Although yet another oil agreement was signed between Baghdad and Erbil last December and should have taken effect at the beginning of this year, it now threatened seems both for reasons of political suspicions and by the difficulty or inability of the two parties to observe its financial, and economic terms.
Indeed, the agreement stipulates that Kurdistan must sent 300,000 barrels of oil a day from Kirkuk and 250,000 a day from the rest of Kurdistan to SOMO (State Organisation for Marketing Oil). This company is responsible both for the export, sale and distribution of crude oil and of oil products refined in Iraq. In return the Kurdistan Region should receive 17% of the Iraqi budget, which for 2015 would be about 103 billion dollars.
However, on 1 February, a KRG delegation went to Baghdad to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, pointing out that 550,000 barrels a day was more that Erbil could pay since they also had to allocate some of their oil to companies to which they were indebted.
Moreover, the sums the Kurds should have received in exchange (17% of the Iraqi budget and the maintenance and pay of the Peshmergas as part of the Iraqi armed forces) has not still not been paid, in breach of the agreement. Some people in theKRG openly suspect that Nuri Maliki, the former Prime Minister and now Vice President of Iraq, who is still an implacable enemy of the Kurds, is placing obstacles to these payment by Bagdad to Kurdistan. The KRG even affirms, on its web site, that Baghdad does not have the funds available to keep its part of the bargain.
“It clearly appeared during the meeting that, because of the financial crisis and the lack of liquidity, the Iraqi government cannot give the KRG its due hare of the Budget.
On 16 January, the KRG Prime Minister, Nêçirvan Barzani, told Reuters that the December agreement could be ended if the central government did not make the payment due from its budget.
“According to the agreement, if the two parties are unable to observe the articles, the agreement would be ended. We have exported the due amount of oil, however the problem is that Baghad does not have any money to send to the Kurdistan Region”.
Both parties are suffering from a serious shortage of financial resources because of the war, which has slowed down the extraction operations as well as the fall in oil prices. In addition, Kurdistan is bearing the economic burden of over a million and a half refugees from both Iraq and Syria.
“It is evident that we have signed an agreement with a bankrupt country” Nêçirvan added. “We have kept our part of the agreement but its application must be fulfilled by both parties”.
The Prime Minister revealed that Baghdad was now proposing to sent the Kurds 300 million dollars, “which is less than half the amount agreed”.
Despite Baghdad’s inability to meet its commitments, the Kurdish Prime Minister nevertheless indicated on 16 February that his government would not stop its oil shipments, going back on the threat to cut then he had made on 29 January before his delegation had left for Baghdad. However he proposed that the checking of the global volume of these exports be made only every three months.
“We have told them to check the volume of oil we are sending them every months. If our deliveries are below the agreed amount they can cut our budget share at the beginning of the fourth month”
Nêçirvan Barzani then gave details of the financial crisis Iraq was going through mainly because of the fall in oil prices, which dropped 60% in seven months in 2014. The budget had lost 50 billion dollars, while 95% of its resources depended on this sector of the economy. As for Kurdistan, it is also hit by this drop and would need 20 billion dollars to overcome its financial crisis.
Even though the Prime Minister maintained a conciliatory tone, other voices, especially those of the Kurdish Members of Parliament and Ministers in Baghdad, wished or threatened to break the agreement and even to withdraw from the government. Indeed, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s remarks in the Iraqi TV channels on 22 February in no way strengthened the moderates at the negotiating table.
Indeed, Hayder Al-Abadi declared that the Kurdistan Regional Government should “take the responsibility” for paying its own Civil Servants instead of receiving money from the central government.
“I am not against sending the salaries of the Civil servants but there is a problem that everyone should know — that some of those employed by the KRG were not hired by the Iraqi government but rather by the Kurdistan Region”.
This has evidently not encouraged the Kurds to continue on a tone of understanding and good will and this time it was President Barzani’s turn, during a Press Conference to envisage stopping the despatch of oil if Erbil did not receive its share of the budget.
As for the Kurdish Prime Minister, two days after his Iraqi opposite number’s statement he gave a Press Conference in which he repeated that his government “would do its best” to resolve the budget issue but that its patience was not infinite.
“We wish for an agreement with Baghdad and we want the people of Kurdistan, the United States and other countries to know that we have done our best for Baghdad. However this must also be made clear: we cannot tolerate this situation any longer (…). Unfortunately Baghdad act toward part of the country as if it was an oil company rather than a State.
