Last February, Abdullah Ocalan had called on his guerrillas to lay down their arms and put forward “ten points” he considered “essential” for resolving the Kurdish question in Turkey. The tenure of these ten articles, however, were not made any clearer in the Newroz message read by leaders of the HDP party. The only clear point was the call for the PKK to disarm without any mention of cultural, linguistic or regional autonomy measures in compensation. There was, instead, a pious hope for a “democratic citizenship in the Turkish Republic”.
If one compares the 2015 Newroz message with the one read out in the same manner in 2013, the historic or even cultural context in which Ocalan wrote the two speeches was completely changed. The first dealt with the “cultural context of Newroz”, that is the whole of the Middle East and Central Asia. In a eulogy of Mesopotamia he described the Kurdish people as part of a vast Eastern array where, alongside Arabs, Persians and Turks, they were called upon to stand up against “Western imperialism”, viewed as the source of all the ills from which the region suffered. The West was judged responsible for “wars of conquest and interference” that had set the peoples up against one another by re-drawing the borders of Nation States.
“Colonialist, negationist and repressive attitudes have no reason for existing. The societies of the Middle East and Central Asia are awakening and returning to their origins (…) The Kurds have built this ancient, millennial civilization in full fraternity with a diversity of ethnic groups and religions, and lived in peace with them”.
However, in 2015 the accent is placed on the great brotherhood of the peoples of the East and of Central Asia being harmed by the upsurge of ISIS and the growing Sunni-Shiite polarization throughout the region, alongside the “neo-liberal policies being imposed on the whole world by imperialist capitalism”. The guilt has now moved to the “regional despotic collaborators”.
The “2015 process” no longer, as in 2013, concerns all the peoples of the Middle East and Central Asia — it is now just a chapter in “Turkish history” read “officially in the historic Dolmabahce Palace”. Unlike 2013, where the terms “Kurdish people” and “Kurdistan” were continually repeated, they hardly ever appear in the new speech except in the listing of religious and ethnic minorities persecuted by the “Islamic State” (ISIS). Even then it applies to peoples living in the “region” occupied by ISIS — that is outside Turkey. Moreover, while the 2013 speech called for a reconciliation of the Kurdish and Turkish peoples, this time the war wasn’t between the Kurds and the Turks but an “armed struggle of Kurds against the Turkish Republic”. In 2013 the issue was the withdrawal of PKK troops from Turkey. Two years later a further step was at issue, at least in words — what is called for this time is not just a simple retreat but “the end of armed struggle” following a future Congress whose task would be to ratify and carry out the new political line
After the PKK Congress and its “farewell to arms”, the programme proposed by Ocalan will be as follows: “building a democratic society enjoying a democratic identity and based on a constitutionally guaranteed, free and equal citizenship in the framework of the Turkish Republic (…) We this leave behind us the 90 years of conflict that have market the history of the Turkish republic and will march towards a future shaped by the universal criteria of democracy and founded on a real peace”.
As for the political principles that should be the basis of this peace (which now only covers Turkey) they should return to the discourse already pre-figured in 2013: against the Nation-States, “fruits of capitalist imperialism” as well as the rejection of “ethnic nationalism”.
“The reality of capitalist imperialism, as it has shown itself for the last century is as follows: to close up the religious and ethnic identities within themselves, in contradiction to their essences and to set them up in opposition to one another on the basis of Nation States (…). The foundation if countries on ethnic and national unity bases is part of the inhuman objective of capitalist modernism, which amounts to a negation of our origins”.
However, in the first speech it was a question of putting an end, in the long term, to all the existing states of the Middle East, whereas in 2015, even though the idea of Nation State is still seen as a source of all the ills, he paradoxically calls on the Kurds to remain citizens of the Turkish Republic in “a constitutionally guaranteed, free and equal citizenship in the framework of the Turkish Republic” even though this state is itself based on an ethnic nationalism that is pretty uncompromising and in many ways frankly racist
Kobani’s resistance is welcomed at the end of the speech, but this praise is immediately followed by a eulogy of the “Esme spirit”, a direct allusion to the protecting of the Süyleman Shah tomb by its guards, an operation in which the YPG helped. Yet, all through the siege of Kobani, the PYD, the HPD and the PKK constantly attacked the collusion between ISIS and Turkey and that the survival of Kobani was described in January and February as a victory over ISIS rather than over Ankara’s double game.
