), Mustafa Demir, as well as some empl0yees of the Ministries of the Environment and of the Economy, according to the daily paper Hürriyet.
The General Manager of Emlak Konut, Turkey’s largest property company has also been summoned by the police for questioning.
On 25 December Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a cabinet reshuffle after the three Ministers involved in the scandal had resigned. Of the 20 Ministers in the government, ten have been replaced, though three of them (the Ministers of Justice, Family Affairs and Transport) would in any case have had to step down because they are candidates in the coming municipal elections.
However, even while “purging” his government, the Prime Minister counter-attacked in Parliament speaking about a “conspiracy of international dimensions” to destabilise the country’s economy and to “attack Turkey’s future”. He directly implicated Fetullah Gülen’s religious brotherhood, his allies since 2007 against the nationalist circles and the Army although there has been a running battle between them for some years new. This brotherhood has considerable influence in police circles and with the magistracy. In 2012, head of the Secret Services (MIT), Hakan Fidan, then in the middle of negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, who was the target of an charge launched by a Public Prosecutor close to the Brotherhood. Indeed, Gûlem’s movement is still very hostile to the PKK, especially as the brotherhood draws its inspiration from the Nurcu movement and its leader Saïd Nursi and the Kurdish neo-Sufis, while Ocalan was unsparing in his attacks on the “Gülenist plotters” early in 2013. A further grievance of the pro-Güllen groups is the planned suppression by the government of the private lessons given by the brotherhood (to candidates for the competitive examinations to university and specialist top level colleges), which was a lucrative source of revenue for them.
Taking advantage of the governments statements attacking the Gülienist stranglehold of the politico-legal apparatus, the Army, that had been decapitated by the sentencing of hundreds of their leaders in the military-nationalist Ergenekon scandal, filed a petition on 27 December for the retrial of 275 officers, journalists and elected officials, including the former Chief of the General Staff, Ilker Basbug, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment: “If the legal system rigged the cases for political ends it must re-open the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials based on charges, forged in the basis of rigged evidence”.
Indeed, on 29 December the new Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag, made a speech to appease the Army, which has never stomached the heaviness of the sentences passed in August 2012: “Injustices can take place at the trial level. This has happened in the past and is happening today. Injustices have been committed to some people in the past and to others today. Tomorrow it could happen that they may be committed to yet another group. What we must do is to unite against those injustices and actions that could be in breach of the Constitution and the Law”. At the same time, the Vice President of the AKP Parliamentary Group, Mustafa Elitas, stated to the daily paper Hürriyet that his government might envisage a fresh trial of the sentenced officers, in particular by amending the law to authorise a retrial. However, tow days later, on 30 December, the Deputy Prime Minister, Bülent Arinç, rejected any possibility of re-trying the officers convicted of having been involved in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy.
On 6 December, some armed men shot down a journalist investigating cases of corruption.
Kawa Ahmed Germyani, Chief editor of the magazine Rayal, and correspondent of the daily Awene, was 32 years of age. He was wounded by shots in the head and chest under his mother’s eyes in his home at Kalar, Suleimaniyah Province, in the evening. Taken to hospital, he died soon after.
Kawa Germiyani had earlier received death threats and was also being sued by several politicians and officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) whom he had criticised in his articles.
Reporters without Borders immediately condemned the murder and accused the authorities of the Iraqi Kurdistan RG having failed to provide the journalist, who knew he was in danger, with protection.
“We are horrified by Kawa Germyani’sassassination. Our sincerest condolences go to his family and colleagues. Known for his professionalism and his enquiries into cases of corruption and nepotism in the Region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the journalist knew that he was threatened. Moreover, he had warned the Region’s authorities about the threats he had received. This crime could have been avoided is those local authorities had taken the necessary measures to ensure his protection.
We are very concerned at the climate of great insecurity that hangs over journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan and In Iraq generally, as well as the impunity their attackers or assassins enjoy. Thus we urge the authorities, both local and national, to set up suitable measures to ensure that news professionals are able to do their job without fearing for their freedom or their lives. It is the duty of the authorities of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the central government in Baghdad to carry out deep investigations into these assassinations and on these groups that targets journalists”.
On the same day, 7 December, hundreds of people, journalists, lawyers and academics demonstrated in Suleimaniyah, in front of the Kurdish Parliaments premises, as well as in the towns of Kalar and Kifri. On 9 December, several dozens of journalists, representatives of civil society organisations and several members of Parliament demonstrated outside the UN offices in Erbil and presented it with a memorandum. They also waved placards, banners and photos of murdered journalists with the slogan “Yes Yesto Freedom —No No to murdering of journalists”.