Baghdad has told us that we have exported more oil that provided for in our agreement, which is true. However we told Mr Abdadi, at our last meeting, that we had received advances of funding for the wages of our civil Servants by some companies in exchange of our oil. We told Baghdad that even if we exported a million barrels a day we could only send them 550,000 barrels because of what we owe our oil companies”.
So to sum up this dialogue of the deaf, which has lasted for over a month, Baghdad reproaches the Kurds of giving their oil to foreign companies so that they (the Kurds) can themselves pay their Civil Servants the salaries that Baghdad has been refusing to pay them for over a year and, for this reason, it continues to freeze the transfer of the Kurdish share of the national budget — thus forcing them still further to indebt themselves to these companies . . .
On 3 February he Iraqi Government passed a bill that opens the way to legalising the various Shiite paramilitary militia and the Sunni Arab tribal forces, that will be regrouped as a National Guard. This law is sharply opposed by the Kurds who categorically refuse that these militia, officially destined to drove out the “Islamic State” (ISIS), to enter Kurdish territories controlled by the Peshmergas and their associated forces.
Thus the Kurdish Members of the Iraqi Parliament tried to amend this Bill to guarantee that these paramilitary forces would, in no case, have the authority to enter Iraqi Kurdistan and, especially the Kurdish regions long claimed by Erbil, like Kirkuk or Khanaqin, where the KRG forces were deployed in June 2-14 after the Iraqi Army had fled the ISIS attack. This Bill was due to have its first reading in the Baghdad Paliament on 10 February, but the opposition it met delay the vote.
In an interview with a London-based Arab paper, Al-Hayat, the President of Kurdistan rejected the hypothesis of any return to the Kurdish regions by the Iraqi Army, or the arrival of Shiite militia under the appellation of `Popular Mobilisation”: “We do not need this “Popular Mobilisation” and we will not allow any force to enter Kirkuk”.
Having said this, in fact the necessities in the military field have already brought some units Shiite units to Kirkuk since the 29 January attack, when ISIS tried to penetrate into the town and Popular Mobilisation fighters repelled them alongside the Peshmergas. This is not the only time the Peshmergas and the Shiite militia have cooperated in regions in which they were deployed together, such as Amerli, a Turcoman Shiite town that was besieged by ISIS last summer or at Jalawla, a mixed population area.
On 7 February, while visiting Kurkuk, Hadi-Al-Ameri, the commander of the Badr Brigades, an openly pro-Iranian Shiite group, after a meeting with the Kurdish Governor, Najmaddin Karim, expressed the wish for a closer cooperation with the Peshmergas.
“Kirkuk is very important and has gas and oil resources as well as electric power stations. We must act to put an end to the threat from ISIS through large-scale cooperation with the Peshmergas and the Governor and this requires rapid action” (Al-Monotor).
To prevent the Shiite or Iranian manoeuvres towards Kirkuk, President Barzani ordered the Peshmergas to prevent the Al-Hashid as-Shaabi militia (Iraqi Volunteer Forces), of about 7,000 fighters from entering Kirkuk. Aroused the fury of Hadi Al-Amiri, who complained to Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Al-Qods forces, who have been omnipresent on the Iraqi front since June 2014. This militia was set up nu Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in 2014 to protect the Shiite holy places from destruction by ISIS. However, as the Sunni Arab regions that ISIS had captured were re-conquered, particularly in the Diyala region, it has been accused of blind reprisals against civilians. The Iraqi officers have several times complained at seeing these para-military forces better armed and equipped than their own troops.
Masud Barzani himself went to Kirkuk to his Peshmergas on the front on 18 February and made a very firm speech regarding the future of the city and the “controversial” Kurdish regions, by particularly affirming that “Kirkuk belongs to Kurdistan and will never fall into the enemies’ hands”. As ISIS has never conquered Kirkuk, it is easy to conclude that, in the President’s mind, the “enemies” were not only the Jihadist groups. He went even further, saying: “Kirkuk is as important to the enemy as it it t us. It is important to them in terms of morale and politics — if they were to manage to take Kirkuk. However, they must know that Kirkuk will never fall into the enemy’s hands, were we all to die for it. We will keep Kirkuk even if we have to draw forces from other regions”.
