On 5 May, the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region met US President Barrack Obama for a half-hour meeting and Vice President Joe Biden for an hour. Masud Barzani made no immediate press statement but, according to Kurdish officials who accompanied him, these meetings were longer than planned. This made his meeting with the US Chamber of Commerce, which followed his leaving the White House, half an hour late.
In his speech to the Chamber of Commerce, Marud Barzani referred to his meetings with the US President and Vice President, saying that he had given them “the thanks of the people of Kurdistan for their support in these difficult times ”. The Kurdish President then addressed the American investors, assuring them that, despite the war, and some terrorist attacks, the Kurdish Region “is still open to foreign companies going there and I still thank all the companies who have not left Kurdistan in these difficult times, for which we are very grateful — is was of great moral support”.
The next day, on 4 May, Masud Barzani again met Joe Bidden for breakfast before going to the Atlantic Council think tank’s offices for the morning. Here he expressed his views in more detail to a panel of guests, the KRG’s representative to the United States and several Kurdish ministers, on the question of Iraqi Kurdistan and its future as well as developments in the region as seen from Erbil This covered the Region’s challenges and priorities in its war against ISIS and finally the key points and problems in the relations between the US and the KRG.
Frederick Kempe, President of the Atlantic Council, welcomed and introduced the guests and Ambassador William Taylor, interim President of the USIP charred the meeting.
Frederick Kempe, started by praising the bravery and determination of the Peshmergas in their fight against ISIS, recalling that, to date, 1200 of them had lost their lives and 7000 had been wounded. He also welcomed the presence of the Kurdish President in the front line and among his men and his visits to the families of fallen soldiers. The recalled the burden of the 2 million refugees sheltered in Iraqi Kurdistan and the resulting economic consequences, aggravated by the fall in oil prices and the conflict with Baghdad over the Kurdish share of the budget.
After having outlined Masud Barzani’s political life, he concluded by quoting the remarks in Time Magazine, that he was “vice-champion” of the list of the most important public figures of the year 2014 “a powerful president whose life sums up the history of a people whose time seems to have arrived. Masud Barzani’s legacy is still being written, but when the ISIS hordes in Iraq and Greater Syria had swarmed out from Fallujah early in June 2014 and conquered the biggest city in Iraq in just four days, and turned towards the Kurdish country one thing is clear: the Kurds of Iraq and perhaps 22 million other Kurds of the region were a decisive factor”.
Taking the floor, President Barzani renewed his message of thanks from the Kurdish people and called on the American people and its government for help in the war against USIS.
He them briefly outlined the events of the war since August 2014, when Kurdistan had to face up to the ISIS militia, who had massive weaponry “taken from the Syrian and Iraqi Armies”. The policy the Kurds had adopted was two-fold: firstly to stop the ISIS advance with a defensive strategy and then to go onto the offensive by attacking the terrorists. In both cases the Coalition’s air strikes were decisive in changing the situation in the field, and had inflicted heavy losses on ISIS.
Masud Baerani wanted to remind them that ISIS was not “a new organisation, and emerging one but an extension of al-Qaida, but in a more extreme version”. “This group has proved itself to be against all humanity — they are against the past, against history and against the future. They are against freedom, humane and democratic values that we believe in. They have proved, by their deeds that in any area they control there is no room for democracy, freedom, religious liberty and any democratic principles”.
The Kurdish President then said he was proud of what the Peshmergas had achieved to destroy the myth that ISIS was invincible. The Kurdish army had not only succeeded in destroying the “ISIS myth” but also in liberating 20,000 Km2 previously controlled by ISIS. However, he reminded them of the price paid: “we have made enormous sacrifices. One thousand two hundred Peshmergas have lost their lives and 7,000 of them have been wounded, as well as the material and moral cost that this war has imposed on our community”. The war weighs heavily on Kurdistan’s economy since, in consequence, a great number of refugees has arrived, partly internal partly from Syria. Iraqi Kurdistan has opened it doors to 1.5 million refugees and displaced persons, of a variety of ethnic groups and religions, 250,000 of who are from Syria. Thus, in the town of Duhok, refugees now outnumber the local residents: “During the first days after the attack, the situation was very difficult, very tense. However, I met representatives of the Christians, the Yezidis and the Turkomenians, and assured them that the situation was a temporary one, that we would beat the terrorists and that we did not want any of them to leave the country to seek asylum elsewhere. We will stay together. We will live freely in this country or die together”.
