Since the presidential term of office, already extended by 2 years, was due to end on 18 August, and seeing that no compromise solution to the political crisis had been reached by Parliament or the political parties, the Iraqi Kurdistan Court of Appeals declared, on 1st August that it would decide the issue itself, if the matter was placed before it. In which event, as Omed Muhsin, the Court’s spokesman, said, “its conclusion would be decisive”.
Indeed, the discussions haven’t progressed an inch. Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan democratic Party is insisting that the President remain in office for another two years, arguing that the war situation and the refugee crisis did not allow holding elections in the country. The opposition parties, especially the PUK and Gorran, reject this renewal, which they consider unconstitutional, but have difficulty in finding a candidate to succeed Barzani who would carry much weight. They also want to alter the electoral law, which still provides for the President being directly elected, whereas four opposition parties want the President to be elected by Parliament in future.
Meetings and discussions have followed one another throughout the summer without any result. On 4 August there was a rumour that an agreement may have been reached. However Imad Ahmed, a PUK spokesman, told Reuters that that none of the meetings between the parties had approved of an extension of the Presidential term of office, as some press agencies had reported and that the PUK’s position was unchanged on this issue— that parliament should appoint a President and endorse the government.
For its part, Gorran stated that when the Presidential term of office ended on 19 August, the Speaker of the Kurdistan Parliament, Youssif Muhammad Sadiq, (who was a member of that party) should assume the Presidency on 20 August as an interim measure pending fresh elections. However, while this arrangement may seem legal, it is hard to see this career politician, who has never been a Peshmerga or had any military experience, running the country in wartime, particularly its armed forces, especially as the overwhelming majority of the Peshmergas have come from KDP or PUK militia.
On 10 August Masud Barzani again called for holding elections to decide the issue of the presidency through the ballot box should political negotiations fail. Regarding the constitutional reform — whether to have a Presidential or a Parliamentary regime — he insisted on the necessity of a referendum. In a statement published on the Presidency’s Internet site, he accused the supporters of a change of regime of “only seeking their own interests”. He affirmed, moreover, that his recent tour of the United States and Europe had given considerable hope regarding the issue of Independence but that a political crisis would compromise the process. Finally that, while the present regime of the Kurdistan Region was, indeed, a parliamentary one he thought that the election of the President directly by e suffrage was “preferable”.
On 12 August, Barham Salih, a former Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region and one of the PUK’s leaders, speaking on NRT TV, a Kurdish channel, expressed very pessimistic views about the political crisis that Kurdistan was going through, considering that it was only “the top of the iceberg”, bearing in mind the economic recession and the lack of it share of the budget that the Region was facing. He continued that the existing system of government was not adapted to the situation: “We must give the Peshmerga Minister and the Peshmerga Chief of Staff power to fuse the Peshmerga forces and make it a national institution. The Region’s troops are, at the moment divided into two distinct forces, each under the control of the two main parties, the PUK and the KDP”. The same reform must also be applied to the Asayish (the intelligence and security forces). The Minister of the Interior must create a national institution from several different bodies, who are also affiliated to the two main parties.
For their part the religious minorities are concerned at the political instability, which endangers the only region where they enjoy a safe sanctuary that guarantees their freedom of worship. Six of their Members of Parliament also distributed a statement calling on all the parties to reach agreement before 19 August or else let Masud Barzani remain in office. They also ask the 5 main political parties not to leave the smaller parties out of the discussions.
In the end, as the deadline of 19 August approached, it became clear that no solution would be found. Both the PUK and Gorran independently said they were ready for early elections. On 16 August, the Shafaaq News Agency, reported, according to a “source close to Gorran” that its leader, Nawshirwan Mustafa, would stand as Presidential candidate. According to the same source, the other three parties opposed to the KDP in this issue, namely the PUK and the two Islamic parties, did not envisage presenting a candidate against Masud Barzani. It is true that the PUK, seriously divided onto internal factions and personal rivalries would have difficulty in agreeing on a candidate, while the religious parties whose main role is to express opposition to the major parties would probably suffer from distrust of islamicist parties although their leaders are committed opponents to ISIS.