The way in which this new political line is received by the Kurds will probably be seen in the ballot boxes at the General Elections next June. Turkish Kurds mainly vote either AKP or HDP. A victory of the party in office could justify Erdogan and his “Kurdish” policy as well as his affirmation “There is no Kurdish question in Turkey”. On the other hand high score for the HDP would be presented as a vote of confidence in Ocalan and his peace process.
However, the Kurdish party has a narrower margin of manoeuvre than the AKP, since it has to support Ocalan without seeming to play Erdogan’s game in Kurdish opinion. In his election campaign Selahattin Demirtaş, will also have to express his views on this peace process on behalf of the Kurds — that is to oppose Erdogan without seeming to criticise the peace process being negotiated by Ocalan unless there is a split between the pro and anti Ocalan trends, that so far has never been the case. If, however, the HDP does not demand, in the name of its Kurdish electorate, a little more than the AKP is prepared to grant, it might lead those same Kurds to vote for the party in office since it, at least, has the possibility of distributing bonuses, privileges and preferential treatment to its electors or members.
Questioned about the Turkish President’s statements regarding the absence of a Kurdish question in Turkey, the Mayor of Diyarbekir, Gültan Kışanak agreed:
“That’s true, there is no longer a Kurdish problem in Turkey. The Kurds have become a fundamental force and a dynamic part of the democratic process”.
The only problem comes, in her opinion, from the “bad government officials who are resisting” and do not think “democratically and plurally enough in the people’s interests”. On the other hand Kışanak recognizes that the Kurds are still deprived of rights, especially that of being educated in their mother tongue, but does not see on which of the 10 points of the “historic Dolmabahçe Palace” this right to education could be based.
A joint offensive of the YPG and the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Arab militia took place between the last week of February and the first week of March, It was backed by Coalition air strikes and enabled them to retake Tell Hamis, one of ISIS’s strongholds that the YPG had tried, single handed but unsuccessfully, to take in January 2014. In reprisal, ISIS suddenly swept into some Assyrian Christian villages round Hissake and carried of hundreds of civilians. Less than 20 of them were almost immediately released after on site negotiations with local tribes.
The advance of the YPG into the Hissake region might lead the regime to strengthen its presence in the only Eastern region where it is still present. On 2 March, a pro-government organisation called “Jezireh is Arab and Syrian” came to light with the avowed objective of maintaining the “Arab and Syrian” character of Hissake, which, in reality, is divided between Kurdish, Christian and Sunni Arab populations.
Despite its retreat from the town and villages of Kobani, ISIS has not given up its fight on the “Kurdish front”. In keeping with its habit of attacking elsewhere after a defeat, between 10 and 16 March it launched some fighting units equipped with tanks and heavy weapons. According to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights, the village of Ghanzeer, 30 Km from Serê Kaniyê was captured by ISIS that also tried to take the Qaraqawaz bridge (near the famous Ottoman tomb of Suleyman Shah) but finally withdrew to the West bank of the Euphrates, but not forgetting too partly destroy the bridge. Fighting continued on the 12 and 13 March, in the Jezireh, the YPG reinforcing Qamishlo and the coalition continuing it air strikes against ISIS at Hissake, according to Rêdûr Xelîl, the YPG spokesman.