Some refugees have now been able to return to their homes thanks to the Peshmergas offensive but a great number are still waiting to be able to return to their homes.
“If we measure the line from Kobani to Khanaqin, the Kurds are fighting ISIS on a 1,500 Km long front. We are proud of all the Peshmergas, of what they have achieved, not only in the region of Iraqi Kurdistan but also at Kobani, where they also helped defeat ISIS. Obviously the air strikes were very effective and useful but the Peshmergas are still short of arms and ammunition — the arms and ammunition needed to put an end to this war in a decisive and rapid manner”.
The chairman, William Taylor, asked the first question tackling the subject of relations between Erbil and the new government in Baghdad. The President repeated that the priority was to beat ISIS but that, along side this, there were other problems, including that of the share of the national budget due to the Kurds. At the beginning of 2015, an agreement was reached, and relations between the KRG and Baghdad are much better than in the days of the previous Iraqi government. However the differences have not all been overcome and Masud Barzani considered that on both sides there is “a common desire to resolve these issues and find suitable solutions” so as to “work together”.
“As far as we are concerned, we have reached an agreement and the KRG must export (on behalf of the Baghdad) 500,000 barrels a day, as stipulated in the agreement and in the budget law passed. We hope and expect that Baghdad — the Federal Government in Baghdad — will observe this agreement and provide Kurdistan with its share of the revenues”.
Then asked about the issue of “Iraqi unity” and whether this issue had been raised during the meetings with Barrak Obama and Joe Biden, President Barzani replied that there was no doubt that the war against ISIS required the unity of all the peoples of Iraq. In this war, Kurdistan was playing a major role: “but the unity of Iraq depends on the other peoples of Iraq and on how Iraq can become so democratic that they become attached to such a peaceful co-existence, because such unity must be voluntary not imposed compulsorily. Consequently the important thing is to try to see that all Iraqis share that conviction — namely that unity be voluntary and not imposed by force”.
On the important role the Kurds were playing in the arbitration and conciliation of Iraqi conflicts, Masud Barzani recalled that the protection provided by the Kurds to these internal conflicts were important “but a collective effort by all is needed. Iraq is based on three pillars that are the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs and the Shiite Arabs. To this must be added other minority national minorities — Turcomens, Chaldeans, Assyrians and also several sects and religions. When Iraq was founded after the First World War, it was on the principle that the Kurds and Arabs would be partners in the country. Unfortunately, were never able to achieve the required partnership. We tried and are still trying but this doesn’t prevent the Kurdish people from exercising its right to self-determination. The opportunity has occurred to decide on its future by a referendum. However this will be done in a peaceful manner, cordially and with understanding and dialogue”.
Asked for public precision regarding the possibility of seeing Kurdistan’s independence “in the coming year” Masud Barzani replied forthrightly that he couldn’t affirm what might happen next year butt that certainly the independence of Kurdistan was in the offing but that it would be a “continual process” that would neither stop nor go into reverse. The referendum will take place and the only reason it has been delayed so far is the war against ISIS.
After losing Tikrit last April, ISIS has not, for all that, given up trying to extend its control of the Sunni region and has launched attacks on Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province. On 18 May, ISIS announced that it had taken complete control of Anbar Province, giving Baghdad its biggest defeat since the fall of Mosul in June 2014.
Another similarly with the capture of Mosul is that it seems as if the Iraqi Armed forces there fled, leaving, once again, a substantial quantity of weaponry in the hands of the ISIS militia. Questioned by Reuters, a member of the Anbar Provincial Council even described the withdrawal as a “complete collapse”, despite the broadcast appeals of Prime Minister Al-Habadi urging the regular troops to resist on the spot.