However, pending the holding of elections, the interim issue still remains: should the outgoing President continue in office until then? This is what the Kurdistan Consultative Council (Shura) recommended on 18 August. However, their advice is not legally binding, as Yousif Sadiq, the Speaker of Parliament pointed out, who claims this interim role himself. According to the Council, “if the political parties cannot reach agreement, Masud Barzani should remain President for an additional two years”.
As against this, the Gorran Party declared on 19 August that the Presidential term of office had ended that day and soothe Speaker of Parliament should take on the role for 60 days, until the elections. Youssef Sadiq summoned the Members for an emergency meeting of Parliament, perhaps hoping that Parliament would endorse his taking office, but the quorum of 56 members was not present. Although the Speaker delayed opening the session for an hour, hoping for some last minute arrivals, the only Members to attend were 24 From Gorran, 16 PUK, 4 of the Islamic Group and 5 of the Kurdistan Islamic Union. The KDP Members and the representatives of the Christians and the Tourcomen boycotted the session, as did some small parties and 5 members of the Islamic Union.
One of the reasons for the failure of this meeting seems to have been Youssef Sadiq’s obstinacy in opening the session on Wednesday 19 while many Members whished it to be delayed until the following Sunday. The head of the communists in parliament made a scathing attack on this “adolescent crisis politics”.
The leader of the Islamic Union parliamentary group made the same criticism, while the adjournment of the session was approved by the United States, Great Britain, the United Nations and apparently Nawshirwan Mustafa as well.
More important than the abortive Parliamentary session was the meeting of the16 parties held in Erbil the day before, on 18 August, to discuss the extension of the Presidency for a further two years. Amongst those taking part were Brett H. McGurk, the US representative to Ira and Frank Baker, the British Ambassador. The content of the “advice” given by the American and British representatives to the Kurds was revealed to the daily paper Rudaw by the General Secretary if the Kurdistan Socialist party Muhammad Hadji Mahmoud — it was suggested that the political and constitutional reforms be postponed for two years and that Masud Barzani be allowed to remain President during that period.
“The American and British representatives advised us during this meeting that this was not a good time for reforms since Kurdistan was being confronted by ISIS and was hardly in a position to face other problems. (…) They also told us that if the Kurds let themselves be diverted by internal problems they would no longer have their support in the war against ISIS”.
On 30 August, another meeting took place, this time between the five main Kurdish parties, this time in camera, to find a solution to the political deadlock. According to Fouad Hussein, the Presidential chief of staff, it was to discuss three possible options: a referendum, a Parliamentary vote either to be decided either by a two-thirds or a simple majority. Fouad Husseinin dicated that anothermeeting would take place on 6 September to resolve this issue. If no agreement was reached the question would be settled by early elections.
Since the peace process seems seriously compromised in Turkish Kurdistan, Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s co-President called for an immediate cease fire by both the Turkish Government and the PKK’s armed branch in a Press Conference at his party’s offices in Ankara.
“The PKK’s arms must immediately be silenced, their hands must remain far from the triggers. The government must also declare an end to all the operations launched against them and must start a dialogue that would exclude death”
Re-iterating that his party was opposed to any use of weapons and violence, and that it condemned the recent acts of violence as “unacceptable” Selahattin Demirtas atated that his political group was discussing all possible means of preventing violence speading throughout the country.
On 8 August the HDP leader repeated his call in the same terms in the Kurdish city of Vasn.
On 11 August the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK) the political branch of the PKK also called for a rapid renewal of negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan but with the preliminary condition of the release of the political prisoners detained since 21 March 2013 and a stricter cease fire.
Cemil Bayik, the present interim leader of the PKK, questioned on the air by the BBC accused Turkey of continuing to play ISIS’s game by attacking the Kurdish fighters. In his view, the only outcome of the Kurdish conflict is, nevertheless, by negotiation,
The Turkish government’s position, however, has not moved an inch, demanding that the PKK lay down its arms and withdraw from Turkey before any renewal of the peace process. It will continue its reprisal bombing of bases in Iraqi Kurdistan until the PKK lays down its arms as the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, has clearly demanded.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even express the wish to carry out a military campaign against the PKK until “no terrorist remains exists within out borders” regardless of the fact that this has been Turkey’s unsuccessful military objective since 1994. “I am not talking about laying down their arms but of burying them: I insist on this point”.
