Despite the many meetings this winter between KRG delegations and the Iraqi Central government, the crisis over the budget and oil policy between Erbil and Baghdad has not calmed down but rather threatens to turn into a form of financial blackmail. At the beginning of February, the Kurdish Region’s Minister for Natural Resources confirmed that the KRG had started delivering oil to Turkey (2 mullion barrels of crude in January with the aim of 12 million barrels a month by the end of the year) — which Baghdad still considers illegal.
On 18 February, another meeting between a Kurdish delegation (led by Nêçirvan Barzani, the Kurdish Prime Minister) and the Central government took place in Baghdad and was just as ineffective as the previous ones. The Iraqi Prime Minister’s office merely stated, in a communiqué, the wish of both parties “to reach an agreement” while the Iraqi Oil Minister, Abdul Karim Luaibi, confirmed that negotiations would continue “until the conflict with the KRG was resolved”.
However, this conciliatory tone was oddly in contrast with the other aspect of the conflict, that over the portion of the budget allocated to the Kurdistan Region. Baghdad’s reduction of this from 17% to 11% is strongly opposed by the Kurds, both those in the KRG and those in the Iraqi Cabinet. On the very day that Nêçirvan Barzani ended his meeting with the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Assistant Minister of Finance, Fazil Nabil, a Kurd, threatened to resign from the government if the KRG did not receive “its fair share” of the budget. Fazil Nabi accused point blank Nuri al-Maliki and Hussein Sharistani (the Deputy Prime Minister, who has been fighting against Erbil on the oil issue for years past).
“Maliki has ordered the cut in the budget to get the population of the Kurdistan Region to revolt against the Regional Government”, he declared in an interview with the Kurdish daily Rudaw. “Baghdad has never been as tough against the Kurds before — it has used threats before, but never to this extent”.
The Assistant Minister explained that he had anticipated this measure by his own Minister and the Iraqi Deputy Premier, by rapidly sending to the KRG the money due for paying the Kurdish civil servants their wages for the month of January on the 8th of the month, before his superiors had decided to cut funds to his fellow countrymen — which happened soon after. Fazil Nabi said he had had “a very tough” argument with his Finance Minister, from which he had come convinced that Nuri al-Maliki and Hussein Sharistani “were behind all this”. According to him, Nuri Maliki had even insisted on cutting the Kurdish share of the budget saying “Let the Kurds revolt against the KRG!”.
If these remarks attributed to the Iraqi Prime Minister are exact, Nuri Maliki’s strategy in anticipating a revolt of the Kurds against their leaders because they had been “punished” by Baghdad says a lot about the psychological ignorance and blindness of the central government regarding Kurdish public opinion which, by an overwhelming majority, would rather opt for independence if given the opportunity.
Fazil Nabil’s “preventive” reflex also is a clear indication of Iraq’s internal disintegration, where Sunni Arabs are in a state of virtual insurrection and Kurdish Ministers in the Iraqi Cabinet engage in on the spot resistance to defend the Constitutional rights of their Region.
In direct reply to and basically confirming Fazil Nabil’s accusations, Hussein Sharistani stated in a televised interview on 20 February, that the Finance Minister had, in the end, sent enough funds to cover the wages of the Kurdish civil servants (but, as we know thanks to Fazil Nabil) but that he was facing “a liquidity crisis” and would not be able to pay their February wages “so long as the Region did not send its oil exports to Iraq”.
Hussein Sharistani also announced, while he was at it, that the Kurds had finally accepted to export their crude through SOMO, the State organisation responsible for selling Iraqi oil and linked to the Iraqi Oil Ministry.
“After hours of discussion in our meeting we finally agreed that our Kurdish brothers be represented in the SOMO, which is the sole national outlet responsible for oil”.
Sharistani affirmed that his government had no “objection” to the KRG exporting its oil — on condition that SOMO controlled the sales mechanisms, the turnover and the revenues.