The leader of Zar, a Civil Liberties Defence organisation, Hajar Anwar even was as far as to demand that the UN organisation in Iraq, UNAMI send and “international force to protect the lives of journalists as well as an international team to enquire into this murder.
Indeed, Hajar Anwar recalled that the other cases of journalist being murdered, that had taken place in the Kurdistan Region or in Kirkuk, like those of Soran Hama and Sardasht Osman, had never been cleared up. He also called all the civil society organisations, intellectuals and artists to continue their sit-in so as to put pressure on the KRG, accused of indifference (and even of direct involvement, as in the case of Sardasht Osman) regarding these murders of journalists.
On 11 December, some journalists also demonstrated in front of the Ministerial Council. Safeen Diyazee, the government’s spokesman, went out to discuss with them and promised that the enquiry would continue and that the government had decided to set up a commission of enquiry.
On 9 December, four suspects were arrested at Kalar, without their identities being disclosed.
However, the main suspect, from the start, was a PUK military leader, Mahmoud Sangawi, who had been criticised in an article by the victim and who had threaten him over the phone in July 2012. Indeed, Kawa Germiyani had recorded this phone call and had broadcast it as well as filing a complaint against Sangawi for his threats. He had demanded protection from the authorities and even the American consulate, but in vain.
On 18 December, the Region’s Minister of the Interior, published a communiqué in the Ministry’s Internet site stating that Mahmoud Sangawi was prepared to appear a thousand times before any court regarding Kawa Germiyani’s assassination, pointing out that till then he had received three phone calls from the Kalar court.
Finally on 7 January, Mahmoud Sangawi was brought before the judge responsible for the enquiry, who questioned him for two hours before deciding to keep him in detention. The suspect than asked to be sent to the Peshmerga Ministry, no doubt hoping for an army enquiry, but this request was rejected.
In all, four journalists have been assassinated since 2008. Dr. Abdul Al-Sattar, a 74-year old academic was killed in Kirkuk on 10 March 2008after writing in the daily Lvin, where he criticised the Kurdish leaders for not working more energetically to secure the integration of Kirkuk into the Region.
In July 2008, still in Kirkuk Province (thus outside the Kurdistan Region) the journalist Soran Mama Hama was shot down by unidentified killers — he had also been working for the same paper (Lvin).
In the Kurdistan region itself, at Erbil, Sardasht Osman was kidnapped in May 2010 and found again dead in Mosul a few days later. He had written several articles cutinising the nepotism of Masud Barzani and his clan.
More recently, in October 2013, some armed men attempted, in Suleimaniyah, to kill Shasiwar Abdul Wahid, a businessman and owner of a television channel, NRT, who had already been the target of two previous attacks.
In a communiqué, Reporters without Borders accused the Kurdish authorities of only having made a “pretence of enquiries” into these murders. Mahmoud Sangawi’s arrest is the first of a political leader being accused and arrested by the courts.
On 12 December the Independent Commission on Human Rights in Kurdistan gave a press conference on its annual report. The Commission’s President, Zeya Betruss Slewa, stated that despite improvements in the area of Human Rights, Kurdistan was still facing difficulties. Thus a large number of detainees are still awaiting trial. The Commission also called on Television for a review of the trials of 183 people who had been sentenced to death.
For the year 2013 alone, about a hundred people had lost their lives in their work places because of defective or insufficient safety measures and working conditions. Finally, the right to information by journalist as well as their safety are recurrent problems.
The impending session of the second Geneva Conference, set for 22 January, has not ended the dissentions between the Kurds in Syria. The dissentions were revived by the recent unilateral declaration of autonomy of “Western Kurdistan” which has irritated the Kurds of the Kurdish National Council, Massud Barzani, President of the KRG, the Syrian National Council and Turkey.
However, despite this, attempts to reconcile the views the PYD (the Syrian branch of the PKK) and the others Kurds as well as the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government have been unceasing throughout December, though without much success. The Kurds as a whole feel the need for both presenting a united front at Geneva yet failing to do so concretely keep blaming one another.
Salih Muslim, whose relations with Masud Barzani have considerably declined this autumn, gave a interview to the ANF News agency in 12 December in which he called on the Kurds to take part in Geneva as an “independent” delegation, that is not as part of the Syrian National Coalition, which the Kurdish National Council has intended doing as it is a member of that Coalition. At the same time, Leyla Zana (a Kurdish MP of the Turkish BDP) and Osman Baydemir (Mayor of Diyarbekir), who had met Masud Barsani during his visit to that town, both visited him in Erbil to act as mediators between the PYD and the Barzani’s KDP.