After praising the courage of the Peshmergas in this struggle, he then directly addressed ISIS, which had just broadcast pictures of Peshmergas captured during their 29 January attack, exhibited in a sinister parade surrounded by a rejoicing crowd wearing orange clothing and in cages that recalled the fate of the Jordanian pilot , burned alive in the same cage and the same clothing.
Masud Barzani warned ISIS that if those Peshmergas were killed “those who committed the crime as well as those who applauded it, would pay dearly”. Then, visibly appalled by the popular support that greeted this humiliation in some Sunni Arab localities, the Kurdish President criticised their inaction in the face of ISIS and stigmatised their ambiguous attitudes to this war.
“We do not want to fight a war with the Arab World but where are the Arabs who are opposing ISIS? If there are any, we will thank them and let them help us — but by actions not just words. However, we cannot close our eyes if they shelter ISIS and continue to attack our regions. If you are with ISIS, OK we know what to do but if you are against it, well show yourselves and send your people to fight it as our Peshmergas are doing. Play your part”.
Finally, returning to the question of the Shiite militia who want to involve themselves in the defence of Kirkuk, Masud Barzani answered that it was up to the Peshmergas alone to decide whether they needed help and to chose who should help them.
“Our principle is this: we will not spare any effort in fighting ISIS wherever we find it and we thank whosoever does the same. If we should need help, we must be the only ones to decide this. Until we decide this, no other forces are allowed into Kirkuk”.
On the question of whether this ban also applies both to Hadi al-Amri’s militia and the Iraqi Army, Masud Barzani rejected categorically the idea of letting the 12th Division to return to Kirkuk, where it had been deployed before its flight from ISIS in June 2014.
“People are talking about sending the 12th Division back to Kirkuk, but this will never happen. The 12th Division will never again set a foot in Kirkuk. What happened before must never be repeated. The present situation is the fruit of some precious blood and we will not tolerate any change of borders. Everyone must bear this in mind. The Peshmergas gave their lives and their blood and, in consequence, no one may envisage returning here to take decisions or direct things. Am not saying that we are imposing ourselves here. I repeat that the varied populations of Kirkuk alone can decide about its future. The decision and the will of this population must be respected”.
This did not prevent President Barzani from returning to the Kurdish Identity of the city and its importance to Kurdistan;
“Some say we have occupied Kirkuk. That’s a lie. The Peshmergas have always been in Kirkuk. Kirkuk is a Kurdistan city and its Kurdish identity has never debated. We are defending Kirkuk, not occupying it”.
To Masud Barzani, as Head of the Kurdistan Intelligence Service, the over- arming and equipping of these militias both by the American, who stubbornly only deliver arms to Baghdad and never to the Kurds, and by Iran, even if this a paradoxical, puts the Peshmergas (who are not paid by Iraq and have seen their wages frozen for the last year) at a great disadvantage. However, while Washington, Baghdad and Teheran may see this as a way of slowing down the return of Kirkuk into Kurdistan, their setting up such powerful paramilitary groups involves the serious danger of plunging Iraq into a disastrous civil war between Shiite and Sunni Arabs and dramatically accelerating the disintegration of Iraq. This is just what the three capitals would want to avoid at any price — and may well lead their policy into a bricj wall.
While ISIS is losing ground, men and money because of the air strikes and the offensives by the Peshmergas and the YPG and the fall in oil prices, its internal disintegration is not leading to a softening of their terror policy but, on the contrary, to its intensification, through a series of atrocious actions and dramatic acts of destruction which they indulgently film and broadcast over the social networks to defy the Coalition and the “traitors¿ to Islam.
This the execution by torture of the Jordanian pilot, capture when his plane crashed during an air strike in Syria last December horrified world opinion and plunged Jordan, in particular into a state of shock. Indeed, ISIS broadcast a video showing the pilot, wearing an orange uniform, locked in a case, soaked in an inflammable liquid and burned alive.
These events took place on 3 January while attempts to free Lieutenant Muath Al-Kaseasbesh were still being negotiated — in exchange, apparently for some Iraqi Jihadists, arrested, tried and sentenced to death for taking part in a suicide attack that had cost the lives of 60 people in 2005. ISIS’s last ultimatum was issued last January and read by the Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, just before his execution: “If Sajida al-Rishawi is not at the border by the hour the sun sets at Mosul on 29 January, the Jordanian pilot will be executed”. Jordan had accepted this exchange for the pilot’s liberation but had asked proof that he was still alive. The answer was the video broadcast...