Moreover this war is also a terrorist war and on 21 March, in the middle of the day on Newroz, a double attack using car bombs cause at least 45 killed and about 70 wounded, mostly civilians, in the Kurdish town of Hassakeh. The double attack took place in the Al-Mufti quarter and aimed at the premises of both TEV-DEM (PYD) and those of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-Syria as they were celebrating Newroz. There were many women and children amongst the casualties,
On 31 March the situation in the military field of the various belligerents in the various Kurdish and mixed population towns was as follows:
- Afrin, still spared from the fighting, is held by the YPG, but is surrounded by zones controlled by different groups of the FSA (including some Jihadists) and others into which ISIS is trying to carry out raids, like Azzaz.
- Kobani has remained in Kurdish hands but remains “framed ” on the West and the East by the “Islamic State (ISIS) that controls Jarablus and Tell Abyad.
- Sere Kaniyê remains in Kurdish hands
- Hassaké and Qamishlo are controlled partly by the Syrian regime and partly by the YPG.
- Deril is under Kurdish control.
- Yaroubia, that borders on Iraqi Kurdistan, is still being subjected to ISIS incursions, its key position on the border with Raba (on the KRG side) making this area a nerve centre for liaison between Raqqa and Mosul and also towards the Sinjar front.
Moreover on 28 March, the Kurdistan Minister for the Peshmergas announced that fresh Peshmerga units were being sent to Kobani in order to open a permanent military training base for training the local Kurdish fighters and also to protect the town.
On 27 February the Iraqi government announced the beginning of an offensive e to retake Tikrit, Dour and Alam from ISIS. The offensive was due to start on the 28 according to the Governor of Salahahddin Province so as give the population time to flee — mainly towards Samara, where 2000 tents had been erected. We do not know how many civilians (mainly Sunni Arabs) have really fled to Shiite provinces.
According to local witnesses, nearly all the inhabitants of Tikrit who were able to had deserted the town, leaving only the poorest, without means or resources for fleeing. However the inhabitants of Tikrit are said to have fled rather to Alam (not deserted) and then scattered between Kirkuk, Baji, Shirkat and even Mosul — which shows that many Sunni Arabs felt safer in regions still held by ISIS than in the camps at Samara, in Shiite territory, even though Prime Minister Abasi had gone to that town in person to supervise the operations and had called for the civilians and their property to be protection.
Furthermore, on 1 March, while the Iraqi artillery had already started to attack Dour, an “anonymous” source in Iraqi Security stated to the Press that ISIS had gathered together some civilians to use them as human shields at Tikrit, Alam and Abu Ajil.
On the same day, the Speicher Camp was taken by Iraqi soldiers, militia and armed tribal units, while the Iraqi Air Force began bombing the centre of Tikrit and that several peripheral zones were taken.
During the first week of the operation, between 28 February and 8 March, the Iraqi Army, the Shiite militia and the tribal militia of Salahaddin advanced on Tikrit from two directions: one from the South, coming from Samarra the other from the East, coming from Kirkuk and Diyala. The offensive attempted firstly to take the regions East of Tikrit like Alam and Dour, the ADil oil fields (near to Dour). These were taken on 8 March, but only after they had been burned down by ISIS on 4 March before the Jihadists gave way. Also on 8 March the air and grounds forces surrounded Alam, thus blocking the way to Tikrit, whither the ISIS fighters had retreated from the Eastern front.
On 12 and 13 March anonymous military sources announced that the Army and the Iraqi militia had reached the centre of Tikrit but were waiting for reinforcements. On 18 March the Air Force heavily bombed the town.
Finally, on 25 March the Coalition Air Forces struck ISIS at Tikrit while, on the ground about 4,000 Regular Army fighters and special forces were engaged in the fighting. On 30 March a journalist on the spot announced that the Iraqi flag was flying on the roof of a hospital and on official buildings on the South of the town, where two buildings belonging to the police were also captured.
On 31 March the commander of the Federal Police, General Raed Shakir Djawdat, declared that Tikrit was completely “cleared except for some pockets” of ISIS fighters and that the Iraqi flag was flying on most of the government buildings.