On 17 December, in a joint statement, the PKK and the KDP announced that an agreement had been reached on the subject of the Kurdish participation at the Geneva II summit.
On the same day, all the Syrian Kurds met in Erbil to try and reactivate the agreements signed between the PYD and the KNC in July 2012, under pressure from both Barzani and the PKK (as was admitted by a leading member of the Executive Council of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK-PKK)) as well as getting the Supreme Kurdish Council to really work (SKC). This was an attempt to create a platform that included both pro-PYD and pro-KNC parties:
“Our people, in the four parts of Kurdistan, was very worried by the disunity and incompatibility of positions that were leading to a weakening of the revolution. This discord and the resulting confusing not only weakened the revolution in Rojava but created obstacles to national unity. The result of contacts between the PKK and the KDP was the holding of a meeting of all the parties of Rojava and the reviving of the Supreme Kurdish National Council. This is a most important step”.
The tone was probably a bit too optimistic, since the PYD representatives then made a less definite and exulting statement on the result of the discussions and then insisted on affirming their power to make their own decisions, even independent of the PKK, as was stressed by Aldar Xelîl, a PYD member of the Supreme Kurdish Council:
“We are taking part in the Erbil meeting because we respect all the Kurdish parties. We hope that Qamishlo will become a centre for resolving conflicts. (It was at Qamishlo that the “autonomous government was proclaimed.) We are not against the fact that the other Kurdish parties want to help us settle our problems but, as Rojava (Rojava is the name of the new autonomous administration) parties and organisations we retain the power to make our own decisions”.
Despite rumours reported in Rudaw on a planned meeting between Masud Barzani, the President of Iraqi Kurdistan and Salih Muslim, the PYD leader, the two did not meet and were not planning to do so soon, as Jaffar Akashm PYD spokesman in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, stated categorically: “This report is wrong and Salih Muslim has no plans to meet Barzani. Salih Muslim has essentially nothing to do in this Region”.
On the second day of the discussions between the Syrian Kurds they were still discussing the possible participation of the Rojava People’s Assembly and the Supreme Kurdish Council at Geneva as an independent delegation and not as part of the Syrian National Coalition, despite the fact that the international powers organising the conference would certainly not accept the Kurds as an independent force. The formation of a Commission was also discussed to carry out enquiries into certain “incidents”, in particular into an anti-PYD demonstration at Amude that was violently repressed. The detention by the PYD Asayish (police force) of certain public figures belonging to parties allegedly hostile to it, like Al Parti and Azadi, and their eventual release were also discussed. The KNC parties made this an essential condition for renewing normal relations with the PYD, while the Rojava People’s Assembly, for its part, called for an enquiry into the motives for the “attacks” on the PYD that it presented as led by the Islamists and describes these detentions as being questions of maintaining public order and the law rather than politically motivated.
Since by 20 December the meeting seemed to be about to fail, as no agreement had been found on the form of its participation at Geneva or of that of the KNC in the administration of the newly autonomous Syrian Kurdistan, Nuri Brimo, spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party, interviewed by the Arabic daily Ashar al-Aswat threw all the blame on the PYD, accusing it of breaches of the Erbil agreement with its “individualist ideas, whereby it continued to insist on always having a leading position regarding Kurdish problems in Syria and preventing other parties of having a share in decision making”.
The PYD’s main demands at this meeting covered recognition of the new autonomy, rejected by the other Kurdish parties as Alan Semo, its spokesman pointed out to the daily Al-monitor: “The Supreme Kurdish Council must be formally recognised as a legitimate representative of the Syrian Kurds and its objectives must be respected and supported by the Kurdistani parties and all the Kurdish parties must trust the new provisional administration set up in Rojava.The KDP must formally encourage the Syrian Kurdish parties to support this administration for a unified Kurdish national strategy”. This amounts to demanding that the KDP ratify what it and the KNC denounce as the PYD’s stranglehold of Syrian Kurdistan.
The Kurdish National council, for its part wanted the re-opening of the Semalika-Pesh Khabour border crossing (that the PYD and the KDP have been accusing one another of “closing” for several months past), the freeing of political prisoners and its participation in decision making in the Kurdish government unilaterally declared by the PYD. According to Semo Brimo, since the latter had rejected these demands as “impossible” the discussions had reached a dead end.
Nuri Brimo added that Masud Barzani was very dissatisfied with the dissentions of the Syrian Kurds and insisted on the fact that if the Erbil agreements had really been carried out these tensions would not have arisen.