In reprisal, the Jordan authorities almost immediately executed by hanging Sajida al-Rishawi and another al-Qaida prisoner, Ziyad Karboli. Sajida-Rishawi was the sister of the right hand man of Zarkawki, the former head of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida. She was a member of a very influential Iraqi Sunni clan. All the Jihadist groups had demanded the release of their “imprisoned sister” as she had become a symbol of their struggle, be they ISIS or al-Qaida.
Even though, in principle, ISIS and al-Qaida are rivals for the leadership of the Jihadist movements (or perhaps because of this) securing the release of Sajida al-Rishawi would have greatly enhanced ISIS’s positioning the Jihadist movement. It is hard to see why they chose to execute the pilot this way and broadcast the video just when Jordan demanded proof that he was still alive. Amman could in mo way have decided such an exchange without some assurance that their hostage was still alive.
The pilot was also a member of an important Jordanian tribe that is closely linked to the royal family. Hastily returning from the United States, King Abdullah made a speech on the Jordanian Television describing that act as “cowardly” and coming from a group foreign to Islam. He promised ISIS a pitiless repost: “The vengeance shall be as great as the calamity that has hit Jordan”. However, apart from the symbolic and spectacular decision of King Abdullah (himself a pilot) personally to participate in air strikes and to keep his country in the Coalition, Jordan’s reprisals can only be limited to increasing the death sentences of Jihadists.
The Kurds of all trends condemned this barbarous execution and the PYD included the pilot in its list of martyrs, since it was while bombing ISIS at Kobani that he was captured. However, another execution at the same time deeply shook the Kurds. On 25 January one of the 30 Peshmergas captured at Mosul was publically decapitated by an ISIS member who was himself a Kurd. He was identified on the video as one of three Jihadist brothers who formally lived at Bardarash (Duhok Province) — the hometown of the executed Peshmerga, Hujam Khidr Surçi. Two of the bothers, Musa and Yunnis Askander had been killed in battle. It was thus the last survivor, Maura, who assassinated Hujam Khidr, who he had known very well before the war, according to the victim’s brother.
Hujam Surchi left a wife and 12 children, two of whom are handicapped. Like all the Peshmergas on the front, he hadn’t received any pay for a year. His murder deeply affected the Kurds and an appeal to collect funds for the family was launched. The Prime Minister Nêçirvan Barzani also committed himself to send the handicapped children to German to receive adequate treatment.
On 14 February ISIS again broadcast a video showing a “parade” in the streets of a locality not far from Kirkuk, of 17 Peshmerga prisoners in orange coloured cloths in the same kind of cages as the Jordanian pilot. The group affirmed, moreover, that they had decapitated 21 Kurdish prisoners, though this could not be confirmed.
Moreover, ISIS’s barbarity tends also to leave its mark in more “cultural” areas. On 26 February, another video showed their activists in action in Mosul’s museum, smashing and destroying statues in the hall of Assyrian antiquities, in particular the winged bulls with human faces, the famous “lamassu” or “shêdu”, who guarded the palace enhances and also the gates of Khorsabad’s ramparts, as described by Herodotus.
There too, this publicised vandalism aroused considerable feeling, recalling the destruction by the Taliban in March 2001 if the Monumental Buddha’s at Bamian, in Afghanistan.
Specialists and curators of Oriental antiquities rapidly estimated that 90% of them were copies, most of the Mosul objects having been transported by the Americans from Mosul to Baghdad. Moreover, since the 19th Century, a good number of these antiquities have enriched Western museums like the Pergamus Museum in Berlin or the Louvre in Paris. In particular regarding the reconstruction of the Khorsabad Palace court. Only one of the winged bulls was genuine, the other having sunk when the ship taking it from Mosul to France was shipwrecked in 1855 and has being lying at the bottom of the Tigris ever since, in South Iraq.
Questioned by Figaro newspaper, Élisabeth Fontan, former curator of Assyrian collections at the Louvre, stressed that the biggest danger is nor for those, that were only copies, or even the originals, which are more likely to be destined to illegal trafficking as their celebrity would make them immediately identifiable on the market.
hard to sell However, some Assyrian sites like that of Nineveh and its Palace, from which many bas-reliefs have never been removed” are no longer supervised and nor explored for a long time and have often been pillaged. Now ISIS is threatening to destroy them, following that of the museum halls, and their disappearence would indeed be an irreparable loss to archaeology.