From the start of this conflict, triumphant statements regarding the resolution of problems made by one side were straight away contradicted by the other — and this was no exception to the rule . . . The KRG spokesman, Safeen Dizayee, immediately reacted to Hussein Sharistani’s remarks by retorting that his government had in no way agreed to the supervision of its crude exports by SOMO, which he considered equivalent to placing Kurdistan “at Baghdad’s mercy” and that “discussions were continuing” The Kurds proposed, on the contrary, to deposit Kurdistan’s oil revenues at the Iraqi Central Bank, on condition that they had free use of their account there, after the Kurdish Parliament had ratified the overall budget
Safeen Dizayee also accused Baghdad of acting in this way to satisfy the rank and file of certain “influential parties” with an eye to the coming Iraqi Parliamentary elections. The Kurdish Government’s spokesman unsparingly taunted the Iraqi politicians, adding that many of them aught to thank the Region for providing an economic area in Iraq that was so favourable in terms of security and stability that many of them used it for their own personal ends, as for example settling their families there, far from Baghdad’s instability, insecurity and terrorism as well as that of other Iraqi towns.
“The bulk of Baghdad officials and politicians go there to work five days a week and spend their weekends in the Region”.
As for “the Kurdish street”, it was not in revolt against its government. Strikes had begun to take place in Suleimaniah Province, when some workers complained of not being paid at the end of January and a demonstration had been organised by the Kurdistan Communist Party and the Workers’ Party on 11 February in front of the city’s Parliamentary offices. The days before, the staff of the Suleimaniah Water and Electricity Departments had demonstrated for the same reason.
It was then that the Finance Ministry issued a communiqué stating that the cause of the delays in payment were due to the blocking of funds by the Central government.
The next day, 12 February, the Kurdistan Investors Union announced that it hoped to deposit 100 billion dinars at the Suleimaniah branch of the Kurdistan Central Bank after organising a collection among Kurdish investors and businessmen so as to pay the wages of local civil officials.
On 23 February, some Kurdistan representatives in the Iraqi Parliament and the Federal Government, representatives of the Region’s different political factions and the Regional Government met in a conference at Erbil to discuss the latest political developments and agree on a common four-point statement in response to the Iraqi economic sanctions. The statement was unanimously approved by those taking part:
“In accordance with the Constitution, Iraqi Kurdistan is part of Iraq and is thus endowed with all the rights and powers set forth in that constitution. This includes its share of the budget resulting from the national revenue. The government cannot, under any pretext, reduce wages as a means of putting pressure on the KRG.
Although the KRG has other options for meeting the population’s wages and other needs, negations must take place between the Iraqi Federal Government and the KRG based on respect for the Constitutional rights of the Kurdistan Region.
We call on the Iraqi Prime Minister to put an end to this illegal and unconstitutional policy. The share of the budget and the wages of the Kurdistan Region are constitutional rights and must not be withheld. The outstanding issues with the KRG must be resolved by dialogue and negotiation.
We call on the religious authorities, the United Nations, the governments and countries having relations with Iraq, the member States of the Islamic Conference Organisation and the member States of the Arab League to assume their responsibility by using their influence to put an end to the policy of economic sanctions being conducted against the population and government of the Kurdistan Region. This policy is totally unjustified and in flagrant violation of the Constitutional Law and against the international agreements and fundamental principles of Human Rights.
Six months after the September 2013 Parliamentary elections, which saw the victory of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the defeat of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) by Gorran, the principal opposition movement, the new Kurdish Regional Government still hasn’t been formed.
On 5 February, a meeting took place between the Region’s Prime Minister, Nêçirvan Barzani, and Nawshirwan Mustafa, the leader of Gorran, but it failed to reach an agreement and neither of the parties has made any official statement on the meeting’s conclusions.
The principal block seems to come from the respective claims of the PUK and Gorran, the two rival parties many based on Suleimaniah, both claiming the right to several Key posts, such as the Region’s Deputy Prime Minister, a position that previously had gone to a PUK member when the Prime Minister was KDP — which is the present situation.