At the same time, Armed Jarba, President of the Syrian National Coalition re-iterated that the Kurdish National Council would be represented at Geneva by Abdel-Hamid Darwish, the secretary of the Kurdish Progressive Party in Syria and would be part of the Syrian opposition, independently of the PYD, which would thus go there alongside the representatives of Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government.
Three days later,Ilham Ahmed, of the PYD and a member of the Supreme Kurdish Council, described these remarks as “attempts to divide the Kurdish people” and of wanting to create “a new Lausanne through a fait accompli by preventing the unity of the Kurds”. Ilham repeated that “some progress” had taken place in the current discussions.
“The principal objective is to take part in Geneva as an independent delegation and to make the Kurdish question one of the principal points of the agenda. We think that this must be a pre-condition for participation as we do not want a new Lausanne (Treaty) to be imposed on the Kurds. It is impossible to set up a democratic Syria without resolving the Kurdish question. A consensus must be reached on this point, but discussions are continuing”. (Firat News)
On the issue of the autonomous government, Ilham Ahmed also denied that matters ad reached a dead end.
(Regarding the autonomous government): “There is the question of recognition of the Kurdish Supreme National Council and if it will be involved. They accept the fact that Western Kurdistan needs an administration but there are problems on how they will take part in it. The correct way is that the administration be elected by the people. Let us let the people decide what they want. That would not be a problem for us. However, discussions are continuing within the SKC on this issue”.
Regarding Ahmad Al Jarba’s remarks about the “collaboration” with the Baath: “Ahmed (al-Jarba) asks how such an administration can exist when the (Syrian) regime’s forces are still present. We find it significant that such a statement be made at a time when the Kurds are negotiating. Just as they divided the Kurds at the beginning by incorporating some of them, they are now uniting their efforts and trying to prevent things from happening”.
Ilham Ahmad then reaffirmed the “democratic” character of the present management of Rojava
On 25 December, it was finally announced that a unified delegation would leave for Geneva II and that a 10-point agreement had been reached between the PYD and the KNC. In addition to the resolution about leaving together for Geneva, it includes the opening of the Semalika border crossing (the side controlled by the PYD); the freeing of all political prisoners (even if Rojava’s Asayish spokesman, Ciwan Ibrahim, declared that there were no political prisoners in its prisons, just people arrested for “terrorism” and “illegal actions”); the formation of an 11-man Commission including independent activists to conduct enquiries into the bloody events at Amude and Tell Gharzzi in which civilians had been killed )which is an accusation made against the PYD). The parties are this finally in agreement to award the title of “martyrs in the struggle for democracy in Western Kurdistan” to all those who lost their lives in fighting against the regime.
According to Zara Saleh, member of the Kurdish Unity Party, the KNC and the PYD had agreed to demand “a secular and federal Syria” at Geneva.
On the other hand, no agreement could be found regarding the government of the PYD’s autonomous administration and the discussions on this were postponed to 15 January.
The question remains whether an independent Kurdish delegation, neither in the ranks of the opposition or that of the regime would be accepted by the organisers of Geneva II, which doers not seem likely at the moment, no Kurdish party having yet received an invitation, despite a campaign organised by the PYD and its allies like the BDP demanding that such a Kurdish delegation be admitted to Geneva.
Faced with this situation, it seems that the member parties of the KNC might maintain their original position of going to Geneva II as party of the Syrian Coalition, as originally planned — for which they are being criticised by the parties close to the PYD.
Finally, should the KNC go to Geneva as part of the Syrian Coalition, one does not know if the PYD will go there along side the regime’s representatives as Al-Jarba affirms. Nor, indeed, is it known if the Syrian Coalition will itself go to Geneva, as the Friends of Syria are making efforts to persuade it to do.
While scientists and ecologists have for many years been sounding the alarm regarding the dramatic drying up of Lake Urmiah, that straddles in Iran the borders of Kurdistan and Western Azerbaijan Provinces, the situation, already worrying in 2010 when 60% of its water had dried up, has not improved over the last four years.
In 1995, the lake’s area was 6100 km2 as against 2,366 in August 2011. According to Hassan Abbasnejad, the General Manager of Western Azerbaijan’s Environmental protection agency, 85% of the lake’s surface area has dried out and only 6% of its original extent remains on the South side.
Yet, in 1971 the Lake had been declared a “wet zone of international importance” by the Ramsar Convention and a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1976. Indeed, Lake Urmiah shelters 212 species of birds and is an essential shelter for a number of migratory birds, with its 102 islands, natural niches for many species of animals, both sedentary and migratory.Living in it are 41 species of reptiles, 7 amphibians, 27 species of mammal. It is also the largest natural habitat for artemia salina, a crustacean that is a major food for flamingos and other migratory birds, which could disappear because of the increased salinity resulting from its concentration in the waters.