In addition to the Assyrian sites of Nineveh, Kalhu, Dur Sharrukin-Khorsabad or Assur, another site is in danger from ISIS. It is the city of Hatra, founded in the 2nd or 3rd century BC by the Macedonian dynasty of the Seleucides. It then passed into the Parthian sphere of influence, then the Roman before being sacked by the Sassanides. It was one of the most prestigious pre-Islamic cities, at the same level as that of Palmyra. Dedicated to the Sun God Shamash, its circular 2 Km round ruins are only 110 km from Mosul, to the South of Nineveh Province, in the Al-Hadhra district and have also been looted.
Speaking about the vandalism in the city’s museum, the anonymous blogger “Mosul eye” also pointed outthat 90% of the statues in these halls were copies. Of more interest is his affirmation that the giant winged bull, which he says is authentic, was, in fact destroyed last summer and that the films broadcast dated to July-August 2014. However other objects are missing from these halls and it is not known whether they have been destroyed o sold. Some articles may this have been secretly sent via Turkey, Kurdistan and Baghdad a network of traffickers.
As for the ancient Arabic and Syriac or Latin manuscripts which have also been confiscated by ISIS, taken from churches, monasteries or the Mosul library, it seems that they are more likely provide a rich income for traffickers than burn as an act of faith.
The men filmed smashing the statues called on all “Moslems” to see them and described the statues as “idols and gods worshipped instead of Allah by the people who lived there centuries ago. Those who were called Assyrians, Akkadians and others turned to these gods for their wars, agriculture and rain and give them sacrifices. Our Prophet ordered that all these statues be removed as those faithful to them did when they conquered other nations”.
While vandalism is a constant in religious and political fanaticism throughout human history, burning people at the stake, so current in the West from the Roman era to modern times, it was never a very frequent form of execution in Islam, even though it did occur sometimes — and at that more often in North African, probably in imitation of the Hispanic Christian kingdoms — and most often against Jews, Christians and apostates.
ISIS, however, issued a fatwa dated 2 January 3015 and distributed it in the streets of Raqqa, in Syria, justifying the resort to this form of execution. The site MEMRI has translated and published extracts:
“Question: What has been decreed about burning live infidels to death?
Reply: The following Islamic schools of thought, Hanafi and Shafe’I maintain that this procedure is totally permitted. They interpreted the Prophet’s statement “Only Allah will torture with fire” as a call for humility. The Islamic thinker Al-Muhallab declared that “This injunction is not a real ban but rather a means of preaching humility”.
The thinker Shafi'i] Ibn Hajar, may Allah pity him, said: “This injunction shows that it is permitted to burn alive, as the Companions did. The Prophet blinded two men from Arina (who he considered apostates and criminals) with a red-hot iron. Khalid bin Al-Walid (one of the Prophet’s Companions) also burnt apostates alive”.
Some thinkers maintain that burning alive is forbidden in principle but may be allowed when it is a matter of taking reprisals, “as the Prophet did for two men from Arina, He blinded them with a red-hot iron as a reprisal ("mumathala" — lex talionis the principle of “an eye for an eye”, a principle of Charia jurisprudence) as is mentioned in an authentic hadith, and this is the principal evidence”.
This argument if retaliation is based on the fact that the pilot, by going to bomb the ISIS fighters was guilty of both apostasy, since Calif Al-Baghdadi is supposed to be the “Commander of the Faithful” and of armed rebellion against the soldiers of Islam.,Being burnt alive would this be “equivalent” to death by bombing.
Thus, whether it is by barbaric forms of torturing human beings or by the destruction of vestiges of one of the most ancient and prestigious cultures in the world, ISIS seems to be retaliating to the Kurdish counteroffensive and the Coalition\s bombing by premeditated acts of highly publicised horror. It is hard to say whether this is part of a strategy of terror aimed at discouraging or slowing down these counter-offensives or rather to overshadow their strategic reverses in international public opinion as well as that of its active members or sympathisers.
It could simply be a spiral of madness rather than coldly planned, carried away by the chaotic violence of a group that needs a permanent dynamic of overbidding challenges to the Western powers and the “traitor” Moslem states to maintain its own momentum. However, the religious aspect of ISIS should never be forgotten — its eschatological ideology that aims at accelerating the end of the world by a devastating purification of the whole world, from which the best of the faithful, the most radical Jihadists in fact, would be promised divine mercy.