On 28 March, 36 NGOs defending Human Rights, like the Association for the defence of political prisoners in Western Azerbaijan, or the Association for Human Rights in Iranian Azerbaijan, the Association for Human Rights in Iranian Kurdistan-Geneva (KMMK-G), the Kurdistan Human Rights network, Amnesty International, the Association for Human Rights in Baluchistan, the European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, t The Advocates for Human Rights, the International Baha’I Community, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Together against the Death Penalty, Human Rights Watch, and many others jointly signed a appeal addressed to the member States of the UN Human Rights Council during the 28th Session of the United Nations Council for Human Rights. The appeal was to call for support of a resolution on the Human Rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and reads as follows:
“The situation in Iran remains one of systematic violations of Human Rights, deeply rooted in its laws, policies and practices, that requires the sustained attention of the Council. Renewing the mandate of the Special Reporter will be the guarantee that Human Rights in Iran remain a priority for the Council as on a world scale.
As a member of the council, your government bears the responsibility for promoting and protecting human Rights. This responsibility includes that of exerting pressure on the Iranian authorities to ensure that the population of Iran enjoys the rights embodied in the Treaties regarding human rights in that country, which is one of the signatory parties and to which the population is entitled. The mandate of the Special Reporter is an effective and constructive means of promoting and protecting these rights (…)
The active commitment of the Special Reporter has encouraged and helped galvanise Iranian civil society within the country. His actions by virtue of his mandate have contributed to the national debate on Human Rights in Iran. Still more important, the Special Reporter also provided support for the work, safety and in many cases the release of Human Rights defenders, lawyers and prisoners of conscience. In his reports and press communiqués associated with other special procedures, the Special Reporter raised concerns about many individual cases, some of which subsequently led to tangible improvements in the State’s behaviour. Renewing the Special Reporter’s mandate will sent a strong message to the Iranians — that the international community continues to be concerned about their rights”.
The appeal is followed by an inventory of the Human Rights situation in Iran — and especially of their violations, beginning with capital punishment, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, women’s’ rights and freedom of expression.
On capital punishment
It recalled that Iran has had the highest rate of execution per inhabitants in the world for several years. Capital punishment is provided for in a broad range of offenses, including breaches of very vaguely defined offenses, such as “sowing corruption on the land” as well as certain offenses that are not among the “most serious crimes” defined in the standards of international law. The number of executions in the country has risen from at least 580 executions in 2012 to 687 executions in 2013 and 753 in 2014. Some of these executions took place in public.
In a number of cases, the courts passed death sentences at the end of proceedings that did not observe international standards of equity, including accepting as proof “confessions” obtained by torture or other forms of ill treatment. Detainees sentenced to death are often refused access to a lawyer during the preliminary enquiries.
Moreover, dozens of young delinquents, including some sentenced in previous years for crimes committed before they were 18 years of age, are still in Death Row while others have been executed. The revised Islamic Penal Code allows the execution of delinquent minors for “qisas” (retribution, often in cases of homicide when the victim’s family refuses pardon) or for “hodud” (offenses punishable by fixed penalties laid down by Islamic law) unless a judge decides that the delinquent did not understand the nature of the crime or its consequences or if the mental capacity of the delinquent is doubted. According to Human Rights for Iran, in 2014 at least 14 executions took place of people sentenced who could have been minors at the time of the actions for which they were accused.
Despite some minor improvements made by President Rouhani’s government, like raising the many s sex based quota for entry to university, women In Iran are still subjected to systematic and generalised discrimination in law and in practice.
Official policies aiming at restricting women’s’ employment and encouraging women to remain at home to perpetuate their “traditional” role of wife and mother continues. While women are filling about half of university places in all subjects, their participation in Iran’s economy is only 12.8% — one fifth that for men, according to government figures. The laws on the personal status that give women a status of subordination to men in areas such as marriage, divorce, the custody of children and inheritance remain in force.
Two Bills regarding population are still being examined by parliament. They aim to reduce women’s’ access to gynaecological health services and contraceptives. One of the bills proposes to proscribe surgical operations that permanently prevent pregnancy and to impose penal sanctions on medical practitioners that carry out such operations. The other Bill aims to reduce the number of divorces.
Rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Religious and ethnic minorities continue to suffer breaches of their rights. Members of the Baha’i faith are systematically deprived of the right to university education, employment as civil servants or commercial licences as well as holding religious meetings. In January 2015, at least 100 Baha’is were imprisoned for their religious and community activities. Converts to Christianity are also subject to arrest and imprisonment. At least five members of the Sufi Moslem Gonabadi Dervish community are still behind bars for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights.
Despite Constitutional guarantees of their equality, members of ethnic minorities, including the Arab Ahwazis, the Turkic Azeris, the Baluchis, the Kurds the Turcomenians still face a series of discriminatory laws and practices affecting their access to basic services such as housing, drinking water and drainage, employment and education. Despite some minor softening of this discriminatory practice, the Iranian authorities continue to refuse the ethnic minorities the right to learn their other tongue, particularly in the early stages of the educational system. Members of these minority groups, particularly those who seek wider recognition of their cultural and linguistic rights, have to face persecution arrests and imprisonment.
Freedom of expression and the media.
Attacks on freedom of expression increased in 2014, a year that saw a great increase in arrests for offenses linked to internet as well as the arrests of journalists and bloggers and the compulsory closure of newspapers. With at least 30 journalists in jail at the beginning of 2015, Iran is the State that comes second in the world championship for the detention of journalists, according to the Committee for the protection of journalists.
Thus, n April 2014 the Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced 8 young bloggers to a total of 127 years in prison, which another court, on appeal, reduced to 114 years . . . They were found guilty of infringing national security, propaganda against the State and Insulting Islam and government officials.
In November 2014 the Iranian Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence on Soheil Arabi, guilty of having “insulted the Prophet” in posts on his Facebook. The same Supreme Court also, in a totally illegal manner, added the charge of “spreading corruption on the land”,
Freedom of opinion.
Iran continues illegally to detain hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of opinion, guilty of having exercised their right to freedom of expression, of association, of assembly or of religion, according to the Special Reporter on the Human Rights situation in the Islamic republic of Iran. These prisoners are journalists, lawyers, defenders of Human Rights, artists, bloggers, humanitarian activists, members of the political opposition, student activists, ethnic minority ethnic and activists from the ethnic and religious minorities. Many were detained after having been sued and sentenced by Revolutionary Courts in inequitable trials that did not observe international standards. Many detainees declare they had been tortured and suffered ill treatment, including being beaten up, the pretence of execution, and prolonged isolation in their cells.
Among the Human Rights defenders at this time in detention in Iranian prisons are the lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, the journalist Mohammad Sedigh Kaboudvand, who is also a member of the Kurdish minority in Iran. These two detentions were judged to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention.
Some activists and leaders of the Green revolution and former presidential election candidates, Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, as well as Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hossein Moussavi are still under house arrest without any legal proceeding, and have been since 2011.
On 23 March the local press agencies and sources coming from Peshmergas, reported the destruction of Sinjar’s mediaeval minaret by ISIS groups during an attack on the Kurdish troops in this city. According to Iraqi News, the terrorists of the “Islamic State” blew up this minaret as well as the adjacent buildings.
According to on site witnesses, it was not just a case of “collateral damage” resulting from an exchange of fire but a deliberate action by ISIS, whose fighters filled the base of the minaret with a considerable quantity of explosives before blowing it up, along with some town centre housing, all of which belonged to Yezidis.
The destruction of the minaret was confirmed by Issa Zeway, Commander of the Peshmerga 4th Brigade, deployed in Sinjar. He pointed out that the acts of destruction by explosives perpetrated by ISIS had begun as from dawn of the 23rd.
Siyamend Hemo, a member of a local Yezidi militia also described the destruction to the daily Ara News. The Sinjar minaret was the town’s most ancient monument, along side the tomb of Sayida Zeynab, which was destroyed in August 2014 when ISIS took the town. Tombs and places of pilgrimage involving prophets or pious personalities — even Islamic ones — like Mosul’s mausoleum to Jonas — have been destroyed as “impious” by ISIS in accordance with a wahabite prohibition of tomb pilgrimages. Shiite mosques and Christian (and evidently Yezidi) places of worship have suffered the same fate.