Gorran is said to have begun by demanding this position because of its indisputable victory over the PUK, which it outvoted in the last elections. The PUK, however, advanced its long alliance with the KDP, considering that the latter should not deprive it of this position, which is perhaps also important in its view because it represents the principle of power-sharing between Minister and Assistant Minister. This was set up, for the first time after the 1992 elections in order to avoid (unsuccessfully) a civil war. To renounce this would publicly confirm the PUK’s loss of influence and political weight as a result to dropping from 2nd to 3rd place.
Aram Sheikh Mohammed, head of Gorran’s election committee, who has acted as Gorran spokesman in these negotiations and also as its press officer, accuses the KDP and, even more the PUK for this delay, saying they are incapable of dropping the forms of a compromise inherited from Kurdish political history, which have no weight today because of the new situation resulting from the elections.
On 11 February, when public opinion was getting impatient and protest demonstrations were being held in Suleimaniah by civil associations and organisations, the KDP and Gorran announced that an agreement had been reached — Mustafa’s party accepting to have the post of Minister of the Interior, instead of that of Deputy Prime Minister, and to have the Speaker of Parliament instead of Vice President of the Region.
The PUK would thus retain the post of Deputy Prime Minister. With regard to the post of Minister of the Interior, which would go to Gorran, the agreement stipulated that this depended on the approval of all the political parties with members in the Cabinet.
However, no sooner had this agreement been announced in the press than Gorran denied, through Aram Sheikh Mohammed, any final decision: “There is no official result of the discussions held between the movement (Gorran) and the KDP”.
On 13 February, a Gorran delegation, led by its head, Nawshirwan Mustafa, arrived at Erbil this time to meet the Region’s President. Masud Barzani. Nawshirwan Mustafa is said to have insisted that a Cabinet be formed “as quickly as possible”, to which the President had assented, as Aram Sheikh Mohamed declared to the daily Awene.
What emerged from this meeting, according to KNN, was that the Ministry of Natural Resources (a key post at a time when the crisis with Baghdad was at its height) would go to the KDP while Gorran would be confirmed in it its attribution of the Ministry of the Interior and of the post of Speaker of Parliament.
Discussions were still taking place in mid-February, however, when Dr. Ako Hama Karim, one of the members of the Gorran delegation, repeated that his party would never give way on the attribution of Minister of the Interior, “a red line” that would condition any future participation in this eighth Cabinet. According to the Sharpress Agency, the KDP had proposed that Gorran should give up the Ministry of the Interior and accept that of Finance in its place — unsuccessfully . . .
According to Shafaaq News, Gorran’s insistence on having the Interior (which is combined with that of the Peshmergas) comes from its desire to control Suleimaniah Province faced with a PUK that was balking at letting it take office. Gorran accuses the PUK (and, to some extent the KDP) of having put pressure on the electorate, through the police force and, especially, the local officials to reorient their vote. Thus, it affirms, the preceding government had fired 1000 members of the staff of several administrative departments suspected of being members or sympathisers of Gorran.
Will the understanding between the KDP and its former ally deteriorate as the negotiations drag out and Gorran gradually secures the positions that it is demanding? At any rate, the two parties are blaming one another for the deadlocks. The PUK does not seem ready to “give up the Interior”, according to a member (anonymous so far) of its Political Committee, speaking in confidence to the daily Hawlati. According to him, his party had not accepted the attribution of the Interior to Gorran and would continue to put pressure on the KDP on this issue in the hop of either keeping the Interior or the Peshmergas (preferably the first).
Wasta Rasul, another PUK leader, is even said to have started that as his party had “the military power” the Interior was due to it by right.
As far as the Deputy Prime Minister’s post is concerned, there are three PUK candidates standing: Hakim Qadir, a member of the Political Committee Executive, Imad Ahmed, also a member of the Political Committee and the outgoing Deputy PM and finally Qubad Talabani, the son of the Iraqi President and PUK General Secretary, Jalal Talabani.