The loss of Ramadi leaves the whole desert region of the borders with Saudi Arabia and Syria in Isis’s hands. This is also a blow to the survival of Iraq as a unified State. Since the rout, not to say the desertion, of its armies has obliged the Central Government to call on the Shiite sectarian militia, supported and trained by Iran, to recapture Ramadi. It is also a blow to US policy, which has been so focused, since last summer, on the reconstruction of a “unified” Iraq, whose defence and war effort would be subordinated to Baghdad, especially with regard to the distribution of arms supplied by the West. This was an issue about which the Kurds have bitterly complained — under-equipped for over a year, they have not retreated in the face of ISIS attacks since last August. The fall of Ramadi is also a threat to Kurdistan since it will, once again, supply the Jihadists with heavy and sophisticated weaponry, supplied to the Iraqi army by the United States — are of which the Peshmergas are cruelly lacking.
The Pentagon also tried, in the first hours following the fall of Ramadi, to minimise the event by describing it as a simple military set-back and not a turning point in ISIS’s favour. However, at the days went by and it became obvious that even the Shiite militia were not going to be able to recapture the city in three days, virulent criticisms were made, even by those in the US Defence Administration. Thus Ash Carter, US Secretary of State for Defence, scathingly attacked on CNN, the absence of any will to fight in the Iraqi Armed forces.
“What has happened, apparently, is that the Iraqi forces have not shown any will to fight. They were not overwhelmed by force of numbers. In fact there were more of them than in the forces opposite. This makes me say (as do most of us) that we have problem with the Iraqis’ willingness to fight ISIS and to defend themselves”.
In fact, the only US response to the Iraqi situation was to re-arm and retrain the Iraqi Army, demanding, in exchange, a “reconciliation” between the Shiites and Sunni Arabs in the form of some power sharing between the country’s three major components: the Shiite and Sunni Arabs and the Kurds. Since the Coalition’s military intervention is limited to air strikes and Washington (for the moment at least) stands by its policy of “zero men on the ground”, it counts of the Iraqis and Kurds to overcome ISIS. Ramadi’s fall seriously questions the effectiveness of this strategy and postpones to an uncertain future the recapture of Mosul, which Washington had hoped to begin last April . . .
Without questioning the policy of no intervention by US ground troops, Ash Carter affirms that the help provided by the air strikes could be enough to enable the Iraqi forces to beat ISIS: “We can take part in the defeat of ISIS but we cannot make Iraq into a decent place where people can live. We cannot achieve victory, only the Iraqis can do that — and, in particular the Sunni tribes of the West”.
According to the Pentagon, the Iraqi troops left behind them in Ramadi half a dozen tanks, a similar number of pieces of artillery, a great number of armoured cars and about a hundred Humvees.
With respect to victims, the three-day lightning war that resulted in the city’s capture, caused 500 deaths (according to the Anbar authorities’ official figures) in the fighting and made thousands of civilian refugees.
Two days after they announced the capture of Ramadi in Iraq, ISIS entered the Syrian town of Palmyra, after driving out the Baathist Army and taking over its military base, a substantial stock of arms and its prison (one of the regime’s grimmest, with a record of political repression of political opponents), and the HQ of its secret services. According the London based Syrian Centre for Human Rights, the fighting caused a hundred losses in the Syrian Army.
The capture of Palmyra aroused anxiety about the fate of the classical remains of this ancient site, with its streets bordered with colonnades, its temple and theatre, since ISIS has already acquired a record for damaging and destroying Iraqi sites like Khorsabad or Hathra. The Syrian Director of National Antiquities issued an international appeal: while about a hundred statues, saved on site in the Palmyra Museum were moved to a safe place, there remain many artefacts and largest monuments that could not be moved and put in a safe place and the archaeological site itself. UNESCO also called for an international effort to save “this unique cultural heritage” that it had placed on its list “endangered World heritage” in 2013.