However the Sinjar minaret, even though the Yezidis used it for their own ceremonies, is a highly “orthodox” monument, even from the point of view of the strictest Sunni Sharia, since it was part of a Madrassa (hanafite or shfeite) that has now disappeared, founded by the atabeg of Mosul, Qutb ad Din Mahmud Imad al Din ibn Aqsunqur Zangi. The Minaret is even more ancient and was probably built under the Uqaylide Arab dynasty, between 990 and 1095 as part of an ancient complex, a mosque or a little madrassa. It was restored by order of the Zangide atabeg, as is attested by an inscription that bear the date of 598H (1201-1202 AD).
This minaret was a characteristic piece of evidence of the architecture of the mediaeval Jezireh, with its bond of bricks and gypsum (juss) and its cylindrical shaft (the summit of which has collapsed) carried on an octagonal base (which was restored in the 1960s). Five of the sides of this base are decorated, the other three sides being bare — probably because they adjoined the madressa or were incorporated into the walls of that building — walls of which traces could still be picked out at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The interior of the minaret showed no signs of an internal stairway, which suggests that access to the balcony was from the roof of the madreassa, even though it had a doorway on the North.
In 1911, the eminent German specialist in Moslem epigraphy and architecture, Max van Berchem, had traced some very precise drawings of its structure and motifs, when they were in a much better condition. The décor of each side consisted of a rectangle underlined by a frieze of bricks, framing two superimposed niches shaped like a Persian arch, itself topped by a decor of bricks that evoked two pseudo little-columns at the right lintel. There was this no portrayal, human or animal, that could arouse ISIS’s thunderbolts, as are often the case of other mediaeval mosques in the Jezireh, Kurdistan and the Seljuk emirates of Rum (Anatolia). This décor bore an inscription between the balcony and the octagonal base and little niches containing a décor of 8-pionted stars. Sir Austen Layard mentioned, in 1950, a décor of “coloured tiles” (probably with turquoise glazing as is the case with many other monuments of the period). Three of the niches were also decorated with verses of the Qoran of the Fatiha (the opening suras of the Qoran). This makes us think that the valiant ISIS Jihadists were notable to read Kufic script to have so blown up the most famous sura of the Qoranic revelation…
Above the balcony the upper part of the cylinder contained openings in the form of broken arches under other friezes in geometrical decorations (Greek friezes, 8-pointed stars, lozenges).
The no less famous historian of Islamic art, the British K. A. C. Creswellm also mentions, in his study of the evolution of the Islamic minaret, the
Sinjar minaret and compared it with that built under the Gökburi atabeg at Erbil. This Minaret is still standing and also adjoined a madrassa. Both were pioneer examples, in Northern Mesopotamia, of this type of cylindrical minaret on an octagonal base (a more elegant solution, according to Creswell, than the square bases), the first known example of which can be seen at Isfahan (built in 1107) and then first appears in Erbil between 1148 and 1190 and in Sinjar in 1201.
As well as having been the subject of important layouts regarding the history of Islamic art, the Sinjar minaret, admired, drawn and photographed by numerous Western travellers like Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1850 (the artist Frederick Cooper drew it during the second expedition) who described it as a splendid and very beautifully proportioned minaret despite its missing summit or by Gertrude Bell who photographed it in 1911.
The Sinjar minaret was one of the last vestiges of what was the architectural beauty of Sinjar in its time of glory, when the Persian historian Al-Qazwini, nicknamed it “the little Damascus”.
It is paradoxical that the town monuments, of Moslem origin, were respected by its Yezidi population and integrated into their own heritage and that it was finally under the blows of the so-called Jihadist fighters that this important landmark of the evolution of mediaeval Islamic architecture was to disappear.