Indeed, the PUK’s political situation is further complicated by the party’s internal differences, especially as its recent defeat has not eased the dissensions between it leaders, who were fighting over the succession to Jalal Talabani even before the elections.
Thus the PUK’s Fourth Congress, which was due to take place on 31 January, was postponed sine die by the party’s leading organs.
On 2 February, the PUK’s Assistant General Secretary, Dr. Barham Salih, resigned from his position stating to the press that he was henceforth only “an ordinary member of the party” and would remain so until the party succeeded in resolving its internal problems and held its Fourth Congress.
Barham Salih’s resignation and the postponing of the Fourth Congress to an undetermined date worried the Kurdish Government as this only worsened the poor security climate in Suleimaniah Province, which had recently been shaken by several political assassinations. On learning the news the Prime Minister, Nêçirvan Barzani, warned that any danger threatening the province’s “safety” and “stability” would be a “red line”. The daily paper Rudaw also reported that Iranian delegations were trying to act as mediators within the PUK. Iran, indeed, is worried at the “descent to inferno” of the Kurdish party with which it had closer relations than with the other Kurdish parties.
On 21 January Mrs Hero Talabani, the wife of President Talabani, had refuted rumours that she wanted to postpone the Fourth Congress, stating that, on the contrary she was doing her utmost to ensure it was held and successful. Nevertheless, five days later the PUK Managing Council and General Assembly decided to adjourn the Congress until the party’s situation was “more appropriate” for it to be held.
The PUK’s internal crisis is in danger of becoming a major political crisis for Kurdistan as a whole, hindering the formation of a government of national unity, which the population is expecting.
Two reports regarding freedom of the press and information in the world during the year 2013 were recently published. One is by Reporters without Borders (RSF) and the other is by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ).
Unsurprisingly, Syria is in the bottom ranks of Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) classification. Coming in position 176 (out of 180). RSF points out that “of all the countries classified, it is the one where abuses of power are the most frequent. Information professionals are take as targets by the different parties in the conflict, by the regular army and by the opposition factions that are waging a war on information”.
CPJ also classes Syria as the deadliest country for journalists who since 2013 have also been faced with supplementary threats from some radical Islamic groups. The number of kidnappings trebled in 2013. Many of the kidnapped journalists are held by groups affiliated to al-Qaida or to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. However, armed factions coming from the ranks of the Free Syrian Army or pro-government groups are also blamed for some violations of press freedom, detentions and murders. Many foreign correspondents now refuse to enter the country and Syrian journalists have a choice between exile or living in fear. At least 61 Syrian and foreign journalists were kidnapped in 2013 by different groups in the field, sometimes by non-Syrian fighters, (there were only 23 kidnappings of journalists in 2012). Some of these journalists were released or managed to escape but, at the end of 2013, the fate of 30 of them remains unknown.
There were 29 journalists, foreign or Syrian, last year, including the photographer Olivier Voisin, who was wounded in Syria but died of wounds in Turkey soon after.
Iran comes in the 174th place in the RSF classification. The Ministry of Information and the Guardians of the Revolution continue to control all information, be it through the written press, Internet sites or audiovisual media. RSF also talks of an “internationalisation of repression because the families of Iranian journalists working abroad or for Iranian-based foreign media are “taken as hostages”. The Islamic Republic also earns the titled of the “fifth largest prison in the world for agents of news and information”.
Throughout the election period until the elections in June 2013, Ahmedinjad’s government indulged in preventive arrests, closed down newspapers and banned publications, exerted pressure on the families of exiled journalists and deliberately slowed down Internet traffic. Foreign correspondents had difficulty in securing visas and those that were able to go to Iran faced all kinds of restrictions in the field.
Ahmedinjad’s government also openly acknowledged its policy of repressing the media, arguing that it was a matter of thwarting “a BBC plot against the Islamic Republic”. Thus in March 2013 the Minister of Information, Heydar Moslehi, declared: “600 Iranian journalists are part of a network of spies working against the State in association with the BBC. Their arrests were aimed at preventing the emergence of any sedition during the elections”. Between 26 January and 6 March the CPJ recorded the arrest of 20 journalists in an extensive wave of repression aimed at stifling any dissent before polling day. At least 24 families of people working for the BBC or Radio Farda were subjected to harassment and intimidation from the authorities.