This increased salinity is also a disaster for the region’s agriculture and for vegetation in general. There is also fear of the development of the notorious “salt storms” that have formed round the Aral Sea, which cause substantial damage to flora and fauna and are also the source of serious public health problems (increases of respiratory illnesses, throat and œsaphagus cancers and eye problems.
The principal cause of this slow death of Lake Urmiah is the increasing number of dams on the watercourses that feed the lake, together with the building of 130 Km long motorway, part of which crosses the lake via a one and a half Km long bridge as well as a dame on the lake itself. Industrial wastes, which for a long time were mainly blamed, seem, finally, to be less important.
To save the lake its level has to be raised by supplying it with water. Thus in 2011, President Ahmadinjad had ordered that 600 millions of cubic metres of water from the Aras dam be poured into the lake to replenish it. It is also necessary, according to a report of the UN Environment Programme to reduce agriculture by irrigation, which is difficult because of agricultural activity’s great dependence in this source of water, as well as the population growth and the climate changes that are increasing the whole region’s needs.
Another solution would be to divert other watercourses so that they could also feed the lake — the Zab, the Aras or the waters of the Caspian Sea. The last, however, is too far away and would be the most expensive. Moreover, the Caspian Sea is shared with neighbouring states, while the Zab also flows through Turkey and Iraq and half of the Aras basin is in Azerbaijan. So far, negotiations have been unsuccessful. Even recourse to local rivers is likely to be insufficient, even though it would be the least expensive and quicker to carry out.
Another means could be to stimulate greater rainfall by seeding clouds with aerosols that increase the condensation of water vapour. This technique, however, has a very limited effect.
On 22 November 2013, the first international conference to preserve the lake was held in Berlin. European, American and Iranian experts met to discuss means of checking the lake’s disappearance.
The problem before the conference was presented in this way:
“Lake Urmiah, located in North-Western Iran at qw70 m above sea level, is one of the largest permanent lakes in the world and in many ways is similar to the Great Salt lake in the United States morphologically, chemically and in its sediments. The lake was declared a “wet zone of international importance” by UNESCO in 1976.
Because a dyke was built across the middle of the lake in 1980 to carry a motorway, the lake is partially divided into two — the gap that connects the two parts is only 1400 metres wide. In addition to the earlier dams built before the 1979 revolution, 10 have been built on rivers that flow into lake Urmiah since 2000.
In general, the saline Lake Urmiah has been shrinking for a long time and seen its depth diminish in a significant manner in the course of the last few years. The lake’s salinity has increased to reach over 300 grs/l in 2010 and considerable areas of the lake’s bed have dried out. Because of the recent drop in the lake’s water lever, there is a real danger for the lakes future as a world natural resource.
Current geomorphologic, hydro-chemical, hydrological and hydro-ecological studies show an ecological and environmental catastrophe in the region round the lake. The highly saline character of the lake’s waters leads to a high rate of evaporation (100cm/anum), which has a negative effect on the eco-system and encourages desertification, which is already visible in many areas round the lake.
For several years past, Iran has tried to carry out measures to stop the deterioration of the lake and its eco-system, but with little success. Considering that only an overall approach based on natural, economic technical and social sciences can resolve the problem. The main object of the conference is to encourage a fruitful discussion and intellectual exchange of views between those taking part. The conference aims to draw up a long-term water management plan for the lake and the biosphere of the area round the lake.
The principal questions dealt with at the conference are the following:
- What is the present situation (environmental, economic, social and hydrological) of Lake Urmiah?
- What measures have already been studied and carried out?
- What are the human roles (and, secondarily the climatic ones) in the drying up of the lake?
- What can be done to avoid increasing the rate of evaporation and the consequent deterioration of the lake’s eco-system?
- What lessons can be drawn from the Aral Sea and the Dead Sea?
- What alternative measures can be taken to stop this evolution ad to help the lake’s environment and restore it? Is an overall plan possible?
- Can a middle and long-term comprehensive, global approach be defined, based on urgent objectives?
Prof. Dr. Siegmar W. Breckle (department of Ecology, Bielefeld University) : “From Aral Sea to Aralkum - Problems and solutions for a lost lake” ;
Dr. Michael Kaltofen, Director of the Department of Methodological Advice, DHI-WASY GmbH, Dresden:“Integrating German Iranian experience - Battle for water in Zayandeh River basin” ;
Dr. Massoud Bagherzadeh Karimi, Assisten General Manager of the Office for protected wet zones and habitats des zones et habitats protégés, Department of Environnment of the Islamic Republic of Iran: “”;
Dr. Mahdi Motagh & Dr. Sigrid Roessner, Department of geodesy and remote sensing, Helmholtz Center Potsdam, GFZ : “Contribution of remote sensing for natural hazards assessment in Iran”;
Prof. Dr. Bahram Taheri, Amirkabir University of Technology, Teheran: “A comprehensive analysis of long-term strategic dynamic rehabilitation and preservation plan for Lake Urmia”.