On 17 February, Kurdistan Communities Group (Koma Civakên Kurdistan , KCK), the PKK’s political wing, called for concrete advances in the peace process between the PKK and Turkey — a process that the movement considered to be in a “very critical and dangerous ” phase and even “close to its end”.
Ten days later the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, from his prison at Imarah , called on the guerrillas to give up their arms in what he described as a “historic decision”.
The call was read live on television by par Sirri Sureyya Onder, a HDP member of the Turkish Parliament, side by side with the deputy Prime Minister Yalçin Akdoğan.
In this called, , Sirri Önder announced that Abdullah Ocalan demanded that the PKK should meet at an extra-ordinary Congress in the spring, so as to “take the historic and strategic decision of laying down its arms”.
However, this “disarmament” announcement is challenged by other public figures of the HDP, including its President, Selahattin Demirtas, who assert that the PKK is only ready to lay down its arms if the process finally enters a phase of active negotiation.
As for Cemil Bayik, head of the KCK, he insists on the necessity of a Congress that would unite all the Kurdistan parties (this notorious general conference of Kurds, proposed many years ago, which has always been postponed because of disagreements between the PKK and the KDP). Cemil Bavik also publicly wishes for the formation of united Kurdish forces — while being opposed to the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan., which seems rather hard to envisage . . .
However that may be, the 10 articles (or rather demands) that Abdullah Ocalan considers essential for resolving the Kurdish problem in Turkey — and the farewell to arms of the PKK — are as follows:
- the content of a democratic policy must be discussed
- the national and local dimensions of a democratic resolution must be discussed
- some legal and democratic guarantees for a free citizenship
- some directives regarding the relations between the democratic policy, the State and society, and their institutionalisation
- the socio-economic dimensions of the process of resolution
- a new security structure to which the process will lead
- some legal guarantees regarding women’s, cultural and ecological issues
- the development of mechanisms of equality regarding the definition and notion of identity
- defining the democratic republic, the common county and the people according to democratic criteria
- a new constitution that would help to assimilate all these stages.
As can be seen, these demands are more the expression of vague general principles than concrete starting points for real negotiations — apart from the last point that demands a new constitution, but without specifying its details it or listing the articles or amendments it should contain. In any case, the Turkish government, President Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have hastened to welcome this declaration — while only talking about disarmament as being “preliminary” to negotiations. However, the Turkish President remains, as usual, vague about what will then follow, and about the “democratisation process”, “national unity” and the “project of fraternity”.
One of the advantages of this declaration for Erdogan is the hope that the PKK’s disarmament will take place before the General elections next June. The Turkish President has also criticised the remarks by Sebahattin Demirtas giving his own interpretation of the ten articles and the “contradictory” positions of the different expressions inside the HDP as well as in the PKK and his more nuanced assessment of the likelihood of disarmament.
Following the liberation of the city of Kibanî last January, the YPG still had to reconquer the canton as a whole and its 400 villages that ISIS had over-run. However, ISIS’s withdrawal under the combined fire of the Coalition’s air strikes and that of the YPG and of three groups of the FSA based on Aleppo proved to as rapid as their original lightning attack in the autumn, that had submerged the whole Kobanî canton.
Wheras on 1 February the Syrian Centre for Human Rights (SCHR) reported that 17 villages had been regained by the YPG from ISIS, at the end of the month almost all the lost villages had been won back, according to a statement by Rami Abdurahman (SCHU) to AFP:
“As soon as the YPG entered a village ISIS withdrew its fighter”. In less than a week more than a third of the villages had this been regained and the Kurdish and Arab forces thus reached the outskirts of Raqqa Province, with the declared object of re-conquering Tell Abyad. This had been the scene of a serious defeat to the YPG, when it had previously drive out ISIS in January 2014.
On 20 January 20 the SCHR announced to the Press agencies that 19 villages of Raqqa Province had fallen into Kurdish hands, while the Coalition was continuing its air strikes. The YPG were thus only 25 Km from Raqqa.
However, on 23,the YPG launched an attack on another town, Tell Hamis, in Hassaké Province.