Palmyra has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic and Neolithic times, and is mentioned as an oasis and caravan stage post in the palace archives of Mari (2nd Millennium BC). It is mentioned in the Bible by its other the name of Thadmor, and attributes its foundation to Solomon (q Chronicles 8, 4). It maintained its independence after the Seleucid conquest (4th Century BC) but maintained a rather obscure existence until the Roman conquests. In 41 BC Emperor Tiberius integrated it into the Roman province of Syria. It prospered through being on the trade routes linking India and Persia with the Roman Empire. In the 3rd Century AD the Sassanid’s conquered part of Syria but Palmyra was spared. The weakening of the Imperial central power allowed it a short-lived period of quasi independence until Zenobia, the widow of Prince Odenat, (who had been charged with defending the town against the Persians) emancipated it and herself from Roman tutelage.
In 272 Emperor Aurelian regained control of Palmyra and drove out Zenobia, without destroying her capital. Thereafter its importance declined and it just became a garrison town until the Byzantine era. The Moslem conquest (which the Palmyrans did not resist) renewed its activity and it was around it that the Omayyad Caliphs build their luxurious secondary palaces, nicknames the “desert palaces”. Palmyra survived the Crusades and the Tamburlaine’s invasion undamaged. In his vast 20 volume “Encyclopaedia Looks at the Kingdoms of great cities” (Masālik al-abṣār fīmamālik al-amṣār) the erudite Damascene Ibn Fadlallah al-Omari praised its gardens and its flourishing trade and its “curious monument” that, till then, had never been threatened by Moslem vandalism (or Christian either).
Its economy declined under the Ottomans, but its prestige was renewed when it was discovered by Western travellers in the 17th and 18th Centuries: its architecture of town planning inspired European and American Neoclassical architects and town planners, as did the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the same period and the Ruins of Palmyra by the Irish archaeologist Robert Wood, was published in 1753.
Palmyra was the centre of an original culture that mingled Iranian, Semitic and Greco-roman influences in its religious cults as well as its artistic practices (its monumental decorations an funerary sculpture) and its crafts. The remains of the city include a long colonnaded street (1100 m long) lined with alleys at right angles to it. The most notable monuments were a temple dedicated to a Semitic god, Bel or Baal, an agora, a theatre, and “Diocletian’s camp” (a military site or a palace). Other cultural buildings include thermal baths and residential quarters and an aqueduct. It was surrounded by a fortified wall and vast necropolises, nicknames the Valley of Tombs.
However, for contemporary Syrians, the name Tadmor has a more sinister sound as its sadly infamous prison was one of the most inhuman of the Baathist regime from the 60s to the year 2000.An Amnesty International Report, drawn up in 2001, reports: “Under the cover of the State of Emergency that has been in force since 8 March 1963, the different branches of the security forces can keep political suspects in detention arbitrarily and for unlimited periods. Tens of thousands of people have been called in for questioning in the context of massive waves of arrests aimed at presumed members of left wing organisations, Islamist or Arab Nationalist movements, Kurdish political groups as well as any individual who has engaged in activity against the government or it’s policies. Hundreds of political prisoners are amongst the people arrested. Detainees have often been tortured while being kept in absolute secrecy for months or even years, without being charged or tried. Thousands of families were left in ignorance of their relatives and some, whose beloved had “disappeared” after their arrest, fear the worse (…) Todmor prison seems to have been designed to inflict the maximum of suffering and humiliation on the detainees, to terrorise them and break their morale while keeping them under the strictest supervision. Not only were detainees cut off from the outside world but they were also forbidden to communicate with one another. They are dehumanised in all aspects of their daily lives”.
However, according to Amnesty, at the begging of the 90s “most of the political prisoners were released in groups by presidential amnesties or at the end of their sentence. The moist recent amnesties, proclaimed in 2000 by President Bachar al-Assad covered 600 political prisoners belonging to a variety of opposition groups. Since 1991, the date of the first amnesty, the number of political prisoners (including those imprisoned just for their opinions) has dropped from several thousands to some hundreds.
The prison was closed in 2001. However, in 2011, during the first months of the Syrian revolt, political prisoners once again filled the buildings, especially demonstrators (350 transferred in June 2011) as well as soldiers who had deserted. According to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights, the detainees were transferred to other places before Palmyra fell.