Over and above the usual censoring of Internet, the government took extraordinary measures to limit exchanges on line, using the closest surveillance instruments of private networks. In general, Twitter and Facebook were blocked in the country, even if, paradoxically many leading members of the regime have official or semi-official accounts on these networks.
Turkey (classed 154th by RSF) won first place as the “biggest prison in the world for journalists”. RSF attacked “the State’s security paranoia, which tends to see every criticism as the result of plots hatched by a variety of illegal organisations” which “became still more accentuated in the course of a year marked by a considerable increase in tension over the Kurdish question”.
CPJ also describes Turkey as being “the worst dungeon for the press” with 40 journalists in jail — the overwhelming majority of whom being Kurds. The authorities continue to harass and censor any critical voice, for example be having people working in the media fired.
Thus nearly 80 journalists have been fired or forced to resign for having covered the events in Gazi Park in June 2013. In general the Turkish government is highlighted for its attempts at censorship and its threats and restriction on the use of Internet.
The CPJ also notes that the process of negotiations begun with the PKK has not, for the moment, succeeded in freeing the Kurdish journalists. The legal amendments undertaken by the government have not brought about any effective reform of the laws hampering freedom of the press and expression of opinion other than “a timid advance” that may limit the use of the measures against “terrorist propaganda” — widely used against journalists, publishers and writers. However, the amendments have retained one of the most freedom-strangling articles against the press — the one that allows conviction for “membership of an armed organisation” of some 60% of the journalists imprisoned in Turkey as of 1st December 2013.
Amongst the cases of harassment and threats against journalists that are current in Turkey, the CPJ cited the campaign of attacks on Twitter waged by the Mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, against a Turkish journalist working for the BBC, Selin Girit, in June 2013, publicly describing him as “a traitor and spy” on Internet for covering some anti-government demonstrations.
During the Gezi Park events, at least 22 journalists were fired and 37 others obliged to resign solely for having done their job according to the Union of Turkish Journalists. During those events the police used tear gas and water canons to disperse not only the demonstrators but also the journalists present.
However, it is not just the Gezi Park events that face State censorship. This Hasan Cemal, an editorial writer on the daily paper Milliyet, was fired a few weeks after the Turkish Prime Minister had criticised, in March 2013, something the paper had published and this journalist’s work in particular. Milliyet had, in fact, published minutes of a meeting between the PKK leadership and some Members of Parliament of the pro-Kurdish BDP party. Hasan Cemal had, in his writings, had supported an approved of the decision to publish them.
In Iraq, 10 journalists were killed in 2013 in circumstances and for reasons that are not clear. However, of the hundred journalists killed in the last decade, not a single murderer has been sentenced. The country remains one of the worst in the world regarding the impunity for such murders, although many of these cases could have been resolved if the authorities had the will to do so.
The Iraqi authorities, like the Kurdish ones, continue to arrest journalists for short periods but, to December 2013, the CPJ has not recorded any who had been imprisoned.
At the invitation of the Kurdish Institute the famous Turkish sociologist, Ismaïl Beşikçi, who has spent seventeen years of his life in Turkish prisons for his historical and sociological works about the Kurds gave a lecture on “the fate of the Kurdish people in the 20th Century and future perspectives” on Saturday 22 February in Paris, at the Festive Hall of Paris’s 10th Arrondissement Town Hall.
Before a large audience of Kurds and Turks as well as Human Rights activists and French, European and other academics, Dr. Beşikçi analysed the reasons of the colonial division of Kurdistan following WWI and the resulting collapse of the Ottoman Empire:
“Arbitrary borders were drawn by the great powers of the period, the French and British Empires, in accordance with their colonial interests with complete disregard of the aspirations of the local populations involved. The Turks accepted to cede the Wilayat of Mosul, inhabited by an overwhelming majority of Kurds, which was rich in oil, to the State of Iraq, a British mandate — but on condition that the British refused to give the Kurds any form of autonomy.