At this point, either in retaliation or to create a diversion, the Jihadists fighters attacked some Assyrian villages arouf TellTamr, 20 Kn from Hassaké and kidnapped about 200 or 220 Christians, — all civilians and many women and old men. This sudden attack orviked an exodus of Christians towards the town of Qmishlo (about 160 families) or Hassaké (80 families) both of which are under the mixed control of the YPG and the Syrian regime. These figures were given by the Assyria Human Rights Network, who said that there were also Bedouin Arabs fleeing ISIS with them.
The YPG spokesman, Rêdûr Xelîl, reckoned there were about 100 Assyrians massacred by ISIS at Tell Temir:
“After suffering heavy losses at Tell Hemis, the ISIS fighters turned on Tell Temir and the Assyrian people there and massacred over 100 Assyrian civilians and kidnapped dozens of others”.
In consequence the YPG formed a defence line round other localities liable to being attacked by ISIS.
“This attack is a hard blow to the Kurds, the Arabs and the Assyrians. One Assyrian woman resisted the Jihadists and killed four of them when they attacked the village of Hirmizm at Rell Temir. She was taken prisoner and decapitated by the gangs. There are still clashes taking place at Tell Temir”.
This attack, that seems more like a raid by slave hunters (of hostage takers at the best) did not prevent the Kurds from retaking almost the whole of Tell Hanis, except forits west area on 17 February in an assault that, according to the SCHR cast the lives of 175 Jihadists. According to the YPG spokesman, Major Rêdûr Xelîl, Tell Hamis housed the largest ISIS’s largest Headquarters in the Jezireh region.
Turkey’s relations with the Syrian YPH, on the other hand, probably as a ricochet of Ocalan’s call to disarm, seems to be inclined to a certain easing. A few days before Ocalan’s statement, some Turkish troops entered Syria, to relieve the soldiers who were there to guard the tomb of Suleiman Shah, the ancestor if the Ottoman dynasty. The mausoleum is in an enclave that is still Turkish property by virtue of the Ankara Treaty signed with France in 1921, when Syria was a French mandate. This treaty also fixed the Syrian-Turkish border. Article 9 specifies:
“The tomb of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of Sultan Osman and founder of the Ottoman dynasty (the tomb known as Turc Mezari) located at Jaber-Kalessi, will remain, with its dependancies, the Property of Turkey, which may maintain guards and fly the Turkish flag there”.
It should be noted that the historians of Islam consider it highly doubtful that the remains of Süleyman Shah are in the mausoleum. It has been suggested that the mausoleum houses the remains of the founder of the Rum Sekjuk dynasty, Süleyman ibn Kutulmush — though it probably houses neither the one nor the other. Biograpjic data about Suleyman and his son Ertugrul, who is the father of Osman the founder of the Ottoman sultanate are, moreover, largely legendary.
The mausoleum is located on the banks of the Euphrates where Suleyman Shah is said to have drowned, 35 Km from Kobani, which the Turkish relief troops had to go through. The Turks had to evacuate 40 men, 20 of who were members of an elite unit, who they had been unable to relive for the last 11 months.
The YPG quickly broadcast the news of this new operation, affirming that they had helped seen the armoured vehicles and troops who had come at last to relieve their sentinels of their long period of guard. The smooth running of this relief operation and the Y¨G-Turkey cooperation are said to have been planned and discussed with the Kobanî military command. The convoy traversed the town on 21 February at 9 pm, following a route prepared by the YPG.
However, the Turkish Presidency and its government denied any YPG participation in this operation. Recep Tayyip Erdoğa’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, echoed the remarks by Ahmet Davutoğlu, who affirmed that everything was done by agreement with the Syrian Government, following a “diplomatic note” from Turkey and that the Coalition was kept informed. According to him there was no contact or co-ordination with the YPG unlike the Free Syrian Army that had been informed by Ankara.
However, at 9 pm, at a time of war, there were evidently enough witnesses amongst the Kurds, be they fighters or civilians or the journalists to see a military convoy pass through Kobani and report it to the press agencies. To these objections Kalin retorted that in the present situation in Syria, it was “difficult to determine who owned this or lat bit of territory”. In this case, the Turkish soldiers must have had great difficulty in not noticing the PYD flags and the pictures of Ocalan plastered everywhere in the town and all parts of the “canton” that the Kurds had taken back from ISIS”
The writer Yachar Kemal, died on 22 February in an Istanbul hospital at the age of 92, “following complications that arose after a lung infection and an arrhythmic heart” according to the Anatolia News agency, quoting the doctors.