On 14 December, an international conference on the Syrian civil war, organised by the Paris Kurdish Institute, took place in Paris. It was entitled: “The Syrian civil war: regional impacts and perspectives”, and was introduced as follows:
As you know, over and above the heavy toll it has levied (over a hundred thousand deaths and nearly two million refugees, the destruction of several towns) this war, which has lasted for two years, has resulted in a violent fragmentation within Syrian society. Moreover, this conflict that shows the limitations of the Western model when applied to the Near East, is also exerting destructuring pressures on the whole region by involving many areas, recognised states and otherwise, (Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan) directly in the conflict. It is also leading to a worrying redefinition of the regional map along religious and communal lines thus sharpening, in its wake, the tensions between the regional powers (Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar …)
Without being insensitive to the issues of the moment, the international symposium hopes to analyse the Syrian conflict on the basis of fresh historical and political perspectives as well as in the multiplicity of its internal and regional ramifications.
The first Round Table was chaired by Ms Joyce Blau, Professor Emeritus and covered the regional impacts of the Syrian civil war.
Mrs Myriam Benraad, a research worker associated with the Sciences-Po.-CERI.Since Iraq has been in a situation of considerable violence and instability since 2003, the “dislocation of Syria” has still further aggravated the conflicts already existing in Iraq. In both the Syrian and Iraqi cases, there is a similar calling into question of the Nation States set up by the French and British during the colonial era, in which we can see an obliteration of national borders.
The Syrian conflict further accentuates a trend towards making denominational differences issues, with the Sunni provinces of Iraq acting in solidarity with a fringe of the Sunni opposition armies in Syria. As far as Iraqi is concerned, the impact is threefold: on the borders, with the Sunni solidarity, regional, by thwarting Iraq’s desire to be major political power in the Middle East, and international.
Hamit Bozarslan, research director at the EHESS, in Paris, dealt with the impact of the Syrian conflict on Turkey, pointing out that from the start, for Turkey “the Syrian Conflict was experienced as an internal conflict”, not only because of the half-million Syrian refugees on its land but but because this conflict reflects its own Kurdish and denominational conflicts.
One should be cautious about the denominational issue since in Iraq and in Syria this was not a determining factor in their history between 1920 and 2000. It is only in the last decade that power has bee taken over by clans from these communities. Indeed throughout the region, the denominational map of confrontation is new.However, it places Turkey in conflict with Iran and on the same side as Saudi Arabia, whereas until 2010 there was an Ankara-Teheran Axis.
Regardingthe Kurds, for Erdogan recognising the Kurds of Turkey implies that they should accept to become part of Sunni Turkey “or at least accept to serve that nation”. He even makes himself the “protector of the Iraqi Kurds” because they are also Sunni.
The Syrianand Iranian response was broadly to withdraw from the Kurdish zones of Syria. Bachar al-Assad has this fallen back on his capital and on the strategic zones going in Alawistan going from Damascus, Homs, Qusayr and Lattaqia. This is also a response to Ankara — the Turkish support for the Jihadists leading to Damascus’s support for a pro-PKK Syrian Kurdish party.
Bernard Keyberger, Research director at IISMM-EHESS, described the situation of the Christians in Syria
Bernard Keyberger, director of research at IISMM-EHESS described the situation of the Christiansin Syria, where they are between 4 and 8% of the population, divided between several churches with different histories and structures and “no particular ethnic characteristics”. Infformation regarding the Christians and their present situation is hard to gather since it is often subject tomanipulation both by the rebels and the regime’s supporters. Many Christians have left the country, about 60% of them. The majority of those remaining are in Government controlled areas, which could explain the cautious statements by Bishops and Patriarchs who, it must be said were lines up behind the Assad regime from the start.
Mrs Azadeh Kian, lecturer at Paris-7 University (Diderot), sketched out Syrio-Iranian relations. Iran has supported the Syrian regime ever since the Iranian Revolution and, for its part, Syria was the only Arab country to support Iran during the Iraq-Iran war. Thus Syria allowed Iran to extend its influence in the region, particularly in the Lebanon and in the Palestine conflict. Today, Syria has become a battleground between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So far Iranian support for Syria has been indirect, only a few dozen Pasdarans have been killed or captured in Syria. However Iran is intervening through the Lebanese Hezbollah and a group of Iraqi Shiites. However the Hezbollah is a Lebanese force and does not have any interests in being presented as Iran’s armed wing or in diverging to far from its own Lebanese interests.