In consequence, although Britain, in its vast empire, often granted a status of region autonomy to local populations, called “self rule”, it deprived the Kurds of this minimal status despite solemn undertakings given to the League of Nations.
Kemalist Turkey had started to apply a project of forced assimilation of the Kurds originally conceived in 1911 by the Pan-Turkic leaders of the “Union and Progress Committee” (the so-called Young Turks), who dreamed of a Turkish Empire stretching from the shores of the Adriatic sea to the steppes of Central Asia. To achieve this, they took advantage of the Great War to eliminate the indigenous Christian populations of Anatolia (Armenians and Syriacs). This project was completed by the expulsion to Greece of the Greek population of Anatolia at the start of the Kemalist regime.
This was followed by a cycle of revolt- bloody repression –revolt in the States that carved up Kurdistan and who cooperated politically and militarily against their Kurdish populations by means of massacres and deportations with the complete silence of firstly the League of Nations and then its successor UNO.
Not being considered a colony, Kurdistan was unable to benefit from the UN measures in favour of decolonisation in the 60s. In fact these merely covered the overseas territories colonised by the European powers.
We are this faced with an implacable and absolute anti-Kurdish international order: of the 208 States that exist in the world today, two-thirds have a population smaller than that of Kurdistan. From UNO to the Olympic games, some areas with barely a few tens of thousands inhabitants like Vanuatu, Andorra, Lichtenstein Monaco etc are recognised as states and represented whereas the 40 or 50 million Kurds, despite their ancient history and culture are absent. This is more than an injustice — it’s a scandal for human conscience”, concluded Dr, Beşikçi, to loud applause from the audience.
In the following discussion, moderated by Professor Hamit Bozarslan, many questions were put to Dr. Beşikçi, described as “the Kurds’ Franz Fanon” and compared with Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov. He replied to each speaker, in his flowing and calm voice, with great humanity, always making the point “That’s my opinion”.
In conclusion he asked the Kurdish intellectuals to winder about the reasons for the fragmentation of Kurdish society and policy, to examine the internal weaknesses that prevent this people from making a common front and drive, like a nation endowed with a State, despite the international order that fiercely defends the status quo — even when it is iniquitous and absurd.
After the lecture, the Kurdish Institute offered a dinner in Dr. Beşikçi’s honour and a public appeal was launched to support a Foundation, baring his name that was recently founded in Istanbul with the aim of preserving, managing and opening to the public his library and archives.
On 11 February, the Globalist published a report by Behzad Yaghmian, warning public opinion of the situation of the person who could be the world’s oldest refugee.
Sabria Khalaf, a Yezidi Kurd who fled from Syria last January and has reached Athens was, in fact, born in 1907 under the Ottoman Empire. As a result, she has subsequently lived under the French mandate and the variety of regimes that have followed one another in Syria until now. Two of her daughters, her grandchildren and great-grand-children have been living in Germany for years. This is the first time, however, that she has ever left her native region, as she and her son remained in their homeland until force to flee after the Islamist attacks on the Yezidis. Turkey was the first stage of their exodus, then after several months in an Istanbul shantytown into which migrants were crammed, Sabria and her son succeeded in buying places on an illegal boat that was supposed to take them to Italy, along with 90 other migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa. However the boat ran aground in a storm on the Greek coast near Athens and the shipwrecked survivors were only just rescued y the Greek coastguards.
Housed with her son in a barely inhabitable flat rented by another Syrian refugee, the migrants live in constant fear of attacks fro the xenophobic members of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn movement that has several times thrown Molotov cocktails at premises housing refugees.
As she has two daughters living in Germany, the right of family reunification should allow Sabria to obtain a visa, but the delays due to the red tape of European Union countries regarding the right of refugees to asylum added to her great age make it far from certain that she will be able to join her other children before dying, as she hopes.