The Turkish President also stated that the Turkish air strikes had to date (11 August) caused 380 killed in the PKK ranks (a figure that seems exaggerated) whereas the AFP
News agency gave a figure of 29 members of the Turkish security forces killed in fighting inside Turkey.
On the political level, Turkey has had to face the challenge, since last June, of forming a coalition government of the AKP with either the nationalist parties or with the HDP — that it accuses of complicity with the PKK.
On 13 August a meeting, described by the Turkish press as “the last chance” took place between Ahmet Davutoğlu and the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kiliçdaroglu. However this final meeting was fruitless, as the Prime Minister announced to the Press, talking of the “strong probability of early elections”, but without giving any date except to say he hoped to see them take place “as soon as possible”. Some political analysts even think October ort November possible. The latter consider that Erdogan see these elections as a means of winning back the seats he lost in the National Assembly and so securing an absolute majority — thus enabling him to finally succeed in changing the political system to a Presidential regime.
Ahmet Dabutoglu himself admits that new elections could turn out to be to his party’s advantage: “The party that would benefit the most from early elections is the AKP — we can form a one-party government and will have 18 more seats”.
For his part, Kemal Kilicdaroglu attacked the attitude of the AKP, accusing it of having no interest in forming a coalition government for a 4-year period. Consequently his party will not take part in the coalition government.
There remains the HDP. Selahattin Demirtas stated he could envisage taking part ina provisional government until the next elections, while expressing doubts, like the CHP, about the AKP’s real intention of forming a coalition government. “We would have no hesitation in exercising our constitutional rights and taking part in the government” he told the press on 25 August. “However we must not be surprised if they try and form a government withourt the HDP is violation of the constitution. (…) Six million people voted for us and we have a righ to three Ministries. It is not really important which Ministries, since the Cabinet is a temporary one and we will not have much opportunity of succeeding to do anything. However, it is important that we be represented in the cabinet — just that”.
In fact, the Turkish Constitution provides that such an interim government be formed byMembers of several parties in proportion to their election results. Thus the AKP is entitled to 11 Ministries, the CHP to 5 and the MHP and NDP to 3 each.
Ministries held by pro-Kurdish parties in a Turkish government would already be a historic first, even if only for a short period. Nevertheless, the fact of the NDP being in a government while military operations are taking place against the PKK and a wave of repression is taking place throughout the country creates s surrealistic situation, especially as the AKP (and the other Turkish parties) are not hesitant about accusing the NDP of being the PKK’s accomplice.
Finally, on 26 August, Ahmet Davutoğlu invited three Members of the HDP to join the interim government, which would end on 1 November, the date set for the elections. Two of the three have accepted.
Of the 11 AKP Members ithat Davutoğlu, invited to join, all have accepted. The 5 CHP Members, including it previous leader Deniz Baykal, have all declined, as have two of the three MHP Members. The third, Tughrul Turkes, accepted and was suspended by his party as from 27 August.
The HDP Members asked to join the coalition are Levent Tuzel, general secretary of the Labour Party (EMEP) a party that joined with the Kurdish BDP to form the HDP platform, Muslum Dogan, one of the founder members of the HDP and Ali Haydar Konca. Only Levent Tuzel refused,
Apart from the HDP and the AKL Members, Ahmet Davutoğlu has asked some independent members of parliament to form his cabinet.
Approved by Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 28 August the interim government has the following members:
Prime Minister: Ahmet Davutoğlu (AKP); together with four Deputy Prime Ministers:
– Tuğrul Türkeş, responsable for the Turkic world (suspended and likely to be expelled from the MHP,)
– Cevdet Yılmaz, Responsible for the economy, banking issues and public finance) (AKP).