Today, it is in Iran’s interest to find a solution to the Syrian crisis for economic reasons. However, so long as relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are antagonistic, both countries will continue to strengthen their regional position through groups involved in the that conflict.
Thus the international community and the Geneva Conference have the most important role of helping ease this rivalry.
Matthieu Rey, research associate at the Collège de France, compared the Iraqi and Syrian routes — “Baath against Baath”. The Baath Party, that has always claimed a pan-Arab ideology and wanted to preside over the destinies of all the Arab countries, only ever asserted itself in these two countries. Both regimes were highly personalised round two figures Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad. State violence and a personality cult made them similar to certain European totalitarian regimes. Hafez al-Assad achieved power, as the public saw it, as an omnipotent single man. However, he enabled the promotion of a group of men whose prerogatives he recognised, in an accepted collegial administration based on intelligence systems that prevented opposition. Bachar al-Assad destroyed this collegial system and became an increasingly isolated person. In 2011 he set into action the present system based on one chief and some apparati.
Jordi Tejel, lecturer and researcher at the Geneva Institute of International Research and Development presented a “view of the Syrian Kurds” that, in his view, was placed in a major dilemma by the 2011: wither to join the revolutionary movement or to place itself and an intermediary between the regime and the Kurdish population so as to secure concessions.
As from 2012 tere was a convergence of interests between the PYD and the Dmascus government: the regime allowed the PYD to take control of the North to show Turkey that its Southern border was threatened. In exchange, the PYD was to become the hegemonic foece in the North of Syria at the expense of the other Kurdish parties, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria, linked to that of Masud Barzani in Iraqi Kurdistan. There ensued a cold war, a conflict by proxy between the PKK and the KDP through the PYD and the KNC. At the same time the Syrian regime was spared a Kurdish armed prising.
In November 2013 the PYD announced a sort of autonomy, a transitory administration of the territories it controlled, which was attacked by Masud Barzani. There is thus, at the moment, a strong state of tension within the Kurdish camp — there is no “Kurdish Spring” in Syria.
The second Round Table was Chaired by Kendal nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute. It explored the the conflict’s perspectives.
Joseph Bahout, lecturer atSciences-Po first of all sketched the effects of the Syrian crisis on the Lebanon before going on to the overall political perspectives and the Geneva Conference and what can be expected of it.
The thing that distinguished the Lebanon from other countries in the region is its marked polarisation and the Sunni-Shiite division, which existed long before the Syrian crisis and the Arab springs.
Three issues show that the Lebanon has more than one foot caught in the Syrian crisis and that it is also its own crisis:
- the refugee issue: Lebanon has 3.6 million inhabitants with between 800,000 and 1,200,000 Syrian refugees, which means there is 1 Syrian for every 3 or 4 Lebanese in the country.
- the movement of men, equipment and money the networkof fighters between Syria and the Lebanon — and that on both sides. Hizbollah has tens of thousands of fighters in Syria who cross the borders every day. The Sunni Jihadist fighter networks also leave from the North and the Western Bekka to fight in homs, Idlib or elsewhere.
- the financial factor: because of its banking secrecy and its developed financial system the Lebanon is handling a financial flow that could, in time endanger its structure.
Thus the Lebanon is not on the edge of the Syrian war —it is already in this war, even if this war will not necessarily take the forms of its civil war of 1974-5.
The political perspectives for Geneva II: if the balance of power continues to be deadlocked in the field between the two sides, we can’t expect much more than a series of temporary agreements of a humanitarian character, as during the Lebanese war, which will go side by side with the conflict until there is a political solution.
The geopolitical expert, Gerard Chaliand sees the Syrian crisis as three-dimensional, with and international dimension (Russia, the USA and Europe), a civil war between a dictatorship and a population of which the majority are Sunni who oppose an authority taken over by 15% of Alawiites and other minority fractions. The third is that of a generalised conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, in which the role of Saudi Arabia is central.
The Syrian conflict is a “coagulation” of the struggle between Shiites and Sunnis, with the Saudi determination to weaken iran and the difficulty the other has of escaping from the “ghetto”.
Peter Galbraith, former US Ambassador to Croatia and a specialist on the Balkans and the Near East, pointed out that the Shiite regime in Baghdad, that lacks support of the Iraqi Sunnis supported the Alawiites and Assad while the Iraqi Sunnis support the Syrian Sunnis who hope to start a civil war in Iraq again. In the North, there is a pacified Kurdistan in Iraq and the most peaceful part of Syria is Syrian Kurdistan.