Eight days after taking the town, videos filmed and broadcast by ISIS showed that, for the moment, the historic sites have not been damaged. However, the exactions against civilians have begun and the Roman Theatre has been used for public executions, during which 20men were shot before a crowd gathered on the ancient tiers. Those sentenced were said to have been the regime’s “collaborators”. The SCHR states that about 150 members of the Syrian armed forces were executed by shooting, decapitation or knifed as well as 67 civilians: “Whole families have been suppressed” states the Manager of the SCHR, Rami Abdel Rahman, including children with their parents. Most of the executions took place in Palmyra. According to AFP “some victims were killed with bullets, others were decapitated or knifed”.
The tone of the Election campaign in Turkey was essentially set by the party in office, the AKP and the Kurdish party, HDP, that had “good hopes” of finally passing the threshold of 10% of the national vote that would enable it to enter the Turkish Parliament. In the existing Parliament the only Kurds sitting there were either as members of other parties of as independents.
On 4 May during an electoral tour of France (the votes of the Kurdish and Turkish diaspora were also counted) the co-president of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, declared that his party’s priorities were to obtain a new Turkish Constitution that would guarantee ethnic and religious rights and equality of genders.
The HDP programme, which was also translated and distributed in France, presents the Party as standing for freedom, equality, justice and peace in Turkey. It adopted the broad outlines of Ocalan’s last message, read at Diyarbekir last March, especially its ecological section: “the preservation of nature, the human and all the other living species” that described as the party’s “fundamental values”.
“It was indispensible to adopt a new Constitution” in order to guarantee the rights of the different cultures, peoples and languages of Turkey as well as freedom of belief and opinion.
The issue of peace is a “primary aspiration”, for which the indispensible conditions are “education in one’s mother tongue, self-organisation and self-management of peoples” (somewhat vague notions that reflect Ocalan’s “democratic autonomy” and what the PYD wants to set up in the Syrian Rojava) and “equal citizenship for all”. The “legitimate demands” of all the peoples and all the beliefs, particularly the Kurds and the Alevis must be taken into account.
Regarding foreign policy, the HDP supports the “struggle of peoples for freedom and democracy” “as against the occupations, wars military bases and the proliferation of arms created by imperialist forces in our regions and the whole world´. Oddly enough in this section there is no allusion to the threat of Jihadism and the total war that ISIS has declared on the world or of the events in Kobani, which have, nevertheless, strongly harmed AKP’s popularity in the Kurdish electorate. War is presented as solely the outcome of imperialism in a very “old guard Left” tone, which gives the impression that earlier programmes had been recycled without being updated. The economic section takes up this anti-capitalist tone, attacking, inter alia, the dangerous and hard working conditions in Turkey, the insecurity of employment, sub-contracting and “de-Unionisation”.
Direct democracy is recommended, always with the principle of “autonomous and democratic local management”. Thus the prefects and sub-prefects should be elected by the people and public services like education, health and security should be redistributed to local collectivities.
Regarding the equality of genders and the defence of women “victims of violence, rape, harassment and assassination” HDP reaffirms its attachment to parity within its organisation and its co-presidency (one man/one woman). Equality of genders also covers discrimination against the LGBTs.
Finally the programme ends with ecology and the protection of biodiversity, with opposition to useless projects that involve deforesting, drying up of water courses, maritime pollution” but the GAP project, this series of dams flooding the Kurdish regions, which the Kurdish parties have often opposed is not explicitly mentioned.
In Turkey, the campaign was punctuated by acts of violence, mainly against the HDP, sometimes with clashes with supporters of the extreme-right of Kurdish Islamists (Hude-Par) by terrorist attacks by “persons unknown” against HDP offices or some of its members. Selahattin Demirtaş stated to Reuters that during the campaign nearly 60 attacks against his party took place throughout the country. Thus on 18 May there were simultaneous explosions against two HDP offices. The first was at Adana, through the delivery of a booby-trapped parcel that wounded six people the other at Mersin (a neighbouring town). Commenting on the event the Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, stated that it was certainly an attack by the clandestine extreme-Left Party DHKP-C that had sometimes clashed with the PKK but the extreme-Right source was generally considered by the press to be more plausible.