– Yalçın Akdoğan, government spokesman and responsible for Turkey’s Radio-Television institutions (AKP).
– Numan Kurtulmuş, Responsible for anti-terrorist struggle, Human Rights and North Cyprus questions) (AKP).
Foreign Minister: Feridun Sinirlioğlu (independent)
Minister of the l’Interior Selami Altınok (independent)
Finance Minister: Mehmet Şimşek (AKP)
Minister for Justice: Kenan Ipek (independent)
Minister for Fuel & Power and Natural Resources: Ali Rıza Alaboyun (independent)
Minister for Food and Agriculture: Kudbettin Arzu (independent)
Minister for Culture and Tourism: Yalçın Topçu (independent)
Health Minister: Mehmet Müezzinoğlu (AKP)
Minister for National Education: Nabi Avcı (AKP)
Minister of Defence : Vecdi Gönül (independent)
Minister for Science, Industry and Technology: Fikri Işık (AKP)
Minister of Labour and Social Security: Ahmet Erdem (independent)
Minister of Transport, the Sea and Communications: Feridun Bilgin (independent)
Minister for the Environment and Urban Development: İdris Güllüce (AKP)
Minister for Family and Social Policy: Ayşen Gürcan (independent)
Minister for European Union questions: Ali Haydar Konca (HDP)
Minister for the Economy: Nihat Zeybekçi (AKP)
Minister for Youth and Sport: Akif Çağatay Kılıç (AKP)
Minister for Development: Müslüm Doğan (HDP)
Minister for Trade and Customs: Cenap Aşçı (independent)
Minister for Forests and Water: Veysel Eroğlu (AKP)
On 3 August an official communiqué of the Kurdish YPG forces reported the complete liberation of the town of Hassaké as ISIS forces had been driven out. According to the Kurdish officers, 386 ISIS members are said to have been killed in a 3-phase counter-attack: firstly to take back land lost to ISIS, then to close the roads used to convoy ISIS reinforcements to Hassaké then finally to clean up the town of the entrapped Jihadists.
Hitherto held jointly by the Kurdish forces and the Syrian government forces, the withdrawal of the Syrian Army from the town of Hassaké leaves it virtually controlled by the PYD.
However, whereas the Kurdish forces allied to the Free Syrian Army have, since the summer, been gradually pushing ISIS far from the Turkish borders, the renewal of conflict between Turkey and the PKK has revived rumours of the possibility of a Turkish military incursion and its setting up a buffer zone on its Southern borders.
The other aspect of the Kurdo-Turkish conflict is, indeed, the possibility of its flowing across the Syrian borders. Even as the American forces are taking up positions on the d Incirlik air base, which Turkey gad recently opened to the Coalition, Ahmet Davutoğlu said he was ready to launch air strikes against ISIS in Syria. However, he also re-iterated the idea of a buffer zone along the Syrian borders that would shelter 1.8 million refugees at present on its soil. On the other hand he was reluctant to sent Turkish troops to fight directly against ISIS, arguing that the Free Syrian Army forces should be enough.
However, Washington, as in 2013 when the idea of setting up a buffer zone was envisaged by Ankara, expressed it opposition to such a measure. As Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman said: “we are not discussing that now. What we are discussing is how to drive ISIS out of the region”.
Mark Toner was reacting to the remarks by Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the secretary of state to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, who had stated that his country and the United States had agreed to the setting up of a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border supervised by the Coalition. He had even stated that any incursion, be it by the PKK or ISIS would lead to air strikes by the Coalition and Turkey.
Mark Toner felt obliged to specify that the agreement with Turkey in no way stipulated that the PYD would be attacked on Syrian territory. In another Press Conference given in Washington on 3 August, John Kirby, the Defence Department spokesman insisted on the fact that his country did not in any way want to damage the territorial integrity of Turkey or approve of any modification of its borders: “We have not changed our mission, which is to weaken and destroy ISIS”. Questioned about the recent Turkish air raids essentially aimed at PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, John Kirby replied that Ankara also wanted to strike at ISIS: “Everyone remains focused on the ISIS threat in Syria. Turkey itself has told us that this struggle will be the main target of its efforts. We are continuing to have discussions with them about the best way to strengthen security and reach our common objectives”. The Defence Department spokesman added that there was “no reason to doubt that theu would do what they said they would do”.