In Kurdistan, there is a population that unanimously wishes for independence. The United States was probably the country the least capable of understanding the reality and adapting itself to it. American policy in Iraq was based on the idea of a united and strong Iraq is being shattered. The United States will, in time, admit the realities of the changing map of the Near East.
Fuad Hussein, chief of staff of the President of Iraqi Kurdistan, recalled that the Syrian conflict had a direct effect on Iraqi Kurdistan, firstly because it shelters, today, 250,000 refugees from Syrian Kurdistan, mostly Kurds but with also a high number of Christians.
What is happening in Syria also has an impact on Iraqi Kurdistan since this war is linked to the deploying of al-Qaida along the borders of Turkey and Syria. Al-Qaida has proclaimed the creation of an Islamic Syrian and Iraqi State — this movement is very active in Mosul, Tikrit and the Sunni regions of Iraq.
As for Syria, in discussions with the representatives of Kurdish political parties in Syria, several scenarios have been examined from the start of the conflict. The KRG considered that the Kurds should join this movement, of which the Kurds had been the forerunners in 2004. This was to position them as the “first opponents” of this government. Today there are several scenarios being discussed: if Syria undergoes a transition to democracy what would be the impact on the Kurds? Similarly what impact would result from the division of Syria? The conflict will probably get bogged down and Geneva II will be a great media event for the Western powers without much impact in the field and we can expect a Geneva II, IV, V etc.The problems will continue in Syria, with the same division between what is happening in the field and what is taking place at the international community level.
Bernard Kouchner, former French Foreign and European Affairs Minister, first of all gave some basic issues:
In the Lebanon, the major problem is that of refugees — it is the greatest exodus since the Second World War. In this country as elsewhere, there is the spectre of al-Qaida which is everywhere in the region and is becoming a major preoccupation for Moslems.
The Kurds could thus propose a “confederation”, that is to say more autonomy, a real independence in matters concerning each entity’s own destiny on the military, economic etc level — which is the European Union’s model, even if it is still being criticised. The Kurds are already becoming indispensible factors in the region and they should press home their advantage by clearly uniting the Kurdish political forces of Syria and Iraq.
Bernard Dorin, former French Ambassador, wound up with the idea that this war in Syria is a purely religious war between Arabs and not political, ideological or ethno-linguistic except for the Kurds. This war is unending, because of the powers on both sides and their foreign alliances (Russia and Iran on one side, Saudi Arabia on the otherside) — hence large numbers of deaths, hatred and reprisals are inevitable.
Thus in the long term we will have to return to France’s “brilliant solution in 1920”, during the Syrian mandate when, having understood that there were regions that could not be reconciled with ne another, it planned a Syrian Republic with Damascus as its capital, a Druse republic to the South, An Alawiite republic in the Tartus-Lattaqia region to which must be added a Kurdish republic.
The last speaker was Dr. Ismaïl Beşikçi, a Turkish sociologist and a long time activist of the Kurdish cause, invited to France for the First time on the occasion of the Kurdish Institute’s 30th Anniversary.In his view, three States were involved: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. People talk about “Rojava”, about this part of South-West Kurdistan. Everywhere this self-management has or is emerging. Those three States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have only one aim — to do everything to prevent self-management taking place. With regard to the Kurds and Kurdistan, there have been great and important changes in the last few years that it would have been impossible to imagine happening a few years ago.
The Kurdish composer, conductor, clarinet player and artist Hussein Youssef-Zamani, a major public figureof classical Kurdish and Iranian music died on 31 December in Teheran. He was 80 years of age.
Born on 23 August 1933 at Sine, he had a half-century long musical career. At the age of 15 he entered the Sine School of Army Music from which he graduated. He performed on the radio and formed the Kurdish Orchestra, which enjoyed a great audience throughout Kurdistan, well beyond the Iranian borders in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. He then went to study at the Teheran Music Conservatory, where he led several major orchestras — the Teheran Symphony Orchestra, the Radio-Television Orchestra and the Opera Orchestra. He also taught music in several Faculties and led a Folk Music group at Teheran Radio as from 1962.
As a composer, he has several symphonic Works to his crédit, like: Sohrab´s Death, Free, The Battle March, The Invocation, The Wave, The Fragrant Rain, The Body Cage . . .He also wrote nearly two hundred songs for the most outstanding Iranian singers like Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Sima Bina, or Kurdish ones Shahram Nazeri and Mazhar Khaliqî.