Ahmet Davutoğlu then changed aim and accused the HDP and the MHP (a Turkish ultra-nationalist right-wing party) of having a secret agreement to foment these attacks to discredit the government and put the blame on the party in office. Observers found this second explanation equally unconvincing.
Protest broke out simultaneously in the Kurdish city of Mahabad after the suspicious death of a young employee who is said to have fallen “accidentally” (according to the official version) on 4 May, from the forth floor of the Tara Hotel where she was employed. However, a counter-version rapidly spread that 25 year-old Farinaz Khosrawani had jumped out of the window to escape members of the intelligence Service (Itilaat) who were trying to rape her. Or else that she had been thrown out by her rapists.
The State of emergency was declared in the town and two demonstrators were killed and dozens of others injured. A number of arrests were made. One of the security officers from Ourmieh (the capital of the West Azerbaijan Province, in which Mahabad lies) threatened the demonstrators, warning them: “the Iranian police would not eternally keep calm and that if the demonstrations continued they would be strongly repressed”.
In the streets of Mahabad, the Iranian flag was burned in front of the Tara Hotel, which was also set alight. Thousands of the inhabitants of Mahabad continued to take to the streets despite the tear gas that was thrown at them. They accused the authorities of covering up the murderers demanding that they should be brought to justice. So far, only the hotel owner has been arrested and placed in detention.
As for the intelligence services accused, they at first remained silent. Finally Hassan Rouhani recommended that “light should be cast on this incident”, but on 9 May the demonstrations were continuing.
Omar Baleki, an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran warned the Iranian authorities that if they opened fire on the demonstrators the riots could spread to other towns. In his view, this explosion of anger was the consequence of “three decades of oppression”: “On the surface it is just an attack made on a single woman, but in reality this injustice and this repression against the Kurds has been practiced against the Kurds for 36 years”. Omar Beki denies that the Kurdish parties had started the movement.
Abdullah Muhtadi, General secretary of the Komala Kurdish party, reported to the Kurdish daily Rudaw, that the Army and security forces were being deployed in several Kurdish towns as well as Mahabad and that the situation was “very tense”.
Amnesty International called on Iran not to make excessive sue of force at Mahabad. According to Kurdistan Human Rights, the victim’s family had been subjected to pressure and supervision and could neither confirm nor deny the difference versions about Farinaz’s death.
In May 11, the Iranian police announced they had arrested a man who might be linked to this death and that the suspect had “confessed” — bur without specifying his identity or the terms of his confession. The police indicated that it was an accidental death, linked to a case of immorality. The victim is said to have had a liaison with the suspect and they were in the hotel when, learning that her family was about to discover them the young woman tried to flee via the balcony and had fallen . . .
This version was later taken up by the Province’s assistant governor on the Persian BBC. However, the Kurds contest its truth and the Komala’s Secretary General Abullah Muhtadi reported to Rudaw that the victim was not a client of the hotel but worked there as an accountant. Moreover, her body bore marks of blows and her torn clothes indicated a struggle not a consenting relationship, as those people who had seen the body after it fell from the window had told him.
On 12 May, the town’s Mayor indicated to the press that calm had returned to Mahabad. However, on 14 May a general strike was observed in several towns if Iranian Kurdistan: Sire, Sardasht, Bokan, Shino, Piranshar, Oshnawiye and Ourmiah, where most of the markets, boutiques and several other commercial activities pulled down their shutters.
Furthermore, on Internet the social networks described the events in passionate terms and demonstrations were organised abroad.
Iran’s Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused “the counter-revolutionary enemy” of intrigues aimed at creating ethic and religious conflicts in Kurdistan.
According to estimates of demonstrations two weeks after the start of the disturbances, 50 people have been wounded in Mahabad and 70 arrested.
The National Geographic’s television satellite has launched an Internet site in Kurmancî Kurdish that can be consulted at the following address:
The National Geographic site is one of the most outstanding sites dealing with geography, the climate, the environment, space and technology.
It also publishes a Kurdish version of its magazine, dealing with science and technology, entitled “Zanko” or University. Three issues have already appeared in Kurmancî and in Zazaki.