Ten days later, on 13 August, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevult Çavusoğlu, pointed out that Turkey was not envisaging sending troops onto Syrian soil for the moment, but that this option remained in the table.
“At this moment when we are talking, no ground operation is envisaged, but in the future all that is needed to fight ISIS — including ground operations — will have to be done. This is my personal opinion” stated the Minister on Haber TV. Çavusoğlu, moreover, confirmed John Kirbey’s remarks, affirming that their objective was to fight ISIS, not the PYD. “We have not launched any operation against the PYD and there will not be in the future. However, this does not mean that we are satisfied with the behaviour of the PYD”.
On 18 August ISIS executed by decapitation Khaled Asaad, the former director of Antiquities of Palmyra. According to the Syrian Centre for Human Rights, speaking on Radio-Canada, “dozens of people were present at his execution”. He had been arrested three weeks earlier and questioned to make him reveal the hiding places of the archaeological treasures that he had hidden to protect them from looting. According to Maamoun Abdoulkarim, the Director of Antiquities of Syrian Museums, he had been tortured along with his son, Walid Assaad, whose fate is unknown.
Among the five publicly read charges against him were those of having been “director of idols” and of having visited Iran and taking part in “infidel conferences” that is international conferences in which he represented Syria.
Khaled Asaad was born in Palmyra in 1932. He had worked for over 50 years in Palmyra. Appointed the city’s Director of Museums and antiquities in 1963, he had retired in 2003 but continued to be active on the site and always refused to leave it even after war had broken our. He is the author of several publications in international archaeological reviews and taken part in international digging missions on the site, with teams from the US, France, Germany and Switzerland. He himself made many discoveries on the site, including some ancient cemeteries and one byzantine one. In 2001, he found 700 silver coins with the heads of the Sassanide Kings Khosrow I et Khosrow II (7th Century).
In 2003, with a Syrian and Polish team he brought to light a 3rd Century mosaic that is,in his opinion “one of Palmyra’s most precious treasures”.
Associated Press revealed tha Khaled Asaad played an essential role in saving “hundreds of pieces and statues of the Palmyra museum” evacuated or hidden before ISIS arrived. The French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Yon, interviewed by Sciences et Avenir confirmed that most of the treasures were evacuated from the site.
“Ëver since the 1950s, many archaeological discoveries were made in Palmyra. A major museum had also been erected on the sote. On the other hand, in recent years, many tombs including very many sculptures were brought to light round the ancient city, particularly the digging up of some magnificent funerary busts. As well as the objects on view in the museum and those preserved in reserves, all these works were placed in shelters. Thousands of objects and sculptures of all sizes that absolutely had to be saved. This evacuation was carried out up to the last hours before the fall of the city and the arrival of ISIS on 20 May 2015”.
Khaled Asaad was also a specialist in Aramean, that he spoke fluently and of which he translated some documents.
His assassination has shocked and moved the international community of archaeologists and specialists in Syrian history. Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, stated “they killed him because he would not betray his deep commitment to Palmyra. His work will survive beyond the reach o these extremists. They have assassinated a great man but they will never reduce History to silence”
On23 August the destruction of the temple devoted to the god Baalshamin was announced. This was a Phoenician deity, built in the 2nd Century B.C. and enlarged by the Roman Emperor Hadrian about 130 A.D. It became a church in the 5th Century. Its destruction with high explosives could have taken place a month earlier, soon after the town was taken by ISIS.
On 30 August it was the great temple of Baal, built in the 1at Century, that was destroyed in its turn. The destruction was confirmed by satellite pictures. A mixture of oriental and Greco-Roman architecture, it was the most famous monument of Palmyra, “considered the greatest religious monument of the 1st Century in the East because of its unique design”, according to UNESCO, that had put it on its World Heritage list in 1960.