Writing in the Turkishlanguage although of Kurdish origin and committed to that cause, Yachar Kemal was both one of the most famous authors of Turkish literature and its dean, or senior member. He had several times been proposed for a Nobel Prize, which finally fell on a younger compatriot, Orhan Pamuk.
Born in 1923 or 1925 in the village of Hemite, near Kadirli in Osmaniye Province, in Cilicia, Kemal Sadık Gökçeli came from a family whose roots were further North near Lake Van, in the village of Ernis. His family had lived there before fleeing Russian occupation during the First World War. The first few years of his life were spent against the background of the poor peasantry of Anatolia. As a very small child he lost an eye accidentally and at 5 he saw his father being assassinated — a traumatic scene that affected his speech until he was 12. He first studied in the school of a neighbouring village, then at Kadirli, boarding with other members of his family. It was at Adana that he finally attended secondary school, while also working in a cotton-spinning factory. After his secondary schooling her worked at a number of jobs, ranging from farms to libraries or even teaching. In the early 40s he started to frequent Leftwing artists and writers, such as Pertev Naili Boratav, who specialised in Turkish folklore, the painter Abidin Dino and Arif Dino, a poet and painter. He was imprisoned for political reasons the first time when he was barely 20 years old.
His firsr publication was a collection of popular laments entitled Ağıtlar, or “Elegies”. He left for Istanbul after doing his military service and worked as an inspector for a French gas company. In 1948 he worked as a public letter writer for illiterate people of Kadirli. However, he was again arrested in 1950 for “communist propaganda” and jailed for a year. On his release, he returned to Istanbul and worked for the daily paper Cumhuriyet as a special correspondent until 1963. It was there that he adopted the pen name of Yachar Kemal and published his first collection of short stories in 1952, Sarı Sıcak or “Yellow Hear” and then Mehmed the Thin one, his first novel. in 1955. This very rapidly enjoyed a great success and was translated into forty languages. It is the first volume of a four part series that told the adventures of a Turkish Robin Hood who revolted against the tyranny of an agha by taking to the mountains to become a legendry outlaw
The character of Mehmed was, perhaps, inspired by the author’s uncle, a famous outlaw who died at the age of 25. However, the theme of the little local overlords ot aghast and their oppression of the peasantry recurs throughout his work even if, in a trilogy called “The Lords of Aktchasaz”, he also casts an ironical glance at the class of “beys”, knightly anachronisms who kill one another in vendettas — to the benefit of a “new rich” class that proves to be even more pitiless to their serfs.
However, it is his trilogy “Beyond the mountains” like the one about “Salman the slitary” and many other novels returns to the world of starving villagers and those in revolt against their oppressors, their dreams and their vendettas, portraying a world full of beauty and cruelty, torn between tragedy and poetry Ismail Kadaré’s legendary Albania.
A popular writer, Yachar Kemal was aso a committed man. In 1962 he joined the Turkish Workers Party (TIP) were he served as member of the administrative council and the central executive council. He was several times taken to court for his political actions and writings. In 1067 he also co-founded a political weekly ans took part in the creation of the Writers’ Trade Union of Turkey in 1973, of which hw was the first president in 1974-5.
In 1995, following an article he wrote about the dirty war in Kurdistan for the German weekly Der Spiegel, he was tried by the Istanbul Police High Court, but acquitted. However, in the same year, he was sentenced to 8 months jail for an article on the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey, which was published in the Index on Censorship — a sentence that was finally annulled.
He was jailed in 1971 then released following international pressure — but ten years later exiled himself to Sweden for two years after the Army coup d’état.
In 1995 his public stand against the war in Turkish Kurdistan earned him a suspended sentence, and he took up the defence of Orhan Pamuk, take to court an threatened with a death sentence because of his statements about the Armenian genocide.
While he never won the Nobel Prize, Yachar received many awards and distinctions abroad, particularly in France, where in 1979 he received the prize of the best foreign book for The Undying Grass and the world prize of Cino Del Duca in 1082 for his work as a whole. France also made him a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1984 and Senor Officer in 2011. Ten years before several major Turkish universities awarded him the degree of Doctor honoris causa he had received this distinction from Strasbourg University in 1991. His last literary prize was the Bjørnson Prize of the Norwegian Academy of Literature and Freedom of Expression on 9 November 2013.